Cowboy Bebop – Anime Review

Japan Finds - Japan Culture and Travel Guide

Hector Franco | Tue 2013/01/1 22:53 JST



cowboy-bebop

Cowboy Bebop stylistically builds on the formula of a multi-genre piece, exploiting with finesse a number of contrasting styles, which blend seamlessly and make the anime a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Its flair for sharp dialogue and stylistic excellence make each and every one of its episodes truly a joy to watch. In all, Cowboy Bebop is a real treat. It’s great to look at, listen to, and generally be entertained by.

Cowboy Bebop takes place during the year 2071. Earth is a barren wasteland due to a serious accident that occurred while testing a new transportation system. With humanity terraforming and colonizing the rest of the solar system, the spirit of the old western frontiers has gripped society, giving birth to hundreds of outlaws and consequently the lucrative appeal of bounty hunting.

Bounty hunters are known as Cowboys. Living life without rules or boundaries, Cowboys roam between worlds hunting down some of the most wanted criminals in the universe. The main characters, Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, are two of the best bounty hunters around. Unfortunately, they continuously run into a whole lot of bad luck through their travels on the spaceship Bebop, even picking up a couple of interesting companions along the way.

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Characters

Cowboy Bebop is an incredibly character driven series that gives us some of the most memorable names in anime today. Spike Spiegel is a true badass gunslinger with a mysterious past and a Bruce Lee level of martial arts charisma. Spike tends to be overly self-confident and reckless, which often lands him into some pretty sticky situations.

Fortunately, his partner Jet Black is never too far behind to bail him out of trouble. A veteran ex-cop but still plenty tough, Jet is a brawny, rough-sounding bounty hunter who’s often the more responsible, hard working, and rational of the pair. As a character, Jet Black is definitely the fatherly type, even though he often wishes people would see him as a brotherly figure so he doesn’t seem as old.

During their adventures on the Bebop, things get even more interesting when they find themselves gaining a few unwelcome companions along the way.

The first is a dog named Ein, a genetically-modified Welsh corgi with extraordinary intelligence. He’s brought abroad the Bebop in the second episode after a failed bounty attempt. Ein doesn’t contribute much to the plot outside of a few instances where he gets to showcase his hacking abilities, but he’s a lovable character with a personality all his own.

Next up is the lovely Faye Valentine, a twenty-something compulsive gambler who can handle herself surprisingly well for a woman of her fragile appearance. Often seen wearing a revealing bright yellow outfit on her voluptuous body, Faye is considered an icon of the series, featured predominately on posters, official artwork, and most of the DVD and Blu-ray box covers. During the course of the show, Faye crosses paths with Spike and Jet twice before she finally makes herself at home aboard the Bebop, much to their disapproval. She’s presumptuous, self-centered, lazy, and always getting herself into some kind of trouble. Despite carrying a huge financial debt on her shoulders, Faye still takes plenty of time to pamper herself and blow all her bounty earnings on cigarettes, booze, and gambling. Both tough and fragile, Faye joins the Bebop as layered character with a mysterious past which is slowly peeled back throughout the show as she discovers who she really is.

Finally we have Ed, an odd teenage girl with an exceptionally high intellect and world-renowned computer hacking abilities. Despite her impressive skills, she has an overwhelmingly bizarre personality complemented only by her carefree attitude. Throughout the show Ed is easily distracted and has a bad habit of drifting off from reality. Her strange behavior also includes constantly walking on bare feet, reciting childish rhymes, responding with silly exclamations, and often sitting in a number of odd postures. Ed’s positive energy and lighthearted attitude serve as comedic relief to the more melancholic and dark aspects of Cowboy Bebop, acting as the show’s main source of humor.

Beyond being generally engaging and entertaining, the characters of Cowboy Bebop mesh well with one another. Separately, each of the main characters has a lot of personality complemented by mysterious back stories and interesting side plots. Together, the Bebop crew develops a semi-belligerent friendship that is genuine, fun, and serves as one of the most powerful aspects of the show.

This dynamic is only strengthened by the incredible voice acting of both the original Japanese cast and the dubbed English version. In both cases, all the Bebop characters have an effective emotional range all the way from comical to heartbreaking.

cowboy bebop episodes

Style

Cowboy Bebop is truly one of the few multi-genre anime series that was done right. Most of its episodes are basically self-contained stories tied together by the relationship of the Bebop crew. Half of these involve dark, serious plots full of dangerous situations and stylish environments. The other half mix it up with a relatively subtle, quirky tone.

These two styles are never mixed within one episode, which works very well for the pace of the series as a whole. The lighthearted episodes are fun and outlandish, but never so ridiculous that you don’t take the other episodes seriously. Meanwhile the serious episodes are executed with such class that they are good enough to easily stand as some of the best of the genre. By juxtaposing these two moods throughout the series, you’re given a truly unique emotional experience and attachment to each episode.

Cowboy Bebop also includes elements of science fiction, drama, action, comedy, romance, horror, mystery, film noir and a spaghetti western.

