Cowboy Bebop (カウボーイビバップ Kaubōi Bibappu?) is a Japanese animated television series produced by Sunrise and created by Shinchiro Watanabe. Set in 2071 and centered on the adventures of a gang of bounty hunters in space, the series delves into the unresolved issues of the protagonists' past, exploring concepts such as existentialism, boredom, loneliness, and the influence of the past.
The anime aired for the first time in Japan on TV Tokyo from April 3, 1998 to June 26, 1998, but because of the controversial content of the series only 12 out of the 26 episodes produced, plus a special, aired. The totality of the episodes later aired on the satellite channel WOWOW from October 24, 1998 to April 24, 1999. Other media based on the anime includes two manga, published in the magazine Asuka Fantasy DX of Kadokawa Shoten, a film titled Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door, and two video games distributed by Bandai for Playstation and Playstation 2.
Cowboy Bebop has gained widespread critical and commercial success both in Japan and internationally. The series has won numerous awards in the field of animation and science fiction and has been recognized for its style, characters, plot, dubbing, animation, and soundtrack. Over the years the series has unfolded as a masterpiece of Japaneese animation, and many critics consider it one of the best anime of all time.
In 2022, the accidental explosion of an experimental gate device that allows for hyperspace travel seriously damages the Moon, causing a drift of a swarm of meteorites and asteroids to bombard the surface of the planet Earth, wiping out much of the population. The survivors then abandon the now inhospitable planet to colonize new habitable systems: Mars, Venus, the asteroid belt, and Jupiter's satellites.
By 2071, the entire solar system has been made available to travel through hyperspace with the gate. The planet Mars has become the cornerstone of new human development and new signs of organized crime, especially the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. These organizations exert their influence to internal government and the Inter Solar System Police (ISSP), the police of the solar system, limiting effectiveness in fighting crime. To address the threat of escaped prisoners, terrorists, drug traffickers, and other dangerous criminals, a bounty system was set up similar to that of the Old West. New bounty hunters of the solar system are therefore often called cowboys.
Spike Spiegel, a former affiliate of the Red Dragon, and Jet Black, a former ISSP investigator, are two bounty hunters who move from planet to planet aboard their spaceship, the Bebop. Over the course of their adventures, although reluctantly, they are joined by three new companions: the hyper-intelligent Pembroke Welsh Corgi Ein, the provocative scammer wanted by creditors Faye Valentine, and the eccentric and brilliant preadolescent hacker Radical Edward.
Over the course of their actions, usually unsuccessful, inconclusive, or low profit, all members of the crew will have to face unresolved issues from their turbulent pasts marked by traumatic memories, lost memories, unexplained abandonments, and troubled love affairs. All of this is treated with a strong philosophical, mature, psychological, and existential note reflecting both the best and worst moments of four lost people.
The characters of Cowboy Bebop are characterized by a deep sense of loneliness and resignation, as well as a relationship with his/her's own past that leads them to be so disillusioned with their inner troubles. This is clearly visible in the main characters. Spike is a man who, after being separated from the only woman he's ever loved, considers himself dead, has no expectations for the future, is indelibly marked by a sluggish and tired expression, his attitude is generally more anti-heroic than heroic, and, as he said himself, claims he's "living in a dream I can't wake up from," (Session 5: Ballad of Fallen Angels). Jet is instead a person who has lost confidence in what he dedicated his life, and is cynically observing the spread of corruption, increasingly believing that the world he lived in once never existed. The clothing of the two reflects their mood. The series often plays around the word "blue" both the musical genre and the color as a symbol of sadness.
Even the female protagonists reflect these troubles, especially Faye, although characterized by an exuberant presumption and sensuality out of the ordinary, Faye is actually an insecure and emotionally vulnerable person because without a past, she is used to "leave before being abandoned," (Session 12: Jupiter Jazz Part 1) and is described by her seiyū as an "ugly woman." Ed, finally, although seen as light-hearted, sensitive, and naive, joins the crew of the Bebop after being moved by a sense of loneliness from being abandoned by an irresponsible father.
According to character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto, of the four protagonists Ed is the only one based on a real person, the series's music composer Yoko Kanno. He has also said he wanted their designs to be distinct and different from each other, while the creator has repeatedly said that he considers them a part or extension of his personality such as Spike: "I don't smoke, drink, and fight, but I want to, so Spike does."
