Halftime Leisure

A Case for the Classics: Cowboy Bebop

February 1, 2018


Upon reading this title, half of you will be getting excited, while the other half will be questioning how Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999) is a classic when you’ve never heard of it. Hopefully, by the end of this article, the half of you who have never heard of it will want to watch it, and the half who already has will want to watch it again.

Cowboy Bebop is the name of a 26-episode-Japanese-animated series, which first aired in 1998. It depicts the adventures of a gang of misfit bounty hunters aboard the Bebop spaceship in the year 2071 when humanity has conquered the solar system, inhabits other planets, and travels in spacecrafts. The protagonists are the young and charismatic ex-criminal Spike, ship captain and ex-cop Jet, a young woman called Faye, an eccentric hacker called Ed and Einstein, a dog with human intelligence.

Cowboy Bebop is the anime most people recommend one should watch in their first foray into the world of Japanese animation. There are several reasons why this could be, the first one related to the format of the show. Although there are storylines consistently followed throughout the series, each twenty-minute episode acts as its own mini-movie. This allows the viewer to flit easily between episodes, without worrying too much about missed plot points or cliffhangers. This is not to say that Cowboy Bebop is devoid of any larger story arch, but it is unique in that the ones it does choose to follow are related to each character’s backstory. This makes it different from other series, particularly sci-fi ones. Despite its futuristic setting, Cowboy Bebop focuses on the individual, rather than exploring political concepts in a dystopian world.

The overall feel of the series is one of lighthearted amusement. Each character has his or her own quirks, and the interactions among them and their world provide the main source of entertainment for the viewer. Because of its focus on characters, each protagonist is fleshed out—their actions are explained rather than being random events to for comedic effect. Through the development of complex backstories, Cowboy Bebop manages to toe the line between comedy and drama, creating a viewing experience that is on par with many of today’s popular shows.

As it is an animated show, something must be said about the animation itself. The opening credits—a James Bond inspired blend of color and music—are some of the most iconic in anime. Though the drawing style is obviously dated (frequent viewers of anime will recognize the retro-style), the animation is nevertheless immaculate. It is smooth and consistent, something that is hard to achieve even with today’s technology. The retro-style also adds to the overall charm of the show. Coupled with this is the soundtrack, which blends American jazz with turn-of-the-century punk, fitting perfectly with the space-western backdrop of the series (it is called “Cowboy” Bebop after all).

I could go on and on listing reasons you should watch Cowboy Bebop, but, in the interest of space, we can conclude with this:

Cowboy Bebop is an excellent example of what the Japanese do so well (just think of green tea Kit-Kats or talking toilets)—take something foreign, in this case the American western and sci-fi epic, modify and improve upon it and change into something completely new and unique.

PS: Watch it subbed, NOT dubbed.

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