What is it about Cowboy Bebop that grabs a hold of a person and never lets go?
Is it the setting?
Is it the characters?
Is it the story and themes?
Is it the music?
The Cast of Cowboy Bebop: Unpleasant People, You Can’t Help But Love
If you have ever asked yourself these questions then you might have to face the fact that you actually don’t “Get it”. It is all those things that make Cowboy Bebop a show that strikes such a chord with its fanbase. All of those elements and so much more make Cowboy Bebop an example of “Perfection” when it comes to Anime. I mean just from the first time I watched the opening credit sequence to the first episode, “Asteroid Blues”, I knew I was watching something different, something special. Hell, I had been excited to watch the show for six months before it ever debuted in Japan just based on the preliminary descriptions of it. “Lupin III Meets Crusher Joe” was the first thing I read. Just that one sentence blew my mind. I mean Lupin III already has such an amazing and well deserved reputation with fans of the genre. The roguish Gentleman’s thief has been a staple of Japanese popular culture since Monkey Punch first drew the original manga in 1967. So taking Lupin and combining it with one of the coolest sci-fi series in Japan, namely that of Crusher Joe, was such a mind blowing idea that I was genuinely floored that no one in Japan had tried to do it. When I started reading the names of the people involved the only thing that kept going through my head was “Lupin and Crusher Joe… there is no way it can suck!”. Then I saw Yoko Kanno was involved.
Yoko Kanno: The Genius Behind The Sound of Cowboy Bebop
To any die hard Anime fan of the last 30 years, Yoko Kanno is a name held in some degree of reverence. In terms of music composers that work in the field of making Anime soundtracks, hers has become something of a mark of excellence. Kanno first came to prominence based on her work from 1994′s Macross Plus, for which she composed its amazing soundtrack. Macross has always prided itself on its theme of music to convey emotion and culture and Yoko Kanno took that theme to a level that many fans had not experienced since the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross ended in 1982. It is not hyperbole to say that without Kanno’s amazing range as a composer that Macross Plus just might have been only half as memorable as it was. Honestly, “Voices” was not only the main theme of Macross Plus, it was the song that drove the story forward at times. From there Kanno turned heads with the incredible soundtrack to The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkuu No Escaflowne 1996). If Macross Plus was Kanno’s coming out party then Escaflowne was an example of her putting her foot down to say “From this point forward I am making my mark!”. Escaflowne was a lush tour-DE-force of heroic anthems and dramatic battle music. The question was, what was Kanno going to do next to follow up 2 of the most heralded soundtracks made for Anime since Hiroshi Miyagawa composed the soundtrack for Space Battleship Yamato?
Jet Black: Tough On The Outside, Soft On The Inside
The answer was Cowboy Bebop‘s incredible Jazz heavy soundtrack. Kanno found the perfect balance of music fitting its subject matter and that, in turn, only enhanced Cowboy Bebop‘s mood and tone. Every piece of incidental music, every piano keystroke, every song… all of them were perfect. The thing is, it is more than just Kanno’s music that makes Bebop great. It is the talent of the creators when pooled together that makes Bebop so special. Director Shinichiro Watanabe already had the acclaimed Macross Plus under his belt, he recruited Macross Plus scriptwriter Keiko Nobumoto and Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto as the core team that would give Cowboy Bebop its style and pacing. Watanabe and Nobumoto brought the souls of the characters to life. The exiled gangster Spike Spiegel, scraping by in life as a Bounty Hunter along with his partner, the tough as nails, but somewhat sentimental, Jet Black. These are the 2 characters that we meet in Bebop. The first scene between them seems like a nothing conversation. Jet letting Spike know what is for dinner, only for Spike to find out that what he has been told is for dinner is only a half-truth. A lack of money means there is a lack of meat, so Jet’s “Special Ginger Roast” is missing something important. Of course Jet points out how lack of money is exactly the reason as to why both men are eating a somewhat sparse vegetarian meal.
Spike Spiegel: Not Your Typical Anime Hero
That is how it begins. A talk of finances that 22 minutes later has seen both men try and chase down a bounty on a drug dealer and how pursuing that bounty goes horribly awry for everyone involved. Everyone meaning Spike, Jet, he drug dealer and especially the drug dealer’s girlfriend. Everything goes wrong for the characters, but for the viewer nothing could be more perfect. The first episode is full of humor, violence of all degrees (gun play, martial arts and big explosions abound) and of course music. Oh that music that just sets the mood for the whole episode. The country twang of the guitar as Spike practices his Kung-Fu, the jazzy brisk bass and piano that bounce with the horns during a fight… oh how all those musical arrangements make me smile. The first episode of Cowboy Bebop is only but a sample to whet your appetite of what is to follow. It isn’t an appetizer so much as an Amuse-Bouche, a mere bite in order to get you excited for the metaphorical meal to follow and oh my, what follows is like 25 course feast for those of us that love well conceptualized characters and hard boiled science fiction.
