It’s time we blow this scene. Cowboy Bebop is back in the conversation again, thanks largely to the live-action series on Netflix. But while fans seem to be divided about the new version, there are many people who’ve never even heard of Cowboy Bebop before now, let alone watched the original series. Regardless if you like anime or not, we’re here to help convince you that Cowboy Bebop is definitely worth your time and should be viewed immediately.
Cowboy Bebop, a Japanese anime directed by Shinichirō Watanabe consisting of twenty-six episodes, or “sessions” as the show likes to call them. It’s set in the year 2071 and revolves around the group of bounty hunters residing on the spaceship called Bebop. The crew is initially sparse, consisting of space cowboy (the show’s term for a bounty hunter) Spike Spiegel and his friend and confident Jet. Both men couldn’t be any different, but it’s their bickering and radically different outlooks on life that make their conversations and reactions great to watch. Spike is a bit more indifferent towards many things in life; he’s a chain-smoker and a bit of a bummer to be around when he’s not gearing up for the next big score. He’s a very accomplished martial artist but someone who is quite literally lost in the universe. There’s no purpose and it’s great to peel back the layers on his character. Jet is Spike’s total opposite, a large man who is more rational about things than Spike is, but equally pessimistic. The duo are “space cowboys”, bounty hunters roaming the solar system, but despite their lucrative business, are constantly in need of money to put food in their mouths, sometimes to the point of desperation.
As the show goes on, the duo bump into various individuals who get added to the crew of the Bebop, ultimately resulting in a motley crew of bizarre and jaded outcasts who make a sort of disfunctional family. There’s the mysterious femme fatale Faye, who both Spike and Jet kind of loathe but accept begrudgingly, despite her initial attempts to betray them for her own benefit. She may seem one-dimensional at first but her backstory is complex and tragic. The crew is completed by Edward, probably the most “anime” character on the show. She’s a hacker who lives in her own bubble and doesn’t really care about what people think of her and plays by her own rules, often aloof of the world around her. Then there’s Ein, who is a Welsh corgi with a data chip installed in his head, making him a more advanced breed of dog, but nothing too crazy, Ein can’t speak English or anything but he can drive a car, for instance.
Who Is It For?
There are many people who don’t watch anime shows because they think that anime “isn’t for them”. And that’s a fair point, I’d say most anime isn’t quite as accessible for general audiences, sometimes due to humour, cultural points or zany insane fantasy shenanigans. But Cowboy Bebop doesn’t feel like most animes. If anything, those who are big fans of Firefly and the early works of Robert Rodriguez, specifically Desperado, should really get a kick out of the show’s stylish and compelling narrative. There’s a big emphasis on old martial arts flicks too as Spike is a talented fighter and his style seems ripped straight from 1960s Hollywood or 1980s Hong Kong cinema, just with an anime exaggeration. Likewise, if the scum and villainy angle of Star Wars makes you happy, Bebop very much feels in that vein. This is a seedy world and industry that the crew are very much involved in that life of crime, rubbing shoulders with people who did some terrible things to merit their bounty. Sometimes though, the story isn’t quite so black and white and we get to learn both sides of a story.
The visuals are full of great science fiction pulp, with robot arms, space ships and a colonized solar system, but modern trappings like contemporary firepower (no laser beams here) and old television sets. Speaking of “old”, the music in this show is off the charts great. It has an old, 1960s jazz vibe going on that’s infectious and insanely catchy. It greatly increases the swagger and charm of the show and you’ll be humming that opening tune for days on end. Music fans will also get a kick out of the title of each episode (called “sessions”), which are usually based off of a popular song, such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Sympathy for the Devil, Honky Tonk Women or Toys in the Attic. Other titles riff on the concept of music, such as Asteroid Blues and Jupiter Jazz.
Best Dub Ever?
When it comes to anime, there are two camps and both are very passionate and vocal about what they see as the best way to watch the genre. There’s the sub crowd, who watch everything in Japanese, largely because some of the storybeats get lost in translation, hurting the narrative. Then there’s the dub crowd, who want to watch the show without having to read the subtitles, which can be distracting for the rapid nature of the genre. The clip below, from the first episode, should give you a taste of both the dubbing and more of the jazzy soundtrack.
Cowboy Bebop is one of the rare exceptions where everyone seems to agree that the dubbed version of Cowboy Bebop is actually the preferred version. The voice acting rivals what you’d hear in any major studio production that was intended to be heard in English. There’s nothing lost and the characters are so emphatically played that you’d be forgiven in thinking that the dub was the original broadcast.
There’s a reason why Cowboy Bebop is as beloved as it is. It’s a genre piece tailored for fans of westerns and science fiction and one that oozes cinematic style that you don’t often see in the anime genre. For those who are looking for a cool space western about a dysfunctional motley crew of misfits, you couldn’t do any wrong by giving the original anime a chance, even if anime isn’t your thing.