What does a name like Cowboy Bebop bring to your mind? I was completely unaware of what this series actually contained before my purchase, so I really had no picture in my head. Nevertheless, my thoughts weren't too pleasant. My first thoughts were of a Clint Eastwood saga with bad music. I thought again, however, since the Japanese have never mastered the art of the Western in animation...though one could argue that the showdowns in certain episodes of Hokuto no Ken come vaguely close. But really, what kind of a name is Cowboy Bebop? I nearly didn't purchase it on title alone, and that would have been too bad. For Cowboy Bebop is not only one of the funniest shows I've seen in many years, it's also one of those unique shows that could work as a great introduction to anime.
Cowboy Bebop's premise is pretty simple. Spike and Jet are partners in a bounty hunting venture in the not so distant future. Flying around in their "fishing vessel" spaceship, the Bebop, they try to track down notorious criminals to collect some big time dough. Trouble is, trouble always seems to find them, and it's amazing how much bounty one can manage not to collect. Nevertheless, this drifter and retired cop manage to always make the best of the worst situations--and what other kind of situation is there?
Cowboy Bebop is astounding not only in concept and form but execution. It is a great looking show, with great character designs and a fine artistic style. This is one of the very few shows I've seen that, like Princess Mononoke, uses computer animation as an animator's tool to enhance the show rather than as a showcase. It's used sparingly, and the traditional artwork is so well done that there is no sense of confusion as to what you're seeing. The presentation on the DVD is also extremely crisp and clear, which is to be expected from a show released in 1998.
Great art is not enough, however, to make a great show--it takes personality, and Bebop has that in spades. The show is incredibly funny, and it plays like a futuristic blend of City Hunter and Lupin III, both very good series in their own right. The voice acting is dead on in the Japanese--the characters sound perfect. What's more, it's clear within the first five episodes that despite the hilarious nature of some of the shows, there is a back story here. The characters do have pasts that will haunt their futures. The fifth episode of the set, "Requiem for Fallen Angels," takes a more serious tone than the first few and starts to introduce some of these themes very well. Mixed with an incredible soundtrack mixing jazz, fusion, and just a little rock and roll, this show has atmosphere aplenty.
What's more, it is just a pleasure to watch. I was forced to take about a week's break inbetween watching the first two episodes and the last three, since my webmaster made me promise not to watch the rest of the series without him. Even after just two shows, I was constantly thinking about sticking the disc back in to see what happened next. I was able to hold out, but it wasn't easy--once you get into the world and the characters of Cowboy Bebop, you want to stay there for a while.
I doubt I'll see Cowboy Bebop on the Fox network any time soon, but this is the show I could see breaking anime into prime-time on a network station. It is not only incredibly good, but so far it has steered clear of any content that would require some background in Japanese culture, a sticking point for many anime that would be released here. You really owe it to yourself to pick up Cowboy Bebop--it is simply too good a show, even from the very start, to consider missing. Sessions 2-4 are already sitting in the cabinet...if I ever get the chance to get ahead in my reviews so I can watch some anime just for my own pleasure, they'll be the first thing in my player.
Cowboy Bebop Session 1 -- violence, profanity -- A