“SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY…”
Let me preface this review that I am by no means an anime fan or what the kids might call a weeaboo. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up watching “Dragon Ball Z” or “Naruto” on Saturday mornings. I’m sure they’re great shows, but the medium as a whole just never piqued my interest. Apart from “Pokémon,” the closest piece of media to anime that I’ve seen is “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” So, let me state for the record that anime company Sunrise and director Shinichirō Watanabe’s neo-noir series “Cowboy Bebop” is the best anime you’ll find this side of an Astral Gate and one of the best pieces of media ever created. Period.
Spread across twenty-six sessions or episodes, “Cowboy Bebop” revolves around a group of ragtag, misfit bounty hunters, dubbed cowboys, who attempt to find their way in the galaxy from one bounty to the next, all while trying to escape their respective pasts. Set in 2071, nearly fifty years after a cataclysmic explosion that deemed Earth uninhabitable, the series follows the crew of the Bebop spaceship, which houses the snarky, death-obsessed and blue-leisure-suit-clad bounty hunter Spike Spiegel, amnesiac femme fatale Faye Valentine, ex-cop and bonsai tree lover Jet Black, eccentric youngster Edward with a proclivity for hacking and a genetically-engineered Pembroke Welsh Corgi with human-like intelligence named Ein.
From Venus to Mars to the ruins of Earth, each adventure of the Bebop crew is unlike any other session, with all of them painting a fully realized dystopian world that, while set in the future, feels entirely tangible and grounded in reality. Over nearly fourteen and half hours, the show tells a complete and cohesive story about these disparate characters whose adventures range from hilariously random to utterly deranged, with sprinkles of melancholy spliced throughout the narrative. There is an overarching story centered around Spike’s past, but the real heart of the show stems from the Bebop crew’s interpersonal relationships.
At the start of the series, none of these characters are incompatible with their personalities, perspectives and even clothing styles, unable to mesh with each other. Reluctant to work with each other, they grit their teeth to accomplish dirty work just for a quick Woolong (the show’s currency). They view life as a cesspool where whatever happens, happens. However, as the show progresses, the Bebop crew grows from initially hating each other’s guts to ultimately reckoning that they can’t live without each other, which is a beautiful development to watch.
In essence, the beauty of this show stems from the fact these characters are all haunted and running away from their pasts. They are chained down by them, constantly denying and doing everything in their power to avoid facing their traumas. Their denial and inability of wanting to change or simply face their traumas are fascinating to watch because their static natures as characters are what establish them as some of the most dynamic characters ever.
Due to their inability to cope and constant evasion of their pasts and deep-seated problems, each member of the Bebop crew is introduced as perpetually lonely, which leads them to one another. However, through each other, they can confront their existential ennui and the haunted histories. By sacrificing everything for the Betamax player in the galaxy or putting their lives on the line for a Corgi, these lonely, colorful characters understand that they always can trust and fall back on each other, even in the vastness of space. Their solace in their comradery is what allows them to finally confront and grapple with their pasts because, as the show’s final line infers: “YOU’RE GONNA CARRY THAT WEIGHT.”
“Cowboy Bebop” doesn’t even read like anime; it’s simply art through and through. From perhaps the best intro of all time to a series, a plethora of melancholy moments, iconic and jubilant jazz tunes by Yoko Kanno, genre-bending perfection, spectacular animation, and epic and nuanced storytelling, this landmark series has it all. It’s tragic, hilarious, stylish and so much more. By combining influences of John Woo, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Elmore Leonard, Bruce Lee, and John Wayne, the series isn’t constricted to any particular genre because as a blurb of text in the opening titles reads, “The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called... COWBOY BEBOP.”