All things considered, there’s nothing quite like it when you come off an anime and realize how much it has built itself as this important piece of art that has since transcended its ever-present influence on other mediums. This particular show, named Cowboy Bebop, definitely lived up the legacy it deserves of being the pinnacle of late ’90s anime that would influence a wide variety of anime leading up to the new millennium. Even with all that has been all said and done, that’s not to say that Cowboy Bebop has its fair share of hiccups.
But before I get into that, it is important to distinguish the inevitable nature that director Shinichirō Watanabe constructed from the ground up to make Cowboy Bebop’s world vibrant and distinct. Since Cowboy Bebop has separate plot arcs within each individual episode, with some continuity within its main cast, the show has a great sense of exploratory mystery behind every story being told. You have the sense of wanting to know of these actual people and locations because of how incredibly different they all are. They each have their own distinct look and atmosphere to them. As Watanabe is vastly known for, he loves to mix different types of genres into one show to make them feel unique in his eyes. Normally this could cause a show to lose some main focus as to what it wants to be, but Cowboy Bebop, thanks to its plot structure, paces these genres evenly to make us know the true identity of what it wants to be. Which is essentially a Space Western mixed with Neo-Noir elements in its tone; hence the show’s name.
Along with mixing these genres, the sense of direction that encapsulates Cowboy Bebop as a whole transcends itself to a whole new level of creativity. The noir aspect to the show adds a lot more depth to its atmosphere from its attention-grabbing shootout scenes to the silent moments that hook you instantaneously. There are some comedy elements to be seen in Cowboy Bebop and they time it very well and give all the characters great charm to provide solid entertaining moments. They don’t just contain bodily comedy by any stretch, but instead, the writing is very sharp and witty whether you’re watching it dubbed or subbed.
Memorable characters are in no shortage in Cowboy Bebop, at least within its main cast. Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine, Jet Black, and Edward are the quintessential quartet to be studied if you are wanting to replicate a great cast such as this. They are not just good because of their excellent character growth, but the amazing chemistry they all have whenever any of them are on-screen together. At first they all act very indecent to each other. It isn’t until over the course of several episodes when they truly try to care for one another, yet they still feel the slight edge to go on their own for better or for worse.
Spike is often regarded as the best character and they aren’t entirely wrong in saying so. He has an alluring presence where he isn’t just some strong individual who can handle himself in any given situation or this normal everyday person. He is simply both in some aspects. He has the wit and personality to be both of these types of personalities and you want to root for him because of his likable persona. Of course, it would be a crime to not mention the Dubbed performance by famed voice actor Stephen Blum who manages to make Spike have a lot of suave with his extraordinary voice. And for that matter, almost all of the English dubbed voice actors manage to make Cowboy Bebop one of the few instances where the dubbing is just as good, if not better, than the original Japanese voice acting.
Faye Valentine provides some of the funniest, sarcastic humor to Cowboy Bebop. You could easily chalk her character archetype as a way to push a female character in a largely male present cast to let the males have their way with her body. However, they manage to make Faye into a girl who doesn’t take any kind of crap from anyone and has full-control over anything that she finds wrong in her own mind. Then we have Edward, who is by far the most eccentric character of the show by the fact that she’s in her own little world where nothing seems to make her overly pessimistic no matter how grave a situation might be. What makes her fascinating to watch is her growth as a person, while at the same time viewing her child-like charm in the same way we would have viewed Edward’s way of thinking as a child. Every time she’s on-screen, there is a good chance anything is possible in terms of comedic dialogue being thrown out, and they are all fantastic to listen to. Lastly is Jet Black, who’s the most logically, down-to-earth character in the show, other than maybe Spike in most cases. While he may be the lesser of the three other leads, there is no doubt to be made that Jet has his fair share of memorable moments that grows him into a true three-dimensional character like the rest.
Now with this being said about our four main heroes, the rest of the side characters that crop up in these plot arcs are not anything spectacular or memorable in the slightest. Even the main villain of the show doesn’t really leave much of an impression in being a noteworthy villain as originally anticipated. This could be forgiven slightly, considering they have only one episode to build them up, but that is not to say all of them are not noteworthy with the Dr. Lobbes character being the best of the bunch. Considering that he was in one of the best episodes that wasn’t the last three episodes that succeeded it.
Around the time when Cowboy Bebop first aired, anime recently had begun somewhat of a transitional period where it started to incorporate very challenging, philosophical themes into its narrative. The other two that come to mind are Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain. That’s not to say anime did not have anything like this before, but Cowboy Bebop and the rest of the shows I mentioned really pushed it of the stream-of-consciousness into the anime community. With that said, Cowboy Bebop seems to be the one that is the most subtle way of detailing its philosophical themes involving existential concepts. This is both a service and disservice to the show’s credit.
The reason being is that although it is very admirable for Bebop to showcase its themes in a non-preachy scenario or be muddled into strange concepts that contradict each other, it subtly limits it from doing anything with most of the narrative plot arcs. You can basically watch Cowboy Bebop and have all of them fly over your head and you would still have the same experience, but once you do notice them, there’s not a lot of meat to them for our brains to digest or comprehend. Obviously the finale of the show has a great implication of putting them all together but in the long run, they don’t really add up to anything, other than trying to throw out whatever philosophical theme that might seem the most probable in these given situations.
While that aspect wasn’t necessarily one of the show’s best highlights, the actual plot that carries the main narrative is relatively serviceable and brings up one of the most poignant finales that I’ve ever seen in anime. When you feel the growth that all of these characters go through, you never want these characters to go away from one another because of how amazing they play off one another. In fact, once I saw them go their separate ways for a moment, without spoiling any of the important details, I almost felt upset that they even had the inclination of wanting to do so in the first place. Because of the amount of care given to make the personalities of these characters genuine and delightful, the melancholic nature near the finale feels very sincere. If that is writing that could not be considered great by that fact alone, I don’t know what is.
I’ve always held the belief that Yoko Kanno is one of the best composers to be working in anime to this day, and Cowboy Bebop reigns as the best coordinated orchestration that she’s ever done. The opening itself garners some needed praise not only for its recognizable melodies and instrumentation but how it captures the feel and tone of Cowboy Bebop as a whole. What really fits Yoko’s style of instrumentation and Watanabe’s creative vision is how they both have the same way of mixing different styles of music and genres that make them feel very on-point to the direction of the art-style and the score that goes with it. Yoko’s amazing blend of jazz, normal orchestration, guitar rock, and occasional electronics are what create the ultimate soundtrack that would be worthy of being listened to without the need for the show’s visuals to accompany it.
Does Cowboy Bebop deserve the amount of perfect accolades that it has been given for the past decade or so? In most aspects, it certainly does. There is simply nothing out there that is quite like it in terms of authentic style and flair that is on-screen at any given point in time. It manages to perfectly pace the witty humor from the deep drama that engulfs each character and the confrontations they have to face, one way or the other. If anything, the characters are enough to warrant a watch from their amazing chemistry and the plot can be well-serviceable for anyone willing to experience it. It’s a show that literally goes off with a bang and soars ever so gently off into the blissful reaches of the heavens. In great character stories such as this, this space cowboy is one that can prove himself worthy of being called such a title.