It could be difficult to sift through the unlimited hours of anime content, trying to figure out where to start. The truth is that there are a LOT of fantastic films and shows that come from the great minds in Japan and many worlds to explore. From the mystic and wonder lying in Miyazaki’s filmography to the insane worldbuilding in Attack on Titan, people trying to find a starting place for the stylistic medium may find trouble and become overwhelmed. In my eyes, Cowboy Bebop is the perfect place for many people to begin their anime journey.
Cowboy Bebop was released in 1998 in Japan and was dubbed in 2001 in the United States on Adult Swim. Created by Hajime Yatate, the story takes place in 2071 and follows a group of bounty hunters: Spike (a spiky-haired, slick gunman haunted by a past), Jet (a metal-armed former cop), Faye (a gambler with amnesia), Ed (a goofy, young hacker) and their dog Ein. After Earth is essentially deemed uninhabitable, humans drift through the galaxy where crime runs rampant. Thus, the police force creates a system that allows bounty hunters to bring criminals into custody alive for money. The five main characters cross paths and explore the galaxy aboard their spaceship Bebop where they continuously endure wacky misadventures while looking for bounties, money and (especially) food. It’s a rather simple plot, but why is this show a great starting place for people looking to enter the world of anime?
The brilliance that lies underneath the surface of Cowboy Bebop is that it feels familiar yet inventive throughout its lifespan. The show ran for a singular 26 episode season (and a movie), but in that time tells a concise story about four bounty hunters and their lovable corgi through episodic adventures. The show plays homage to many movies and genres the average viewer will immediately recognize upon their first watch. A great example is the eleventh episode of the show titled “Toys in the Attic”. The crew of the Bebop is looking for work when something mysterious aboard their ship begins to bite them and leave nasty, purple welts. They need to quickly discover what is biting them before they’re all left incapacitated. The average viewer should easily be able to recognize the homage to Alien, The Thing, and the wide variety of other monster/horror films.
The characters are the core
Most shows are only as strong as their main characters. Fortunately for Cowboy Bebop, the main crew are all beautifully written. They’re misfits bound together by their difficult pasts and become a family unit because of it. They’re dysfunctional, argue all the time, and constantly get on each other’s nerves, but they can’t live without each other. The difficulty of maintaining interpersonal relationships is a theme that most audience members should be able to recognize and is the prominent issue to come up in Cowboy Bebop. The main characters all thought they had found their place in the universe, only to end up in each other’s lives. It’s poetic and similar to what James Gunn does in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. They’re only at their best when they are around each other, and Cowboy Bebop explores that throughout the entire runtime.
If there’s one thing that Cowboy Bebop might be known for above all else, it is the jazz that plays along with particular scenes. Music and score really helps films and movies land their emotional beats, and jazz might be the most fitting compositional choice for this show. Just like Cowboy Bebop, jazz changes in tone all the time. The music is exciting and jumping all over the place in action scenes, relaxed and cool when they’re just walking around the ship, and particularly down and melancholy when a character is going through a tough emotion. If there’s one kind of music that can depict all those emotions with fluidity, its jazz. The jazz is so important to Cowboy Bebop because it is a reflection of the show. You could listen to the soundtrack after watching the entire show and remember which track goes with which scene; a powerful feat for a compositional score.
Yatate’s noir, sci-fi western is not just one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, it is an excellent introduction to aspiring anime fans. It feels familiar enough to captivate newer audiences unfamiliar with anime, but also offers its own distinct voice that makes it feel incredibly fresh to any viewer who chooses to watch. It’s certainly stuck with me since I’ve watched it, and after writing about it I just want to watch it all over again.