Aoi TadaTakehiro KoyamaNobuyuki HiyamaUnshou Ishizuka
Cowboy Bebop
Medium: TV, film, series
Year: 1998, 2001
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe
Original creator: Hajime Yatate
Studio: Bandai Visual, Sunrise
Actor: Aoi Tada, Kouichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Unshou Ishizuka, Gara Takashima, Hikaru Midorikawa, Miki Nagasawa, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Norio Wakamoto, Takehiro Koyama, Tsutomu Taruki
Keywords: anime, action, SF
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 1998 TV series (26 episodes), 2001 movie (116 minutes)
Website category: Anime 1990s
Review date: 21 February 2006
1. Spike Spiegel and Jet Black are futuristic bounty hunters. Spike's tall and cool with a floppy smile, while Jet's gruff and bearded. Together they roam the universe hunting down anyone with a price on their head.
2. Faye Valentine is another bounty hunter. She's sexy, not overly burdened with clothes and as trustworthy as a rattlesnake in a bad temper. Sooner or later she's bound to team up with Spike and Jet, but they'll wish she hadn't.
3. Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV (Ed) isn't a bounty hunter, but give her time. The girl's barely entered her teens. She's also completely mad.
...and you could almost put a spoiler warning on the above, because that's pretty much the entire plot of Cowboy Bebop. It's cool. That's all you need to know, which is good because that's almost all there is to know. This show doesn't have much substance, but it might be the most stylish thing you ever see. It has dazzling animation, wonderfully creative SF worldbuilding and such amazing music that it's almost worth buying the show just for the audio. The opening theme is awesome and the closing theme absolutely to die for. They poured a lot of money into Cowboy Bebop.
Even the character designs are cool. Spike and Faye manage to be sexy while avoiding anime's usual stereotypes, which is quite a feat for cartoon characters. Faye's breasts aren't terrifying, for example.
If that's enough for you, go ahead and buy Cowboy Bebop. It has a stellar reputation, although I wasn't overwhelmed. It's eye candy. It's good television, perfectly designed to kill twenty-five minutes and nothing more. Apart from the last few episodes, the stories are random "hunt of the week" irrelevance that could have starred anyone. Our heroes are doing it for the money. That's it. Nothing really matters. Even the occasional backstory-laden episodes give us little insight, since backstory doesn't equal characterisation. It's just stuff from the past which mostly doesn't affect what's happening now.
However to its credit it's not afraid to get dark occasionally, with secrets in our heroes' pasts and a respectable body count. Bounty hunters aren't boy scouts.
A problem for me was the lead characters. Spike and Jet weren't objectionable, but I never particularly cared whether they lived or died. I actively disliked Faye, who's sexy but an unpleasant person. The show's saviour for me was the amazingly-monikered Edward Wong Hau Pepele Tivrusky IV, aka. Ed(o). Ed ruled! Not being a bounty hunter, she could just bounce around the ship reacting to everything like the child she was. She's wonderful, but it's interesting to note that on paper even she's one-dimensional. Always happy and a techno whiz. Did I miss anything? Nope, didn't think so. As with everything else in Cowboy Bebop it's the voice and visuals that really made Ed worth watching, with that sing-song voice and uncontrolled physicality like a pipe cleaner man being blown along by the wind. Her indomitable cheerfulness also contrasted amusingly with some of the show's sourpusses.
With cheaper animation and bad music, this would have sunk like a stone. The storytelling is nothing special, putting too much responsibility on the voice actors... although admittedly I saw the Japanese version instead of the apparently superior English dub. Koichi Yamadera is overrated. It's also a rip-off of the classic anime Lupin III, which is almost supernaturally popular in Japan and happens to be a show that I despise with every fibre of my being.
Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed Cowboy Bebop. It has some strong episodes, e.g. the 5th (that was unexpected!) and 21st (Jet helps a Feng Shui girl). For inconsequential fluff it's darker than you'd expect... guns kill and people die, anyway. They've also realised that outright nudity in anime is less sexy than some, ah, interesting costumes that keep the male audience interested without ever actually whipping 'em out for the lads. I always enjoyed the 'Big Shot' TV show!
The backstory isn't bad. The ending isn't bad. If I'd cared about the characters, I might have even admired it. I even had moderate expectations of the movie, which didn't have much to live up to since the original series was so shallow. Looking cool and having kick-arse music would be enough. In the end 'twas pretty much what I expected. The film's on a par with an average TV series episode, albeit at nearly two hours perhaps a little leisurely. That's better than I'd say of most anime movies!
This show is apparently a fan favourite, though not with me. If you're a slightly retarded twelve-year-old, it must be unsurpassable. It has detailed SF worldbuilding, lots of bad guys and an ironic tough-guy tone. Even a grouchy son of a bitch like me kinda enjoyed it, even if none of its episodes ever made me want to carry on and watch the next one.