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Cowboy Bebop Remix 5

Bandai // Unrated // May 9, 2006
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted May 30, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Movie: Of all the anime series made to date, there exists but a handful of shows that combine all the right elements to make what could truly be called a classic series. The best example I can come up with is Cowboy Bebop, a show from the last millennium that took great care to become something different, ending up as a cultural icon in the process. The original DVDs and various updates have sold incredibly well over the years and the recent Remix editions; as reviewed here with Cowboy Bebop Remix 1, Cowboy Bebop Remix 2, Cowboy Bebop Remix 3, and Cowboy Bebop Remix 4 are notable for their improved audio over all else. Some have made interesting claims of tremendous improvements in the visual components as well but I suspect they are engaging in wishful thinking since repeated attempts on my part to find a consumer oriented system able to prove any such claims have proven fruitless. That said, here's a bit of background on the series before I start writing about today's review of Cowboy Bebop Remix 5:

From the original release of the first disc: "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…"

As I said before, "like the aforementioned Firefly (a futuristic series about Earth colonizing space where the promised utopia remains but a dream), 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 jump gates, 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 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). In previous episodes they also picked up a genius dog, Ein, a computer genius human named Ed, and their sneaky femme fatale, Faye Valentine; all of whom expanded the ship's crew and provide more than a little extra excitement and adventure to the mix.

The episodes this time were 19) Wild Horses, 20) Pierrot Le Fou, 21) Boogie Woogie Feng Shui, and 22) Cowboy Funk. Starting off with a little bit about some pirates in space that have taken advantage of a particular technology, the volume saw some more of Spike's past associations in relation to a dusty old codger by the name of Dohan. The seat of his pants flying of an old relic (you're recognize it immediately) in storage made the episode worth seeing with some of the interpersonal play offering sustenance for the deeper moodiness of the series. The second episode was something of a trip when Spike comes across a situation that even he can't handle. The series has shown time and again that while Spike can be defeated by trickery and deceit, his fighting and firearms skills are second to none…until now. Not only does his luck run out and he get his butt kicked, but his life is on the line until he has to rely on the help offered by his associates. It humanized his character more than a little (keep in mind that his arch nemesis has been shown to be his equal but only this character has been him in a straight out match). The third episode centered on Jet's past, showing him to be as much a mystery as any onboard the Bebop, with a daughter figure introduced that could've served as a replacement for another character had a second season been commissioned. The ending episode was another that artfully combined silly humor (in the form of a popular cowboy who plays the role to the hilt) and a terrorist that is simply a misunderstood guy with a rightful grudge. In all, it was a nice variety of episodes that served the bigger picture well, noting that only one more volume is scheduled to come out before it's all over.

Okay, I like the series as much as anyone and have found a lot of positive things to say about it. The reasons why the show has such a following are as varied as can be but the bottom line is that it combines music, solid writing, a sly sense of humor all too often missing in anime these days, and a crew that knew what they were doing. The English dub has long stood the test of time unlike so many others and the many successful releases of the series have proven worth the upgrades. Even the cable airings of the episodes get higher then average ratings, stuck in the middle of the night. Considering the age of the material, it holds up very nicely, on the same scale as a certain feature anime director in fact, and my only true complaint is that I wish the re-releases had better (and more plentiful) extras and a cleaned up picture. I'm given assurances that the high definition versions of the series that will be released in the future may well do this but for now, this is as good as it gets and I still think all anime fans should look for a copy to own, making this Highly Recommended if you don't own the early releases.

Picture: Cowboy Bebop Remix 5 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 an anime release 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. That said, I was treated to watching this one on a friend's very high end system where he and I tried to decipher if it looked better, worse, or the same as his older version. Lacking an identical side by side set up, we couldn't definitively state that there were no differences but reported "great improvements" are simply wishful thinking (and not noticeable on mid to upper mid range consumer systems like most of you without tens of thousands of dollars to spend on equipment likely have).

Sound: The audio 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: The best extra this time was not the trailers or cardboard slipcase but the bonus episode titled Session 0. It was not a standard episode in that it was strictly a clip oriented set of "staff and cast interviews" and "Tank! Music clips" that were mentioned on the back DVD case. It would not play in either of my computer DVD players and I almost lowered the rating of the DVD over it but decided I'd be petty for doing so .

Final Thoughts: Cowboy Bebop Remix 5 is a tribute not only to the type of anime releases that can be done with the kind of quality that sells over and over again, but also of the kind of show that seems to be a rarity in all genres these days. The idea of an anti-hero is nothing new and the use of music to provide a flowing background storyline that is sometimes substantially different than the spoken word is hard to come across too but it was the result of so many little factors that made Cowboy Bebop the kind of winner it turned out to be. Nowadays, companies would almost certainly be trying to cash in with follow up stories that made little sense in order to maintain merchandising and copyrights rather than create something new. This newly enhanced version's audio was welcomed but I do hope the high definition version goes a step or two beyond this and shows the world what Bandai can really do when it wants to. Check out this entire series if you like anime, noting it isn't all fun and games but it was always real.

If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.

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