Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cowboy Bebop: The Complete Series (1998)

Note: This marks a first for me as a reviewer. Not only does this mark the first time I'll be reviewing an entire show but it also marks the first time I'll be doing something anime on this blog (on my previous journal I often did posts on Miyazaki films) so I do ask please give as much feedback as possible.


The year is 2071, a gate incident has all but destroyed earth, and people now reside on a variety of planets across the solar system. A group of misfit bounty hunters (known as cowboys) aboard the spaceship Bebop deal with difficult bounties, somber pasts, and unknown futures.

If you were to tell someone in the US that a show ran for only one season that was it they'd probably call it a failure. In reality Cowboy Bebop is an immensely successful series that run from fall of 1998 to 1999 in Japan. It subsequently had a run in the US via Cartoon Network's Adult Swim during 2001 and 2002 (briefly halted due to 9/11). The 26 episodes of Cowboy Bebop are definitely among the most intriguing television show viewing experience I've had, and has re-inspired that childhood love of Anime that was once overrun by Dragonball Z. The show was recommended to me by a friend who noted my love of Serenity/Firefly and the outlying similarities.

Cowboy Bebop has 4 central characters. First, the show's central character, Spike Spiegel, an ex crime syndicate member whose dark past is the subject of many of the show's storyline. Then there's Jet Black, the captain of Bebop, a big, tough, ex-cop who left the force after a combination of relationship and career issues, including the loss of his arm. A third of the way into the series they are joined by Faye Valentine, a tough, gambling addicted woman whose past is a mystery even to herself. Faye was stuck in cryogenic slumber for nearly 54 years until she was awaken, only to find her time has accumulated massive debt. Lastly there's Ed, a genius but absurdly weird teenage hacker who forces her way onto the Bebop, ranging from helpful to an odd distraction.

These characters, each with their own characters quirks, create a great sort of chemistry that really carries the show, bringing out much the shows emotion through the later half which delves much more in their past. Watanabe and Nobumoto wonderfully allow the viewer to see both the tough and tender sides of these characters. Some episodes will move you to tears while others will hit your action bone with non-stop intensity. All the while though the creators carefully keep a little bit of a playful side to the show, really keeping a smile on your face. Alas though Cowboy Bebop is never afraid to show deep emotional conflict, all villains aren't quite so easy, and all heroes aren't so pure. Spike's dark past brings about an emotional finale that will touch even the most hard hearted of viewers.

Meanwhile Faye provides an intriguing counter to Spike, while being the show's sort of sex appeal (if that's your thing). Faye sees Spike in a way nobody else on the crew does, leading to a powerful central show chemistry that can really bring the viewer in. Jet's fatherly figure provides a sense of moral center to the show as it is often pushed into very morally ambiguous situations where money or life are forced into play. Meanwhile Ed is sort of the comedic break in the show, pushing out these absurd situations, often getting the way, and struggling with personal communication. Her time with the crew's pet dog really helps provide a cheerful counter to much of the show's heavy material.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Cowboy Bebop though is the visual style. Combining old school westerns and 40's noir style with jazz and rock music is an undeniably captivating combination. Melancholy and yet upbeat, Watanabe wonderfully brings out style that supports the substance instead of overbearing it. A combination of sexy and action, Bebop pulls out some visually breathtaking episodes, each of which always feels about 5-10 minutes too short.

Though if I had to pick something out I'd say that the show's final 3 episodes are the real highlights. While the lead up episodes are great (especially the Jupiter Jazz two episode arc) the final three are filled with emotion, unveiling, and really hit a home run in terms of style and storytelling. I can't say I loved the ending, while appropriate, it's definitely a tear getter, and I can't help but feel certain character relationships could have been better ended. Though I don't intend to be overly nitpicky. As series go, this ones a definite powerhouse, it has something to say and it's going to say it, in every way possibly. It's not one-minded often displaying a wide variety of opinions on different life issues through a variety of storylines.

It is safe to say there's something for everyone here, and I thoroughly enjoyed and constantly looked forward to seeing the show's next episode. A must see for anime fans, and a good introductory show for those not sure if anime is quite their cup of tee.

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