As most State regulars will know, Rich Cobbett is a extremely nice man. So nice, in fact, that he's lent me 3 DVD's to initiate me into the world of Japanese Anime.
Anime is one of those many things that I've had a passing interest in, but never really gotten around to exploring. When someone mentions Anime, most people immediately tend to think "Akira" - which I saw years ago and quite liked - whereas an Anime Guru like Rich would tell you that Akira isn't only not really representative of Anime, it's also rather rubbish.
So, one evening I grabbed Rich on MSN and asked him what first got him into Anime, and if Akira was crap, what was good? The answer to the first question was surprisingly familiar - cartoon series like Ulysees 2332 and Cities Of Gold, which I just thought at the time were entertaining kids cartoons, when they're in fact Franco-Japanese collaborative Anime. (Or Anime inspired French cartoons, depending upon who you Google)
Using a set of favourite directors and cinema genres as a guide, Rich selected a few DVDs for me to try, and last night I finished watching the first of them, Cowboy Bebop, Episodes 1-5.
Cowboy Bebop's core themes are best described as the impossi-love child of Boba Fett, Bruce Lee and Sergio Leone. Sci-Fi Kung Fu bounty hunting with a Western twist. It sounds bizarre, but it really works. You know you're onto a winner when the opening title music is titled "Tank!"
It's real Kick! 'Splode! stuff, though this is A Good Thing. I have to admit that I was pretty astounded by the quality of the animation - the blend of CGI and hand-drawn animation is excellent, pretty seamless, and positively drips with atmosphere - the jumpgates piss all over those in Babylon 5 and the Roulette Wheel shaped orbital casino really tickled my fancy, being an ex-croupier.
The characters are all very solid, which is surprising, given the limited time given to character development, and the English dub is absolutely perfect - if you didn't know, you could hardly tell that it was originally drawn for a Japanese soundtrack. The stories are very action oriented, and the emphasis is more on style, rather than plot, but it's highly watchable stuff, with moments of real serene beauty.
It's a bit of a cliché to say that cartoons or animation are only for kids, but this gives the lie to it. Cowboy Bebop has a more cinematic feel than anything, and there are moments that are reminiscent of the kind of cinematography you'd expect to see in a Michael Mann or John Woo film - it's the kind of experience you can simply let wash over you for you to savour like a fine cognac.
I think I'll try an pick up the complete series on DVD off eBay next month, because having had a taster, I'd really like to see the whole series now. Highly recommended.