Japanese Title: Cowboy Bebop
Related: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (movie side story)
Watched in: Japanese & English
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.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)