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.
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.
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.
This is a hard to judge anime as it has many elements that make it good next to other elements that you need to tolerate if you need to consider them great. Although it is still considered top 10 of all times for many after all these years, there are many more (me included) that had a very hard time accepting all that as top material.
I will start with an easy part to judge; its animation and artwork, which are some of Studio Sunrise gold moments. I have absolutely nothing against them and I accept them as they are. The setting is as they designated a space western; meaning a blend of the Wild West with some futuristic elements. And true, you get a highly technological advanced world full of spaceships and computers, next to sceneries full of societies that still seem to dwell in the 19th century. Besides being a gimmick to attract attention it is also part of the themes of the story as it used as such to create an antithesis of values. In many parts of the series, moral values are trampled over consumerism and exploitation and the visuals work as means to make that al cleared. Here you have the romantic image of a lone cowboy living in the wilderness, looking forward to adventure, finding gold, having brawls in taverns and singing songs around a campfire with a banzo, with his only company being the howling wolves at the full moon, his trusty horse and a copper plate of cold beans. Isn’t that nostalgic or what?
Well, the show is actually trying to inflict you indirectly with such notions, as each villain is pretty much someone who takes advantage of ideals and naivety as means to get rich or powerful. You constantly see advertisements of products promising happiness, people claiming money can buy happiness and leaders convincing followers to do bad things for the greater good. All that as intertwined with the feeling of the visuals and thus create a very interesting atmosphere. Although there are other space western-style anime like Outlaw Star or Trigun, none had used the setting as means to tell a message. It was just for show and that is why Cowboy Bebop is by far the best in this sub-genre.
There are other things besides the artwork that works in the show, and that is the generally high production values. The characters and the backgrounds are very detailed and lively for the time the anime was made, with very good body language, facial grimaces and usually small albeit good action scenes. All that together leads me into giving artwork and animation the full score. It deserves it.
I will now move to the characters, another part that is easy to excuse. Although the main characters begin as somewhat stereotypes, along the way they are fleshed out a lot and by the end of the show they become lovable and memorable. The tricky thing is that you need to find all the fleshing out by paying attention to THEM and not the OBJECTIVES of the story. For you see, the characters don’t have clear motives from the start and each episode does not consciously bring them closer to their ulterior motives. Each mission provides small bits of information around each one of them and as long as you pay attention to those then you really get to see how they become more colorful and likable with each passing episode. As someone else told me, it is highly ironic how a mostly episodic series like Cowboy Bebop develops its characters a lot more than most shows with an on-going story. Because most such shows would have a lot of dead time where nothing new or of importance is revealed about the characters or the setting. Cowboy Bebop is constantly offering insight to its setting and cast and that is what makes it so great.
As far as personalities go, pretty much everybody in this show is nihilistic and selfish, aiming for money and not some ideal like world peace. The heroes are just mercenaries, their employers are usually greedy capitalists, the people on television just want to brainwash you with hollow consumerism, and generally everybody is out for personal gain. This sort of treatment was back then rather unorthodox, as the heroes would usually be idealistic fools and such traits would only be found in a few selective villains, while all the rest of humanity would just be apathetic and passive to all that. This anime offers a somewhat similar mentality to everybody and the only thing to set them apart ends up being different moral values or different short-sighted goals. Instead of going for an objective that may take decades, we mostly get to see ephemeral goals, which allow you to focus more on how they think and not how they progress towards that goal. One can even say that this way they constantly need to adapt to each given goal and thus are far more intellectual than most teen shows where heroes and villains have a one-dimensional line of thought and stick to that for the entire show no matter what happens.
So if I am to judge the characters, I say they are interesting, have quirks to become easily memorable, get colorized, get indirectly developed, and even receive somewhat of a catharsis in the end. All of which happen in a mostly episodic show which makes the whole deal even more amazing. Thus I again give the characters the full score.
And now for the story, which is the first hard to explain thing. I have already described how it has a great setting and gradually developed characters but it is otherwise episodic. It is a bit hard to get attached to any individual situation if everything is resolved in one or two episodes. The core themes are always present and remain constant throughout the various stand-alone missions and that may keep you permanently attached to the mood of the show. That still does not feel too good to anyone (like me) who prefers and on-going plot that an episodic one. And yes, you gradually see more to the characters which may be perceived as on-going but that has to do with the cast and not the story. One could of course label this anime as 100% character-driven and thus share the same score with the characters. I also prefer it when the story moves forward by personal choice and not pulled by the nose because the scriptwriter said so and was unable to show it otherwise. On the other hand, you still see many characters for just one episode doing stuff that do not matter thereafter, which still makes you feel like they are wasting potential here. Wouldn’t be amazing if a few secondary elements were affecting later missions? Or if they were at least mentioned in passing? In all honesty, there actually is a story in the finale, which somewhat brings closure to the entire show (it is deliberately open to interpretation) and thus it does at least feel like it didn’t end as aimless as it began.
The story is a very interesting take on episodic-formats but it is still not perfect for me as I always prefer an on-going plot to this. I would normally give it the base, but seeing how it smartly threw in character development here and there, I will raise it a lot more.
The sound department is another hard thing to explain. It is a blend of various types of music, mostly Jazz, Blues and Country. I was never a fan of such music; I’m more of a metal and hard rock dude. Listening to these songs was very hard to get into the mood of the show, especially when one is accustomed to the usual jpop or retro ballads. And yeah-yeah, I know how Jazz is the ultimate genre when it comes to passionate music and all others took pointers from it and are considered by the hardcores as watered down variations. I have heard that debate a billion times already. That still doesn’t mean I get to like hearing to those trumpets and basses for more than a few minutes. I otherwise clearly comprehend how the soundtrack of this anime is simply amazing in its execution. It doesn’t take a genius to realize it was done with passion and love for what it is all about. Personal tastes aside, I gladly admit it has the most awesome Jazz music ever heard in anime and the OST is easily ranked in quality in the anime top 10 of all times. There, see, I admit it.
I have no problem with the voice acting or the sound effects. None felt amateurish or lazy at any given point and they fit their roles perfectly. So in overall, despite not being a fan of such music (even hating it subconsciously) I objectively give the sound department the full score.
There is no need of analysis on the value of this anime. Gets the full score from the get-go for being one of the most memorable, different, quality material shows of the late 20th century. People still praise it and it’s not for its naked chicks or gay protagonists *coughcodegeass*.
Enjoyment… A completely personal section. It was episodic and had music I didn’t like. I dropped it 3 times before finally completing it and forgetting most of everything besides the main key events on each person’s backdrop stories. And that is pretty much all I can say to excuse my tastes. In fact, I got to enjoy more Watanabe’s later Samurai Champloo series, because Hip-hop and Kapoera samurais felt more captivating than Jazz cowboys in space. Yeah-yeah, I know Hip-hop is Jazz with stupid beats and lame lyrics, blah-blah. I’m not saying it is a boring show but not a show non-Jazz/episodic fans will enjoy to its fullest. That is all.
Ok so I'm not a boomer but I'm a teen and I just picked up this anime after having watched the likes of Rick and Morty, The Boondocks, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note, Steins;Gate and all the classic crap of animation (Studio Ghibli, Naruto, One Piece, Hunter x Hunter, goes on forever) and whatnot, so here's the basic rundown:
Don't listen to the boomers that say the story is crap because there's no big arc in many of the episodes; that's exactly the point of Cowboy Bebop. At the root of what Cowboy Bebop is getting at is the idea of loneliness, depression, and the difference between need and want. By making each episode an individual take on different topics such as uber-intelligence, psychotic drugs, naiveness and the like, Cowboy Bebop is intelligent in that it tells us nothing is permanent - except for that everlasting emptiness in us. We're constantly reminded of the hunger of the crew through the similar ending each time, be it Jet having to cook an empty vegan meal for the crew or the Bebop floating through the vast expanse of space. That's exactly why you have to look at the series episode by episode because it crams so much in one episode that the excitement by itself is satisfactory and can be appreciated.
Animation (9.5/10): Hey so it could be better but you gotta remember that this was created just before the millennium, so you gotta like what you get, and boy we got some good animation. Every detail from the fight scenes is perfection, there are only a few moments from the standstill that is the Bebop where you can tell the animation crew got tired, for example, Ein walking around for a few moments, but that's fine because it's not central to the plot. Other than that, the action is well drawn and should be indulged in.
Sound (10/10): Just listen to probably the best album in anime history - just from the episode names you start to see that the whole series is based around music and jazz and that the two forms of art (music and animation) begin to intertwine as themes appear at exactly the right moment (in both story and music). Just listen to the OST - Tank and Blue are amazing.
Characters (9/10): Usually the main characters in anime are lovable twerps that just gain power and influence as the story progresses through a natural hero's journey. Mentors rise and fall, friends come and go, you know. This is almost always what separates the best from the great: the psychology of the characters. A common trend in the best animes is that you have a complex protagonist - one that embodies the anti-hero traits of doing bad and good at the same time. Now, let's look at some cases: Light, for example, is an evil mastermind/genius that has gained too much power for his own good. The audience is forced to sympathize with L in many cases instead of Light, which makes the show all the more interesting. Or you have Edward Elric, this shorty that has a lot of heart, passion, and talent - but this is the ultimate reason for his greatest losses. As Ed learns more about the truth, he faces the graveness of evil at the center of the nation but also has to look at his own actions and judge himself. Now let's look at the crew of the Bebop - every single member is an interesting case, with their own razzle-dazzle and pizazz that spices things up. At the face of everything you see their facades - Spike is the cool Bruce Lee kind of fighter, Jet is the fundamental elder that always clears things up, Faye is the untouchable classy female warrior, Ed's the crazy prodigy (ok Ed's just weird), and Ein's just that cute little data dog. But NO - look into the anime a little more and everything is revealed, nothing's as it seems, and the whole series just got a little darker, more complex, and a whole lot more interesting. That's why this is THE MUST WATCH out of any current anime you might be contemplating.
Finally - the most unique, rare, and precious thing about this anime is it's creativity: The series combines elements of westerns, science fiction, mystery, and mashes it into a beautiful concoction of pure joy. So watch this right now or else your only going to get mushrooms for dinner for the rest of your life.