The Shakespeare of Anime, a classic anime that truly sets the bar for all anime viewing experience in the future.
I mean it's not called the best anime of all time for no reason. Check it and my review out!
Cowboy Bebop Review & Recommendation
Howdy cowboys and cowgirls! I’ve bagged myself a big fish to dig into today (excuse the pun), and when i say fish I mean legendary anime to review and recommend. Credited with being the anime that primarily introduced Western users to anime with it’s adult themes and intreasting characters, it’s notorious for being a big puller of the anime fans that are the oldies, and a great gateway anime.
As always I welcome you to comment, discuss and like of course ;P And without further ado let’s begin:
The year 2071 A.D. That future is now. Driven out of their terrestrial eden, humanity chose the stars as the final frontier. With the section-by-section collapse of the former nations a mixed jumble of races and peoples came. They spread to the stars, taking with them the now confused concepts of freedom, violence, illegality and love, where new rules and a new generation of outlaws came into being. People referred to them as Cowboys.
Meet Spike and Jet, a drifter and a retired cyborg cop who have started a bounty hunting operation. In the converted ship The Bebop, Spike and Jet search the galaxy for criminals with bounties on their heads. They meet a lot of unusual characters, including the unusually intelligent dog, Ein, and the voluptuous and vexing femme fatale, Faye Valentine.
The plotline is as fluid as Spike’s movements as he takes down another bounty, and given that he likens his movements to water. That’s a pretty damn loose storyline, what’s interesting is that director Shinichirō Watanabe originally envisioned Bebop as a film as opposed to a show, for this reason we can clearly see that each episode was treated as though it were a mini film. This and the limitless freedom he was given in writing the story, provided space ships were included (Cowboy Bebop-proof that TV shows made purely for the promotion of toys can be really good) meant that each episode felt very complete with a conflict, climax and ending. Cowboy Bebop is a mesh of film genres and style: film noir, spaghetti cowboy, sci fi, 70s cop shows and a dash of HK action. And with this way of story telling, each episode gives us a chance for each element to really shine. On one hand I understand where people, in particular those who dislike episodic series, why they wouldn’t appreciate or enjoy Cowboy Bebop.
However for me, whilst I tend to criticise anime with a lack of goals, and no form of an end game, this is usually because it leaves me asking questions but whether this was intended, the aura of mysteriousness only serves to fuel the atmosphere that this anime generates of suave maturity; that sometimes in life we simply accept things as the way they are and we learn to live with it.
And for Bebop it’s ok and pretty easy for me to accept the gaps, because even though there is a lack of continuity between each episode, except the need for food, money and food being a constant; each story feels very complete and it’s not until it’s pointed out to me that I’ll find gaps which really need filling.
Also I feel that Cowboy Bebop’s general attitude to what it was trying to achieve is very different from what other anime series tend to be aiming for, most notable Naruto (first one I could think of) has a very clear goal of our main protagonist gaining a certain level of prestige or just attainting something, and then it ending there, anything that comes along with it such as character development and backstory is essentially embellishing, of course we’d expect it as audiences want more than just a goal; but in reality the show would be able to go on if there wasn’t such a huge emphasis on creating fleshed out characters. Bebop is different in firstly it having a less than clear protagonist, whilst Spike is the face of the show, it’s also clear that when the spotlight changes we’re more than open to it as each character plays an equally large role in how things go. The show is more about highlighting the bizarre subtle relationships the crew has, as well as developing our understanding of the characters rather than getting that bounty, as proven more than once the bounty more than often turns out to be a side achievement than the real goal.
Even though it has other genre tags attached to it, I’d even go as far as saying Bebop is an anime that falls under the genre slice of life or has characteristics that come with the genre, granted it’s not your conventional slice of life where it’s a group of pubescent kids, or slightly older teens who are facing the trials of love, school and family issues, instead it flips it as we examine the more adult issues that this weird group of essentially emotionally damaged, and broken adults (excusing Ed) have to face up to-I feel this idea is really reinforced with the final line being “You’re gonna carry that weight” basic analysis of that line suggests that the series, or at least the final episodes are all about facing up to your problems and issues.
Also I feel that my situation really influenced why I enjoyed this show, as a student my time schedule has changed to such an extent that I don’t actually have as much time as I used to, or I don’t allocate as much time as I used to watching anime; the episodic style meant it was easy for me to take breaks between episodes and pick it up whenever. Should someone pick the show up halfway through the episode count, it’s unlikely that you’d feel unsatisfied, each episode is complete with fights, conflict but also a sense of ending. That also being said, I think the idea that Bebop is more intent on creating characters and their relations, is one that maybe relates to why I enjoy shows such as One Piece, Baccano and Tatami Galaxy where even though at points there are goals, we end up focussing on the world the characters live in and the circumstances that brought them to the forefront of the anime or manga plot line. I’m not saying i disregard shows that have a very clear plot line, I really love Naruto for all it’s flaws it was one of the shows I really fell in love with. I’m simply providing an alternative style of story telling and the reasons why I enjoy it.