Faye Valentine: Classiest of Classy Broads
We get to meet Faye Valentine, the hard drinking gambler girl, who really is a literal “girl out of time”, who puts on a tomboy act to hide the fact that she doesn’t have a clue to what her past is, thus making her vulnerable emotionally. We meet Ed, the genius girl hacker who may or may not be somewhat insane. Then there is Ein, the poor little corgi who kind of watches these poor souls and possibly might he one individual that understands them all. It is a mish-mash of people that shouldn’t be together in any situation but here hey are, aboard Jet’s space converted fishing trawler, because they honestly have nowhere else to go. Each of thee people had lives before they met but now only have memories of what those lives used to be. Spikes’ old life is denied him because of lost love and score to settle with a friend to turned rival. Jet had his heartbroken, which for a tough ex-cop is one tough pill to swallow. Faye just wishes she had a past to remember though she discovers the pain of finally remembering. Lost souls on a spaceship, most times starving and seemingly always broke. These are the characters of Cowboy Bebop, damaged souls each one, broken people that you come to love in spite of the fact that if they were real people they would be the most unlikable people you might ever meet.
“Hard Luck Woman” – Ed Departs The Bebop For Good
It also doesn’t hurt that for a TV series, Cowboy Bebop‘s animation is still pretty damn beautiful to look at. It’s been 15 years since it first aired and even with the advent of digital animation Cowboy Bebop is gorgeous. It is gorgeous when it wants to be sad, it is gorgeous when it wants to be gritty, it is gorgeous when it wants to be chic and stylish. It is a show of style that really hasn’t been matched since it ended. In fact it is so stylish that I can’t think of another show that even follows in the same vein. Sure there were similar shows from the same year like Future Hero Next Generation Outlaw Star and Trigun, but as good as those shows were, never once did I sit down from the first episode onward and say “Damn, this right here? This is something special”. Cowboy Bebop wasn’t something I just watched, it was something I invested myself in. Every setback the crew of the Bebop suffer through, you suffer through it with them. Every heartbreak, every little joy, all of it. The hardest episode for me to watch is episode 24 “Hard Luck Woman”, where Ed is reunited with her father but the end result is that Ed learns that her place is no longer on he Bebop and thus leaves it and its crew behind. In the same episode Faye Valentine finally learns who she used to be before being displaced in time. He closing of he episode actually brought tears to my eyes. As the Yoko Kanno/Steve Conte penned song “Call Me, Call Me” plays over scenes of Ed leaving the Bebop behind and scenes of Faye locating her the home she lived in from her former life. The humor that gets interjected between these moving moments features the perpetually broke and hungry Spike and Jet attempting to scarf down as many hard boiled eggs s they can, since it I the most they have had to eat in days. As the song ends, Ein decides to leave the Bebop as well, following Ed to God knows h=where. Faye traces out where the bed she slept in as child used to be and ponders what exactly is her future. It is a somber ending to a what up until that point had been a rather lighthearted episode. But what these moments represent symbolically are themes of moving to he next stage of one’s life. Ed has outgrown the Bebop and its crew and must now find her own path, while Faye has to come to grips about who she is now, who she used to be in the past and if she can cope with being who she might need to be in the future. I can not listen to “Call Me, Call Me” without getting a little emotional. The song just makes me think of the tag line for the end of the episode “See You Cowgirl, Someday, Somewhere” and how it drives the point home that none of us knows what the future will bring.
Can you believe that isn’t even the end of the series?
The next 2 episodes that end Cowboy Bebop not only surpass “Hard Luck Woman” but put a nice capstone to the show. It ends the way it does because there really no other way to end it. All the loose ends are tied up. Spike finally finds his true love and has it out with his old rival. Jet realizes that the times that everyone was on the Bebop together were the happiest of his life since his woman broke his heart and Faye comes to grips with the fact that her future is only what she makes it. The end was the only end that made sense. Yeah, I’m deliberately cryptic and vague about just what happens in he last 2 episodes of Cowboy Bebop, I’m being so because if you’ve seen it then you know what I’m talking about and if you’ve never watched it then I’m leaving it to you to sit down, watch it and then sit there with your jaw hitting the floor. I mean honestly, do you think Adult Swim kept kept this show in its rotation for Saturday nights/Sunday mornings because it isn’t anything less than amazing? The few times it has been pulled from the Adult Swim line-up, a few weeks later it returns starting over from the beginning, because Cowboy Bebop is not a show to be watched from he middle onward. It must be soaked in and absorbed from the first episode to the last. Savored and swished around in one’s mouth like the finest of wines. This isn’t some throw away Shonen or Shojo Anime like Naruto or Vampire Knight. This is Cowboy Bebop, the result of the perfect creative team giving the world one of the most Perfect pieces of Science Fiction Noir you are ever going to watch. That flavor in your mouth that you’ll have you when finish watching it? That’s called satisfaction!
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