Cowboy Bebop is a hugely influential anime from the late 90s. It was brought to us by Sunrise. Yes, them again. You’d think they’d been around since the 70s and had done a tonne of works. But yes, the Dirty Pair, Gundam, Love Live & Witch Hunter Robin studio is back. Now, I have seen Cowboy Bebop before so I won’t be going into it blind. Rather, it’ll be one of those series I re-watch. I will say that I remember it being quite good but it’s possible that that’ll change since it’s been about a decade since I saw it last. Let’s find out.
we open with our heroes, Spike & Jet in a state of financial trouble. Fortunately for them, they have a plan to get some credits to their name. They just have to go out and hunt some bounties. This is one of those series where there’s not much in terms of an underlying story. Most of the episodes deal with the Bebop crew going on various missions to hunt bounties and they follow a linear path with certain missions very clearly taking place after others.
One of the most impressive elements in the series is the way it handles tone. Cowboy Bebop has some more comedic portions. It also has some dark and depressing moments and it handles all of them, and the transitions betwixt them, very well. A big part of that is simply that it doesn’t go too extreme with either. Its comedic moments are more of the “life can be weird & fun” variety. It avoids the over the top zany type of comedy. And its dark scenes aren’t the super dark “we’re trying far too hard to be edgy and extreme” type and are more subdued. And that’s what the success with tone comes down to, Cowboy Bebop excels at having scenes that feel pretty true to life. In spite of involving a crew of bounty hunters travelling in a space ship and, in a couple cases, science derived super powers. The emotional crux of the scenes, whether jovial or tragic, still feels very relatable
Let’s go into a bit more detail about the episodic nature of the series. Cowboy Bebop is one of those shows that has a lot of ideas for its episodes and does them all really well. There isn’t a single episode that I can point to and say “that one wasn’t very good.” There’s not even one I can point to and say “that one was just good, not great but good.” Then again, this was written by Nobumoto Keiko, who also wrote Wolf’s Rain & worked on the script for Tokyo Godfathers. The series also has some interesting, subtle things that are symbolically important. Including Spike’s heterochromia which gets brought up fairly early and comes into play for the finale. Incidentally, the finale is absolutely phenomenal. I also really like the way the series does chase sequences. They can be kind of absurd but they hit that sweet spot where they have just the right levels of absurdity & intensity to be amazing.
Let’s begin our discussion with the most divisive character in the series, Edward. There are quite a few people in the fan base who don’t much care for her because she’s a bit childish, weird & generally a high energy “space case.” And you’re probably thinking I’m one of those since I don’t like children in general but I actually like her quite a bit. I find her to be a pretty delightful character. And I appreciate that she has complexity to her. There are elements to her back story that explain why she is the way she is and she is, in many ways, a prodigy but in others she acts her age. There aren’t a lot of child prodigy characters who are still allowed to be children. They’re usually shown as prodigies by being far more mature than anyone their age should be. So, I can appreciate this kind of take on it.
The rest of the characters get similar treatment. They have very well developed back stories that you get glimpses of in various missions, eventually having them come into the spotlight for big character moments. These past events also explain a lot of the stranger facets of their personalities and they do have complex, developed personalties. And it’s not just the major characters who are multi-faceted & compelling. The major characters they encounter in various missions get the same kind of treatment. To a lesser extent, for obvious reasons but they are brilliantly written characters.
I know I’d normally criticise the fan-service outfits, but I can’t really in this case. See, they do play up Faye’s sexiness a bit with her outfit and such, but they do it in ways that actually suit her character and they do show restraint even in the most risqué scenes. So, I can’t really complain about it. Because Faye isn’t a practical minded woman so you don’t really expect her to dress in practical attire. It’s not often I encounter a series that manages to have fan-service elements but makes them work and shows class with them.
The backgrounds and sci-fi dressings are fantastic. The action sequences, particularly in the last episode are phenomenal and the character designs are memorable for all the right reasons. And Ein is absolutely adorable. I want to pat his furry little head.
If a certain other popular sci-fi series gave us Hayashibara Megumi’s worst performance, this easily gives us one of her best. And it’s not just her. Tada Aoi, Yamadera Kouichi, Ishizuka Unshou, Wakamoto Norio and many, many actors for side characters are all fantastic in this.
This series also has some of the best music I’ve heard in an anime. And not jut because the beats are thoroughly solid but because it’s very good at using its incidental music to add that perfect final touch to any given action sequence. There are times where you’re watching the action get started and the music kicks in at just the right time to elevate the scene beyond what it could possibly achieve with visuals alone. In fact, it happens a lot.
There’s a little bit. They encounter some gay guys during missions. I have to say, I appreciate that Spike’s reaction to a man hitting on him is just an awkward disinterest in the dude. There are too many things that play up an exaggerated disgust in that kind of situation instead of having the character handle it like an adult.
Those of you who are familiar with my work know that I won’t praise something solely because it’s popular. In this case, I am going to join with the majority and sing the praises of this series. It’s easily among the best science fiction works I’ve seen.. It just does everything really damn well and with very little room for improvement. For my final rating, I have to go with a full 10/10. Next week, D-Frag.