COWBOY BEBOP (1998)

 

Format: 26 24-minute episodes on 6 DVDs. A Perfect Collection including an OST is also available.

Rating: PG-13+ (AC, AL, GV, DU)

Type: Sci-Fi

American Production: Bandai Entertainment

English Dub Production: Animaze

Japanese Production: Sunrise

 

Grading

 

Premise:

Story:

B+

Writing:

A

Character Design:

A-

Animation:

A-

Artistic Merits:

A-

English Dub:

A-

Musical Score:

A

Songs:

A-

Opener:

A-

Closer:

A-

 

 

Humor Content:

C+

Action Content:

B+

Drama Content:

B

 

 

DVD Presentation:

not reviewed

DVD Extras:

not reviewed

 

 

OVERALL:

A-

 

Synopsis

      By the year 2071 mankind has used hyperspace gates to reach other planets and moons in our solar system, where craters have been terraformed for human habitation in the form of Earth-like cities. In this time Earth has become a third-world backwater as a result of a devastating hyperspace gate accident 50 years earlier that blew out chunks of the Moon and badly damage the Earth, so the focus of civilization has shifted to the space stations, planetary colonies, and transit lanes in between. In this environment the ex-Syndicate enforcer Spike Spiegel teams up with ex-policeman Jet, and later with con woman Faye Valentine and the young hacker Radical Edward (who is actually a girl) to form a loose bounty-hunter team based off of Jet’s ship, the Cowboy Bebop. Despite the impressive skills at their disposal, it is always a struggle for the Bebop crew to make ends meet.

  

The Long View

      Take a sci-fi action series about spacefaring bounty hunters, mix in a fantastic musical score the runs the gamut from jazz to blues to heavy metal, give it a quirky charm, and style it in a manner that often makes it resemble a hard-boiled detective or cop story and you have Cowboy Bebop, one of the most popular and beloved anime series of the past few years in fan circles on both sides of the Pacific. Despite the tendency of the Japanese fan community to obsess on the hot new thing, characters from Cowboy Bebop regularly rate high in fan polls of Favorite Male/Female characters and the series itself regularly ranks high in fan polls of Favorite Series. The series is also consistently rated highly in critical reviews, and this review is no different.

      The merits of Bebop are many but definitely include its artistry and technical merits, which rank among the best for series animation. The character design for Ed is a little odd, but Faye is one of the more genuinely sexy characters you’ll find in anime (she usually ranks at or near the top when polls about sexiest characters are taken) and Spike and Jet are both convincing for their personalities. The excellent English dub also helps greatly in this respect.

      The characters of Bebop are one of the reasons for its blazing success, as none of them are your stereotypical anime heroes. At the beginning it’s just the team of Spike and Jet, who work together despite widely varying backgrounds (Spike’s an ex-enforcer for a criminal organization, Jet’s a former cop using a cybernetic arm to replace one lost in the line of duty) and philosophies (Spike is lackadaisical and in the bounty-hunting only for the money, while Jet is more businesslike but still driven by a sense of justice). After a few episodes they are joined - somewhat unwillingly - by Faye, a gorgeous young money-grubbing con artist with a me-first attitude and massive gambling problem. A bit later into the series the trio is joined by a fourth member, a young, bizarre, and rather wacky but still enormously talented computer hacker called Radical Edward, who appears to be a boy but is actually a girl. Oh, and there’s also the “data dog” Ein, who may or may not be something special.

      The music for Bebop is another of its strongest selling points. The stellar soundtrack is one of the most widely-varied that you’ll hear for any anime series, with musical themes used to set the tone for each story. When the music is downbeat jazz or blues you can expect a laid-back, melancholy story with the flavor of an old detective show, while upbeat jazz or heavy metal signals an action-packed episode filled with rough-n-ready characters. Themes also run the gamut in between these two extremes. The whole series has the feel of a '60s or '70s detective/cop/mystery show, except that it’s set in space and on other planets, which can lend some odd twists to the typical storylines. This feel his heightened by a jazzy, up-tempo opening number called “Tank!” which will remind older viewers of ‘60s and ‘70s cop shows. The closer, a soulful, bluesy number titled “The Real Folk Blues” is more melancholy, perhaps in an attempt to suggest that the energy and enthusiasm which drove the beginning of the episode has been exhausted by the action of the episode.

      There is no overarching story to Bebop, which may disappoint viewers used to the broad storylines of typical anime series but which also makes it much more accessible to casual viewers. Most of the series is composed of standalone stories never more than two episodes in length as the Bebop crew, either alone or as a very loose team, go out in search of assorted bounties. Each of the main characters also gets an episode or two which delves into loose ends in their lives. Spike, for instance, was only able to separate himself from the Syndicate that employed him by pretending to be dead, and trouble looms when he must deal with the Syndicate again. Jet also has many loose ends from his previous job, while both have women from their past that resurface to one degree of trouble or another. Faye has a gaping hole in her memory and, because she was cryogenically frozen for decades, is utterly disconnected from her past. (One of the best episodes in the series deals with a videotape that turns up as the only link to her past life.) Ed, meanwhile, is an orphan - but maybe not completely so. And then, every so often, there’s a truly weird episode, such as one that focuses on feng shui, or another where most of the characters hallucinate after eating psychedelic mushrooms, or another that’s a quasi-horror story about the dangers of leaving something unattended in a fridge for too long, or another about a rogue weather satellite that’s using a secret government laser weapon installed decades earlier to carve pictures on the Earth’s surface to keep it company (it’s developed a personality and is lonely, you see). But there’s also the very serious stories, such as Jet confronting an escaped con responsible for the loss of his arm or the messy encounters of both male leads with old girlfriends who aren’t as distant from the heroes’ hearts as they like to think. Overall the writing is uniformly outstanding, with barely a dull episode in the series.

      The version of Cowboy Bebop that appears on Cartoon Network is a moderately edited version, for the series is marked by many objectionable factors: characters smoke heavily, there is some bloody violence and drug use, and while there is no actual nudity, there are some racy scenes. (Faye’s normal style of dress alone is provocative, as is that of the TV Cowgirl who appears on TV in most episodes.) There are also some episodes that deal with subjects so touchy that the entire episode is sometimes skipped over – and this has happened on the two original Japanese TV broadcasts as well as American broadcasts. Many of the episodes also deal with more mature themes, which makes the series wholly unsuitable for the under-13 crowd. I’d say it’s probably fine for any teenager – and I know several that really get into the series – but parents should still use discretion.

      Cowboy Bebop is one best-made and most distinctive of all sci-fi anime series. It should be required viewing for any true fan of anime.

 

DVD Extras

      The review is based off of the Cartoon Network broadcasts, which are edited. A Perfect Collection, which includes all six DVDs and an OST, is available.

  

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Spike Spiegel, minor roles*

Steven Jay Blum

Jet Black

John Billingslea

Faye Valentine

Wendee Lee

Radical Edward

Melissa Charles

Cowboy Andy (TV show)

James Penrod

TV Cowgirl, minor roles

Lia Sargent**

Vicious, minor roles

George C. Cole**

Julia, minor roles

Melissa Williamson***

      . . .and other one-shot roles too numerous to mention here.

 

      * - Some may be listed under the pseudonym David Lucas

      * - There are some discrepancies between sites concerning the actor playing the major role in this listing

      * - Also the Director.

 

 

 

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