I See You, Space Cowboy... - Mania.com

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I See You, Space Cowboy...

By Nadia Oxford     October 18, 2007

As a warm-blooded human being who considers herself an anime fan, the gravest sin I've committed is--get ready for this--depriving myself of Cowboy Bebop. Hallelujah I have seen the light and atoned for my error, and it's about damn time. Cowboy Bebop is possibly the greatest piece of work in the genre and is most definitely one of the most remarkable works of animation available today.
Why have I put off watching Cowboy Bebop until now? Because I have a tendency to do dumb things like sit in with friends who are watching the last episodes of epic anime series. I did this with Trigun, I did it with The Big O, and I did it a long time ago with Cowboy Bebop. Of course, all three of these series have, uh, special endings, so I didn't do myself any favours by watching them in reverse.
Spoiled ending or not, I can still say that Keiko Nobumoto's space-faring adventure is a masterpiece. When an anime fan hops in circles around people's ankles and starts yipping about how this title and that title are "Sooooo awesome," most non-fans respond with "Yeah yeah," and often follow with a swift kick. The problem with any genre of entertainment, anime included, is that it can be difficult to find titles that include everyone. Everyone loves The Exorcist and recognises it as a great film,but only a horror fan is going to bother with Saw XVIII or The Hills Have Eyes XXXIII. I loved Sailor Moon when I was a kid and appreciated the history behind the characters; my father, on the other hand, had no idea why the hell I was watching some badly drawn cartoon full of goofy monsters.
Cowboy Bebop is a rare piece of entertainment that includes everyone, partially because it mixes so many genres and themes without turning the anime into a car wreck. The story's main character is Spike Spiegel, a nice Jewish boy from Mars. Spike is a bounty hunter who glides through the vacuum of space in his trusty ship The Bebop, picking up criminals in hopes of earning enough money to eat. Along the way he also picks up a hell of a cast of characters.
Anime is oversaturated with space operas but Cowboy Bebop's presentation is unmatched. It presents a science fiction world that isn't loaded down with jargon: There aren't any blustery attempts to impress the viewer with the technology of the future. But at the same time a great deal of care is put into the universe's biology. Shoddy contract work on an interplanetary jump-gate caused the Earth's moon to explode and the resulting meteor shower wiped out most of Earth's population, forcing humans to terraform and live on other planets, moons and asteroids. The process wasn't as clean as most science fiction makes it out to be: Venus, for example, relies on certain plant life to put oxygen in the atmosphere, but the plants produce spores that can make inhabitants sick.
Despite the futuristic setting, Cowboy Bebop isn't full of moon people with two heads. Human life as we know it today continues to exist: There's poverty-stricken planets, colonies for the wealthy elite and a few, admittedly strange, surprises. But for the most part, once Spike lands on a planet to do his thing the atmosphere purposely takes on the feel of a spaghetti Western, pitting the hero (who usually opts to fight using martial arts) against the various desperados who thrive in the lawless galaxy. Spike's job, in fact, is one of the most endearing qualities of the series: Instead of reading names and faces on intergalactic post office "Wanted" signs, he (and the galaxy's other 300,000 bounty hunters) gets his jobs from a "Big Shots", a bounty hunter TV program done up in the style of a children's show. The hosts, a heavily accented Mexican and a big-breasted anime female stereotype, are outfitted in old-fashioned cowboy outfits and even spew some mangled lingo ("Shucks, howdy!"). Cowboy Bebop is made special by its characters and these dozens of fun-loving details rather than the overall plot.
The soundtrack also sets the anime apart. Performed by Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts, the show's funky mix of jazz and blues makes for something far more distinctive than the techno J-pop that tends to come packaged with most anime. Cowboy Bebop's music is actually tailored around its action and its characters with the kind of loving care not seen since classic Bugs Bunny cartoons or Batman: The Animated Series. Several episodes are even named after famous songs, as is the movie based on the series, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
Cowboy Bebop isn't reserved for anime fans, cartoon nuts or sci-fi freaks: It's for anyone who loves a damn good story put together by people who give a damn about quality. That's everyone, right? "You betchya, shucks howdy!"


