Look, I think we all knew that this was inevitable. I managed to put it off this long, at least.
What is it?
Cowboy Bebop is a 26-episode anime series from the late 1990s. It spawned a theatrical movie, some manga, and a cult following that makes Firefly fans seem quaint and relaxed by comparison.
What kind of story is it?
Some of my favorite story setups focus on the notion of “found family,” as we’ve discussed previously.
Bebop is not really one of those stories, but it’s kind of adjacent to that notion. These five weirdos (yes, I’m counting the dog) who don’t fit in anywhere else do, for a short time, kind of mesh and coexist and form a brief family-like unit.
It doesn’t last. It’s not that kind of show.
Bebop isn’t really a story (despite there being an overall arc centered on one of the characters and each other character getting their own complete arc) but rather an interwoven series of vignettes about some very broken people. It’s an experiment, also, in putting a dozen storytelling styles into a blender and setting the results to jazz music. The experiment works, mind you. Umpteen millions of anime fans can’t all be wrong about that, now can they?
Why do you like it?
It is a rip-roaring romp of a show for the most part. It’s experimental, it’s artsy, it’s active, it’s fun, it’s a feast for the eyes. And yes, the music helps.
I can’t resist pondering how “cool” as a concept is baked into the show’s structure. Seriously, it’s as if everyone involved in writing Cowboy Bebop had a checklist of “wouldn’t it be cool if ______?” and every single one of the items on those lists made it into the finished product. And most of them actually turned out to be cool. I mean, think about that: Usually when someone aims to make something “cool” it comes off as trying too hard, as contrived.
But not here. Here, it all ends up being really cool.
What might one not like about it?
Perhaps you agree with Robert Plant’s exclamation in the obscure B-side track, “Oompa (Watery Bint)”: “To hell with jazz.”
Bebop is also kind of a downer, overall. Again: These characters are broken people, even the one who seems the most happy-go-lucky. This story doesn’t really end well for most of them, some more than others. (No spoilers beyond that, not even for a show from two decades ago.)
Other thoughts about it?
You might see it argued that the opening theme, “Tank!“, is the finest anime opening tune of all time. I grant you that it is striking and different and perfectly suited to this show, but… it’s its own thing. It’s so removed from anything else that comparing the piece to other shows’ theme songs just doesn’t make any sense.
Besides. It’s been proved through rigorous bracket-based debate that the greatest opening of all time is the opening to Macross Frontier. (The actual winner of that tournament and the others at the same tiers were all ending themes, you see.)
But I digress. Playfully, mind you, with tongue firmly in cheek. Put down those pitchforks and snuff those torches, y’all.
Anyway, Cowboy Bebop also features some really cool spaceship designs. So there.
Where can I watch it?
Hey look, Crunchyroll has Cowboy Bebop in their library.