Cowboy Bebop

Rating: 4.5

Space: the final frontier. Even if Roddenberry's emphasis was on exploration, the term still evokes stories of cowboys and "Indians", of outlaws and vigilantes and bounty hunters, mostly due to the "western" movies, which depicted a particularly skewed version of the American West. Nonetheless, the frontier as a lawless place is a firmly established trope, so of course Japanese authors have incorporated it in their narratives: first in the classical American setting, for example with Kouya no Shounen Isamu (荒野の少年イサム, Isamu of the wild lands, 1973), then in the futuristic settings of the final frontier: Sei Juushi Bismarck (星銃士 ビスマルク, literally "star gunmen Bismark", better known as Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, 1984) was exactly like a western story of roaming outlaws and courageous sheriffs, but in space and with a giant robot; more recently, Outlaw Star (星方武侠アウトロースター, 1998) moved the focus more toward the bounty hunters, and away from the sheriffs, and lost some of the paraphernalia of the classic setting.

Just three months after Outlaw Star was first aired, Cowbop Beboy started. Here, too, we bounty hunters in space, but the tone and the details are very different and original. Spike Spiegel, man with a messy past, survives on the occasional bounty, together with Jet Black, retired cop, on their old ship Bebop. The dynamic between the two is a bit "the odd couple", a bit Lupin and Jigen: they work together for mutual interest, but they don't really like each other. To liven up the atmosphere, three more characters take residence on the Bebop: Ein (a dog), Faye Valentine, and Ed (Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV).

Ein has too little time on screen, and only Ed seems to notice his potential. Ed is a tomboyish thirteen-year-old girl who, in more than one occasion, saves the day thanks to her ability with computer systems (we'll forgive her that time with the mushrooms…), and I could watch an entire series about just her and Ein.

Faye could have been the "token woman", there just for show, but she's a rather complex character with a tragic story that gets revealed during several episodes. Yes, she's shaped and dressed like a pin-up, but she's a resolute person who can take care of herself and does not need anyone else.

Spike and Jet also have their own histories, woven of crime, corruption, betrayals and deaths. Spike's story is technically the main plot arc of the series, but it's well balanced against the other characters' stories, producing a harmony of ensemble narrative.

Of course, talking about western in space, and having used the term "ensemble", I now can not avoid mentioning Joss Whedon's Firefly, which came out four years after Bebop. There are similarities and differences: the crew of the Serenity is hunted, the crew of the Bebop is hunting; Firefly has a more classic western aesthetic; the backstories of Bebop's characters are more convoluted. I have found, in any case, that there can be a significant overlap between the fans of the two shows: if you liked one of them, try the other one, and let me know.

I also described the narrative as a "harmony": music is an important component of this series. From the titles of the episodes, referencing various musical styles and famous songs, through the way the story is arranged, with themes and variations and refrains, to the actual soundtrack, masterfully written and executed by KANNO Yōko (菅野よう子) and the her band The Seatbelts. Kanno is justly famous for her work on this and many other anime series: Macross Plus, Escaflowne, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Wolf's Rain. She wrote all the songs in the Bebop's soundtrack, providing a very diverse musical background to the story, ranging across many different genres but still maintaining some subtle coherence that helps keep us immersed in the series's world.

Kanno is not the only famous name in the production team: the author of the story is YATATE Hajime (矢立 肇), who worked on Daitarn 3, several Gundam series, Trider G7, Votoms, and many other SF stories (including, not very surprisingly, Outlaw Star!); the directory is WATANABE Shin'ichirō (渡辺 信一郎), who directed Macross Plus, two pieces of the Animatrix, Samurai Champloo, Michiko & Hatchin.

Cowboy Bebop could very well be a "gateway series" for the SF fans who don't think they can like anime, in addition to being an awesome story in its own right. This new Blu-Ray edition delivers a very good HD transfer, with a full DTS 5.1 audio stream, perfect to appreciate both the animation and the music.

This review was originally published at:
DatesCreated: 2014-03-19 12:04:04 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24