It’s a daunting task having to review such a seminal anime series as Cowboy Bebop. From the iconic image of the afro-sporting Spike taking a drag from one of his bent up old cigarettes to Yoko Kanno’s career defining, jazz influenced musical score; this series is a landmark in Japanese animation and a classic in every sense of the word.
Meet Spike and Jet Black, inter-planetary bounty hunters and polar opposite personalities. While Spike is Bruce Lee version 2; a laid back marital artist who travels the galaxy searching for his next meal, Jet Black is an up-tight, cautious middle-aged man who enjoys nothing more than trimming his bonzai trees.
Together, they pilot a battle-scarred old spaceship called the ‘Bebop’, making their money by hunting down (often strange!) criminals and claiming the bounties placed on their heads. Imagine the lawless, every-man-for-himself American ‘old West’ and then imagine a time when new worlds and solar systems are being explored; this is Cowboy Bebop, a retreading of the old Western genre set in a far off, distant future.
The first episode sets the relaxed, bitter-sweet tone of Cowboy Bebop perfectly; an action packed story underpinned by the loveable banter between Spike and Jet and concluded with a heartfelt, tragic climax; outlining the strength, honourable principles and sheer desperation that lay within the human spirit.
This episode is also a shining example of Yoko Kanno’s fantastic score; a nigh-on perfect fusion of music and animation. Kanno’s soundtrack for Cowboy Bebop is as important a character in this series as either Spike or Jet- it is the thread that binds us to these characters, phonetically illustrating the strength of their emotions and the paths they must walk.
Gradually, we meet two new members of the Bebop crew. The voluptuous, yappy Faye Valentine and a super smart dog by the name of Ein; their introductions add a further, whiney edge Spike and Jet- men who couldn’t exactly be described as the most welcoming or socially gifted of hosts.
A criticism often aimed at Cowboy Bebop is that many are frustrated by its episodic nature. Indeed, while there is little-to-no on going plotline established in these first five episodes, the characters are so strong, so much fun to watch, that you just tend to let yourself be carried along for the ride, wooed by the immense sense of style, setting and mood that floods each and every episode. From episodes like ‘Asteroid Blues’ to ‘Honkey Tonk Women’- these are gems of humour, drama and action perfectly balanced by the zany or just plain cool characterization of supporting villains or passers-by.
Talking of villains, during the final episode on this disc; ‘Ballad of Fallen Angels’, we finally learn a little about Spike’s past. Again, this episode is dominated not so much by the Bebop crew as by a particularly bleak looking young fellow going by the name of Vicious; Spike’s old nemesis who has risen up the ranks of a powerful mafia syndicate. What follows is a fantastic mixture of music, flashbacks, style and action that will undoubtedly claim the hearts of many first time watchers.
Honestly, I found this review almost impossible to write. Cowboy Bebop #1 is a great introduction to a classic anime series. Musically, there is no better than this. Everything about this show is just so damn cool, exciting and engaging that I sat through these episodes and was left aching for more. Each of the characters are perfectly defined, quirky in their personalities and wonderful to watch interacting. Yes, the UK finally has Cowboy Bebop, bring on the next volume, fast.