What was this movie for? I can imagine a number of purposes and all of them would be true to some degree. It was to capitalize on the popularity of the series, perhaps particularly in the west, several years after the original broadcast in Japan. It was a means to introduce the franchise to new audiences. It was to fill things in, to provide additional characterization to the main cast leading up to the end. It was a way to tell the whole story without saying much, really.
I rewatched this film three times over the course of two months before I could figure out what to write here. As a piece of referencing it’s too general to be interesting. The most I can say is through images – that is, the shift from depicting Martian cities as Hong Kong, and making them more New York. Sure there’s a Moroccan quarter, but such things can be inserted in any metropolis in this story.
Here’s a comparison of the setting from the series with the film:
Naturally there’s more than one city in Mars, and each city could be based on a different 20th century version, unlike say, Macross Frontier which is an amalgam of every major city Kawamori Shouji likes (Tokyo, San Francisco, Sydney, Singapore, etc.). But it’s remarkable here how distinctly New York the images are. Now I’ve never been to New York, unlike Hong Kong which I’ve visited twice, but I’ve seen enough American media to have a clear memory of how the city is portrayed. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door is nostalgic for that setting.
There are many things to like about this film, most of them on the production and execution side of things. All the set pieces; the fight scenes from the convenience store, Spike vs. Elektra, Spike & Elektra vs. Vincent on the train (marvelous); the dogfight, & finally the final showdown on the fake Eiffel Tower. The planning, choreography, direction and animation are all incredible. I can’t say enough about them, except maybe the addition of the music and musical direction elevate them at the very top of anime productions. It rarely gets better than these set-piece action scenes.
But I’m not really here to discuss those.
The movie, because of the opening scene in the convenience store, gives the feeling that it is introducing the characters. However, if I think of this film as an introductory piece and/or stand-alone, it falls apart. We don’t really get to know much about these Cowboys. It’s as informative an episode as is “Asteroid Blues” is. I don’t mean to say it’s not meaningful, it is. But as a standalone or introductory episode, it’s not a very strong one. But if it only means to get people to check out “Asteroid Blues” then it will have done its job.
But I’m not really here to discuss that either.
The genius of this film, is if it’s taken in context. The context being, the futility of everyone’s stories are – Spike’s in particular. This film was written and made years after the conclusion of the TV series. What it did with varying degrees of success involves three things:
- Be a Cowboy Bebop episode (and fit within the continuity of the narrative)
- Capture the spirit, verve, and overall theme of the anime
- Provide further context, meaning, and set-up for Spike’s death
I won’t explain the first item, but as for number 2 we get to see the cast take on a big, yet ultimately meaningless bounty. The whole exercise gets them nowhere, their lives are as empty, listless, and directionless as with any episode in the TV series. Cowboy Bebop is also, a show about nothing. Amidst the explosions, artificial weather, terrorist attacks, and duels in this film – nothing of significance truly happens. I think this is brilliant, overall.
As for the third item, it sets up Spike’s confrontation with his past obviously and clumsily. It’s pretty much because of the inherent futility of it all (and how savory this is) that makes the story marginally interesting.
Vincent Volaju reminds Spike of himself, as a sharp contrast to Cowboy Andy from the previous episode. Vincent is the dark, serious, operatic projection of Spike. His date with his destiny is analogous to Spike’s own. I will go further and say Vincent inspired Spike to finally go close out his past when he finally heard about Julia later on. How did this happen?
It’s because Elektra came for Vincent, and this saved him. If we believe Vincent, he only remembered Elektra as the woman he loved in that final gunfight. That’s the kind of hope that breaks the mind and poisons the will. Vincent wanted to know if he was living in the real world. Spike wanted to find out if he ever truly lived in the first place. Vincent feels very contrived as a character, but in this case, Cowboy Bebop’s meaningless ends justify Vincent as a meaningless means.