(Originally written on August 21, 2019)
I remember years ago when my brother checked out a couple of DVDs from the library, with one of them titled ‘Cowboy Bebop’. Initially, I wasn’t impressed and assumed it was just another generic animated show. After watching the first five episodes, I became hooked and ended up watching the whole series because of how excellent it was. It was also one of my first introductions to the world of anime.
Originally released in 1998, Cowboy Bebop has become one of the most influential shows within the medium. The series presents a very unique take on things like neo-noir and western film themes, as well as a sci-fi setting that isn’t overly fantastical. It also provides complex storytelling, fun character dynamics and exceptional jazz music. Even the title is a blend of different elements: ‘Cowboy’ (western, bounty hunting) and ‘Bebop’ (a type of jazz).
The show follows bounty hunters (aka ‘cowboys’) Spike Spiegel and Jet Black as they attempt to capture high profile targets for monetary rewards. However, they often butt heads because of their contrasting personalities: Spike is overconfident and impulsive whereas Jet is more level headed and tends to do things more ‘by the book.’ Though they argue, the two men share a mutual respect and always have each others’ backs. It then becomes more interesting when others join them, creating a fun, and at times complicated, group dynamic.
While the show’s premise is straightforward, the focus is actually more on the characters themselves (including a very cute & intelligent corgi) as they each bring a different flavour in creating dramatic and comedic moments. They all have rich backstories (explored in later episodes) that inform how they’ve become who they are now, and perhaps are also trying to escape their pasts. A minor criticism might be how they all reflect common character tropes, but I think this series sets a very high bar with presenting fully realized characters.
All credit for the series’ exceptional quality goes to the crew, but particularly director Shinichirō Watanabe and composer Yoko Kanno. They are both creatively brilliant, and collaborating on a show like this must have been artistically freeing. It also allowed them to experiment and positively affect each others’ work on the series. As well, the writers, animators and actors all did outstanding work in their respective roles. Everything felt purposeful down to the smallest detail.
Though I enjoy the series, I don’t want to create extremely high expectations. I just think the execution is very well done in regards to pacing/development, character interactions and music. I also appreciate the mature storytelling, as opposed to recent anime catering more towards younger audiences. It also helps how majority of the show is structured as stand-alone episodes, meaning there is no overarching story that ties them all together (aside from a few). Plus it’s only twenty-six episodes, and a movie.
So if you’re looking for something to watch, why not give Cowboy Bebop a chance? Both the Japanese and English versions are top notch, in my opinion.
Fun fact: they’re creating a live-action Netflix series. Hopefully it’ll do justice to what made the original so awesome.
- A. Shin