Here it is. The Classic. The Old Standard. The Jewel of the Nineties. I’m making all these names up as I go, but I’m trying to make a point. Everyone who loves anime inevitably finds this show, usually from lists of The Best Anime Ever, or from the frothing recommendations of fans. If you haven’t heard about Cowboy Bebop, then today’s the day where you find out why it’s so loved.
I’ll give you some background first. It’s set in the year 2071. Hyperspace Gates (similar to Mass Effect’s mass relay network) have been built to speed up travel between the planets of the Solar System. An accident when building one of the first gates destroyed half of the Moon, and its fragments rained meteors down on the Earth’s surface, killing most of the human race. The remnants mostly moved to Mars, though many live underground on Earth, or in colonies on Venus and the moons of Jupiter.
The police can’t enforce the law everywhere, so we get bounty hunters, or “cowboys”, out to make a quick buck from capturing wanted criminals. We follow the story of two cowboys, Jet and Spike, an ex-cop and an ex-mafioso, as they work together from Jet’s ship, the Bebop.
As they travel, they pick up the alluring Faye Valentine, the genius hacker Ed, and the data dog Ein to fill out their crew.
Everyone has their own mysterious history, though none of them is much inclined to share it, as the bond that holds the crew together is a fragile one.
The whole thing is done in 26 episodes, or “sessions”, with a movie released after its success, set around the episode 20 mark, and I have no idea if this background information is enticing you. So far, you might not be thinking much of Cowboy Bebop. But that’s because I’ve been holding myself from ejaculating commendations all over you.
I think the best way to describe Cowboy Bebop is as a combination of “Casablanca” and “Firefly”, but better than both of them at the things they’re famous for. Each session is a masterpiece in its own right. Most of them could be movies, and they all feel decidedly different, too. This is helped by the rich, rich soundtrack, mostly jazz and blues (and a bit of bebop of course) The saxophones and muted trumpets come hard and fast, and in a very good way. I don’t recommend bingeing on back-to-back episodes, as they each bring their own flavor that needs to be savored individually. Trust me on that, I know it sounds snooty.
The plots are tight, the universe is fascinating, the action scenes are gorgeous, but most of all, it has incredible pacing. The action scenes are usually spaced out with atmosphere and tension and lies and revelations. And the dialogue is just brilliant. Every line could be a scene of a play. It’s everything they don’t say, hidden under what they do, that shows their true characters.
When I first heard of the show, I heard “made in the nineties” and “funny name” and “space fights” and “blues”, and they were not things that attracted me. I let myself be convinced by a friend, and as a result, I’ve now seen the whole thing 4 times, and writing this article has made me desperate to watch it all over again. It’s dark, it’s funny, it pulls the heartstrings and it’s beautifully drawn and totally involving. I can’t recommend it enough.