For characters my opinion is very mixed, on one hand I hear one side of the Bebop fandom hollering about how suave Spike is, how Faye is brilliant and so on, and I agree to a partial degree; I mean I have been praising this show and it is now one of my favourites. They did a stand up job on the characterisation, we know about the crew’s first layer, and how they are relative to each other in terms emotionally, and physically. We know essential their tag lines so to say, that Spike is cool, Faye is selfish, Ed is eccentric and Jet is rational. Yet on the other hand flaws such as the under development, or the lack of focus on the history did hinder my ability to call this anime a masterpiece as so many do, even though it’s probably clear to many that I do think of Bebop as being very close to that 10/10 score.
Spike is often hailed as one of smoothest characters in anime, and given the anime’s backstory it’s not hard to see why Watanabe did such good job. Watanabe claims that “the first image that occurred to me (him) was one of Spike, and from there I(he) tried to build a story around trying to make him cool”. Other facts such Spike Spiegel’s name being designed purely on the basis that it sounded cool, reinforce my argument of Spike’s characterisation and that the animators did a stand up job of making him a great 2D character. However the problems lies in the 3D element, or the lack of it. I never felt incredibly connected or relatable to him, because we don’t get to see him being vulnerable much of the time. The voice actor of the english dub, himself stated he struggled with scenes that showed Spike’s “vulnerability” which make sense seeing as he’s a character designed to be cool and just that. His back story is hinted at throughout the show, but even in the end we don’t get a full picture. On one hand you could chalk up again to the aura of mysteriousness, on the other it’s hard to deny that because we don’t know enough of his story, it’s less impactful than what was maybe expect.
Then we have Faye, she’s the original femme fatale of anime imo, she was strong, sexy and had an attitude. Her characterisation was great but what was also brilliant was how she received the most development of the four protgonists, as subtle as it was, we learn of her history and we can actually see the difference in her at the end of the show. We get to see her vulnerable side and this makes for a stark contrast to her attitude in the previous half of the show.
Jet was in a way probably one of my more favoured characters, which is a shame because he felt very under used at times, I would have loved to see him in more shoot outs and less acting the role of angry dad who can’t keep the kids under control. He’s the straightest of the characters, as a former policemen his moral code still stands strong and it’s entreating to see him butt heads with the more dishonest Faye. I’m quite satisfied with his development, his backstory wasn’t exciting but it definitely gave some great insight into his actions and his stoic personality.
As for Ed and Ein, well Ein is a dog, so I’m not going to type a paragraph for this little chap (even if he is very cute) and Ed is…… confusing. Firstly because she’s a girl and is called Ed. I’m a bit mixed with Ed, her role despite seemingly being a protagonist is left very untouched from her other role of the comedic relief. She’s happy constantly,and she provides an alternative childish perspective in an otherwise very dark and bleak adult world. She receives next to no development, she stayed a mystrey to the end and this is a disappointment, as well as the lack of her involvement at her times. Given it’s short run time I’m forced to understand, but her quirky personality would have been have fun to expand on and peharps it would have been fun to see Ed show a different side aside from permeant cheerfulness.
Even though it’s unusual, I think it necessary to mention the side characters per each episode, they’re simple but created to the best that they can be; they each receive enough development that they’re not boring and even at points can become very likeable. In this sense, this really impresses because, different from other shows where side characters are often recurring and are in need of more than one episode to become more 3D, Bebop gives enough in the one episode they show up in that we can be entertained and still understand their motives.
Even though it is under developed, I think the show and it’s short episode count embodied the phrase that Elvis Preseley lived by: to not overstay your welcome, and to leave people wanting more. It’s mysteriousness, and the idea that fans can still find little references in each episode is something that’s allowed it to stay a cult favourite despite it’s age. You can argue that characters who become relatable, are more likeable cause they seem human. Then you can say instead because Spike, Faye, Jet and Ed are all so mysterious, it allows us to put them on a pedestal and “worship” them in a way, because there’s a clear distinction that they are unrelatable characters and we have that room to fill in the gaps ourselves with whatever fantasies and ideals we want building them up as characters ourselves.
As to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I am still on the fence about as noted in my statement about my mixed opinion. They’re not my favourite characters, but they’re far from my most hated, and they definitely have a found a way into my top list of most liked. This lack of character development was by far the biggest flaw I found with this show.
The detail in each episode is also what makes Cowboy Bebop so tight and interesting; that each episode is noted as a session (as in a music session), that each episode seems to have some passing reference to pop culture or music in it’s title: Jupiter Jazz and Asteroid Blues are an example of citing the huge role music played in creating Bebop. Whilst ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Honky Tonk Women’ are both nods to the Rolling Stone, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to Queen, and ‘Toys in the attic’ being the name of Aerosmith’s third album. Even down to the names of side characters, pop cultures are rife in this show. And this is a really weird thing to realise as a reviewer cause for a show that’s biggest flaw is it’s lack of detail, it’s sure found a funny way to show it does pay attention to the details. This attention to these details has definitely contributed to why it’s been such a cultural mile stone, at least in anime.
