Anime Spotlight: Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is an anime series developed by Sunrise that was aimed at a seinen demographic. The production staff includes several people who are known in anime circles: director Shinichiro Watanabe, screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto, and composer Yoko Kanno.

When Cowboy Bebop was first released in Japan, it premiered on TV Tokyo; unfortunately, only episodes 2, 3, 7 to 15, and 18 were aired, due to controversial content in the series. However, the entire series later aired on WOWOW from October 23, 1998 to April 23, 1999. In 2001, a Cowboy Bebop anime film was released to Japanese theaters.

Bandai Entertainment licensed the series for release in North America and produced an English dub of the series. When Cowboy Bebop was released in the United States in 2001, it became the first anime title to be broadcast on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming. Bandai Entertainment later lost the North American rights for Cowboy Bebop; as of this writing, FUNimation Entertainment holds these rights.

Cowboy Bebop is set in the year 2071, and the series features a crew of bounty hunters traveling around in a spaceship called the Bebop. The crew of the ship includes Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Edward, and Ein.

Spike Spiegel is a former member of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. He’s a pickpocket, a skilled pilot, and is also a master of firearms and hand-to-hand combat. He also has a cybernetic eye.

Jet Black is a former Inter-Solar System Police (ISSP) detective, and he’s the character who owns the Bebop. He ended up leaving the ISSP due to his disgust of the corruption he saw in the force. After leaving the force, he became a bounty hunter. Jet also has a cybernetic prosthetic for one of his arms.

Faye Valentine is an amnesiac who was awakened after being in a cryogenic chamber for 54 years. She’s also a novice bounty hunter who has a gambling addiction. She ends up joining the crew of the Bebop uninvited.

Edward is a young computer genius and master hacker. She agrees to help the crew of the Bebop track down a bounty if they allow her to become a member of the crew.

Ein is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and a former lab animal that ends up joining the crew of the Bebop. Ein is referred to as a “data dog,” and it is suggested in the series that he has an enhanced intelligence.

The episodes of Cowboy Bebop usually focus on a bounty that the crew is trying to apprehend; however, there is also some emphasis on the past of one of the main characters. The characters’ pasts are gradually revealed over the course of the 26 episodes of the series. Many of Cowboy Bebop’s episode titles are references to song titles: “Stray Cat Strut,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Toys in the Attic,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Wild Horses,” and “Hard Luck Woman.” In addition, the Cowboy Bebop film also has the title, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Another notable thing about Cowboy Bebop is how the series combines several influences and makes it work. During the series, you can see influences from kung fu films, westerns, science fiction, and film noir.

I first saw Cowboy Bebop back in 2007, and I was impressed with what I saw. Even all these years later, I still think Cowboy Bebop is a great series.

The animation in the series was impressive for its time, and it still holds up well today. In a lot of respects, you can see how the animation style looks like it was inspired by the Akira anime film. However, Cowboy Bebop is able to differentiate its look from Akira through enhancing its looks through computer graphics that weren’t available when Akira was produced in the late 1980s.

Another thing that really makes Cowboy Bebop stand out is the musical score composed by Yoko Kanno. Not only did Kanno compose the music, but she also performed it with The Seatbelts. The music for the series is jazz and blues based, which really isn’t what a viewer would expect to hear from this kind of a series. However, the score is very effective in Cowboy Bebop, and it really adds to the overall mood and feel of the show.

While it’s been well over a decade since Cowboy Bebop first aired in Japan and in the United States, the series is considered an anime masterpiece and a classic. Time and time again, Cowboy Bebop ranks rather high in various “Best Anime of All Time” polls. When I watch Cowboy Bebop, I understand how it has gained this distinction.

2 comments

  1. jacoblindaman · November 17, 2012

    I remember when it first showed on cartoon network’s adult swim back in 2001. This is my favorite anime of all time. have you seen the movie?

    • Lesley Aeschliman · November 17, 2012

      I’ve seen the movie, and I thought it made a nice addition to the Cowboy Bebop story. I’ll be posting reviews for the other Cowboy Bebop DVDs, as well as the movie, over the next several months.

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