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Cowboy Bebop Remix 1

Bandai // Unrated // September 13, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted September 19, 2005 | E-mail the Author
Movie: Cowboy Bebop is perhaps the most written about anime series in DVD history. Much of this is due to the quality of the original series but a significant following for the English language dub has been partially responsible too. This review isn't designed for the hardcore purist fan base of the series (to be blunt, I have yet to read a review of the series that was comprehensive enough to satisfy the "true believers" of the show) so much as to introduce the material to a newer generation and to offer a look at the enhancements that latest the version of the show, Cowboy Bebop Remix 1, has to offer all of us. There are plenty of places to argue about the similarities of the show to other great offerings like Firefly or Outlaw Star but the simple fact is that this is one of the high points of modern anime and needs to be looked at on its own terms.

The rear cover of the first disc says this about the show: "The crew of the Bebop is once again ready to take control of space, bringing bad guys to justice and trying to make some cash while doing it. Join the always cool Spike, investigative genius Jet, the fabulous Faye, the amazing (but weird) Ed, and the super-smart Welsh Corgi named Ein as they try to make a buck in the year 2071. How do they do it? They're bounty hunters. But then again, you probably wouldn't be reading this if you didn't already know that...
Now, the entire series has been remastered into full Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. So sit back, turn your speakers up, and get ready to experience Cowboy Bebop: Remix!" This gives a brief overview of the show but a look at the original cover revealed a bit more conceptual detail to give a decent "feel" for the material:

"Jazz Agers, flower children, lost generation, beatniks, rockers, punks, nerds, hackers, lovers, generation X - whatever the designation, there have always been outlaws in our society who live in pursuit of autonomy. At times they are revered for their roles as pioneers, challenging the unknown; other times people consider them lawless desperadoes and a dangerous presence. Yet, really, it is only their exuberant music and an autonomy founded to express opinions different from those of others that set them apart from the rest of society.

The year 2071 A.D. That future is now. Driven out of their terrestrial eden, humanity chose the stars as the final frontier. With the section-by-section of collapse of the former nations a mixed jumble of races and peoples came. They spread to the stars, taking with them the now confused concepts of freedom, violence, illegality and love, where new rules and a new generation of outlaws came into being. People referred to them as Cowboy Bebops...

Profile: Spike
Full Name: Spike Spiegel
Age: 27 (Born on Mars)
As a member of the Red Dragons, Chinese mafia group, Spike was impetuous and volatile, and had a sense of what was right. Now, however, he is cool and self-possessed, and has taken steps to hide this past so that he can live a free life.

Together with his partner, Jet Black, Spike the bounty hunter flits from planet to planet in the spaceship Bebop. Relishing new encounters and loving danger, he never forgets to crack a joke no matter how dire his predicament.

A practitioner of Jeet Kune Do...Spike is never defeated in unarmed melee combat. He attaches little value to money or the concept of justice, but he will always fulfill his obligations. He believes in accomplishing everything in his own way and has utter faith in his own values. As a result of this, he is always embroiled in some kind of trouble.

He excels at sword fish II, a form of high-speed combat, and his privately built "baby" is the fastest ship of its type. This ship is a customized version of one originally developed for racing in asteroid belts. He worships the martial artist and philosopher Bruce Lee as his spiritual master."

Like the aforementioned Firefly, society has its share of lost souls trying to scrape by using any means possible. Set much closer than that show to our own time though, it looks at the logical end result of many trends started in the 1980's (in particular, privatization, environmental concerns, and a general distrust of government). As the new frontier of space is opened up by virtue of various colonies and jumpgates, societal means of control have all but broken down. The vast expanses of space have opened up far more opportunities for the criminal element to do as they please with unprecedented impunity, with the crooks knowing the governments are too thinly spread to do much outside their boundaries. As a result, a formalized structure of bounty hunters, known as "cowboys", travels the limits of known (and sometimes unknown) space to capture these crooks much as was used in the Old West in the USA (popularized by a multitude of movies like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly starring Clint Eastwood). The bounties are measured in millions of Mulons, the standardized currency of the time.

