The year is 1998. In the world of anime, a boy and a girl were starting a romance of mental proportions, a red-cloaked, blonde haired doughnut lover was preaching the values of “Love and Peace”, and a certain little ten-year-old cutie was setting the standard for all magical girls to come. 1998 brought us many anime series and all of them classics in their own rights. However, there was one anime that stood out among all the others. It’s an anime series that set out to tell a story of real people in a real future. It’s story of a future not so unlike our past struck a chord with viewers the world over with characters that jumped out the screen and demanded you take notice. To say that this series is popular is an understatement; it’s arguably one of the most well know anime series of all time. And I’m going to try to do it justice. Yeah, no pressure here. I’m Cajun Samurai, and this is my review of “Cowboy Bebop”. Okay 3, 2, 1 LETS JAM!
Series Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – “Cowboy Bebop” is a very gritty series that holds no punches. There is plenty of gun violence in this one, along with a bit of nudity [Nothing below the chest…] and some futuristic style drug usage. As far as language goes, It doesn’t go any higher than the “S” word, and even then, it’s not used that much. As far as religious warnings go, well…if you really look, you MIGHT find a LITTLE, but it’s nothing really worth mentioning. Overall, I would not recommend “Bebop” for anyone under the age of fourteen.
Series Availability – “Cowboy Bebop” should be pretty easy to locate in brick and mortar stores. However, with Bandai Entertainment, the company in charge of the US release of “Bebop”, ceasing production of DVD’s finding a brand new copy offline will pose a challenge. However, a used copy shouldn’t be a problem, as there are many iterations of “Bebop” released. Online, however, you can find “Bebop” just about anywhere for purchase. A word of warning, though, dear readers. PLEASE be careful buying the DVD’s online. Speaking from personal experience, I know that it is VERY easy to think that you’re getting an awesome deal on the “Perfect Sessions” Complete collection, only to find out that what you got was anything but “Perfect”. I’ll probably do a separate post on what to look for later. Online streaming however…well…good luck with that one.
Series Premise – “Cowboy Bebop” is an 26 episode series created by Studio Sunrise. There is also a movie entitled “Cowboy Bebop: The Movie” [or “Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heavens Door”] which I reviewed last year. The story takes place in the year 2071. Thanks to the creation of several hyperspace gates, travel between planets has become extremely common place, and colonization of space takes off at warp speed. However, thanks to a little incident before the series started involving an experimental hyperspace gate and our moon, Earth has become all but uninhabitable thanks to a ring of debris surrounding our big blue marble, periodically crashing down to earth in the form of deadly meteors. [Pretty much think the absolute worse case scenario for our friends over at the anime “Planetes”.] The series follows Jet Black and Spike Spiegel; two guys who decide to partner up and take on the growing occupation of bounty hunting. As the series goes on, the two-man crew of the fishing vessel turned spacecraft dubbed “Bebop” take on additional crew members; the intelligent data-dog Ein, the femme fatale with a gambling habit Faye Valentine, and the brilliant barefoot brainchild “Radical Edward”. Together, this group jumps across the galaxy; following leads on the next big bounty head, all the while encountering the ghosts from their past threatening to impact the present and destroy the future. It goes without saying that “Cowboy Bebop” is one of the greatest stories ever told in an animated series. For me, the reason that “Bebop” is so good is that it is so dawg gone simple. There’s no elaborate multi-episode story arcs or complex twists to the story like a lot of today’s modern anime. [I’m looking right at you “Bleach” and especially you “Naruto”…and don’t even get me started on YOU “Detective Conan/Case Closed”!] “Cowboy Bebop” pretty much says “Hey, here are these characters, here is their situation, watch and see what happens.” In a way, it’s a kind of “Slice of Life” style story, but the scale of action our group sees blows it out of that category pretty handily. But that being said, “Cowboy Bebop” doesn’t insult your intelligence. This is a show that makes the most of every single moment of every single episode. It’s a show you have to pay attention to…or rather, it’s a show you can’t help BUT pay attention to because of the attention grabbing story. Things you see in Session #1 will come back and pay off in later Sessions. Characters that you thought were just one-offs often come back and play a dynamic role later down the line. The ending is, hands down, one of the best endings in all of anime. It is cinematic in its scale and feeling, and it leaves you feeling like you just watched a very good feature-length film when in fact, it’s only about 22 minutes. [25/25]
Favorite Scene/Episode – I have so many, really, it’s hard to pick an individual one. But, if there’s one episode that I could pick out of all of them, it has to be Episode 24 “Hard Luck Woman”. This episode does a lot right that I just simply love; the story, the music, the animation, the acting in both languages…it’s all perfectly done and I love it just a little more than all the other episodes–especially the final scene with Jet and Spike. Even though this episode didn’t center on them, focusing more on the girls this time around, the final scene with Jet and Spike silently accepting that three of their shipmates would not be coming “home” again, speaks volumes. Watching them wolf down the boiled eggs from Faye, Ed and Ein’s plates is painful to watch. You feel that they are both eating their way through their feelings. As if that wasn’t enough, the whole scene is played over Steve Conte’s “Call Me Call Me” which is one of the most beautiful songs in the entire series, in my humble opinion. This is what “Bebop” excelled at; letting you feel what the character feels without having to spell it out for you.