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spanners 10/18/2007 12:19:25 AM
Great article Nadia! I loved this series and the movie as well...it's really kinda hard to find anything that can compare to Bebop (IMHO)...I know there are a lot of fans of Trigun out there...be for me I could just never get into that series...in fact I am VERY picky with my anime tastes because I am not really what you would call a true fan of the art...so it takes a special kind of story and style of animation to grab my attention and hold on long enough to get through the series or movie...Bebop did it...Ninja Scroll did it...Blood the Last Vampire and Samurai Champloo too as well as a few other odds and ends...but there is just something about Bebop that keeps me coming back for multiple viewings.
maverickrenegade 10/18/2007 1:41:34 AM
i have to agree ... cowboy bebop simply is the BEST anime series there is .... PERIOD. every episode feels just as epic as a movie, and hell the movie was freaking awesome!
TheGrinch 10/18/2007 2:06:19 AM
Ranma 3 1/2 plain stupid. but funny as hell and really intelligent in a weird way!!!! Really childish tought. But switch brain to off and laugh out loud.
Scuzzlebutt1042 10/18/2007 4:42:36 AM
Completely agree with the article. I hated most anime with fiery passion. Then one of my friends practically forced me to watch it at Gun point, recommending it as "Anime Firefly". He didn't have the last disk though, so went out and bought it. Well worth the buy.
craigination 10/18/2007 8:31:02 AM
That is what's so great about Bebop is that it appeals to everyone. I've shown it to people who haven't watched a lick of anime in their lives and they couldn't get enough. When Hollywood eventually realizes the untapped resource that is anime, and they will, I think a live action Bebop movie would be their best bet to reach a broad audience. Other than that, I have to say, Kitsune, that there are some inaccuracies in your article. I don't want to sound "fan boyish", but the Bebop isn't Spike's ship - it belongs to his partner Jet. Jet picked up Spike and partnered up with him sometime before the series begins. I'm just sayin'! The great thing about this show, though, is that while Spike is arguably the main character, the show does a great job making all four characters more or less important. The crew of the Bebop, as a whole, is the main character. I wish they'd do more with this property; there was talk of a prequel series that goes into more depth about Spike's past all the way up to when he first meets Jet. I wish they'd make that.
karas1 10/18/2007 9:13:17 AM
There are 5 crewmembers of the Beebop. You're forgetting Ein, the sentient dog. And is there anything Jewish about Spike other than his last name? But overall, you're right about the show. It's wonderful in all ways. The Beebop's crew has heart and while they usually get their man (or woman or sentient computer) they rarely get paid. Which is funny. And they all have rather sad back stories which get explored during the course of the series. I wish there were more, but given the ending of the series, it would be a little hard to do and doing a prequel would necessitate leaving out Fay and Ed and Ein which would be a lot less fun.
tobruk 10/18/2007 9:30:20 AM
The director has always stated that the reason for the ending is he wanted it to have a definitive ending. Which in my opinion it has the best anime ending ive ever seen. Hands down Cowboy Bebop is my all time favorite anime tied with Last Exile. And if you have ever wondered of checking out just one anime, CB is the one you should.
karas1 10/18/2007 9:37:52 AM
Well, that was definitive all right. BTW, seeing as this is a column about an anime series, why is it in the books section?
kaybar 10/18/2007 10:40:16 AM
From someone who dressed up as Spike (complete with his Israeli-inspired handguns) I obviously agree with the sentiments of Nadia and the rest of the posters. Bebop weaves the best and brightest minds of Japan's anime talent into one tight, albeit tragically short, series. The Seatbelts soundtrack does a fantastic job of highlighting it's melancholy tone and noir motifs, offering it substance that few other live-action films or series can even hope to compare with, let alone match. For all you fans out there what's your favorite episode? Mine would have to be #5, "Ballad of Fallen Angels". With Vicious' first appearance and that f'n awesome falling-out-the-cathedral montage, that episode puts most other cinema, in any media form, to shame. If a filmmaker could credibly combine live action with anime sensibilities... this would be my top pick for a film adaptation (I guess we'll have to see how the Dragonball Z movie turns out first).
galaga51 10/18/2007 11:33:47 AM
Bebop was my first anime series to see in its entirety, and remains my favorite. And it does seem that most like or at least appreciate it's mixed genre feel - would dramatic, comedic, noirish space-western cover it? I'm going through the series again, but [Fallen Angels] was a particularly good one... or was it a two-parter? I liked the one with the space rat gang, too. As for the music, I suppose everyone has their own tastes, but those who merely pass off Tank! (the opening theme) and the rest of the soundtrack as "just jazz" must not appreciate anything outside of commercial radio (imo).
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