Japanese Title: Cowboy Bebop
Related: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (movie side story)
Watched in: Japanese & English
Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy
Length: 24 episodes
- Great style in its deep world building and visuals.
- Love the characters, especially Ed.
- Groovy jazz and Wild West music.
- Many great comedy moments.
- Could do with more overarching plot and a deeper exploration of the main antagonist.
Ah, Cowboy Bebop, the old classic. This was the anime that cemented my interest in the genre. Before Bebop, I wasn’t considered an anime fan; enjoyed a few series, yes, but had no interest in the medium as a whole, as I did with video games. Cowboy Bebop made me ask the question ‘what else does anime have to offer?’
The story follows Spike, a Bruce Lee meets Hans Solo type, and Jet as they hunt bounties across the galaxy aboard the spaceship Bebop, a bucket of tin always in need of repairs using money they don’t have. The sexy Faye Valentine and Edward, thirteen-year-old hacker extraordinaire and all-round weirdo, soon join them. Oh, and Ein, the wonder corgi – cutest anime pet.
Set in the year 2071, Cowboy Bebop takes a realistic approach to the progress of humanity into a Wild West galaxy of space flight and bounty hunters. Humanity has settled on the likes of Mars and Venus with hyperspace gates making long distance travel a breeze. The artists paid attention to detail in every aspect of the world building. It’s cool to see the mechanics of ships – air brakes, flap controls, veneer thrusters – and I am a stickler for the inconsequential details such as people getting Venus sickness from the planet’s atmosphere or how advertising works in the future. This doesn’t lead to anything, but I appreciate when creators build their lore beyond the necessary. Bebop’s universe has it all – combat drugs, bar fights, truckers, gambling, future PETA terrorists, and a mockery of Yuri Gellar. Most importantly, none of this world building needs explanation; no character halts the narrative to explain to the audience how the world works. We see it for ourselves – amazing what visuals can do for storytelling, aye?
Bebop uses an episodic format, each episode hunting a new bounty head from smugglers to gangsters, but there are a couple of two-parters. While each episode is great, some comedy focused (the crew high on mushrooms was the best), the lack of an overarching story does reduce the episode-to-episode engagement, making this closer to a series of related short stories. Only five episodes have a direct link, where Spike’s past and the antagonist Vicious catch up to Spike. Vicious isn’t a particularly interesting villain, as we never learn his motivations or raison d’être, which is strange because the single-episode villains have much characterisation. He is threatening, though; I will give him that.
Cowboy Bebop is all about the characters. They are the heart of this show. It’s as if one took the Millennium Falcon with its crew, dropped the galactic war, and focused on the characters’ pasts and how they handle small adventures. I particularly enjoy Ed; she is weird as hell, feral, talks in the third person and hilarious. Bebop has plenty of humour, as a matter of fact, quick, snappy humour, unexpected at times. The three old men who appear in most episodes, no matter the remoteness of location, slay me every time with their whining about how hard they worked back in the day and how little they have to show for it.
Watching Cowboy Bebop again, seventeen years after release, its quality still amazes me. The industry took years to produce a series of this quality again. Regardless of how many newer series I prefer, this unique anime will always be something special.
Art – Very High
I cannot believe Cowboy Bebop is from 1998. The animation, the art, the design, the cinematography, the detail, everything looks fantastic. I don’t see how they could have done better without an exponential budget increase.
Sound – Very High
Cowboy Bebop was the anime series to demonstrate the possibilities of quality dubbing, far surpassing the original Japanese. Yoko Kanno, one of the best composers in anime, helmed the music and it is excellent – jazz, blues, drums, Western – is there anything she can’t do? The OP track is a personal favourite.
Story – High
The fun space adventures of the Bebop and its ragtag crew of interesting characters. I would have liked a concrete overarching story to tie everything together.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: Cowboy Bebop is a must watch for its quality and significance to the anime medium, though at this point, I would be surprised if there is anyone left who hasn’t seen this.
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14 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop – Anime Review”
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While I greatly appreciate your interest and the offer, I don’t do guest posts, as I don’t have the time to read and curate them on top of my already heavy workload, which doesn’t even include the reviews on this site.
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Your review is spot on : )
THIS is how you make a great anime
In fact, this was one of the first anime series I watched that got me into the medium in the first place
It is hard to believe this was made in the 90s, the visuals are just perfect
No harem, no love triangle BS, no moe, no ecchi, no Kubo-style asspulls
just a feel good anime that doesn’t disappoint
Have not seen the Bebop movie as of yet, but I have heard nothing but good things about it
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I keep having to remind myself how old this series is, as it looks too good for the time.