Characters – Our series starts and appropriately finishes with Spike Spiegel. Once a front-man for an organized crime group known as the “Red Dragons”, Spike now spends his time with his partner in crime Jet Black aboard the fishing vessel Bebop as a bounty hunter, taking down criminals and turning them in for the bounty on their head. Spike is a pretty cool customer; more apt to find ways to feed his belly and flirt with fine females than get into fisticuffs. However, don’t let the lanky, lazy outside appearance fool you. Spike is an expert fighter and a crack marksman, flowing like water and striking like a snake. Spike is one of the most iconic male anime characters around. It’s not because he has some kind of super powers or because he is super strong. It’s because he’s…well…a regular joe. He’s not this larger than life character by any means; he’s fallible he’s sloppy, he smokes like a freakin’ train, he’s a bit slow with some emotional things, and as he so eloquently put it, he’s not the “delicate type”. It’s because he’s so relatable and so understandable that makes him popular with the viewing audience. Also the fact that he can fly in his own personal zip-craft, survive being sucked out into space simply by holding his breath, and survive a fall through a stained glass church window has something to do with it. Spike’s partner, Jet Black, is the owner of the “Bebop” and a former detective with the ISSP (Inter-Solar System Police). Having gone on his own after witnessing the corruption of the police department, and having lost his real arm during a case, he now helms the “Bebop” following leads on potential bounties. When not flying or fixing his ship or his own zip-craft dubbed “Hammerhead”, Jet can be found tending his Bonsai trees or cooking his signature dish of Bell Peppers and Beef…sans beef. Jet is the definition of an anime father figure. While he’s rough and tough on the outside, he’s actually rather gentle on the inside, genuinely caring about the well-being of his “friends”. On the female side of the crew, we have Faye Valentine, a mysterious woman with a mysterious past. Thanks in part to a severe case of bad luck, she is saddled with loads of debt that she can’t even begin to pay off in one lifetime, made worse by her voracious gambling habit. But instead of being a wimpy, willowy, “Oh, woe is me! I don’t know who I am!” Faye uses her OTHER “assets” to try to get her way from guys. Faye is an excellent foil for our two guys. She’s the one who knows how to stir the pot and tweak some nerves to get what she wants and cause a little trouble. Rounding out our human cast is Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV, a “Net Diver” and computer hacker from Earth. Edward is a…how should I say it…a “Special” thirteen-year-old girl. Save for one episode, she is always seen in the same outfit: white shirt with bike shorts. She also possesses the unique ability to type with all twenty digits–fingers and toes. She also seems to have the unique ability to communicate with Ein, the adopted welsh corgie “Data Dog” with a genius-level intelligence. There are moments when she is extremely lazy, lounging around the “Bebop” like a house-cat and then there are times when she gets these…spaz moments…where she just goes completely wild. Edward is the last part of the Bebop puzzle, and the show takes on a whole new vibe for the handful of episodes she is featured in. Our main antagonist, Vicious, is just as his name describes him. He’s a cruel, cold, calculating enemy and a perfect enemy for our leading man Spike. [25/25]
Animation – “Cowboy Bebop” has a unique animation style that can best be described as “Live Action Animation”. It has the standard tropes and actions that identify it as being an anime, but it’s use of shadows, colors, expressions, and textures give the whole production an almost-realistic look. The whole show has this familiar, worn in look; it’s not the super-shiny, blinking lights, high-gloss version of the future we’re used to seeing in shows of the time. This is a future that, while advance, it’s treated as nothing special; things are jury-rigged together, some things fall apart, there are scratches, dents, dings, broken buttons, “out-of-order” signs, you name it. In all, it’s a future that you don’t have to wear white gloves to live in. Character designs are very unique; each character has their own signature look to them that remains consistent throughout the series; whether it’s Jet’s under-eye patch, Spike’s “Tai-Esque” hairstyle with his customary suit, Faye’s bright yellow patent-leather outfit with her red jacket, or Ed’s white tee with bike shorts. Each character has their own look that reflects their personality. For a show that was created back in 1998, and even with repeated viewings, “Cowboy Bebop” is one of those rare shows that has an ageless look about it, making it difficult for the uninitiated to place a date to it. [12.5/12.5]
Music – The soundtrack for “Cowboy Bebop” needs no introduction. Everyone knows it, everyone loves it, and once you hear it, there’s no confusing it for anything else. Everyone who has any kind of passing familiarity with “Cowboy Bebop” knows the title to at least one of the songs used in the series, and just about everyone has more than one favorite song. The opening theme, “Tank!” is right up there with the “Pokemon Theme” as the most recognized anime opening theme song of all time. It’s amalgam of big band and jazz overtures, coupled with the eclectic animation makes “Tank!” all the more memorable and all the more loved by fans. The ending, “The Real Folk Blues” is about also an amalgam of Japanese enka music and, of course, the Blues. When matched with the noticeably muted color of the ending, you have a song that puts you in a certain mood. All the other musical pieces used throughout the series, songs like “Too Good Too Bad”, “Diggin’ My Potato”, “Cat Blues”, “The Egg and You” and my personal favorite “Call Me Call Me” by Steve Conte are song that have become legendary in the world of anime and all blend perfectly with this funky crazy world. [12.5/12.5]
Performances and Production – As I mentioned earlier, “Cowboy Bebop” was created in Japan by Studio Sunrise; a studio that has had its hand in more than it’s fair share of anime that has enjoyed high fan followings. Shows like “The Big O”, “Wolf’s Rain”, “Daily Lives of High School Boys”, “Sgt. Frog”, “Outlaw Star” and “Inuyasha” have all been recipients of the “Sunrise” seal. Director Shinichiro Watanabe manned the helm for this production. In the US, the series was licensed by Bandai Entertainment, and dubbed by ZRO Limit Productions with director Mary Elizabeth McGlynn [Working under the pseudonym “Melissa Williamson”] at the helm. The writing for the english adaptation of “Bebop” is true to the original Japanese script with little to no deviation, much to the approval of the anime fan base. I would imagine that, at the time of its release, “Bebop” was one of the best written English Adaptations to come out of a North American company. The cast of “Bebop” on both sides of the ocean are the stuff of legend. Anytime you have anime fans who swear off dubs all together EXCEPT for “Bebop”, then you know this is a dub worth your time. Playing the role of Spike is Kouichi Yamadera in Japan and Steven Blum in the US. Both actors are well-known for playing the role and for good reason. Each brings something different to the table; complimenting each other well in their portrayal of the vagabond bounty hunter. Playing Jet Black in Japan is Unshou Ishizuka with Beau Billingslea playing the role in the US. Both have this tough as nails yet warm and caring father-figure tone down pat, and Beau matches his Japanese counterpart flawlessly. Picking up the role of Faye Valentine in Japan is Megumi Hayashibara in Japan and Wendee Lee in the US. Umm…hello? Really? Do I have to explain how awesome this is? We’ve already extensively gushed over both of these ladies in previous reviews, so it goes without saying, but I’m gonna anyway, that their portrayal of the Femme Fatale is awesome. Finally, playing our twinkle-toes computer genius Radical Edward is Aoi Tada in Japan and Melissa Fahn in the US. Seriously, no matter what language you listen to her in, Ed sounds delightfully nutty, and both actresses are remarkable in their respective languages. Other actors, like Henry Douglas Grey as Spike’s nemesis Vicious and Lia Sargent as Spike’s old flame Julia all put on exceptional performances; worthy of the many accolades and praises that have been bestowed on it throughout the years. [25/25]
Story Breakdown – 25/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 25/25
Final Score – 100/100 = 100% – (A)
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):
- All the episodes of “Cowboy Bebop” are referred to as “Sessions”, possibly a reference to the musicians term for music gigs.
- Originally, the character of Radical Edward was supposed to be a boy. However, the creators decided to make the crew of the Bebop even in terms of human gender, so they made Edward a girl. The boy version of Edward makes an appearance in the series in Session #5 “Ballad of Fallen Angels”. He’s the dark-skinned kid who tries to steal porn from Annie’s shop. [Nice to know that, with all the technological advances that have been made in the last century, Pornography still exists…oy.]
- In Session #15 “My Funny Valentine”, if you freeze and zoom in the moment Faye’s cryo-chamber is sealed, you can see “NCC 1701-B” on the sticker at the top. This is the prefix number for the USS Enterprise-B as seen in the movie “Star Trek: Generations”.
- Nearly all of the Session titles in “Cowboy Bebop” are references to real life song titles. For example, Session #11 is named after Aerosmith’s album and song “Toys in the Attic”, Session #3 is named after the Rolling Stones song “Honky Tonk Woman” and Session #9 is named after Rolling Stones album “Jamming with Edward”.
- The only lyrics in the opening song “Tank!” is “I think it’s time to blow this scene; get everybody the stuff together. Okay, 3, 2, 1, let’s jam.”
- Notice the text in the opening title sequence in the background? It reads as follows:
- “Once upon a time, in New York City in 1941… at this club open to all comers to play, night after night, at a club named “Minston’s Play House” in Harlem, they play jazz sessions competing with each other. Young jazz men with a new sense are gathering. At last they created a new genre itself. They are sick and tired of the conventional fixed style jazz. They’re eager to play jazz more freely as they wish then… in 2071 in the universe… The bounty hunters, who are gathering in the spaceship “BEBOP”, will play freely without fear of risky things. They must create new dreams and films by breaking traditional styles. The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called… COWBOY BEBOP”
- In Session #19, “Wild Horses”, the space shuttle Columbia makes a cameo appearance as the “old relic” that Doohan flies to rescue Spike. Sadly, the real Shuttle Columbia did not survive into the year 2071, having been destroyed upon re-entry in the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003.
- Speaking of Doohan, this is likely another “Star Trek” reference. James Doohan played Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the original “Star Trek” series, the first seven movies, and an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”
- Interestingly enough, his son, Chris Doohan plays Scotty in the “Star Trek: Continues” web series.
- Session #17 “Mushroom Samba”, marks the one and only time we see Edward wear anything on her feet. She attempts to wear socks to voyage outside the ship for all of seven seconds before realizing she can’t get traction and whips them off.
- Spike’s last line in the series “Bang…” was repeated by another popular animated character. In September 2008, T.O.M, the Master of Ceremonies for the “Toonami” time-slot [back when it was on during the day…] signed off with Spike’s signature line before flying off into the cosmos. It should be noted that both TOM and Spike were voiced by Steven Blum.
So, what is there left to say? Well, let’s be honest; to expect any score less than perfect for an anime that is, in effect, perfect, is silly at best and insane at most. With it’s expertly crafted story-line featuring interesting and intriguing characters, a timeless animation style, music that remains, to this day, a staple for anime music collectors, and a voice acting cast that makes even the most skeptical sub fan give props, “Cowboy Bebop” is the perfect example of what fans the world over love about anime and why Japanese Animation is not “just another cartoon”.
And that concludes my review of Cowboy Bebop; a review that I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time now. Coming up next, we have a show that I have been wanting to rip into since I started this blog. And yes, I said “Rip”. For never has there been one single show that I have wanted, nay, LONGED to completely dissect, rend, and mangle than this next show. The opportunity has finally arrived to do so, and my friends, it’s like Christmas, Mardi Gras and Easter all rolled into one massive holiday of awesome. I’m gonna have fun completely dismantling this show, so you’ll have to forgive the periodic moments of insane giggling. This is my Deadman Wonderland, and this next anime is my own personal prisoner. The show is about to begin, ladies and gentlemen, so stick around won’t you, as I review…
“The Candidate For Goddess” [Pilot Candidate]