“You’re Gonna Carry That Weight.”
In the year 2071, humanity has colonized several of the planets and moons of the solar system leaving the now uninhabitable surface of planet Earth behind. The Inter Solar System Police attempt to keep peace in the galaxy, aided in part by outlaw bounty hunters referred to as “Cowboys.” The ragtag team aboard the spaceship Bebop are two such individuals. Mellow and carefree Spike Spiegel is balanced by his boisterous, pragmatic partner Jet Black as the pair makes a living chasing bounties and collecting rewards. Thrown off course by the addition of new members they meet in their travels – Ein, a genetically engineered, highly intelligent Welsh Corgi; femme fatale Faye Valentine, an enigmatic trickster with memory loss; and the strange computer whiz kid Edward Wong – the crew embarks on thrilling adventures that unravel each member’s dark and mysterious past little by little.
My God, I can’t believe it’s already twenty years old. Cowboy Bebop was the series that drew me back into anime years ago, and to this day it continues to blow me away. Cowboy Bebop should need no introduction to anime fans, but for anyone unfamiliar with the show, it’s basically about space bounty hunters set to a jazz music soundtrack with plenty of classy stories and dark morality along the way. If you like action, space, jazz, or comedy, you may like Cowboy Bebop. If you like old fashioned bounty hunter, private eye, or detective movies, you’ll probably like Cowboy Bebop. If you like dark stories with twists that really make you feel for the characters, you’ll like Cowboy Bebop.
You don’t have to be an anime fan to appreciate Cowboy Bebop, but you do have to be willing to give it a fair chance. A single episode of this series packs more punch than a Bruce Willis movie. If you’re not a fan of the show by the end of episode one alone, you probably won’t be later either. The characters are as real as any classic bounty hunter/detective movie, and every bit as interesting, and the sci-fi space twist doesn’t take away from the show in the slightest. A good way of thinking about the show is Lupin the 3rd meets Outlaw Star, but with more depth. With episode titles like “Asteroid Blues,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Waltz for Venus,” and “Jupiter Jazz,” the space, class, and jazz-heavy style is quite apparent from the beginning. This isn’t just some theme slapped onto of an anime, but a critical part of the show.
I first came across Cowboy Bebop during the summer of 2012. I read it was the “greatest” anime and a good “gateway anime” to introduce the genre to American audiences, but I was skeptical. But since it was, surprisingly, only 26 episodes, I decided to give it a shot. In the beginning I thought it was pretty slow and made no sense, but eventually the episodes began to mean more to me and I became attached. (It was deeply sad watching Faye uncover her past.) When it ended, I was left feeling like I was missing something, but eventually I realized how great the show was, and it made me fall in love with anime again. It has everything, from characters, (EXTRAORDINARY) music, and comedy relief. If you go into Cowboy Bebop expecting nothing more than a better version of the typical “save the world, fight crime, win the war” anime, you’re in for a surprise; from the sporadic hints of jazz to the art infused in each episode, it provides a sort of humble satisfaction that has made it the phenomenon it’s become.
The animation is, for a 90s anime, stunningly good. The detail put into backgrounds and surroundings is really good, and I also love how good the lighting effects and shading are. All of Ed’s strange movements are animated really nicely too. If I have a minor nitpick, it’s the somewhat dull coloring (compared to today’s standards), as well as poor effects when traveling in hyperspace. Nevertheless, the animation is still breathtaking twenty years later.
The characters of Spike, Faye, Jet, Ed, and Ein are astounding, and not your average anime heroes. Spike isn’t a typical anime protagonist, a super-serious teen and/or superhuman; instead he has flaws and weaknesses, and he knows how to have fun and joke around here and then. Faye isn’t much of a lady, but a serious combatant and thief, and Jet is an ex-cop turned bounty hunter. Then there’s Ein the data dog and Ed the happy-go-lucky hacker. This seemingly incompatible group eventually manages to bond and care for one another. The voice acting for these characters is also amazing. Steve Blum as Spike Spiegel and Wendee Lee as Faye Valentine are the two standouts for me. English dubs do not get better than this.
Not to be overlooked, Cowboy Bebop (a type of jazz) has an phenomenal soundtrack. From dog fights to close combat, from upbeat to depressing, the music adds to the magnificence of the show. I also didn’t realize the various references there were. The titles or ending screenshots of each episode are direct references to famous songs. There are other references to world events and cultures as well, like Bruce Lee, for example. It even influenced some elements of the movie Looper, like the “red eye” drug (spray into your eye), Joseph Gordon- Levitt saying “bang” like Spike, and Bruce Willis storming the mob base and killing everyone like Spike and the Red Dragon Syndicate.
With an amazing soundtrack, incredible character development, and critical artistic components most anime TV shows lack, Cowboy Bebop is an absolute must-watch for fans of episodic storytelling, western-influenced style, incredible character depth, and one of the rawest emotional experiences and most excellently cathartic ending I’ve seen in anime so far (I’m almost certain that I could say “of all time”). Perfectly crafted and meaningful in what it set out to achieve, Cowboy Bebop is a true work of art. Even if you are not a fan of anime, you really owe it to yourself to give this one a shot. See ya, space cowboys.