Just a few weeks ago, I sat down and finally talked about Neon Genesis Evangelion, long regarded as a cult classic among those of the Toonami/4kids generation. I won’t rehash what I said there, but I knew that I was only getting at half the story. Because there is one other show that is often touted as a defining piece for the anime fans who grew up in that era. Well I finally got around to watching it, and I have some thoughts. After the cut let’s take a dive into Cowboy Bebop.
So Cowboy Bebop.
Loved by many, adored by more. While not as discussed as much as Evangelion, it has been a show that any would be anime essayist has loved to picked apart. It’s a show anyone around my age would bend over backwards to fellate. So what did I think?
Eh? I mean, it looks good. Great music, really well produced. Kinda just Anime Firefly. Nothing really special. Kinda overhyped.
I’m going to be honest here. The fact that I wasn’t one of those twelve-thirteen years old who stumbled across this show late one Friday night probably didn’t do much to make me love it. While I was knee-deep in all things anime during that era, Cowboy Bebop never crossed my radar. I never came across it, never had the chance for it to ‘blow my mind’ as it did for so many. So when I watched it now, in an era where ‘good anime’ is at your fingertips, something like this show just doesn’t have any wow factor.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything impressive. I will say this, I do not think I have seen anything as pretty and and as well crafted a show from this era than Cowboy Bebop. Knowing this was almost completely hand-drawn, that it was the director’s first ever foray into anime is nothing short of mind boggling. The production values are just off the charts. While Evangelion had a quaint sort of charm that can only come from stretching every dollar, Bebop instead feels like someone was gifted a massive budget and used it to the fullest extent. The world feels lived in and real, there isn’t a hint of cost-cutting or low effort animation that plagues other shows. It’s just a beautiful show to look at, and I found myself amazed the backgrounds, and way the characters moved, acted and just existed in the world. Especially with a character like Ed, who the animators seemed to have a blast just having in the show. Something of this quality, from this era, is fast becoming a lost art as computer animation takes over everything. If anything, Bebop is unique for that trait.
And it is also unique for the music. Cause honestly, what a soundtrack. There is so much to love, with tracks and tunes from half a dozen genres that blend together almost perfectly. There is probably not a single show in the history of anime that sounds like Cowboy Bebop, not even anime that specifically about music. It is a show that uses its music to the best way possible. You shouldn’t read me saying it, just go listen to it for yourself.
Because honestly? That’s about as much good as I can say about the series. The story? The characters? In the end, after 24 episodes, are just bland, uninteresting and underdeveloped Despite good voice acting and designs, the stories of Spike, Faye, Ed and Jet don’t feel flesh out and explored, with interesting clues and hints constantly derailed by the episodic nature of the series. Spike is the biggest example, in the entire span of the series, we get only a two-parter with him and Vicious in the middle and then, in the final two-parter, their ‘final confrontation’ is supposed to have all of this weight, but there is nothing there. Spike’s feeling for Julia? His past with Viscous? It’s either never explained, or shown through lightning fast images that you can only really piece things together. The show attempt to paint this picture of ‘not running away from your past’ which is a good idea, but hard to make work when we barely know what past he’s running away from. I mean did we REALLY need a story about the crew getting high on shrooms? Or poisoned from a lobster? Couldn’t we have used that time and money for, I don’t know, building up the climax?
Faye, Jet and Ed don’t get much to do either. Jet at least has a basic story that is easy to tell, a beaten down old cop who left the force, and Faye is lazy, greedy and a fun character who has a story about her missing past that is thankfully not drawn out or overly dramatic (the comedic way it goes at points was a stroke of brilliance). It is only Ed who feels completely superfluous to the plot. While she steals every scene she is in, there is little point of having in the plot, on the ship, or in the story at all. Hell when she ends up leaving the ship at the end, it feels more of the writers trying to get her out of the story, then a meaningful conclusion to whatever her character was suppose to be.
Cowboy Bebop is a show that is all style and no substance. It’s a beautiful looking and beautiful sounding show, but it is a beauty that is truly skin-deep. In an era where anime was in its infancy, I could see why people would fall in love with this show, how a young kid might catch it on a Friday night every week and be sucked into a new adventure. But that was then, and this was now, and Bebop feels like a relic of an era that has long since been put to bed. It may be prettier than Evangelion, but it has none of the (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) ‘depth’ that has made it’s counterpart stand the test of time. It is just a well animated show that feels like it is running in place more often than not. I’m sure there is someone out there with an four hour video essay ready to tell me I’m wrong, but I honestly don’t give a shit. I’ve got better more enjoyable shows to watch.
Still, this show is a piece of western anime fan history and I’m glad I got to see it. Give it a look for yourself and see what you think.