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Anime on DVD: Cowboy Bebop Essential Collection
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Jazz agers, flower children, lost generation, beatniks, rockers, punks, nerds, hackers, lovers, Generation X - whatever the designation, there have always been outlaws in our society who live in pursuit of autonomy. At times they are revered for their roles as pioneers, challenging the unknown; other times people consider them lawless desperadoes and a dangerous presence. Yet, really, it is only their exuberant music and an autonomy founded toexpress opinions different from those of others that set them apart from the restof society. The year 2071 AD. That future is now. Driven out of their terrestrial Eden,humanity chose the stars as the final frontier. With the section-by-sectioncollapse of the former nations, a mixed jumble of races and peoples came. Theyspread to the stars, taking with them the now confused concepts of freedom,violence, illegality and love, where new rules and new generation of outlawscame into being. People referred to them as Cowboy Bebops. Text by Joshua Carvalho
That is the description found on the back of each of the keepcases, and thatdescription is the perfect introduction to the world that is "Cowboy Bebop."Probably the biggest anime DVD release of 2000, "Cowboy Bebop" took theanime world by storm back in 1998 when it was one of the biggest hits of alltime in Japan. With an all star cast and crew, Bebop delivered a fantasticseries with very high production values, both in its 14 OVA episodes and 12 TVepisodes, which combined to make the full 26 episode release that we received onDVD.
Just looking at the cast list is enough to make one realize that this serieswill not disappoint. Directed by the Shinichirou Wantanabe, the director of theclassic "Macross Plus," with character designs by Kawamoto Toshihiro, a crewthat has worked on everything from "Gundam" to "Macross Plus" to"Escaflowne," animated by the very famous Sunrise Entertainment ("GundamWing" and "Escaflowne"), and music by the legend in her own time, YokoKanno, this series has quite a bit of credentials backing it up.
What exactly makes Bebop so special? There is so much to be praised with thisseries. What comes to my mind is the style. Every episode of Bebop oozes so muchstyle that it's a new treat for the senses every week. Each planet, eachworld, each city all have a unique atmosphere to it that make them their own.From the run down gritty city of Tijuana, to the flashy high rise futuristic bigcities of Mars, to the run down dark and dirty cities on Ganymede; each localehas a style and appearance all its own.
But to say the style of the series is only depicted from the scenery would be a major mistake. Where the style really reaches its peak is in the content of the show itself. Ever imagine a series that could mix together Film Noir, Samurai, Sci Fi, and Western together and actually work? Bebop manages this and more. One week, the show will be about a futuristic environmental fanatic group threatening a planet, the next it'll be about the adventures of the crew trying to find food and running into a mushroom smuggling operation, and the next it'll be a sad tale of a boy trifling with the mafia in order to help cure a family member of blindness. Each episode becomes almost its own entity. Some are funny, some are serious, some are tragic, and some are exciting. It truly is difficult to describe the style in words, as it is something that you can only experience truly with your own eyes and ears. And yet, no matter what the episode may be, dark, light, happy, sad, comic, and tragic; the episodes all seem to work. The style exists from a marriage of sound, visuals, and story. Through thiscombination of different areas we get the true greatness that is Bebop. Simplestories become fantastic through stupendous direction and cinematography, suchas in the dark thriller "Pierrot Le Fou" and the old-fashioned crime mystery"Black Dog Serenade." But it isn't enough to just speak of the visualstyle of Bebop, as one of the best parts of the series is the soundtrack.Composed by the Yoko Kanno, the music of Bebop features an array of jazz, bebop,blues, bluegrass, and other types of music you would never have associated withan anime production before. The soundtrack is truly original and enhances theseries that much more, adding to the style of the series and creating thisincredible atmosphere. Some complain that Bebop's too chocked full of filler and too episodic for most, but after watching the whole series one can go back and find that many episodes that appeared to be filler were truly not. The discovery of many instances of foreshadowing and plot elements after the first viewing warrants anyone who truly wants to appreciate Bebop for all it is to view the series in its entirety at least twice. The crux of Bebop's main story remains in a set of five episodes featuring an exploration of Spike's past involving his lost love Julia and a mysterious figure known as Vicious. It would be hard to argue that any of these episodes is less then a masterpiece, containing fantastic music, incredible storytelling, and fascinating characters. To even delve into the theme or plot of these episodes would be entering spoiler territory, and would rob the viewer of a real experience in developing their own opinion of the characters and the story. Yet, even the episodic episodes of this series are very interesting and intriguing, ranging from being funny, to moving. Each of these stories is self-contained, and gives more then enough satisfaction to the viewer where you don't mind that it may not be part of the main plot.
There is also a tremendously original presentation of thecharacters. Each character is unique, no two being even remotely the same, andyet none of them are ever delved into anymore then they have to be. With eachcharacter, we are given what we need to know to understand their part in thestory, yet never given more then we have to. In that way, the characters becomeeven more real. I truly wanted to know more about this universe and thecharacters in it when the series ended, yet I didn't find anything that was"necessary" missing from the series. That fact was what really told me atthe end of the final episode that this series had left a major impact on me andthat these characters were really ones I cared about.
Finally, the style of the show is representative in the fact that it is something that culturally can reach just about anyone. Marrying Japanese, Western/American and several other cultures' ideas, ways of storytelling, and themes, the series isn't limited to any group. As an example, only a single song ("The Real Folk Blues") is in Japanese. The rest are in English. And yet, we get a rich display of various cultures throughout the series. Bebop creates a culture all its own from the humans who created this universe: a vast and extremely detailed one that can only be delved into on the minutest levels in this series. Every single episode, including the filler ones, adds one more level of depth to this incredible universe, which is as unique and diverse as our own. Topping off the series is what has to be one of the bestdubs of all time. Every voice fits their character perfectly. I even found WendyLee's Faye to be better then Megumi Hayashibara's! Veteran David Lucas playsthe role of Spike, Beau Billingslea does the voice of Jet, and Melissa Charlesplays Ed. Bandai is to be commended for it, as well as all the talented actorsand actresses who took part in the dub, as well as Animaze for production of it. Not to dismiss them, the Japanese cast is fantastic as well, especiallyKouichi Yamadera, who plays Spike, and Unshou Ishizuka, who plays Jet. ForMegumi fans, there's her role as Faye Valentine, although I personally thinkthis was one of her weaker roles. Also, newcomer Aoi Tada, in her debutperformance, did a fantastic job as Radical Edward. The debate on Bebop seems to never end, as skeptics wonder just why this series is considered so good. Bebop truly is unlike anything before it, and maybe that's why some people just don't get it. It takes a lot of elements of previous works and uses them, but it also does a lot on its own. There's not much of a continuous plot to hang onto, and yet the series is not as filler-filled as some might expect. So my suggestion for anyone who's getting into this series is to sit back, get a nice bowl of popcorn, and just take in the series with no preconceptions. Don't compare it, don't judge it on any standards, and don't just go on the words of others: just sit back and enjoy the masterpiece that Bebop is
Bang. Special thanks go out to Andy Pease, Thomas Doscher, Ryan Carmichael, andVictor Interiano for helping pre-read this.