No, I’m not talking about the Bible’s New Testament. Obviously this is a post about Cowboy Bebop. Because Cowboy Bebop.
Do you have a story/universe (in any media) that you love so much you think about it once a day? I do. Besides Hellboy, this is it for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished to live aboard the Bebop, or hell, just somewhere in that universe, even with all its dirty ingloriousness.
Why do I love Cowboy Bebop? Let me count the ways (in no particular rank or order).
The main character was inspired by Bruce Lee.
I have no proof for this, but Spike Spiegel is a devout student of Jeet Kun Do, Lee’s own school of martial arts. Its philosophy? Take what works for you from other schools, leave what doesn’t. Oh, and exercise your fast-twitch muscle fibers incessantly. Like Bruce Lee was in real life, Spike is quick, calculating, and remarkably accurate with every move he makes…in every single episode (or “session”).
Spike and his crew are bounty hunters in space.
BOUNTY HUNTERS! IN SPACE! Technically, I suppose Spike and Jet (the original crew of the Bebop) are the only bounty hunters. Faye is a criminal on the run, Edward is a girl-genius and Ein is a genetically enhanced dog who doesn’t seem all that special most of the time. Even if you want to split these hairs though, this is an oh-so-interesting crew, which still makes the “bounty hunters in space” premise a bonus. A sweet, sweet bonus.
The space motif isn’t overdone.
This is probably my favorite aspect of the series. The show is set in 2071, so near-future. The technology and world-creation in CB are juuuuuust right. No far-reaching interstellar travel, no FTL drives, no massive space-utopias, just hard living across the vast and unforgiving solar system, fragmented government (or a lack thereof) and folks just trying to get by.
The series as a whole is pleasantly understated.
This kind of goes along with the previous point, but other themes in the Cowboy Bebop avoid being pushed too far as well. Namely human reliance upon technology. While there is some cyborg action (Jet being one himself), it’s never an excuse for wildly over-the-top circumstance, nor superhero/supervillain-type characters. Genetic engineering is also highlighted here and there, but those instances are pretty well-contained within their episodes and don’t drive the larger story arcs or feel of the show. A prime example here lies in Ein the “data dog”. His intelligence is raised (and he serves as a living disk drive of sorts) but he’s got no real anthropocentric qualities. Ultimately, Ein is no less a house pet than un-engineered members of his species.
Whether this lack of tech spectacle was intentional or not, it definitely cleared the stage for Cowboy Bebop to focus more on character-based storytelling than to rely upon high action for viewer satisfaction. In the end, this really is a matter quality (investment in characters’ trajectories) over quantity (chases, close calls and explosions).
The jazz/bebop soundtrack is to die for.
The theme song of Cowboy Bebop alone is reason enough to watch the show. Tank! (performed by the Seatbelts) is a jazzy, fast-paced tune with a short, sweet voice over at the start. It’s super catchy. The bebop-style soundtrack (up-tempo, improv jazz) is scored by the infamous Yoko Kanno, frontwoman for the Seatbelts who has scored the music for tons of other anime and video game projects. It makes me want to patron a dark, smoky jazz club and drink gin and tonics. The score embodies the film noir roots of the show, which brings me to the next reason Bebop is amazeballs…
Cowboy Bebop is the love child of the western, sci-fi and film noir genres.
I was going to be more eloquent about this one but I mean, seriously. Western because bounty hunters, lawlessness, showdowns and old grudges. Sci-fi because duh. Film noir because dark, gritty, world-worn and love-sick. Also, most episodes are essentially detective stories. Dear God, it’s amazing.
Despite its cool grit and dark overtones, Cowboy Bebop is all heart.
Admittedly, this isn’t obvious for much of the series, but Spike’s character isn’t just a one-dimensional can-do bad ass. He’s emotionally scarred from past trauma and tragic loss. This becomes apparent in later episodes when his confident, devil-may-care demeanor gives way to glimpses of resignation and cavalier judgment calls. As you approach the end of the series, you might wonder whether he’s ever been as calm, cool and collected all this time as you’ve been made to believe, or how much of that was actually a matter of his being emotionally closed off, and basically reckless.
The love of the “family” unit pervades Bebop, too. Spike and crew are close-knit, for all their bickering, differences and flaws. I’ve never NOT thought about how awesome it must be to have a crew/friends/family that have your back in every single sticky and unscrupulous situation. Not that I don’t have that in life, but I’m not a space-faring bounty hunter, so, you know…it doesn’t come up that often.
Images from Bandai series Cowboy Bebop and PopMatters.