Many times have I visited Cowboy Bebop, and every time we've parted company I leave with a sense of how great a conversationalist Cowboy Bebop truly is. How it tells beautiful stories with nothing but ink, paint, computers, and sound. How it seems to transcend it's own media and become something unto itself. Nothing to be worshiped or canonized, but to be viewed with a measure of respect, and perhaps awe, that such a thing ever took place at all.
Cowboy Bebop, that's the story. There are cowboys and there is bebop, set against the backdrop of the future and space. The series concerns itself with the lives of Jet Black, Spike Spiegal, Faye Valentine, and Ed. The series itself tends to revolve around sorting out each characters past and reconciling it with their present selves. What sets Cowboy Bebop apart from similar series such as Outlaw Star is that these stories are actually interesting.
Animation directors strive for different goals. Some, like Hayou Miyazaki seek a balance between we humans and nature. The director of Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii forewarned us that advancement without restraint presented dillemas with no solutions. Shincihiro Wantanbe gave us, with Cowboy Bebop, twenty-six pictures of a world coming to terms with its past. The methods vary, with death, resignation, and an eyes wide shut attitude dominating. But never are these heady themes forced upon us with a heavy hand. They are at many times hidden behind sharp humor, attention to detail, and jaw dropping animation. Only two times are these themes truly brought to a head: at the twelfth and thirteenth episodes (parts one and two of Jupiter Jazz), and episodes twenty-five and twenty-six (parts one and two of The Real Folk Blues). And at these moments the music gets better, the animation sharper, and like true climactic moments, they stay with us long after we finish watching them.
For it's time, Cowboy Bebop was about as good as television animation got. The style was classically anime, big eyes no nose, small mouth. The fighting animation is very fluid and detailed. But what most impressed me about Cowboy Bebop's animation was the variety of locals, and the lived in natures of every environment that is visited. From the Bebop itself, with its endless rooms and corridors to variety of ethnic architecture, it is truly a treat to behold. The computer graphics are dated by today's standard, but for its time was cutting edge.
Never before or since has such a catalog of music been assembled for an anime, any anime. The principle creator of Cowboy Bebop's music, Yoko Kanno, took the high-road. She hopped from genre to genre in leaps and bounds while never taking from the animation itself, but infusing it with a pulse that at all times seemed perfect. Sometimes characters are defined through music, like Gren, whose sax playing pronounces him melancholy, disillusioned, and cavalier. Three original soundtracks were put together for this anime, each one is distinct and non-repetitious. Listening to them on their own gives you new appreciation on the quality of Yoko Kannos gift.
Characters from Cowboy Bebop each have stories to tell. Each deals with its past and present as best they can, although often times not very well at all. The plot is linear as far as the time line is concerned, but there isn't a penultimate goal sought after. In terms of the classic definitions of conflict, Cowboy Bebop tends towards the man versus himself, or man versus man types of conflict. The principles of Cowboy Bebop do not seek paradigm shifts, do not seek to change the world for the better or worse, but simply to live to see another day. This struggle to live on is what makes Cowboy Bebop so enjoyable, and what gives a humanity to the principle characters that they would otherwise lack.
The concept of Cowboy Bebop is not original, but its execution is outstanding. The characters are not original, but how they interact with the world around them is. The music can be defined by genre, but the impact on the individual cannot. The animation has been topped over the years, the cgi definitely shows its age, but there are still moments of raw beauty that are still unparalleled. Cowboy Bebop is not a rite of passage in anime fandom, but it should be a signpost, showing you the difference between the sublime and the ordinary.
This is a spoiler-free review.
Overall: 8.3/10 - Cowboy Bebop is stylish, fun, and has a little bit of something for everybody. While it lacks enough focus in the story to make it a true masterpiece, it is very unique in almost every way and every anime fan should take the time to watch it.
Recommended for: Any anime fan should watch this at some point, for the sake of learning about the heritage of modern anime if nothing else.
Story: 5.75/10-Slightly good
Creativity/uniqueness bonus points +1: Cowboy Bebop has a ton of creativity in the general setting.
Humour bonus points +1: Edward, at least in my opinion, is hilarious, as are many of the missions and other character interactions.
General Plot and Structure 1/4 - Cowboy Bebop is primarily episodic, with the crew chasing bounties and almost always losing them in some way. While I can't say it's bad, a lot of the bounties they go after can get repetitive over time. Spike's story is interesting, but only a handful of episodes go towards it and the other three are pretty standard.
Pacing 1/2 - The pacing is pretty slow. It's fun to watch a few episodes at a time, but there's little that really pushes you to marathon it.
Emotional impact: 1/3 - There were moments of emotion, however they weren't particularly strong for the most part.
Conclusion .75/1 - The conclusion is good, though nothing spectacular.
Annoying/mindset-breaking negative points - None
Artwork 2.9/3 - The artwork is excellent and inspired, all hand-drawn and filled with flair and uniqueness. Settings were super cool and varied. You can tell they put a ton of time into it.
Character Designs 2.75/3 -All of the characters look great and unique.
Action Animation 1.9/2 - Fight scenes are excellent. For the time era it is only outmatched by specific parts of Ghost in the Shell (1995).
Other Animation 2/2 - Other animation is also great.
Personality 2.75/3 - Every major character has a ton of personality and is fairly well-rounded. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of Faye Valentine.
Development 2/3 - There is some development in Faye and, to a lesser degree, Spike.
Uniqueness 3.5/4 - All of the major characters are very unique.
Voice Acting (Dub) 5/5 - The dub is incredible. All of the voice acting conveys each character perfectly. Definitely watch the dub.
