Anime Reviews: Cowboy Bebop
With its great characters, superb music, and die-hard fanbase, Cowboy Bebop stands as one of the most beloved, and most influential, anime ever made.
Title: Cowboy Bebop
Production: Bandai Visual / Sunrise
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 4/3/1998 to 4/23/1999
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, some suggestive content)
Summary: The year is 2071. As humanity expands through and beyond the solar system, it naturally becomes difficult for law enforcement to maintain peace throughout these extraterrestrial colonies. And so, bounty hunters become invaluable public servants, hunting down wanted criminals in exchange for cash. This story focuses on the crew of the starship "Bebop," Spike Spiegel, a former Syndicate member who now spends his life chasing bounty heads and looking for traces of his long lost love, and Jet Black, a former police detective who helps Spike with his bounty hunting while maintaining his ship. However, bounty hunting is a difficult profession that can bring many unwanted dangers into one's life, like heated gun fights, dogfights in air cruisers, super-intelligent animals, kids, and women with attitude. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do to put food on the table.
The Good: Typical Sunrise high-quality art and animation; legendary voice acting, characters, pacing, and all that jazz...literally
The Bad: A few episodes don't maintain the brilliance of the rest; I wanted to know more about the characters
The Ugly: It comes to an end
Do I even need to talk about this series? You've seen it! You couldn't have not seen it! But then again, GenCon 2011 taught me many things. I attended the "Anime Name That Tune" panel, like the nerd I am, and I along with the dude who headed the "Best/Worst Anime Ever" panels conquered like a couple of bosses. And then, some 13-year-old girl got "Tank!" (a.k.a. "the Cowboy Bebop song"), and she was utterly clueless as to what it was. As I felt a piece of my soul wither away, I had realized that there, indeed, exist people (ANIME FANS, no less) who haven't seen Cowboy Bebop. So, yes, I guess I do need to talk about it.
But man, where do I even start? (Rhetorical question. I already know.)
I will begin by stating that Cowboy Bebop is a beautiful-looking series. There's a lot of great cinematic camera angles, slick character designs, detailed set pieces, exciting action sequences, creative uses of lighting and shadow, and fight scenes that utilize real-life martial arts and/or realistic gun mechanics. Basically, there's not a single moment where anything looks cheap or rushed or low quality. The same goes for the voice acting, with legendary voice actress Megumi Hayashibara behind the character of Faye Valentine in the Japanese version; however, in a stunning reversal, the English voice cast is even more incredible than the Japanese one! With future anime voice acting superstars like Steve Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, and Melissa Fahn, the Cowboy Bebop English dub is legendary within the anime community for being the gold standard for English dubs, even to this very day. Now that's saying something, considering this series hit the States during a time when anime dubs were still rushed and lazy and full of bad localization choices.
Aside from beautiful visuals and phenomenal voice work, another big draw of Cowboy Bebop is its laid-back and sarcastic cast. Spike's your good old play-it-cool action hero with a dark past, Jet serves as the constantly-facepalming figure of responsibility who's not afraid to throw down, Faye is the woman who shoots first and asks questions later, and Edward is...well, Edward is Edward, and that'll explain everything once you meet her. Yes, her. To contrast the relatively easygoing main cast, we also have the recurring villain, Vicious, who lives up to his name and then some. There is absolutely nothing funny or likeable about the guy, and the series very quick sets a precedent for you to dread every scene he's in. Because someone's gonna die in some hideous way. Will it be your favorite character? Maybe.
Not only are the main characters laid-back--the anime itself is, too! The main story only pops up here and there, with the majority of episodes being bounty chases with thrilling action scenes, character development, and a few great jokes thrown in for good measure. The result is a nice and easy pace that doesn't uncomfortably push the audience forward in a big damn hurry. Rather refreshing, especially for an action series.
And now, the big one: the music. Oh God, is there ever music. From bebop to slow jazz to blues to blues rock to heavy metal to acoustic instrumental to Ave freakin' Maria to a cappella to swing to just about everything imaginable. And it was all composed by a Japanese woman: Kanno Yoko. And it's all fantastic. Here's a playlist for you. Have at it. That's all I can do for you at this point. Also as a point of interest, the episode titles are all based on song titles, with the music in each episode mostly conforming to the title (e.g. Heavy Metal Queen features heavy metal, Asteroid Blues features blues, etc.). It's not a strict rule the series abides by, but it's still frequent enough to worth noting, adding to the series' atmosphere with great effect.
But sadly, even this classic is not without its blemishes. Amidst the many action-packed episodes and character-based episodes, we get an episode or two that just sit there and do nothing. For example, we have Mushroom Samba, an episode that is basically just the cast trippin' out on shrooms while Ed and Ein have adventures! It has some funny moments, but it pales in comparison to the other episodes.
Also, I was kinda disappointed that we don't learn too terribly much about Spike and Jet in the end. Go figure, the characters we start out with are the ones we end up knowing the least about. We learn all about Faye and her past, Edward and her situation--even Vicious gets a fair deal more background than Spike does. Even more bizarre than that, both Spike and Jet are the two characters who get the most episodes based around them. WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN
But hey, it is what it is. And Cowboy Bebop is a classic that has gone down in anime history as being one of the most influential ever made. Years from now, when the moe craze has died the horrible death it deserves, people will look back at the late 90s and early 00s as "that period of time before everything went wrong." And this series will reign supreme as the pinnacle of the anime classics, just as it does today.
Now hopefully you damn kids learned something.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. While some more development of our main characters would have been nice, there is hardly an anime fan alive who would say an unkind word about this undisputed anime classic.