Cowboy Bebop Remix 1 focuses not on the entire system but on a small group that use it to pay their bills. Set on the spaceship Bebop, the lead character is Spike Spiegel; a former Mafioso from Mars. His fighting skill, luck, and overall cool in any situation serves him well as he seeks out those who'll bring in the best rewards (broadcast by means of a silly western style television show that lists the top bounties of the week). His partner, Jet Black, is his polar opposite; an ex-cop with tremendous investigative skill, a sense of morals about doing the right thing (unlike Spike's view of flexible morality), and a cyborg enhanced body as the result of his past service to humanity (when he was more inclined to protect and serve for the public good).

The five episodes included in this set were 1) Asteroid Blues, 2) Stray Dog Strut, 3) Honky Tonk Women, 4) Gateway Shuffle, and 5) Ballad of Fallen Angels; the first of 26 in the complete season set (it never went beyond a single season for reasons fans already know about and that I won't spoil you with). The episodes introduce more of the regular cast, including a super enhanced "data dog" named Ein (short for Einstein) that played a recurring role beyond that of the mascot of the ship. More crucial to later plot points was the addition of Faye Valentine; a woman with a past that has an exaggerated sense of her femininity (she shops like a maniac, treats men like slaves, and generally causes lots of mayhem; all of which is offset by her own set of thieving skills that come in handy to Spike and Jet). Lastly, we come to learn more about Spike via flashbacks and his encounter with a former partner, now turned enemy, called Vicious.

The episodes are all fairly well self-contained as individual stories that stand alone but they also contain threads of larger stories that become more pronounced as the series progresses (you don't see that much in this initial volume though). In terms of replay value, this is one of the best series to date since I've probably watched most of them a dozen or more times (it plays on the Cartoon Network and I own the original releases on DVD) and still manage to find new elements overlooked in the past. The details of the backgrounds, the names used (in both languages too), and even in the titles (most of which relate to oldie Jazz album titles) are a cultural treasure trove to explore for those willing to dig a little deeper. Much has been made about the fusion of music and visual styles on the series and that point cannot be overstated (there's so much going on at any given time yet even in the silent moments, you can be lulled into a sense of complacency while things slip past at breakneck speed).

Conceptually though, the characters are somewhat outside the realm of civilized society, much like the jazz music employed to set the tone of their exploits was when it first clashed with mainstream ideas. Essentially, the cowboys of 2071 act as the means by which society can clean up the messes we currently rely on police to do but the same society that richly rewards them also holds them in distain (for various reasons but mostly relating to socio-economic class matters). Society pays them well but holds a "whip out the checkbook" approach to them, preferring to pay them off with cash and sweep them under the table rather than consider them viable members of the self same society. They're the hired help of the new millennium and considered second class citizens by most they encounter (the lowest rungs of society view them as the moral equivalent of cops so even there, the cowboys are ostracized as outsiders, except when they're paying someone off).

The strength of the show also lies in how it manages to pull so much material from movies (the blatant references to Game of Death in Stray Dog Strut serves as an obvious example but you can literally dissect any episode to find a multitude of homages to music, movies, and historical events) and put them in an interesting light. The humor is almost always present in the show but it's a dark, almost gallows humor, and as such won't appeal to those of you wanting a cheerful show to watch. As far as the action elements of the show, you will find an awful lot of it here as the cast chases down their prey with a flair for destroying anything in their path (which comes out of their bounty by the way) that keeps the show moving. Whatever your political and philosophical leanings however, you'll find plenty to appreciate throughout the show. In the first set of episodes; the show managed to introduce the majority of characters without bogging down, a rare trait in any serial adventures these days.

So, what do you rate an enhanced version of one of the very best anime (or any television series for that matter) releases? Do you treat it as a double dip and evaluate it as though the reader already has the first release or do you assume they have watched the episodes on the Cartoon Network (edited mind you) or do you even look at it as a cold entry into modern anime? Well, to be open about it, my rating of DVD Talk Collector Series was to take the high road and figure you have little or no exposure to the material but later revised to Highly Recommended due to the mmultiple release with marginal improvement formula used by the company to promote this title yet again. Without getting into the technical matters (discussed below) too deeply, the audio was substantially better this time (in terms of purity of sound) but the picture looked the same to me (I compared it to the original using several points of reference). Thankfully, the material was already exceptional so the added dimension of a 5.1 track made it all the better. I've only given this rating to one other mainstream movie, the cult classic Rock & Rule, out of a great many reviews, but keep in mind that this rating is for those without the series in hand already and applies to the series as a whole (the individual volumes are probably best rated as top end Highly Recommended though). With all due respect to some of the anime greats of the last 40 years, this is probably the most agreed upon top series for all it had to offer and the new version added some superior audio to the mix. If you already have the previous release of the series and you don't have a good home theatre system, you'll probably find the new extras here as worth at least a rental too. I hope Bandai keeps adding some nice material to the rest of the series as well since it added enough to boost the rating for me here but other than a High Definition DTS version with a frame by frame cleaned up picture, this is as good as it gets.

Picture: Cowboy Bebop Remix 1 was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was made in back in the late 1990's. It looks like a product of the time and doesn't compare to the rich complexities of a show like Samurai 7 that has all the benefits of a huge budget and modern techniques but the sheer style alone was enough to win it awards and accolades. While the anime style didn't have as high a frame rate as some of you are used to, it used a lot of camera angles and techniques from film to convey a sense of the story (and stories in the sense that each episode was like a movie onto itself). There was some minor pattern noise on occasion but the overall look of the movie was extremely fitting of the material (a rundown future where making ends meet sometimes trumps individual moralities). For the record, the visual aspects of the remixed volume did not appear to be different to me so this was not a selling point if you already have the previous volumes.

Sound: The audio this time was presented in both the original 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks (Japanese and English with optional English subtitles) as expected but also the newly remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround version of the tracks. I know that a lot of older movies have been manhandled this way, often resulting in weakening the quality of the audio (purists would possibly argue that the original is always better) but this was definitely an exception to the rule. The dialogue was enhanced in terms of separation, the sound effects sounded cleaner and better placed, and the music score (an important part of the show mind you) benefited the most. Both language tracks were exceptionally well done, using silence as much as talking and music to tell the story. I blind tested the audio with a few friends and each of them, even the nearly tone deaf one, heard a difference. I also spent some time listening to the show without watching it (but paying close attention) and it really seemed a lot better (also adding some background details I missed previously at that). Was it worth buying another copy of the show? That's a personal matter for you to decide but due to the nature of this release and its importance to anime; it was worth it to me (along with the extras that is).

Extras: I've reviewed several thousand DVDs in the last five years and have noticed that the extras section seems to be one of the last areas where a title will be hit or miss. In anime, most companies forego the best extras in favor of a few trailers, some clean openings/closings, and perhaps some artwork. In Cowboy Bebop Remix 1, this was not the case however. The best extras for me were the audio commentaries as they added a sense of historical value and some interesting anecdotes by those closest to the show. The first one was with the Japanese voice actors for Spike (Kouichi Yamadera) and Jet (Unsho Ishizuka) as hosted by Sato. It was in Japanese but had an English subtitle stream that kept me apprised of what they were saying. They reminisced about the show and admitted to babbling about it but their energy about the project was clear and convincing that it was more than just another job for them. The second commentary was with ADR Producer Yutaka Maseba and Wendee Lee (English language vocalist for Faye Valentine). They spent more time focused on the series as a whole on top of their personal involvement and it came off as another reason to appreciate the English language dub (even now it stands out as one of the best dubs of an anime).

The extras also included a nearly 9 nine minute interview with Wendee Lee (Faye Valentine) where she spent more time addressing her role in the English language version of the show. I thought she was a cutie but it was her passion for the show that seemed more important here. As probably the most utilized female voice in English language dubs, more of these interviews in the future would be nice extras in my opinion. Lastly, there were various trailers for the series (and others), some Cartoon Network promos, and a textless ending.

Final Thoughts: Cowboy Bebop Remix 1 was an excellent release by any standard. The show is an amalgamation of many elements that uses music, visual flair, and some great writing to tell a story about a bleak future where all the usual human foibles get in the way of our collective happiness. As an anime, it went beyond the usual conventions to draw in many who weren't "into" anime, making a whole lot of new fans to this form of story telling. This remixed volume might not satisfy everyone but considering how well done the original was in terms of how it told this organic, flowing story of the crew of the Bebop trying to scratch out a living in a society that needs, but hates, them; I have to admit it made an already enjoyable show even better. The textures used (visual and auditory) to convey style were far above average, ranking this as one of the best (if not THE best) anime series to date in this sense.

If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk

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