Music 3.5/4 - Cowboy Bebop's music has a ton of style to it. The opening is great and really pumps you up for the show. The ending is almost as good. Most music during the show is similarly excellent, though some of their full-length vocal songs haven't aged very well.
Sound Effects 1/1 - Excellent.
There has been a lot of buzz about Cowboy Bebop - from those who have seen it and those who have yet to see it. While it is an older anime (1998), it has an everlasting appeal to both fans of anime and those who don't like anime. Bebop has a little bit of something for everyone, which may account for its popularity. The storyline, characters, and music all add up for one of the best adventures in anime.
Set in 2071, Bebop focuses around four characters: Jet Black, an ex-ISSP officer; Spike Speigel, a cowboy out for adventure and revenge; Faye Valentine, a woman with no past; and Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV (Ed), a child hacker from Earth. Also accompanying the group is Ein, a Welsh Corgi who is more than just a dog. These four 'cowboys' as they are commonly referred to travel the galaxy in search of bounties to fill their forever empty pockets and stomachs. Each 'session' as the episodes are called, focus primarily on one bounty or the past of one of the characters. There are a few episodes that don't really follow the story line, but they serve to lighten the mood of this otherwise tragic anime.
Grade: A. The characters are likeable and the story reaches a logical conclusion and leaves no loose ends.
Bebop's art does not necessarily stand out from that of other anime, but in comparisson to others (Rurouni Kenshin and Inuyasha for example, have a more free-flowing art style), the art work is comparably clean, but not wholly overly realistic. Bebop is well-drawn and mapped, leaving no room for gaps or criticisms, particularly in an anime which contains a majority of fight scenes (mostly involving guns and explosions). It demonstrates a happy medium between realistic and 'cartoony' animes.
Grade: A. Everyone likes a unique style of art, but this is something everyone can enjoy.
The music for Bebop plays homage to its title, using free-flowing Jazz, Bebop, Blues, and Classical melodies in perfect harmony. The fights are well timed in regards to the music as well. Even those who do not appreciate Jazz will find Bebop's melodies fun and addictive, particularly in regards to the opening theme "Tank!". It's definitely a soundtrack worth owning, particularly if you enjoy GOOD Jazz music.
Grade: A. Good Jazz is making a clean comeback.
While the anime can be depressing, it posesses enough charisma to keep viewers enthralled in its magic. As action animes go, the art is well done and the fights are prefectly coreographed to the music. It's a great starter anime for those who want to try and get into the anime circle because of its appeal to both anime and non-anime fans. There is also a stand alone movie, which I also recommend.
I'm fully aware that Cowboy Bebop is considered by many an anime masterpiece. Still, even though I do appreciate it, I'm not so enthusiastic. In my opinion the main flaw is the episodic nature of most of the anime and the not so good quality of those stand alone episodes. The overarching story - of which you see extremely little - is good, but I found the rest of it less so - even boring at times. Admittedly, these other episodes do act as a springboard for some pretty good character building and development, but it's slow-paced and I just think it could have been done better. In this respect, I really think that Samurai Champloo is way better. It's the same concept, but executed more stylishly and effectively.
Spike and Jet are bounty hunters in the year 2071. They are perpetually out of cash and travel around the solar system in Jet's spaceship, the Bebop, looking for criminals with a bounty on their head to deliver to the police. So most episodes there's a bounty-of-the-week to catch with plenty of action - unluckily for me, my mind kind of switches off when there are action scenes, I just get bored and don't pay attention, so when something of relevance happens I usually have to go back and watch it again.... The atmosphere and setting are quite unforgettable, a combination of futuristic and Hollywood-western elements, supported by a very good jazz/country soundtrack. The story revolves around the four main characters and how they are brought together by chance and - by chance - go on staying together as long as it's convenient for them. This theme underlies more or less all the stand alone episodes, while the overarching main story is about Spike - our space cowboy - and how his past comes back to haunt him. So generally speaking, I'd say that facing and dealing with your past is one theme developed in Cowboy Bebop, intertwined with the topic of finding a place where you belong and understanding where that is and the value of human relationships.
The characters start off as stereotypes, but are well developed. The development is subtle and is done by showing how the characters react and act in certain situations; certainly nothing is told or explained to the viewer. But once again, in my opinion Samurai Champloo carries out this technique of character development better. Anyhow, all four of Cowboy Bebop's main protagonists are memorable. I think maybe the one that remains more mysterious is - paradoxically - the main protagonist, Spike. They are all extremely independant individuals with a very marked instinct for self-preservation. Yet they find themselves travelling together. In the end it's all about understanding what value - if any - that fact has to each of them. If it's just for convenience or if it's become something akin to family. Faye is maybe the one in which you see this dilemma developed best. She's the one who undergoes the most development, while Jet and Ed are pretty straightforward characters, they seem to see things quite clearly from the start. As for the main antagonist, Vicious, we know next to nothing about him; same goes for Julia, Spike's love interest from the past, so it's hard to relate to them or care for them.
Overall, Cowboy Bebop is certainly a good anime. It's got interesting characters that are developed well and a unique atmosphere. Its major flaw, in my opinion, is the episodic nature with a monster-of-the-week narration that many times is just filler and doesn't add anything to the character development, especially in the first half of the anime.
Whenever I've talked to a person about anime I've always wound up mentioning this series ...if ever there was a series I'd recommend to both newcomers and veterans alike its this one . what truly makes this series shine is the cool atmosphere the story and most of all the characters . In some ways this anime is utterly beautiful if anyone ever told me that anime wasn't an art form this is the series I'd use as an example of how wrong they are . It's philosophical aspects are wonderful aswell and its certainly worth taking the time to watch it beginning to end because it undoubtibly has one of the most memorable endings in anime I've ever seen.