Cowboy Bebop was produced by the studio Sunrise under the famous pseudonym Hajime Yatate. The director of the creative team was Shinichirō Watanabe, his first job as director after assistant directing Macross Plus and Vision of Escaflowne. Other members were the writer Keiko Nobumoto, character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto, mecha designer Kimitoshi Yamane, and composer Yoko Kanno. Many of the staff members had worked together previously. Nobumoto scripted Macross Plus, while Kawamoto had designed the characters from Gundam, and Kanno had composed Macross Plus and Vision of Escaflowne. Yamane, however, had never worked with Watanabe, although he had previously been involved in the development of Bubblegum Crisis and Vision of Escaflowne.
Initially, Cowboy Bebop was sponsored by Bandai's division of toys, hoping to sell models of spaceships from the show. According to Watanabe, the only directive he received was "as long as there will be spaceships (in the series) you can do what you want." However, after the completion of the test material, it became clear that the director's vision differed from that of the company, which shelved the project considering it not suitable for creating merchandise toys. Successively, Bandai Visual recovered the show, giving Watanabe full creative freedom.
The director's intention was to create a series that was not only addressed to a traditional audience of teenagers, but also to adults. In fact, despite vulgarity and profanity being absent, a few episodes deal with sensitive issues such as drugs, terrorism, or organized crime. Cowboy Bebop was later described by Watanabe himself as "80% serious and 20% funny." Speaking of the development of the series, Watanabe began to realize the characters, explaining, "The first image that (occurred) to me was Spike, from there I tried to build a story around him, trying to make him cool." The numerous action scenes received special attention and drew benefit from the fact that among the filmmakers there were people already experienced in live action film. The finale was planned by Watanabe from the start, but it was opposed by the other staff,only to keep the original idea the director had in mind.
The atmosphere of the planets and ethnic groups was conceived by Watanabe in collaboration with Isamu Imakake, Shōji Kawamori, and Dai Sato.
"I wanted to create a futuristic world, but a world that people actually live in. Only movie characters could live in the worlds in the worlds they depict in Star Wars and other science fiction films. I wanted to make a world where people live and breathe. Even if it's just a shot of an empty sidewalk, there should be cigarette butts or some other visible traces that people actually walk through that setting." (Shinichiro Watanabe)
The entertainment team decided the appearance of planets in the early stages of production and only subsequently focused on the people who would live in them. During the events narrated In Cowboy Bebop, Mars is the planet most often used because, as explained by the head of sets Satoshi Toba, others were "unexpectedly difficult to use." In fact, each planet had some unique features that the writers had to consider in the course of history. Toba added that although the dramatic final scene should've happened on Venus, Mars was instead used at that time.
Watanabe has said that, since the early stages of production of Cowboy Bebop, he tried to motivate the creative team saying that they were working on something that would be remembered for the next ten, twenty, or perhaps even thirty years. Although many were skeptical then, the director said he was pleased to gave demonstrated the truth of his prediction and joked that if Bandai Visual had not intervened then, "now I'd be working behind the counter of a supermarket."
The soundtrack of Cowboy Bebop was composed by Yoko Kanno, who formed the Jazz/Blues band The Seatbelts specifically for the series, participating as a keyboard player. The Jazz, Country, and Blues music has been universally appreciated by critics and has contributed decisively to the climate and pace of the series. From the first broadcast of the series, Kanno and the Seatbelts have released seven albums, two extended plays, and two collections of the soundtrack of the series, all under the label Victor Entertainment.
The opening theme is "Tank!" Its intense pace combined with rapid animation scenes, made the introductory sequence one of the best known and appreciated in anime. The ending theme used in most episodes is "The Real Folk Blues", with lyrics written by Yuho Iwasato and sung by Mai Yamane. The ending theme of the 13th episode Jupiter Jazz Part 2 is "Space Lion", while the last episode The Real Folk Blues Part 2 is "Blue" with lyrics by Tim Jenson and sung by Mai Yamane.
