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.
Episodes I Got Through: 10 (And the rest through repeats on Cartoon Network)
I never wanted to write an article about Cowboy Bebop because it’s such a sacred treasure to so many anime fans. I typically don’t care about shitting on popular anime but Bebop is the first time I’m complaining about what is definitely a universally beloved show. It’s like taking a dump all over Evangelion; it’s just not something you do.
But I feel like I have to. It’s occasionally nice to have an opposite opinion when there is so much positivity and I’m sure there are others that agree with me about this show.
To put it simply for those who wonder how I can sit through so much garbage but can’t wait through Bebop; I quit because it bores me. And that’s a huge problem. I can sit through something terrible if that something has a modicum of entertainment value but Bebop had me looking at web pages when I should have had my eyes glued to the show.
This doesn’t hold true for some episodes. The initial few offerings are pretty good and have a great balance of serious action and plot with quirky comedy. The problems start with the appearance of Vicious and the mafia storyline. This is the main thread of Cowboy Bebop and an occasional episode deals with this story. That’s wherein the biggest problem with my being entertained by Bebop comes from.
It’s good to have a main story when you’re handling an episodic show, but it’s hard to watch those story episodes when they’re as serious as cancer and the next episode is a silly, self-contained romp. In that regard Bebop is a lot like creator Shinichiro Watanabe’s future series Samurai Champloo. Because of these major tonal shifts, Bebop is kind of hard to watch and I can’t get invested in the story of Vicious and Spike when it’s being broken up by a few funny or serious but unrelated episodes.
To tell the truth, it’s like the majority of the episodes are filler to pad out what could have been compressed into a movie or a show with half the episodes.
And I can agree that some of that padding is fantastic. Mushroom Samba is a hilarious and memorable episode; in fact you mention Bebop and that’s the episode that comes to my mind. But then there’s the trucker episode and one about an old man with the body of a kid…ones that bored me and didn’t add anything to the overall experience.
Character development also didn’t seem to be a huge issue. Even when characters return to their homes or reminisce on past events, nothing seems to matter to the next episode and that kills any drama to be had. I like learning the pasts of the characters because Spike, Jet, Faye, and Ed are all interesting and pretty decent for the most part; but nothing seems to stick.
The ten episodes I watched aren’t the only episodes I’ve seen; I’ve caught tons of repeats on Cartoon Network over the years–enough to get the main gist of the story and to have seen the ending. Knowing the ending and understanding how underdeveloped Vicious is as a villain may be another reason I didn’t make it through the whole show. I don’t think Vicious is memorable or anywhere close. While the main thread provides some of the best action of the series, Vicious is about as developed as one of the villains from a stand-alone episode. Because of that, I don’t care enough to sit through the boring episodes to see the plot to fruition.
I’ve said a lot of negative but let me point out a lot of positive. The fight scenes are excellent, some of the most memorable of all sci-fi anime. The fluidity of the hand-to-hand fights is breathtaking. That’s a testament to the animation, which is brilliant. The ship designs are great, the character designs are good, and the locales are interesting and fun.
Musically, of course, Bebop is brilliant. The opening is one of the best and most memorable in all of anime. The music during the show ranges from jazz to operatic numbers to rock and I don’t remember hearing the same song twice. In that regard, Bebop truly is the visual and auditory experience that everyone has raved about for fifteen years.
On top of all that the dub is one of the best ever made with every voice actor playing their character to a T. This is the anime that proved that anime can have great voice acting and paved the way for some of the other great dubs of the time.
Oh, and Ed. Even if the other characters don’t do it for me usually, Ed’s amazing.
Don’t let me dissuade you from watching Bebop or continuing to love it because I can completely understand where fans of the show come from. I really want to love it too. It has nothing to do with my long standing hate of Watanabe either because, to tell the truth, I’d consider this his best product even if it is the only Watanabe anime I haven’t been able to fully sit through. Week to week it’s okay to watch but marathoning it is not too fun because you start to see the inconsistencies and feel the abrupt shifts in tone.
Cowboy Bebop holds the same place in many people’s hearts that Outlaw Star does in mine. Comparing the two shows is inevitable. Both are Sunrise anime, both came out around the same time. Bebop is where you go for the animation and music but the story and characters aren’t as great, for me, as Outlaw Star’s. But Outlaw Star doesn’t have the same great animation nor music (though Star’s opening is still my favorite ever). Outlaw Star is also much more cartoonish and silly while Bebop has moments like that, but maintains a serious tone for the most part.
I feel that Cowboy Bebop is loved and revered, anymore, nostalgically. It’s an anime that tons of people grew up with and got them into the fandom and because of that, they revere it. I don’t think it’s as good as everyone else thinks, but I also can understand the praise considering what was being offered to American audiences at the time. In Japan, Bebop was well-received but not as popular as it would be in America. It was the first anime to play on Adult Swim and because it filled a barren void of adult-oriented anime (that would later be filled by Ghost in the Shell and Big O) it was a success. I think that nostalgia plays a huge part in the love of Cowboy Bebop and may be the reason it’s as highly regarded as it is. Because while in Japan it was another great adult anime, in America it was THE great adult anime.
And that’s about all I have to say. Hopefully the next series I watch will keep me more entertained.
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.