Author: Kevin Leathers
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Classics of Anime – Cowboy Bebop
Ask a fan to think back to the '90s and name the anime that they believed was standout, you’d get the usual suspects like Ghost in the Shell and Evangelion. While that pair are classics in their own right, be it their design, animation or storyline, they can’t be defined as cool. Cool has become somewhat of a subjective word over the years and with its constant reuse in varying contexts, it becomes hard to pin down what it actually means. Which is propbably why Cowboy Bebop manages to raise itself to legendary status as a classic, because as soon as the first episode fires up, you just know that this series simply sweats cool.
Well, it is all well and good for me to sit here and tell you that this series is awesome in the opening paragraph. No doubt you’ve been bombarded before by people who think you should watch this series or take in that show because it was seven shades of awesome. Sometimes they are right. Others... not so much. So we are going to break Cowboy Bebop down into its separate elements and take a look at what makes this series such a classic.
First a little background check. Cowboy Bebop is the creation of Shinichirō Watanabe, with the series being his first TV anime there were high expectations. After the release of Macross Plus, the director became well known for his ability to mix audio and visual chemistry together to make something that was not only unique but could also prove to be entertaining. A rare mixture in any medium for sure. Mixing together the musical genius of Yoko Kanno and writer Keiko Nobumoto, the series begun to take shape.
What is evident from much of Watanabe’s work is how the music influences other aspects of the work. Moreso, the era from where the music comes helps even further to make a unique world for the story and characters to inhabit, taking notes from the music and still creating believable worlds. With Cowboy Bebop, a Jazz style using influences from the 1940s-60s was used as the primary form of music for the series. With it, American culture was part of the influence as well as the counterculture of the period with the beat generation.
Ship designs, character designs, animation, technology all use the influences of American during the 40s-50s. The characters themselves are the embodiment of the period; from Spike the laid-back bounty hunter who is more interested in keeping food in his stomach rather than looking at the long-term, to Jet, the ex-cop who is disillusioned by the police force he once worked with, but is as tough as nails and gets more than a little annoyed by Spike’s laid-back ways. Faye is probably the most iconic of the group, not for being a damsel in distress, but as a woman who isn’t afraid to take what she wants, when she wants, how she wants. Then there is Ed. What can be said about the crazy computer wizkid herself that hasn’t been mentioned many times before? An odd-ball crew with little to no need to think beyond what is ahead of them and making sure that they reach their next target.
But that is one of the reasons why Cowboy Bebop is such an entertaining watch. Mixing together an odd-ball cast of characters, in situations which have a healthy dose of sci-fi and western mixed in with some incredibly toe-tapping jazz and you have something that is just incredible to watch. The appeal comes from the episodes themselves. While an over arcing storyline is present, each episode is also happily self-contained with only a couple of occasions where it flows into a two-parter. While some might see this as limiting, at the time it was a breath of fresh air to have a series that you could kick back and enjoy without too much thought. But for a series to get into your head with the viewer thinking too much about what is happening is actually an impressive feat - That it can be watched at leisure, yet still allow you to pick up all the little details from the fights, stories and characters make it a masterpiece in visual entertainment.
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