Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bebop Blues

It's hard to believe that Cowboy Bebop originally aired over 10 years ago. Although it didn't make it into the States until a little bit later, the visceral anime-noir still remains a serious staple for many anime fans - evidenced, of course, by the community grab-bag of reactions to the announcement of a Cowboy Bebop live action movie (in particular, to Keanu Reeves's affirmed casting as Spike Spiegel). Although I have my own reservations about Keanu Reeves playing a character as 3-dimensional and complex as the series' protagonist - my concerns are more structural and thematic. What made Cowboy Bebop fantastic as a series wasn't just its compelling characters or its theme homages, but its music and how that made the story and animation a living, breathing entity.

Cowboy Bebop functions a lot like its own composition. Each episode (or "session") has a theme depicted by a title referencing a genre of music that'll convey the overall tone of both the episode and the featured character arch. An example: the first session is called "Asteroid Blues." Immediately, you can assume that the episode will feature a blues/jazz motif having something to do with space. The episode itself features blues and jazz music, laden with noir elements, is set at some point in the future, and follows the bounty hunting exploits of Spike and Jet on their spaceship called "the Bebop." As the series pilot, the episode succeeds both as one self-contained and conveys the general tone of the entire series. Each session applies itself to an individual character arc, which present themselves as separate movements that make up a representative compilation titled Cowboy Bebop. The music then allows the viewer to associate each character with their own theme while allowing the character and story to maintain depth and personality.

Additionally, the music itself is well orchestrated and performed. Yoko Kanno and her associates, the Seatbelts, do an exceptional job compiling, writing, and performing the wide variety of genres demanded of them. From jazz, to blues, to heavy metal each song has a particular place within the work as a whole. What's more - often the animation on screen works together with the music heard, presenting well-drawn, cinematic action sequences in a beautiful form of violence. Whether it's hand-to-hand combat, space-ship action, or the characters taking a smoke break, the animation and music move together as one, like a choreographed dance. In this sense, if the Bebop could be considered the 6th crew member, Yoko Kanno's music is certainly the 7th.

Perhaps what worries me about the upcoming movie is that these factors could very well be absent. Although movie titles typically aren't picked until the last minute, the fact that (at this point) it's still called "The Cowboy Bebop Movie" (as opposed to, say, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door) concerns me. Without conveying a sense of tone or theme with a music genre-based title, I fear that music may actually be absent from the producers' considerations in the movie's storytelling engine. Yoko Kanno, also, is rumored to have only a small roll in composing the opening theme - it would be horrific if she wasn't responsible for the rest of the score. Without her music coalescing with the on-screen action into an integrated work of art, what perhaps is one of the most integral parts of the Cowboy Bebop series will be absent and dead. To me, this would be the difference in watching a faithful adaptation of what was the first anime with which I fell in love and, well, a monkey in novelty suit parading around as a live-action Cowboy Bebop movie.

(All pictures property of Sunrise Inc.)

All is not lost, however. Reports say that the original team from the series will have significant, if not direct, control over the product Fox produces. As they created the series original and the animated movie (see Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door), allow yourselves the faith to be hopeful. If word comes that Yoko Kano will be playing a more significant part in the score, perhaps this will be a film of which to look forward.

PS - If they cast Abigale Bresline or Dakota Fanning as Ed, I will have to kill someone.

1 comment:

David Pratt said...

I'm of the opinion that this could potentially be a good movie. I would've gone with Clive Owen over Keanu, but this is just another unfortunate example of what happens when all important decisions are not left up to me.

On the original statement, though, this could do justice to the series. Conditional upon it being a Cowboy Bebop story and not them trying to retell the entire series in live-action format. If it's Spike and Jet, and maybe also Faye, Ed, and Ein chasing a bounty head through intrigue and conspiracy in deep space, awesome. If they try and squeeze the entire story of Vicious and Julia into 2 hours, not so awesome.

I would also accept a movie wherein Spike was a down-on-his-luck baseball player and Jet his gruff but caring coach.