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Sometimes, to get a win­ning for­mu­la, you got­ta do what George Carlin sug­gest­ed; glue two things to­geth­er in a way that’s nev­er been done be­fore. Sunrise took that to the next lev­el, and com­bined the wild west with sci‐fi, then added a ton of nu­anced de­tail no­body saw com­ing. The re­sult? Cowboy Bebop, and it was a mas­ter­stroke. Batshit in­sane in its com­po­si­tion, but ge­nius nonethe­less.

So what we’re look­ing at is 26 episodes and a movie, and spans about as many gen­res. Truthfully, the show’s tagline that it is a new genre isn’t that big an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. You’ve got episodes steal­ing tropes from the old west, about boun­ty hunters af­ter their tar­gets, all in for the mon­ey. You’ve got an episode about space truck­ers. An episode about an AI, and so on and so forth. Sci fi, west­ern, noir, ac­tion, com­e­dy, this ani­me has it all. What’s so amaz­ing is that, de­spite jug­gling so many balls, it drops none. Not one of the genre shifts is un­be­liev­able, nor do any of them de­tract from the sto­ry­line.

cowboy-bebopThe char­ac­ters are ex­pert­ly craft­ed, and fol­low their own paths through the show. You’ve got Spike, a boun­ty hunter hound­ed by his past work­ing for a crim­i­nal syn­di­cate. Spike feels like a man who’s lost his rea­son to live, who’s lost all hope for the fu­ture and is left in a state of con­stant spir­i­tu­al lethar­gy, un­able to re­al­ly raise many emo­tions be­sides anger and snark­i­ness. His part­ner, Jet, is a man who lost faith in the sys­tem he used to up­hold. An ex‐cop that de­cid­ed to be­come a boun­ty hunter to deal with the cyn­i­cism he feels about society’s plight. Faye is a con­fi­dence woman, with her emo­tions blocked off as much as you’d ex­pect from that role. However, she shows cracks in her ar­mor, and thus char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, as the se­ries goes on. Then last­ly, you have Ed. An ec­cen­tric ge­nius, a com­put­er hack­er sec­ond to none, and around as crazy as it gets. Ed is a teenage girl, but you of­ten find your­self con­fus­ing her for younger, due to the fact she’s very en­er­getic and ec­cen­tric. She also only refers to her­self in the third per­son, much as you ex­pect any mad sci­en­tist would do.

While there is an over­reach­ing plot, it tends to just be cen­tered on the spe­cif­ic episode. Bounty heads are dealt with in the same episode they come about. Problems tend to get cleaned up (though rarely nice­ly) in the 20 or so minute span. In fact, there’s only a cou­ple two‐parter episodes; Jupiter Jazz about mid sea­son and in the last two episodes of the show. This re­al­ly helps with the way that genre is han­dled, as well. Each episode shifts slight­ly in genre, as well as shift­ing what is be­ing fo­cused on. One episode will be a campy west­ern, then the next you’re see­ing a slice of a space opera, with what ap­pears to be a lot of in­flu­ence from the 1981 an­i­mat­ed movie Heavy Metal. You’d think there’d be a dis­con­nect in the show, every episode, but there re­al­ly isn’t. You just go from episode to episode, aware of the change in genre and fo­cus, but the ef­fect is a good one. Character doesn’t change, an­i­ma­tion style doesn’t change. You’re aware this is the same se­ries, but be­ing very ex­per­i­men­tal.

The sound­track to this se­ries is quite amaz­ing. Yoko Kanno formed this band of mis­fits, Seatbelts, just to per­form the jazz and blues sound­track to the se­ries. There’s some very mem­o­rable num­bers in there, from the open­ing song, “Tank!,” to the clos­ing tune, “The Real Folk Blues.” There’s been nu­mer­ous re­leas­es of the sound­track, and each brings some­thing new to the ta­ble. The num­bers are snazzy, re­laxed, ex­cit­ed even, and if you like jazz or the blues, the sound­tracks bring al­most as much an ap­peal as the show it­self.

I’m go­ing to put it flat‐out, if you like ani­me, you should have al­ready seen Cowboy Bebop. It is a leg­endary show, and it changed American per­cep­tions of ani­me. Hell, a young Tom first watched the show when it was brought over, when he was but a teenag­er. Now, at 30, he’s watched it again, and let me tell you, it was still as fuck­ing mag­i­cal as it was at 16. On the off‐chance you’ve not seen Cowboy Bebop, I im­plore you to pick up a copy and give it a go.

(Co‐Authored by Tom and Chris King)

(A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle was pub­lished say­ing that there was only one two‐part episodes on the se­ries.)

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Jason Golden
I’m that crazy guy that writes things and hosts the Graded PointFive comics pod­cast.
Jason Golden

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