Based on the cult Japanese anime TV series of the same name, "Cowboy Bebop" is set on Mars in 2071. A group of bounty hunters, led by lanky dropout Spike Spiegel (voiced by Kôichi Yamadera), are here to track down an ex-Special Forces officer-turned-biological terrorist.
Threatening to unleash a horde of rampaging nano-machines into the city, Vincent (Tsutomu Isobe) is public enemy number one, which is why there's a 300 million woolong bounty on his head. And since that's enough dosh to keep the Cowboy Bebop crew in buckwheat noodles until the next millennium, the foursome are quickly on the case.
Switching from the small to the big screen with staggering ease, director Shinichirô Watanabe (one of the contributors to "The Animatrix") has created a brilliant feature-length anime that's good enough to deserve mention in the same breath as "Akira", "Ghost in the Shell", and "Spirited Away".
Dark, futuristic and totally lacking in the infantile silliness that often mars some of Japan's animated output, this is hugely impressive stuff.
Opening with an adrenalin-charged convenience-store robbery (complete with stretched shots mimicking the 'fish-eye' effect of surveillance camera lenses), "Cowboy Bebop" has a fantastic sense of the cinematic.
The action centrepiece is a three-way shoot out on a high-speed cable car train, which has an understanding of the dynamics of framing, close-ups, and hyperkinetic editing that puts most Hollywood blockbusters to shame.
With seven screenwriters wrestling the convoluted conspiracy plot onto the page, it's no wonder that the storytelling occasionally shifts into second gear. Yet, rallying itself with movie references, philosophical discussions (including Lao Tse's famous butterfly dream) and a first-class soundtrack (full of jazz bebop, of course), this is an example of anime at its very best.
What are the odds the brothers Wachowski are already cribbing from it?
In Japanese with English subtitles.