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Exploring Cowboy Bebop

By ELIZABETH GIBSON for The J-Pop Exchange

Now, I may merely be at the start of my deep, deep dive into all things anime, but I can already tell that Cowboy Bebop is — in my humble opinion, of course — the best anime of all time.

In fact, it might be my favorite anything of all time.

But that just sounds like I’m being dramatic.

I won’t get into the show’s plot too much — because I don’t want to spoil anything or give too much away for those who haven’t watched it, and I don’t want to rehash anything for die-hard Bebop fans — but the show focuses on a few down-on-their-luck, bounty-hunting rogues on a spaceship in the year 2071. And watching them succeed, fail, reminisce, hope, regret, dream, love, lose, come together and fall apart is oh so addicting.

I’m a little late to the party — 20 years to be exact. The show originally ran in Japan in 1997-’98 and in the United States in 2001 on Adult Swim.

It mixes genres: it’s two parts 2001: A Space Odyssey and one part wild west. The animation is alluring and beautiful and never seems to stay still. I never thought my favorite show could technically be classified as a “space western,” although I don’t think many people necessarily call it that. I think most just call it a masterpiece.

The music is captivating, too. It’s a jazzy, lo-fi, double-bass, saxophone love affair. The palpable riffs always get my feet tapping, my shoulders dancing, and my high-school-jazz-band-player heart fluttering: "I think it's time we blow this scene. Get everybody and the stuff together. Okay, three, two, one — let's jam."

Another one of my favorite parts of Cowboy Bebop is it its ability to explore some interesting philosophical concepts, like existentialism, existential ennui and being lonely (in outer space, for what it’s worth — a few David Bowie songs come to mind at times). These are things I, and many people, have felt and will probably experience again; they’re things that aren’t normally discussed on television; and they’re things that are probably really difficult to portray — especially in just one season. And the creators do it so effortlessly, it seems.

It’s a smart show. It makes you think — even hours or days after watching it. But it also comprises the usual (but also quite unusual) suspects in action/adventure show to get your blood pumping: spaceship-car chase scenes, old west style shootouts, and, of course, beating up the bad guys. It’s had me laughing, but it’s also made me cry tiny, little tears from the corners of my eyes (although I told my husband that was just allergies). Bebop also crosses over into detective themes, comedic styles, and film noir territory often.

Additionally, the characters, albeit living in outer space, are real. They’re imperfect, they’re human (with the exception Ein, a lovable, super smart Corgi), and they have dark and confusing pasts and futures that are relatable and seem so tangible.

The one-season series is also hailed as the gateway into the realm of the anime medium as a whole. I’m worried everything will be downhill from here, although my husband tells me I’m just being dramatic. He’s right.

He says next up in the queue is Samurai Champloo.

See You Space Cowboy.

More by Elizabeth Gibson:

Anime: What Makes It So Special?

It Started In Japan: A Brief History Of The Emoji