Cowboy Bebop: Specters of the Past, the Present, and the Future

I’ve been nervous about writing about this show for a long time. It’s Cowboy Bebop guys. It is still a well known series. Not only because there was a live action adaptation, but because it aired on Adult Swim for over a decade. I mean, it might have been a cheap product to put out for them perhaps, but something doesn’t stay on the air that long without gaining some sort of audience. Cowboy Bebop is also a series that has been poked at, looked at, reviewed, picked apart and examined, and so on since it came out. What else is there to say about Cowboy Bebop that hasn’t been said yet? I’m still going to try to say some things about it regardless.

So, this post isn’t exactly going to be the most focused post on Cowboy Bebop. There are other bloggers that you can check out for more focused posts like Pluto Mango and Confessions of an Overage Otaku who has analyzed very cool and particular parts of the show and I find all of them very interesting and show so many layers of the show itself. Yeah, I’m not as good at writing focused posts as these two. I just write generally while trying to cover a lot of things at once because that is my own style and that is just how I think. My blog is just an extension of my mind after all. I’m very scatterbrained and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

With that, where do I start with Cowboy Bebop. Let’s talk about a bit of its influences and structural ideas. Cowboy Bebop is the brainchild of a certain Shinichiro Watanabe and comes with some famous people like Yoko Kanno, Keiko Nobumoto, and I’m sure there are a lot of others. People say correctly that Evangelion is the product of a lot of things that Hideaki Anno loves and put them together as a masterpiece. Cowboy Bebop is like that for Shinichiro Watanabe for having so many influences from live action martial arts and other films he loves, music he digs, Lupin III, some Captain Harlock, and I am sure there are others. It’s amazing.

All of that translates to the structure and execution of Cowboy Bebop itself. The series itself unabashedly takes those influences and makes a really cool anime series. It is episodic and carries the weight of those influences including these titles named after different musical selections. It really does feel like a barometer to a lot of anime fans to where they started when they watched Bebop, because some stupid people would consider it filled with filler when its showing its characters’s many layers through them facing different situations that shows them as real people. It drives forward, but takes many stops along the way. All of it is so valuable.

With all of that comes the characters of the story itself. A group of odd balls on a broken down spaceship that barely carries them from one location/story/episode to another. There is the infamous Spike Spiegel who is on the run from a criminal syndicate, is a master of martial arts, and is a daredevil who wants a challenge, but has a heart. Then there is Jet Black, the ex-cop with a pretty generic past but is Spike’s partner. Next up is the sexy Faye Valentine who is on the run from medical debts and loves gambling and stealing other people’s money when she can. It’s all capped off with the duo of the smart corgi Ein and Ed who is impossible to explain in a short manner besides being extra cartoony as the hacker.

To me, the power of Cowboy Bebop is how unusual the relationship of the Bebop crew is. They are not the found family that people expect them to be. These are three freelance actors who are in the same place because they can barely pay off their own apartment together with a stray dog they somehow are scrounging to feed and the neighbor kid shows up so often that they just accept him being there. Jet is the responsible one who gathers the money to pay the bills. Each of them have their own lives that they don’t want to share just because they are in the same space for an amount of time. Sometimes Jet, Faye, and Spike work together and are able to get a bounty. Other times, it’s the Faye show, the Jet show, but more likely the Spike show.

There really is something special about the fleeting nature of Cowboy Bebop’s characters and story that makes it so unique and so adult compared to a lot of other anime series out there. Especially compared to a lot, but not all, of the anime series coming out today. (Seriously though, you can still find adult focused anime now.) While a lot of the episodes of Cowboy Bebop are cartoony in nature from Cowboy Andy to who knows what, they are still episodes full of people who have their own problems living in the dystopia of the Cowboy Bebop world who are also pushed away from the center and barely making a living. A lot like our crew.

Then there is the past of our main characters getting addressed. I do find Jet’s story of being an ex cop being betrayed being pretty cliche, but it is executed well enough to be interesting. Faye’s story is fascinating and explores society’s exploitation of women and medical things in the United States. She is a femme fatale on the outside, but that is the outer shell she presents herself while her inner self is lost and trying to discover the direction she can take her life. Ein and Ed are the major comic relief that allows a lot of moments of levity and calm to keep the show from drowning too far. I really like our cute dog and our goofy hacker too. I love all of them, but let’s talk about our main character spike. 

Spike is a simple person who is running away from a mafia/yakuza like scenario, but he is constantly pushing himself to do the most extreme things in order to see if he can still feel something. Weighed down by his past, there is that inside nature that is trying to figure out he is alive. Even in episodes he isn’t focused on, Spike doesn’t want to take boring jobs and instead wants to  take tasks that seem impossible because that is who he is. Julia and Vicious are figures that hang over Spike throughout the show which is why they only have six episodes focused on them in general. Yet with all his daredevil nature, Spike is very kind and has been hurt a lot by some of his attempts to reach out to others completely fail or not manifest in good ways. It’s sad.

That is the experience of Cowboy Bebop to me. You know besides the good music and the visual flare from its incredible fight scenes to its amazing world construction from everything about its world being shown to us instead of explained to us to those fight scenes that I still geek out about these days to just this product named Cowboy Bebop. It is a special show that barely came into existence because Sunrise was a space anime happy from the appearance of the new at that time Star Wars prequel trilogy that started to come out at that time. Yet, Cowboy Bebop was able to slip through the cracks in something that is just fun and subversive in some cool ways from so many anime fans. It connected with people because Cowboy Bebop just has a lot to say and it connected with me the same way.

Cowboy Bebop is, of course, a wonderful classic of an anime series. As the cliche thing is to say, it is not my favorite anime series ever because that is Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but Cowboy Bebop that still gives me a lot to think about and contemplate. I also really like Shinichiro Watanabe’s style, from direction to his love of music to really make a piece of anime stand out. It’s clear that he did not appear out of nowhere, but I am glad he started with such creative and ambitious series and still comes out with them from time to time. Same with how he is just gifted as a director in ways that capitalize on scenes that wouldn’t work otherwise. How do I not give this series a solid? It’s fantastic on so many levels.

7 comments

  1. Cowboy Bebop will always be a classic! Your right, there are so many great reviews out there, though I still love reading new ones! I agree ghost in the shell: Stand alone complex was great! It’s my favorite Ghost in the Shell.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Having sat down to watch it this last year, removed from the hype, but knowing its legacy. I have to say it really is a marvel of animation and sound design. I had my issues with some of the story beats, but then I saw how the live action show did that, and I found myself taking a lot of that back.

    Great show that earns its legacy, but nothing to write home about.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s