The futuristic misadventures and tragedies of an easygoing bounty hunter and his partners.The futuristic misadventures and tragedies of an easygoing bounty hunter and his partners.The futuristic misadventures and tragedies of an easygoing bounty hunter and his partners.
So boy was I surprised when I first saw 'Cowboy Bebop.'
I'm still in the process of watching all 26 episodes, so I don't know everything about the series, but from what I've seen, it's head-and-shoulders better than any anime out there.
It's a fairly simple premise: around 2020 there was a weird explosion which took out part of Luna and put moon rocks in orbit around Earth in a miniature asteroid belt. Earth was rendered more or less uninhabitable, but the same weird explosion also held the keys to Hyperspace Gates, a safe and reliable form of transportation which the planetless Earthlings used to colonize their solar system. With this expansion came an explosion in the Mafia, the black market, the criminal underworld; to control it, InterStellar Space Police was created. But even the ISSP wasn't enough, and so the Police began to put out bounties on criminals. A subculture of bounty hunters evolved; best estimates suggest that there are over 300,000 in the Sol system alone. They have revived and adopted an ancient title: "Cowboy."
'Cowboy Bebop' focuses on the travels of bounty hunter Spike Spiegel, a tall, lanky martial artist who oozes more style than Baz Luhrmann. He and his partner Jet Black travel the solar system in their ship, the Bebop (hence the title of the show), tracking down bounties and entertaining their audiences again and again. But it's not entirely accurate to say that the show FOCUSES on Spike and Jet, because there are two main characters who join the show in later episodes--Faye Valentine, a sexy, outrageous woman with a shadowed past and no tact (and a wardrobe that the animators seem to enjoy making look like it might fall off at any given moment) and a bizarre 13-year-old girl named Ed (don't ask) who can basically hack into any computer system and provides surreal comic relief on the side. But it's not entirely accurate to say the show focuses on THEM, either, because the star is undeniably Spike. The show starts and ends with his past. What about that past? Ah, but that would be telling.
In a medium where characters routinely jump fifty feet into the air and then produce huge beams of energy from somewhere, CB's realism is welcome and refreshing. The animation is fluid and subtle--watching Spike fist-fight the week's bounty in the premier episode is a sight to behold. It's obvious that the animators have put a lot more thought into realistic movement than they normally do. These cel-bound wonders are mixed with a sprinkling of CGI that would do Babylon 5 proud. All together, it creates a visually appealing mix, made even more endearing by the fact that the laws of physics evidently still apply. Despite his extensive martial arts training, Spike produces no energy beams, makes no Matrix-esque leaps, and more or less keeps his feet planted on the earth, the same as the series does.
Characters are handled exquisitely. With only four characters and 26 episodes to deal with, it's a little easier to keep everything vigorous and interesting, but it's still refreshing to see CB using ALL of its characters in EVERY episode--and generally managing to develop them all too. I know of NO television series where every episode manages to add something new to every character. Frankly, I don't think there is one. That alone says something about CB's quality.
Finally, we have the music. It's no coincidence that the show is named after a style of music, and composer Yoko Kanno has created over three hours worth of lush, diverse, interesting music for the series. In a medium where music is created, thrown away on a weekly basis, and generally only exists to warn the viewer that something significant is going to happen, Cowboy Bebop uses its soundtrack to maximum effect. I've only seen eleven episodes, but I can already point to three or four moments when the music absolutely MAKES the scene, and I've probably missed more.
One thing I should say--Cowboy Bebop, like most animes, isn't really meant as commentary or satire. It is not intended to be socially relevant, to present controversial themes, to make viewers sit up and re-evaluate their lives. It is simply intended to entertain--and that it does. The stories it tells are not unique, but the way they are told is. Strong animation is combined with incredible storytelling and extraordinary music to create an anime unlike any other. One anime reviewer suggested that Cowboy Bebop will be the first of a new genre. This may not be accurate, but it tells you exactly how different and interesting this particular show is.
- Oct 3, 2002