Art & Animation Analysis
The art style stands above a fair share of modern anime, and the anime that was broadcasting at the time, whereas some shows’ art old age has come to show, Bebop’s still retains an untouched aura. It’s realistic without being frightening, it still looks very much so like a cartoon, but it’s not gaudy, there are no excessively huge eyes, the body structures of the characters are proportional (thank you for not giving Faye triple F cups, or something ridiculous like that).
It’s a very a clean design, and it’s of the hand drawn breed so to speak (making it all the more impressive), the use of the colour palette combined with the smooth animation has meant that it retains that very classic, very cool look that even amongst a sea of CGI anime I’d have to put it in my top 20s in terms of animation and art. Following this it’s backgrounds aren’t stunning, or particularly pretty but they get the job done, and overall are far above average. They portray a very realistic depiction of what the future may be, that we’re not in a shiny bubble of a world where we have hugely advance technology, instead we get a setting that has dust roads, run down shacks and migrant workers, this is far from a utopian or dystopian future: it’s instead a very believable world that mimics ours with the exception of being in space.
The Sound Analysis
The OST is all that it’s cracked up to be, the hype around it is not unfounded. Even if you’re not a big fan of jazz, it’s hard to not get sucked into the atmosphere the music generates. You have a great mixture of tracks, ranging from jazz, to blues, to even hints of rock. The OST in itself is an emotional journey, as each song has a completely different atmosphere to the one before, and if you listen to it afterwards as I did, you get hit with a bit of a realisation of how much emotion has been conveyed in the show and how much detail has gone in.
I have yet to buy the OST for myself, but I have and listen to the ED regularly now: The Real Folk Blues even go as far as listening to varying covers. It is definitely one of my more favoured tracks but below are a list of my recommendations for people to check out rather than going through all 70 and more tracks:
Recommendations For the OST:
- Space Lion
- Waltz for Zizi
- Piano Black
- Tank (OP)
- The Egg and I
- The Real Folk Blues (ED)
- Fantaisie Sign
Although there's only 9 tracks on here, I'd definitely go and check the rest out; just sit down one afternoon with a book, slap on a youtube playlist and let the good times roll......
Watanabe described Cowboy Bebop as an anime that was a new genre in itself, probably not, but it definitely set a bar for all anime that preceded afterwards with the majority of the elements of this series being made to an incredibly high caliber quality. The immense amount of tiny details that tie Bebop to so many pop culture references, the plot lines of each story being written so well, and in the 26 episode without seeming overbearing we get an adequate amount of development for majority characters-side characters included, even though agreed, more development, if the show were longer, would be properly expected. I tend to measure anime on the basis of would my life be less enriched had I not watch this, and the answer is yes. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a show that despite being surprisingly simple, surprisingly delighted me: it’s given me a bar to measure other anime against, and even someone like me who doesn’t have a very good understanding of the inner workings of making an anime can see that this is a really well made show if not also a very enjoyable one.
Describing this show, I’d call it the Shakespeare of anime, a classic anime that the vast majority of the community will basically force you to watch in the same way your teachers will shove Sonnet 130 down your hatches. And whilst there’s a fair amount of students who can’t stand Shakespeare, there’s also the substantial portion who either love Shakespeare, or are able to acknowledge the strengths of his works.
Whilst I failed to see the deeper undertones in terms of philosophy, it’s far from unlikely that I’ll not hit up to this series again for a dose of enjoyment from time to time. My final feelings are that I feel very whelmed, as in I feel in between under whelmed and overwhelmed. I generally feel quite satisfied, and happy with what I got. For all my criticisms for the show, I feel that I personally didn’t get the show I wanted or expected. If I was directing this, it’d be very different, but given the background information I think Watanabe fulfilled his claim on what he wanted, what he envisioned, he made: a mature adult anime that leaves you with a sense of slight bitterness but also acceptance, and on that note I have to give him props for this. So in a way I guess what before wasn’t true, that I do feel overwhelmed cause he’s changed my preference, and made something that I wasn’t expecting from the anime often called out as “the greatest anime made”. I neither disagree nor agree with this statement by the way. I just want to say that for my final tip to people who haven’t watched it and are planning to: to understand that, Bebop understands what it is and it’s possible flaws, that it’s episodic and short. To realise that it capitalises on this, and relishes in it’s difference to anime that have a goal; to not expect to be enriched in terms of philosophy or anything along those lines, that it’s just a really well done show, and that the sooner you realise this the easier it is to praise and enjoy the show for all the unexpected turns that it gives you, and ironically doesn’t give you. Thanks for reading, commenting or liking!
Neon is out!
P.S this is cheesy and cliche af but: