Oh boy, we’re reviewing one of the classics today.
Cowboy Bebop, released all the way back in 1998 is one of the titans of anime, a revolutionary work that changed the way many people looked at Japanese Animation. By mixing realistic Western themes and sci-fi elements, with a touch of anime flair, Cowboy Bebop truly is the work, which became a new genre itself.
And this past week, I’ve had the pleasure of watching this work for myself, and I’ve gotta say, it’s certainly one of the most unique anime I’ve ever watched. Stick around, and keep on reading–this is Reading Between’s in-depth review of Cowboy Bebop.
1. Story: (8.7/10) – Great
The year is 2071, and life has not changed. Humanity has moved on to colonize other planets of the Solar System, being inventive as ever, creating thriving civilizations with limitless potential. People remained loyal to planets, as the concept of nations was foreign, to those who had no knowledge of the Earth. Interplanetary society was booming–however, with such massive growth comes a certain amount of risk.
With so many different planets, spread across distances too far to monitor, crime became far more prevalent. As the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer, wealthy syndicates gained the ability to control governments, police forces, and otherwise exploit the interplanetary human societies. To combat this, bounties were created–massive sums of money for the criminals that the government simply couldn’t catch.
And this, is where our heroes (sort of) come in.
Onboard the spaceship Bebop, Spike Siegel and Jet Black act as cowboys–a group of bounty hunters that try to apprehend criminals. They journey the Solar System, using Spike’s natural combat ability and Jet’s intelligence to claim bounties, hopefully putting another meal on the plate. Eventually finding other crew members (sort of) in the form of femme fatale Faye Valentine, and kid genius Edward, the journeys of the Bebop seem to be rather set–an exciting, barely-profitable existence.
However, life isn’t quite so simple.
Cowboy Bebop is an episodic show, centering around the adventures of the crew of the spaceship Bebop, as they travel around the Solar System in search of bounties to claim. Every episode has a different story, focusing on new, different characters, crafting action-packed and emotional narratives for each one. However, all the while, we learn a little bit more about the detailed, tragic backstories of our protagonists, giving the episodic show a consistent narrative to hold onto, even with the varying plotlines.
Now, normally, I’m not a fan of episodic shows. They don’t allow for much time to get invested into the different characters, and the general trend, is for such episodic shows to lose impact, simply because there is nothing to hold the whole series together.
However, in the case of Cowboy Bebop, I’m glad to say that its stories were actually pretty wonderful.
You’re not going to remember the name of every single person you meet in Cowboy Bebop, because man, there are a LOT of people, but that’s not the point. Every story is constructed in a way which provides life to the characters it introduces, a sense that every person has their unique motivations, and their own personal tragedies. Each episode feels like something special, on top of simply being a lot of plain fun.
No matter what, even if you never see a character again, it’s very clear that the adventures of Spike and the Bebop crew have affected the lives of the people they meet–and that’s a unique sense that not many stories can achieve. And if the episode happens to be one that focuses on Spike, Jet, or Faye, the story of that individual episode inevitably ends up being a joy to watch, adding a LOT to that character.
My only complaint with the stories of Cowboy Bebop is this–that for those of us who prefer a single, overarching plot-line, you might not immediately be invested into the series. It is for this reason, that it took me a while to get through the series.
However, barring this very specific complaint, the individual stories of Cowboy Bebop were joys to watch–and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a show that creates better individual narratives as consistently as Cowboy Bebop.
2. Characters: (9.4/10) – Exceptional
Now, we’re getting to the good stuff. And by good, I mean fantastic.
The characters of Cowboy Bebop, as I hinted at earlier, are full of life. Every single one, from the most inconsequential, to the main crew of the Bebop, are given huge amounts of individual personality. They have motivations, dreams, reasons for being the way they are, and their reactions to the events around them feel undoubtedly natural.
So, every character is wonderful, yes–but let’s talk about the big three, Spike, Jet and Faye.
To put it bluntly, they are a great trio of characters, and after finishing the series, it’s easy to see why the three are iconic. Jet’s almost fatherly, bonsai-watering demeanor, hidden behind a gruff exterior, was pleasant to see in almost any circumstance, while Faye’s selfish, lazy, arrogant personality provided for some interesting interactions with any character she’d talk to. And of course, Spike Siegel’s smooth-talking, pragmatic, yet kind personality made for an absolutely delightful protagonist.
