BitSnark

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A review of an anime classic…

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Cowboy Bebop TV Series

Genre: Sci-fi Space Adventure Drama
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe
Distributor: Bandai Entertainment
Duration: 25 minutes approx per episode with 26 episodes total
Production Creation: 1998

Plot Synopsis

The year is 2071 and mankind has given himself wings with which to reach out into space. Just as on earth, crime and the lawless flourish in space and where there’s wrongdoing, there’s money to be paid to sort it out. It’s in this vein we find the roaming spaceship known as the Bebop to be the home of mysterious ex-mafia member Spike Spiegel and former policeman Jet Black. Two unlikely characters that have a formed an alliance, a bounty hunting alliance, to track down and capture to whatever ends necessary, their bounty so that they can continue to finance their operation.

Joined by the dangerous femme-fatale with a mysterious past Faye Valentine, Data dog Ein and hyperactive teenage computer genius Ed, bounty hunting has never been more complicated… But who would want it any other way?

The Review

Hyped, loved, adored and generally praised by otaku everywhere, Cowboy Bebop could quite easily be summed up as the anime event of the late nineties. For those of you who have been living on another planet for the last five years and haven’t heard of Cowboy Bebop, let me just say that it’s one of the freshest and finest anime shows to come out of Japan not just recently, but period.

It’s main draw as a show certainly is it’s super cool and ultra stylish demeanour that extends to every aspect of it’s production. Everything about it just seems so suave and fresh, from the stylised jazz music soundtrack through to the striking character designs and artwork, there are few anime shows that are as downright cool as Cowboy Bebop. Obviously shallow factors such as being ‘cool’ and stylish aren’t enough to make an anime great or even watchable, and because of this Cowboy Bebop brings far more than just this to the table to make it one of my favourite shows of all time.

To start with, it has a clique of characters that are varied, deep and interesting to watch and develop. Chief among these characters is mysterious bounty hunter Spike, who besides being your typical drifter type, has a past that is convoluted to say the least. Although Spike comes across as a remarkably laid back and some would say ‘chilled’ individual, he is still a master of the Jeet Kune Do fighting style and is almost one with his firearms. As you can probably tell, he is one tough customer. At the same time however, he often finds himself in more scrapes than he can handle and its usually at this point that his bounty hunting associate Jet Black, decides to lend a helping hand.

The relationship that the two have is interesting to say the least as it kinda reminded me of those old buddy cop movies that always used to be on TV. Nevertheless, such a tried dynamic works well with these two as they play off of each other really well and get each other into some interesting situations. Jet is also a deeply developed character, being a former cop discharged under dubious circumstances, his past is gradually explained throughout the course of the series. Being perfectly reasoned and down-to-business, he is the perfect yin to Spike’s yang. Enter Faye Valentine, the sexy (not to mention debt ridden) femme fatale, who succeeds in disrupting their relative harmony and in doing so introduces a real wild card into the equation. Faye is impulsive, devious and calculating and while she may be all of those things, we later learn that she is also quite vulnerable and somewhat insecure, not to mention a constant supply of fan service…..

Ahem, moving on I could go on all day about how well developed the other characters are too, such as the nihilistic Vicious and the hyperactive Ed, but at the risk of revealing any more about them let me just say that they are the most entertaining and diverse ensemble cast that I have seen in an anime to date.

Speaking of entertaining, the storyline fits that bill too. Being a mixture of superb episodic plotlines and a larger background story that begins to get established fairly early on, Cowboy Bebop excels here as well. Thankfully, many of the episodes that don’t tie in directly with the main storyline are pertinent to many of the characters as such episodes serve to develop their backgrounds further, such as Ed meeting her father in one episode.

Overall the tone of the show tends to be serious. There is often a lot fighting, space combat and darker moments. The darker moments often come about when Spike’s past is given focus in the show, along with his mysterious connection with the cold blooded killer, Vicious. That said, the show does have its fair share of lighter moments too (often at Spike’s expense) which balances everything out nicely, but primarily this is a serious, extremely cool (darn it, there I go again) show.

Well i’ve been harping on about it for long enough now, so let me tell you what makes this show so coo….. um, dapper. As good as the plot and characters are in Cowboy Bebop, (and if you don’t know already, they are darn good), Cowboy Bebop wouldn’t be quite as well known or as successful as it is today if it didn’t carry with it such a sense of style. Notably, the jazz infused soundtrack playing in the background contributes largely to the stylish atmosphere that pervades throughout, as does the innumerable amounts of cool noir-esque scenes (complete with muted colour), character posing and stylish action scenes.

Compounding this sense of style, you will find that the show is packed with both illicit and explicit references to various aspects of music, movie and art culture. One reference in particular that stays in my mind, is when Spike gives a line where he describes the best way to defeat your opponent is to ‘be able to flow like water’, – a philosophical quote taken directly from martial arts master Bruce Lee, who also happens to be the pioneer of the Jeet Kune Do martial art that Spike practices. Some might say that the inclusion of such references are superfluous, personally I think it just reinforces what is already an immeasurably stylish and charismatic show and helps to put Cowboy Bebop in a league of it’s own.

Cowboy Bebop’s artwork is exceptionally well produced. The backgrounds are realised to a high level of detail, while the character designs maintain a suave, almost sleek look to their features and clothing that really encapsulate the stylish feel of the show. Combining awesome CG visuals with traditional cel drawn techniques, Cowboy Bebop’s animation remains a step above just about any other any anime production out there, managing to be fluid, smooth with never an awkward movement or jerky frame in sight.

Cowboy Bebop’s sublime visual aesthetics are further complimented by the simply awesome soundtrack that’s on offer here. Again succeeding in tying in nicely with the cool atmosphere of the show, Yoko Kanno lends her incomparable talents to the creation of the soundtrack, which is a series of accomplished jazz melodies sometimes in hybrid with more contemporary overtones. Simply sublime.

I truly would hate to see the size of the production bill for this series.

With all this positivity, surely there’s at least one flaw with Cowboy Bebop? It’s flaw is that as with many great things in life, it ends, and with the exception of the recently released Cowboy Bebop movie which takes place during the course of the TV series, the show will not continue. Although by no fault of it’s own design, i’m just bummed out that my favourite show won’t get any kind of continuation. Still, would a sequel have done the stellar original any justice?

Ultimately, this is a series that does so many things right. It’s cool, stylish, full of character and has a great plotline. It would be easy to be forever heaping praise upon Cowboy Bebop, but I guess this review has to end some time. Don’t do yourself the disservice of being the only person who actually hasn’t seen it.

Ratings Summary

Animation: A
Art: A-
Music: A+
Content: A+

Overall: A+

Review by: John-Paul Jones

Suitability for children

There is a fair amount of the claret spilt throughout the course of the show, mild profanity and whole load of Faye orientated fan service. Only really suitable for those aged 15+ then.

If you liked this why not try…

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie – Bandai Entertainment
Outlaw Star – Pioneer Animation

Written by bitsnark

January 15, 2008 at 8:25 pm

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