Magazine article Metro Magazine

Manga Is from Mars: Cowboy Bebop

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Manga Is from Mars: Cowboy Bebop

Article excerpt

Given the long-established popularity of manga--the surreally sexual and violent comic books popular with adult males in Japan--and my last brush with manga anime being 1989's revolting but weirdly fascinating, Urotsukidoji; Legend of the Overfiend (Hideki Takayama), it was with some trepidation that I approached Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, an anime for adolescents.

Apart from some buxom beauties, there are no giant penises bursting out of the earth, no gratuitous scenes involving the rape of nubile netball-playing schoolgirls by their lesbian coaches. In fact, Cowboy Bebop is thoroughly wholesome entertainment, vetted by millions of Japanese firstly as a hugely successful prime time TV series, and now delivered to Western audiences as a sophisticated animated feature.

This is not the gloomy, post-apocalyptic, dystopic future we know from Otomo Katsuhiro's Akira (1988) or Ridley Scott's sci-fi noir Blade Runner (1982), though both are an influence along with the little known Hardware Wars (Richard Stanley, 1990).

Made by twenty-somethings, Shinichiro Watanabe and Toshio Kawamoto, the pop culture references come thick and fast and this Sci-fi noir is delivered as refreshingly as Polanski's genre-defying, pastel drenched Chinatown (1974) was to its first audiences, who had grown up on B&W detective tales.

The setting for Cowboy Bebop is a metropolis shielded beneath a sky dome in a crater on Mars, where the populace of this urban colony are cheerful despite the prevalence of gigantic and unethical pharmaceutical companies, regular downsizing (that has led one gang of security men to rob the places they used to guard), as well as the general, run-of-the-mill crime of a big city.

Cowboy Bebop is the, trademarked conglomerate of our heroes. They include Jet Black, a cyborg sporting the samurai mutton chops of Toshiro Mifune; Edo, a curiously underdrawn child without a nose and arms as flexible as seaweed; the pneumatic Faye; Ein, a highly intelligent Corgi dog; and finally, the super-cool lynchpin of these cash-strapped bounty hunters, Spike Spiegel.

When a tankertruck explodes on a major city highway hundreds are injured and many are killed instantly. Hovering overhead in her copter, Cowboy Bebopper Faye spots a mysterious, tall, dark stranger leaving the tanker, only to vanish off a freeway overpass into thin air.

On their office television, the Cowboy Beboppers watch as bio-suited rescue workers take readings and lock down the disaster at ground zero. A reward is offered to anyone giving information leading to the perpetrator's arrest. But something more wicked than a mere detonation is at work: some sort of bio-engineered virus is suspected when the quarantined survivors' brains begin to swell within their skulls causing them to die in hallucinating states.

Released in Japan in 1998, Cowboy Bebop does appear prescient in its chilling depiction of a test run for 9/11. Uncannily set in a metropolis that greatly resembles New York, right down to The Twin Towers standing proud against the skyline, the terrorist attack is masterminded by a long haired and bearded terrorist who bears more than a passing resemblance to Cat Stevens (though, like me you might mistake him for the Bee Gee's Barry Gibb). But the uncanny doesn't end there; I found moments when I could have sworn I was watching an animated version of the Wachowski Brother's The Matrix (1999) and coincidentally the directors, Watanabe and Kawamoto, have been invited to deliver short sequences within The Matrix II, to be released later this year.

But as close to New York as this metropolis is, it's closer to a kind of Disneyland of the world: there's a street to represent every country from Amsterdam to Russia, a replica of the Eiffel tower (which supplies itself for the final kickboxing showdown) and there's a mysterious oriental kasbah called Morocco Road, where it's said that anything can be bought. …

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