“Cowboy Bebop” is an animated cyberpunk/detective/comedy/thriller/noir/surreal series (seriously, it needs it’s own genre) from the late 1990s.
Although only twenty six half-hour episodes (and a movie, which I’ll possibly review some other time) of it were ever produced, it packs a hell of a lot into such a relatively short space. Plus, it is a truly unique show too.
In fact, even if you don’t really like anime, then you might still enjoy “Cowboy Bebop”. Since, on the whole, it’s a noir sci-fi series which just happens to be animated rather than the other way round.
“Cowboy Bebop” is set in the fairly distant future (technically the late 21st century – but it looks a lot more futuristic than the 2070s will probably look) and follows a group of bounty hunters (Spike, Faye, Jet, Ed and a corgi called Ein) who travel around the universe in a spaceship called The Bebop in search of fugitives, money and supplies.
This sounds like a fairly cheesy premise for a TV show, but don’t let it put you off watching “Cowboy Bebop”. The real strength of this show lies in the characters and the sheer variety of surreal and interesting locations and situations they find themselves in.
I can’t fully sum up the plots of any of the episodes without giving away spoilers, but there are some extremely innovative storylines.
One example is episode eleven (“Toys In The Attic”), which starts out as a fairly standard sci-fi horror story after a mysterious creature finds a way to enter The Bebop and starts attacking the crew. However, this episode ends up going in a very different direction to what you might initially expect. I’d say more but I don’t want to give anything away…
Likewise, episode seventeen (“Mushroom Samba”) begins with The Bebop landing on a desert planet after they run out of food. It isn’t long before they discover that a fugitive is also staying on the planet too. However, it is pretty much left up to Ed (a young girl with a talent for computer hacking) to capture the fugutive after the rest of the crew accidentally end up eating some of the local mushrooms and spend most of episode wandering around The Bebop and hallucinating.
Episode eighteen (“Speak Like A Child”) begins when Faye recieves a mysterious package which contains a Betamax video cassette. Of course, finding something which will actually play the tape turns out to be quite a challenge…
Yes, this isn’t your average sci-fi detective series.
Although there is a plot arc or two and some more serious storylines, “Cowboy Bebop” includes a lot more surrealism, comedy and innovation than quite a lot of sci-fi series do. The atmosphere of the series is quite hard to describe, but “cyberpunk film noir” seems about the best way to sum it up. However, even this description really doesn’t do “Cowboy Bebop” justice.
The art in “Cowboy Bebop” is fairly standard 90s anime art, but it has a relatively realistic look to it and all of the characters are both fairly distinctive/futuristic whilst still looking fairly realistic at the same time.
However, the real artistic strength of this series probably lies in all of the various interesting locations and settings as well as the unique aesthetic and style of the show as a whole.
Musically, “Cowboy Bebop” is truly superb and the soundtrack mainly consists of jazz and blues music, with some hard rock/heavy metal music as well. Without the music, “Cowboy Bebop” wouldn’t be… well, “Cowboy Bebop”.
“Cowboy Bebop” is also the only anime series or film I’ve ever seen where, dare I say it, watching the dubbed version is as entertaining as watching the subtitled version. Yes, I usually prefer subtitles for anything in different languages – but even I have to admit that the English voice acting in the dubbed version of Cowboy Bebop is truly superb.
The characters are all fairly interesting too. Although much more is hinted about their backgrounds and backstories (eg: Spike’s criminal past) than is actually shown, there are a few compelling backstory/character-based episodes in the series.
This sense of mystery really adds something to the series, although most of the characterisation in the series is done through the interactions between the main characters. Yes, the emphasis is often on the storyline of each episode rather than the characters, but “Cowboy Bebop” still contains a fairly decent amount of characterisation too.
All in all, this is a series which is very difficult to describe properly unless you’ve actually seen it. But, if you like innovative sci-fi, anime and/or anything cyberpunk, then it is definitely worth checking out.
There is really nothing else like it. It is a unique, creative and memorable series which could probably put a lot of modern TV shows to shame. If I had to give “Cowboy Bebop” a rating out of five, then it’d probably get a six (or maybe even a seven?).