Whenever I am talking to someone, the conversation will eventually drift to likes and dislikes. I will say that I like comic books, horror movies, and anime. Sometimes, the person will scoff, favor me with a disapproving glance, and then say something along the lines of never watch that stuff, or it’s too crazy for me. I will listen to their arguments, and then ask a simple question:
Did you ever watch Cowboy Bebop?
Introducing new people to one of the greatest, if not the greatest, anime series is something that never gets old to me. It is a calling card for the dedicated anime fans to the non-initiated to give the medium a try. As the series is coming up on its twentieth anniversary, I thought this would be a good time to look back and try to see why the series still holds up and what made it so remarkable.
The main setting of the series is 2071. Earth has become unlivable, so the human race has expanded out through the galaxy. On a ship called the Bebop, two bounty hunters, called cowboys, make a living tracking down fugitives who have a bounty placed on them by various people or organizations. That is the setup, but like the best stories, it is not the plot but the characters which drive the story. Spike Spiegel is a young man who’s joking and careless attitude mask a dark and disturbing past. Jet Black is the older former cop, driven to not only be hard working, but also to not let anyone slack off. In the beginning, these two opposites are the main characters. They would not be for long, as three members eventually join the crew. Ed Wong, a young girl who might be the best hacker in the universe, Faye Valentine, a con women who can’t remember her own past, and Ein, a corgi who was genetically modified to have human level intelligence. Not all of them are welcome, but eventually become an important part of Spike’s and Black’s lives.
These characters feel like real people, from the first moment they appear on the screen. Faye might have joined up with the crew, but four episodes later, she will clean out their safe and hit the road. She is a con women, not a reformed con women. Ein might have super intelligence, but get any images of a funny talking dog out of your head. Ein acts like a real dog, just one who is smarter then most. The characters’ thoughts are never spelled out, episodes put them into situations where more information are reveled. The creators never think their audience is stupid, trusting them to put the pieces together. This sophistication is what makes repeat viewings possible. The series never felt tied down to any time, making it fell current.
The music and genre is another of Cowboy Bebop’s strengths. Music is an important part of the show, ever episode is named after a famous song or type of music. The opening credits is a up beat fast jazz composition, making the viewer’s heart start to beat faster. The ending song is a slow mournful blues ballad, while pictures of a rainy day float by. Music is at the heart of the series, certain episodes feel like their were created to suit a particular piece of music. The importance is stated when you consider that episodes are not called episodes, but rather sessions.
The genre of the show is a bit harder to nail down. When asked, I will usually respond that it’s everything. Noir, western, crime, mystery, romance, and science fiction are mixed together in an excellent combination. One episode is an homage to the horror film Alien, the next will be a casino heist story that Danny Ocean would have approved of. The writers mix in elements, sometimes in the same episode, of multiple different genres. A fight scene will follow a romance story, and it will end up in a race across space. Cowboy Bebop succeeds because it’s genre is life, sometimes funny, other times serious, but always true.
The Real Folk Blues
There were twenty six sessions made, followed by a movie. When I was younger, I wondered why. The series was so good it could have gone on for hundred. Looking back now, I realize that there didn’t need to be more. There is not a bad episode in the bunch. There is a overlying story, but there are quite a few stand alone sessions as well. The creators had a story they wanted to tell, and they didn’t let the idea that they could extend the series compromise their vision. This is probably the main reason Cowboy Bebop still is remembered so fondly. We might be sad when a book or movie ends, but we know that the story has been told. I am not the only one who still places it high on the list of great shows. In the book Ready Player One, two Japaneses heroes roam video game space in the Bebop. This book was written over ten years after the show ended, proving that people still hold a special place in their heart for this series. If you have not viewed this series, give it a try and then leave me your thoughts in the comment section. I always love to hear peoples reactions, especially about this series. Until next time, I’ll end this with the same title card that ended every session.
See You Space Cowboy