Cowboy Bebop box cover

© 1998 Sunrise Inc, 1999 Bandai Entertainment

Info

Available on VHS and DVD from Bandai Entertainment.
TV Series: 26 episodes on 13 VHS tapes or 6 DVDs
25 minutes per episode
Science Fiction Action/Drama
Version I Watched: English dubbed & subtitled in English
Objectionable Content: Violence

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Cowboy Bebop

Every once in awhile, an anime comes along that combines elements from virtually every genre into a polished, well-rounded, and wholly entertaining package. The Vision of Escaflowne is the last series I can think of that pulled this off. But now I'll be adding another title to that list: Cowboy Bebop.

Classifying Cowboy Bebop isn't as easy as you might think. Slapping a science fiction label on it is easy enough, but many more genres are blended in. Elements of epic drama, slapstick comedy, and blistering action sequences that are comparable to the best of John Woo can all be found in this series. Many fans have just dubbed it a "space western", but I think that makes the series seem more superfluous than it really is. I prefer to think of it as a "sci-fi film noir action-adventure". But maybe that's getting a little too technical.

Cowboy Bebop is an extremely character oriented series that revolves around two bounty hunters, Spike and Jet. Spike is a lanky gunslinger with a dangerous past and some killer martial arts moves. He tends to be rather presumptuous and aggressive, which often lands him in some pretty dangerous situations. Luckily for him, Jet is there to watch his back. Laid-back but tough, Jet is a rough-sounding ex-cop with a bionic arm. He seems to be almost a perennial father-figure to Spike, and is often the more rational of the two. During their adventures in space, they come across a few more companions. The first is Ein, a lovable mutt with supposedly advance intelligence. He doesn't contribute a whole lot to the series, but looks absolutely adorable trying to run around in zero gravity. The next is Faye Valentine, the hottie in hot-pants who seems to be rather prominently featured on most of the box covers. She's both tough and fragile, with a very impulsive attitude and unconstrained demeanor. She enters the series as a layered character with a hidden past, and is slowly peeled back until she comes to grips with who she is. And finally, there's Ed, a young girl with extraordinary computer skills and hacking ability. Out of all the characters, Ed is definitely my favorite because of her utterly outlandish personality and happy-go-lucky attitude.

The beauty of this series is the way in which it explores its characters. Each character has a fully-developed past which is slowly revealed as the series progresses. The main story revolves around Spike's shady history as a member of the Red Dragon crime syndicate (your typical organized crime family). He left the Red Dragons to escape the downward spiral of a life of crime, and became a bounty hunter in its stead. But just like Al Pacino said in the Godfather III, "Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in." Naturally, Spike has some old enemies which would sooner see him dead, and gets involved in a deadly conflict with another Red Dragon member, Vicious. Jet's past as a cop is also explored, with a lot of development into his reasons for leaving that profession to become a bounty hunter with Spike. And, of course, Faye and Ed are given their share of revelations about their hidden backgrounds. I wish I could go into more detail surrounding each character's past, but I don't want to reveal any spoilers. The story lines are best experienced by one's self, but I'll tell you this much: this series pulls no punches and the ending hits like a nine-iron between the eyes.

Contrasting the angst and drama of the character-oriented episodes are some episodes with no relation to the main story lines. These range from the lightweight and silly to downright bizarre, but all are quite entertaining in their own right. My personal favorites include the episodes focusing on Ed, which were often as impetuous and humorous as Ed herself. There was also a neat Aliens-style episode in which a mysterious organism plagues the crew of the Bebop, or a very surreal story in which Spike takes on a twisted assassin with super-human abilities. There are too many of these episodes to list, and some may be seen as filler at first. Personally, I thought they went a long way in boosting my enjoyment of this series.

There is no other way to describe the production values of Cowboy Bebop: they're just outstanding. The art is crisp and clear, slightly dull compared to most recent anime, but definitely high quality for a TV series. Animation-wise, things are quite solid, with some use of computer effects. Most of the time they tended to mesh well with the traditional cel-style artwork, but there were a couple instances where the differences were noticeably jarring. Overall, though, the visuals are quite nice. The audio is also excellent in every category. The music is just superb, coming as no surprise since the series was scored by none other than Yoko Kanno. Most of the tunes are comprised of 70's style funk and jazz, with a few classical pieces thrown in for good measure. Sound effects were just great, especially when played on a Dolby Digital system. The series easily has some of the best shoot-em-up effects I've heard in anything (anime or otherwise). And finally, the English dubbing caps off a perfect audio treat. All of the main characters were superbly cast, and I will make no secret of the fact that I prefer the English actors to their Japanese counterparts. Cowboy Bebop easily ranks as one of the best dubs ever produced and should please even the most dub-wary fan.

To be honest, I can't really think of any fans who wouldn't find something to enjoy in Cowboy Bebop. The excellent blending of genres and styles is what makes this series so special and unique. For me, Cowboy Bebop is definitely a keeper.

The Verdict: * * * * 1/2 (very good)