Sometimes, works of art are popular for a reason. ‘Cowboy Bebop’ is one such example of that. It has a simple concept, but its execution is simply wonderful on all levels. Here’s my obligatory episode ranking.
24)-Boogie Woogie Feng Shui (1×21). An underdeveloped concept makes for another lackluster Jet-focused episode.
23)-Ganymede Elegy (1×10). I like the fact that the writers tried to flesh out Jet’s character, but it’s just too generic and flat to really land.
22)-Heavy Metal Queen (1×07). It’s just really slight and forgettable, albeit not bad.
21)-Bohemian Rhapsody (1×14). It’s a decent one-off that doesn’t really stand out in any way.
20)-Black Dog Serenade (1×16). Definitely the strongest of the Jet-centric episodes, but still is far from the best-written Bebop episode. Again, some generic writing slips in here underneath the neat visuals.
19)-Stray Dog Strut (1×02). Bebop’s action sequences at their best. Light, but fun.
18)-Gateway Shuffle (1×04). This is quite a fine one that concludes Faye’s introduction. Well-paced and exciting as hell.
17)-Waltz For Venus (1×08). Waltz for Venus is uneven. At times it’s powerful but at others it’s simply melodramatic. If it dialed back on the melodrama a bit, it could’ve ranked much higher.
16)-Wild Horses (1×19). It’s a simple, but focused episode, that clearly articulates Spike’s ‘go with the flow’ philosophy.
15)-My Funny Valentine (1×15). A great introduction to one of the show’s most poignant story-lines, that of the tragic past of Faye Valentine.
14)-Honky Tonk Women (1×03). This is such a well-done introduction to Faye’s character, telling the audience everything they need to know about her in a fun, exciting way.
13)-Hard Luck Woman (1×24). I don’t love this episode as much as most people do, but it is great. The ending, with Faye discovering what’s left of her home (nothing) and Ed and Ein leaving set to ‘Call Me, Call me’ is heart-wrenching. The rest of the episode doesn’t quite measure up to that, but it still deserves praise.
12)-Sympathy for the Devil (1×06). Sympathy for the Devil looks much better in retrospect. After the brilliant Ballad of Fallen Angels, it has a tough job, but it succeeds due to its imagery and atmosphere. Which is common with this show. When Spike confronts Wen at the end of the episode, Wen thanks him shortly before his death. Spike throws his harmonica up in the air and says ‘bang’. Hm.
11)-Asteroid Blues (1×01). Just a slick, slick introduction to the series, one of the finest in anime history. Explodes out the gate with excellent pacing, style, and sharp characterization.
10)-Cowboy Funk (1×22). One of the cleverest and most fun episodes of the show, and the last one to be lighthearted. Spike’s dynamic with the rival cowboy Andy never ceases to make me chuckle.
9)-Jamming With Edward (1×09). Jamming With Edward is another one that I consider underrated. It’s one of the most thoughtful yet fun episodes in the series’ run, and yet another great character introduction.
8)-Mushroom Samba (1×17)-The show at its most unhinged….and it totally works for me. The dream sequences are just…sublime.
7)-Brain Scratch (1×23)-One of the more sophisticated episodes for sure. At first it seems like the episode is validating Londes’ worldview, but it isn’t. Turns out he was just using that to trick Spike into joining his cult. Clever stuff.
6)-Speak Like a Child (1×18)-Funny, then not. The first part of Speak Like a Child is delightfully retro, as Spike and Jet look for a Betamax player. They fail, but eventually they view the tape delivered for Faye at the episode’s beginning. Turns out it’s a message from past Faye. It provides us a glimpse of her more carefree past, ruined by a shuttle accident.
5)-Jupiter Jazz (1×12 and 1×13)-A massive mythology two-parter that’s more focused on Gren than it is on Spike. And luckily Gren is probably the show’s most compelling character who’s not a main cast member. This is also full of brilliant cinematography, moving moments
4)-Toys in the Attic (1×11)-A clean, tight Alien homage. What’s not to like?
3)-Pierrot Le Fou (1×20)-The show at its absolute eeriest. The mood and atmosphere created by Mad Pierrot is unbelievable.
2)-Ballad of Fallen Angels (1×05). Spike’s encounter with Vicious in the church is one of the all-time great anime moments, and yet the entire episode is excellently written and well-thought out.
1)-The Real Folk Blues (1×25 and 1×26). This is about as good as anime gets. Exhilarating, tragic, stylish–all of Bebop’s strengths rolled into one two-parter.
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It’s amazing. I went into this show expecting it to be good, but I didn’t expect everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) said about this show to be true. (the positive things said about the show, that is.)
This show is simply amazing. Cowboy Bebop truly is a masterpiece.