Watanabe has said of Kanno, "It was inspired by herself and her her imagination, she came to me an said 'these are the songs we need in Cowboy Bebop' and has composed something completely on her own." Watanabe has also said, "Some of the songs in the second half of the series we had not even asked for, she just made them and we took them'" a behavior normally considered "unforgivable and unacceptable", but Watanabe believed this contributed to the success of Cowboy Bebop. The compositions of Kanno also inspired the director to create new scenes, not originally foreseen in the script, which in turn inspired the composer to create more music. Watanabe then described his collaboration with Yoko Kanno as "a game of catch between the two us in developing the music and creating the series," and he later that, although his work is often influenced by music, it is not the cor but rather part of a "fusion, action, and animation."
Genre and StyleEdit
The Japanese and American television broadcasts of Cowboy Bebop, before and after commercials, featured the words, "Cowboy Bebop is a new genre unto himself," written by Watanabe as a promotional presentation for the project and then added by a designer in the final cut without asking for the approval of the director. Although Watanabe has said of this phrase as an exaggeration, the genre of the show is a hybrid that goes from comedy to noir to action to thriller. The anime draws heavily from Western culture, particularly western, hardboiled, pulp fiction, and blaxploitation. But there are also strong influences of Hong Kong heroic bloodshed films such as The Killer and Hard Boiled. Obviously the influence of science fiction plays an important role in Cowboy Bebop, as evident of the setting and futuristic technology available, although the style is often considered retro. The western genre still holds the greatest influence within the show, generating a perpetual feeling of lawlessness noticeable for both those that are wanted and the members of the crew of the Bebop. The examples of the influence are manifold. The first example is Big Shot, the inconclusive TV show for bounty hunters watched by the protagonists almost every episode. Then there are the constant presences of saloons, desert landscapes, firearm battles, and Mexican standoffs.
The dark tones eventually permeate Cowboy Bebop especially in the character of Jet Black, disillusioned ex-detective who fought against corruption in his department only to find that it prefers to act outside the law. The moral of almost all the characters seems ambiguous, particularly in Faye Valentine. In the landscape, the influence of film noir can be seen mainly with the rainy and polluted city in Session 10: Ganymede Elegy and Session 20: Pierrot Le Fou.
The main story and cinematic styles are inspired from The Crow, Reservoir Dogs, Dirty Harry, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Oddysey, Alien, A Better Tomorrow 2, and Enter the Dragon.
The anime series was dubbed in the English language by Animaze. In 2001, Cowboy Bebop became the first anime title to be broadcast on Adult Swim in the United States. Since then, the series has aired continuously in rotation due to its success. It also aired on Anime Central in the UK.
Licensed by Bandai Entertainment for DVD releases in North America. It was also licensed by Beez Entertainment for English releases in the United Kingdom, and by Madman Entertainment for releases in Australia and New Zealand. The North American license now belongs to FUNimation and the European license belongs to Anime Limited as Bandai and its subsidiary, Beez, went defunct in 2012.
In 2014 Anime Limited released a collectors edition with two volumes each with two discs, the cases were designed to look like VHS tapes (a reference to the episode Speak Like A Child) the first volume included a booklet for character drawings and the second volume included drawings for vehicles and even the fridge from the episode Toys In The Attic.
On July 4, 2017, VICELAND announced that it would begin airing Cowboy Bebop in the UK from July 17.
- Sunrise (October 23, 1998 - April 23, 1999). Cowboy Bebop. episode 1 - 26. WOWOW.
- Cowboy Bebop Complete Anime Guide'. 1. Tokyopop. February 26, 2002. ISBN 1-931514-84-4.
- Cowboy Bebop Complete Anime Guide'. 2. Tokyopop. March 26, 2002. ISBN 1-931514-85-2.
- Cowboy Bebop Complete Anime Guide'. 3. Tokyopop. April 23, 2002. ISBN 1-931514-86-0.
- Cowboy Bebop Complete Anime Guide'. 4. Tokyopop. May 21, 2002. ISBN 1-931514-08-9.
- Cowboy Bebop Complete Anime Guide'. 5. Tokyopop. June 18, 2002. ISBN 1-59182-022-7.
- Cowboy Bebop Complete Anime Guide'. 6. Tokyopop. July 23, 2002. ISBN 1-59182-023-5.