A thorough watching of Cowboy Bebop will make at least one thing very apparent. This director loved movies – a lot. The episodes are packed full of little nods to movie history. This can, however, also be seen as going too far, crossing the borderline between being overly derivative and dismissed by some as pastiches of the past instead of a genuinely original work of art. But I disagree.

Shinichirō Watanabe is more of a director DJ. His stylistic use of mix-and-match genre and music infusion are a lot like the samplings a DJ exhibits, morphing a variety of old works to create a new one.

Cowboy Bebop is a show build primary on its style and class. Each episode has a unique setting that has a distinct feel to it, none of which involved your regular run-of-the-mill science fiction. Every planet, every town, and every bar has a rich flavor to it that reflects on some particular period or nationality. Adding to the assortment of settings is the shear detail put into them. The atmosphere of Cowboy Bebop has a level of crowded peculiarities and a sense of being alive that very few science fiction stories manage to effectively convey.

There are also a number of little details added to the story that add a subliminal sense of realism to the characters. They do regular stuff like cook, eat, shower, watch TV, lie around on a beat-up couch, and look up information on the Internet. It basically feels like home even though it’s on a futuristic spaceship. As if it almost has a retro feel. The Bebop runs out of fuel, the TV gets poor reception, and computer networks crash. Throughout the show there is only one laser gun, and the team relies heavily on good old fashioned firearms instead. It simply gives you the impression that these are normal people living a slightly different place and time.

Visually alone, Cowboy Bebop is simply marvelous. The mood and tone of each episode translates over through to the artwork. There are shootouts set in dark, rainy gothic churches. There are acid trips that are something out of this world. Color palettes that so distinctive and varied throughout each episode that it is somehow appropriately creative for a good science fiction story with a jazzy undertone. The style is unique to anime, with action sequences that are fast paced and engaging without any use of stock footage. The character animations are crisp and clear, definitely high-quality for a TV series even by today’s standards.

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Sound

Cowboy Bebop could be memorable for its score alone. Its music is downright spectacular. The main musical influence for the show is 20th century blues or jazz, but each episode manages to also incorporate its own unique symphonic theme or motif. From The Rolling Stones to Ennio Morricone, Cowboy Bebop pays homage to some of the coolest music around, exploring just about every musical genre in the process.

As if this wasn’t good enough, the bulk of the soundtrack was written by the famous Yoko Kanno, known for her unbelievable work on other memorable shows such as Macross and The Vision of Escaflowne. Considering the range of musical styles she’s explored throughout her career, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that she composed most of the music on Cowboy Bebop. But it all comes across with such authenticity and professionalism that I really can’t think of anywhere else you can find this kind of musical genius. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the score alone could carry the show.

cowboy bebop plot

Plot

Many believe that the show favors style over substance. This is true to an extent; there certainly are deeper, more profound anime out there, but all in all, there is a good deal of substance present, even if we might find it difficult to recognize sometimes. The real triumph of Cowboy Bebop though is the way in which it pays close attention to character development. Everyone on the Bebop crew has a mysterious past which is slowly revealed as the show progresses.

The main storyline revolved around Spike Spiegel’s history with the Red Dragon syndicate, the most ruthless organized crime family in the solar system. Spike abandoned the Red Dragons to escape his life of crime and set off to become a bounty hunter instead. The past always seems to catch up with him though, since Spike has some pretty dangerous old enemies in the syndicate that are still looking to have him killed.

Jet Black’s history as a police detective is also explored, with a lot of development into his reasons for leaving his career to become a bounty hunter with Spike. Faye and Ed are also given their share of dedicated screen time exploring their back stories too.

Cowboy Bebop has one of the most addicting plots in anime to date. The premise is very simple, and yet it’s also somehow very compelling. The depth to the characters makes you interested in their thoughts, situations and outcomes. It was honestly so well done that I just didn’t want the show to end. There was just so much attachment to the characters, their stories, and the interesting situations they found themselves in together as a team. That if anything however, is a sign of a great story.

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Conclusion

Cowboy Bebop is one of those anime series that takes relatively old, cliché concepts and manages to transform it into something fresh and entirely new. Even though it was made in 1998, it feels like something from the late 70s or early 80s, and yet is still relevant and high-quality even by today’s standards.

It’s mainly about a no-good bunch of bounty hunters that you can’t help but love. The show has a near-flawless combination of stylish directing, compelling characters, unique settings, a nice mix of offbeat humor and dram, and whole lot of the coolest music around. Back that up with great voice casting and writing, incredible visuals, and some of the best animation sequences every produced, and you’ve got something truly memorable.

Cowboy Bebop has enough style and creativity to spare. It’s a must see from any anime fan, guaranteeing to entertain you with its stylish mix of science fiction, comedy, and action drama. At the very end of the 20th century, anime graced us with Cowboy Bebop, an anime series that went well above and beyond everyone’s expectations.