Cowboy Bebop Vol. #1 (Mania.com)

By:Roman Martel
Review Date: Thursday, February 07, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, April 04, 2000



The Review!
Overall Rating: 4.7 (on a scale of 1-5)

-Disc Ratings-

Sound: 5
Picture: 5
Menu: 5
Presentation: 4
Goodies: 5
Overall: 4.8
-Artistic Ratings-

Animation: 5
Sound: 5
Plot: 4
English Acting: 4
Music: 5
Overall: 4.6
Intro

A surprise lay in store for me upon returning from another dull day at work ... my first DVD from Bandai. I had a sudden flashback to the old days, when a US release of a Bandai title seemed very far away indeed. Now the future is here (I've always wanted to write that ;-)) What does the future have in store... let's find out in this review of Cowboy Bebop Session 1.

Technical Review

For a first attempt this disc has most of its bases covered. The sound was excellent. It was nice and sharp the whole time. And even for a stereo mix, this disc sounded great on the English track. The picture was very clear and crisp. I think that DVD is a perfect way to view this show. Not only do you get to experience the full impact of the visuals and appreciate some of the great artwork involved, but the sound works perfectly with it. The menus are filled with music, motion and sound. They also work really well too. My only minor problem is that there are times where you have to wait for the main menu to load up again after you make a Language or Subtitle selection. But that's just a minor annoyance. The overall presentation is pretty good. As much as I like the cover, I wonder if it is eye catching enough. It's a bit too plain in my opinion and will look artsy to some and cheap to others (I'm just quoting one person's reaction here). You are also missing what extras you get on this disc, anywhere on the back. I know several people who judge a disc by the extras, and so that is an important thing to mention. Speaking of goodies, you get a music video (of sorts) featuring the opening theme, character bios, and trailers for other Bandai shows. The Character bios are kinda strange. They give you stats in text over scenes with the character in action. They don't give too much away, but do show off the show a bit. Overall this disc is technically very well done. A good job for a first effort. Keep up the great work on all your discs!

Content Review

Upon hearing the title Cowboy Bebop, a blast from the past entered my brain... that old 80's song Orbital Bebop. Now this isn't the kind of thing I wanted to remember so I was implanted with a strange foreboding of the title right off the bat. But when I heard about the five episodes on one DVD for a great price, I decided to give the show a try. Luckily this show has nothing to do with that 80's song. It has everything to do with space bounty hunters and plenty of action.

The show follows the adventures of Spike and Jet, partners in the bounty hunting game. They travel the solar system capturing wrong doers and delivering them into police custody. Spike seems to be the one who does all the physical work. He's a master martial artist, and a pretty good shot too. Of course he's rather cocky when it comes down to it, but he's also as good as he boasts. Jet is the one who does all the background work (finding the bounty, digging up the info), he also is the back up for Spike. He basically comes around with guns blazing if Spike gets in over his head (which looks to happen quite a bit).

This disc basically establishes the characters, and starts the story in motion. You meet Spike and Jet in the first episode and get a feel for their relationship and the business. The second episode introduces Ein (I won't say any more about Ein, other than this is one fun episode). The third episode gives us the lovely but highly unlucky, Faye Valentine. The fourth episode gets all four of our heroes working together and the last episode seems to get the ball rolling with the main plot.

It takes a bit to get into the show. Cowboy Bebop has the same format as I suspect Trigun to have. You get four episodes of set up and little or no overall plot. But watching all of those episodes becomes a bit of a chore. They look great and the characters seem interesting, but it's lacking an overall thrust and a dynamic that will shape and change the characters. Luckily the fifth episode changes all that. We get a glimpse of Spike's past and we see that there is definitely something going on in this world that will involve all our heroes.

So don't despair. It looks like Cowboy Bebop will eventually jump onto a story line and have us riding it all the way to the end.

There seem to be two very different styles of direction and animation on this disc. The first and fifth episodes have a very dark tone to them. They both use some very interesting animation techniques, as well as editing and camera movement to provide mood. These are definitely worth seeing in and of themselves. They are also more brutally violent than episodes two, three and four. Now the animation remains constantly good in all five episodes. Lots of time was taken to fully flesh out this world and boy does it show. You got some great mechanical designs here, as well as some realistic backgrounds. You get a good sense of place. It's a future that seems possible. It's used and abused, and even the shiny glamour of the casino seems a bit too real. I was really impressed with the overall look of this series. I should mention that there is some CG in many of the space sequences. Now it did stand out a bit, but I didn't think it detracted from the show at all. The rest just looked too good for me to really be bothered by it. Plus some of the CG is genuinely functional and looks pretty good. And while the middle episodes tend to be a bit lighter looking and slightly less gritty, they still work well with everything else. I definitely think that this show deserved a top rating in this department.

Keeping up with awesome visuals is no mean trick, but this sound design does it. With all kinds of interesting weapons, devices, ships and vehicles to work with this is a very rich experience. Lots of great work with the "gateways" especially. I also like the work they did with the voices in different spaces. Whether in the hollow confines of the ship or over a radio, added elements make you feel like you are part of this world.

The plot is fairly standard at this time. All that has really happened is the introduction of the characters and the seeds of the overall conflict. But I must say that all in all it looks to be going in a good direction. However as I stated above, you are left wanting something relevant to happen around episode 3. And unfortunately it just doesn't happen. I caught myself checking my watch around this point and that isn't a good sign. In comparison, Trigun had a similar problem, but still managed to be wholly entertaining throughout. Bebop seems to be missing something in these early episodes. But the animation makes up for it, as does the final episode. You just have to hang in there until that point.

The English cast is very good. Again there are lots of familiar voices in this cast and many of them are long time V.A.s. Needless to say, they know how to carry the plot and emotion really well. There is some iffy work from some of the secondary characters, but it's a very good dub so far and I'm hoping it will get better.

Music-wise...well all I need to say is that the music is done by the legendary Yoko Kanno (Vision of Escaflowne, Macross Plus, two of my favorite CD series). It shows off more of her talent to the fullest. The opening credits are done in a 60's I Spy style, musically and visually. The music fits the animation perfectly in this opening and all the way through the series. So I definitely loved this aspect of this show (gotta get this CD too!).

I recommend watching this disc and seeing if you wanna take the plunge. It looks very good so far and it will probably get better. Now keep in mind this is a more serious anime than Trigun was. It has funny moments but it primarily seems to be an action series with drama and some fun bit thrown in (the second episode for example). If you're feeling wary, go ahead and rent it. I think it's worth spending the money, you get 5 very well made episodes, and if you are a sci-fi action fan this one looks to be right up your alley.



Review Equipment
Panasonic A110, Pioneer Elite Pro-107 (45 inch screen), Kenwood THX certified 4.1 receiver, Boston Acoustics (5 speakers and 2 subs)



Mania Grade: NA
Audio Rating: N/A
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Cowboy Bebop