Cowboy Bebop: A New Genre unto Itself


R E V I E W – A N I M E


Noosrat Tasneem


My quarantine days were filled with a constant binging of numerous shows and films. Quite recently, anime has taken a big bite out of my impounding watch-list. One of these anime was none other than Cowboy Bebop (カウボーイビバップ), the hotshot of the 90s Japanimation acclaimed to this day by many as one of the best animes ever produced. During my binge frenzy, I stumbled upon this show and the first episode itself changed the way I was going to watch it. It’s a show made to be savoured, to be appreciated.

Cowboy Bebop is a genre-busting show, transcending any one category as it so arrogantly announced in the mid episode breaks that it’s “a work that becomes a new genre itself”, which director Shinichirō Watanabe later called an exaggeration, but I ardently disagree. It’s a pulpy sci-fi cyberpunk western set in 2071, in a universe where earth is in ruins after an accident with a hyperspace gateway and humanity is relocated to the other planets and moons of the solar system. Under these volatile circumstances, understandably, criminal activities are on the rise and to combat that, the Inter Solar System Police (ISSP) legalised bounty hunting. The legally registered bounty hunters, also called cowboys, keep track of the bounty announcements and catch them alive to collect the reward money. 

The world setting is very similar to our own which makes the future believable. This show explored a plethora of themes loneliness, boredom, the hold of past on us, existentialism, etc. The rhythm of the show is very solemn except for the occasional comedic reliefs. It’s a space opera with sci-fi and noir elements highlighting the western heart of it. The main characters are all outlaws playing the role of cowboys, trying to sort out their relationships with their past, figuring out their raison d’etre while combatting their inherent existential ennui. The universe of Cowboy Bebop is filled with hyperspace gates and video players, eco-politics and fairgrounds, spaceships, and Native American shamans. It’s a multiethnic complex set and yet intrinsically relatable. 

I absolutely loved loved loved the music of this show! Yoko Kanno and her band Seatbelts did a marvelous job composing the music. It’s jazzy western turned blues turned opera and the intro Tank! alone is amazing enough to speak for the rest. The bluegrassy banjo with the mixture of swing music and Japanese pop the music is enthrallingly unique and definitely mind blowing.

Cowboy Bebop (1998): Jet, Spike, Fay, Ed, and Ein (from left to right)

The initial two characters are Spike Spiegel, who previously belonged to a Chinese criminal syndicate called the Red Dragon and Jet Black who used to be an ISSP officer in Venus. They are bounty hunters living in a spaceship called Bebop. Spike is calm and uninterested with a near numbing lethargy. Jet is the clear opposite of him serious, hardworking, and almost a Jack of all trades. Later, the Bebop crew increases as two more characters are introduced. Fay Valentine is a con artist, living by her own rules and yet, underneath it all, she too is haunted by her past or rather, the lack of it. Edward is a young, eccentric, skilled hacker who claims to be 13 and prefers to be called Ed. There is also a genetically engineered dog called Ein with human-like intelligence. Throughout the show, they get involved in complex violent incidents, confronted by their past which often results in disasters leaving them with no money or food. 

The main focus of the story revolves around Spike Spiegel, his past, and its effect on him. Spike is partly the quintessential cowboy persona with his cool, cavalier attitude and partly a thoughtful, not so straight forward young man who has lost any expectation from the future as he considers his past (filled with a lost love, Julia and his archenemy, Vicious) has defined him (with cool dialogues like “whatever happens, happens”). 

And I have to say, the Japanese voice acting was excellent and complements every character.

Watching Cowboy Bebop is an experience itself. I am not much of a re-watch person, but this is one of those shows where you keep going back. It’s a must-watch for any anime lover and worth the time for even those who are not so keen on anime.

On a concluding note, I’d say that the ending of the show is very fitting. We get to see the real folk blues. It ends with a ‘bang’ — both literally and rhetorically. The episodic nature of this anime is beguilingly omnipresent, yet it satisfyingly conveys one coherent message for the entire show “You’re gonna carry that weight.” But it’s really hard to say goodbye. So, I’d rather say, “See you, space cowboy” than “Adiós”.

 


Noosrat Tasneem sees the many worlds through frames.

 

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