What really made Cowboy Bebop’s characters shine, however, was its ability to create, and display the lives of its protagonists.
The three main members of the Bebop crew all had consistent personalities, but they were never static. Every episode, you’d see a sense of small change, learn a bit more about their fears, their vices, or their motivations. These small details built up, until eventually, they surpass just being characters of an anime–they feel like people, who live according to what they get.
It’s never said, but you see Faye’s insistence on gambling, her inability to trust others, and you start to understand just why she’s like that. Jet’s patience and casual wisdom has come after years of pain and heartbreak–yet through it all, his pride and stubbornness allowed him to get through it. And of course, Spike’s cool-guy attitude, his casual yet reckless personality, is haunted by past ties to a life of crime, and a love he can’t just let go.
These characters have personality, but beyond that, they have life. They have individual quirks, and are not defined strictly by what their past dictates, just like how people tend to be in real life. It’s some of the most vague, indirect characterization I’ve seen in anime, and it was wonderful to experience.
3. Art/Style: (9.8/10) – Exceptional
I admit, I am a bit generous with my ratings sometimes. But the higher you go, the more each difference in points means.
Nines in the areas of Art and Style aren’t the most common thing, but I’ve given them out on occasion. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and Attack on Titan in particular have earned some pretty solid nines, at 9.5 apiece. From a technical standpoint, they were exceptional works in and of themselves, backing that technicality up with great awareness as to what they were trying to accomplish.
With Cowboy Bebop, however, I can honestly say that from an artistic and stylistic standpoint, this is probably the closest to perfect I’ve ever seen an anime get. Everything oozed excellence. From tone, to cinematography, action, music, to its mastery of completely different genres from episode to episode, Cowboy Bebop was next to perfect.
With every episode, I felt like I had to try so, so hard to simply comprehend the complexity of what the series was trying to accomplish. From a straight Western style, to film noir, horror, martial arts–all sorts of genres are parodied, and pulled off exceptionally well from one episode to the next. And through the diversity of genre, the audience is able to receive a picture of a diverse, established world.
It is through this world, that we are able to experience the struggles, or average lives, of the characters that live in it. Through the masterful use of camera, lighting, music, and of course, sheer artistic proficiency, the world of Cowboy Bebop is shown to be alive, moving in a way that other anime worlds are not. If the world of Cowboy Bebop weren’t so good, I honestly doubt that other parts of the story would have been nearly as effective as they were.
And of course, I can’t forget the freaking soundtrack, which was absolutely amazing in every way. From a mournful, melancholy music box tune in one episode, to a head-banging heavy metal guitar riff in the next, Cowboy Bebop had total command over the mood of any given episode. Action sequences were fast-paced, with jazzy, rocking, energetic music to match, while emotional sequences employed anything from silence, to tender piano melodies to convey some very complex emotions, with no words at all.
Everything Cowboy Bebop did had a purpose. And so, despite not having the budget, the animation quality that other anime showed off, Cowboy Bebop had an undeniable presence. Its empty atmosphere, its jazzy tunes, its emotional strength, they all combine to create an atmosphere that is just…Cowboy Bebop. Nothing was wasted, and to see the complexity of the series’ art, its cinematography, its music, everything…
All I’ve got to say, is that Cowboy Bebop is a technical masterpiece. Clear as day.
4. Personal Enjoyment: (8.9/10) – Great
Watching Cowboy Bebop felt like I was watching a classic.
And that’s not because I knew it was, going into it. Rather, Cowboy Bebop’s sheer sense of style let me know that it was something unique, something special. It was powerful, in that it created something new–living up to its claim as the “new genre itself, Cowboy Bebop.”
It was a rather tough watch though–not something to get into during stressful times, as there’s just so much information to keep track of. Undoubtedly, it was one of the best anime I had watched in a long time, but…man, it is FULL of stuff to keep track of.
All things considered. I see now, why Cowboy Bebop is considered one of the classics. With its technical prowess, amazing characters, and unique sense of style, it has certainly earned its place among the legends of anime.
Final Rating: (9.2/10) – Exceptional
- You’re fine with watching something that…doesn’t tell a conventional story.
- You would like to watch one of the most multi-layered anime of all time.
- You’re in a mood for some good-old fashioned anime adventure!
- Really, just watch it. It’s fantastic, and a must-watch for any anime fan, or even non-anime fan!