Sunday, July 1, 2012

Anime review: Cowboy Bebop

Among the classic anime I set out to watch over the course of 2012 was Cowboy Bebop. For me, it ranked as one of the most important anime to watch over the summer months. I had seen a handful of episodes on Adult Swim, but never back-to-back, and never in the proper order. Eagerly, I journeyed across the stars in the company of Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, and Ein as they sought one bounty after another.

For those unfamiliar with Cowboy Bebop, the story begins with Spike and Jet as they chase after bounties across the galaxy. The story begins in the moment, and is very action packed during the first few episodes. During this time, they meet Faye and Ein (a sassy femme fatale and energetic Corgi respectively), both of whom ultimately join Spike and Jet to help build a stronger presence in the interstellar bounty hunter ring. Later on, the quirky and often comedic Ed boards their ship, the Bebop, lending her skills with computers to their cause.

The crew behaves as a sort of dysfunctional family - Spike and Jet are initially opposed to taking on any long-term passengers, while Faye frequently ignores their suggestions, and Ed will perform a few last-minute rescues. But their rag-tag nature is what makes them so lovable. As the series progresses, more and more of each character's past is gradually revealed, and the better part of the second half of the series is spent juggling these backstories until each one comes full-circle. To that end, Cowboy Bebop does a magnificent job of balancing the stylish action scenes with honest and human stories.

There is a different vision at play with each planet. Some are dusty wild west-style towns, others are highly industrial complexes, and one of the stops the Bebop makes is at a massive casino space station. The soundtrack is heavy on jazz music, from more traditional saxophone and trumpet pieces to experimental ones. But perhaps the best tunes come from other genres – tribal drums, electric guitar riffs, and chanting choirs accompany some of the most memorable and emotional moments of the show. All of this perpetuates the unique style Cowboy Bebop sets out to create. It is simply one of the most entertaining space operas to indulge in.

The animation is solid for its time. The last few episodes take a noticeable step up from the rest. Occasionally, some 3D models will be thrown into the traditionally animated environments. The way they are rendered makes them look a bit aged, but nowhere near as out-of-place as in something like Blue Submarine No. 6.

On the topic of those last few episodes, the two-part finale carries a much darker and more serious tone to it than all of the preceding ones. To a degree, it makes sense, as it serves to wrap up a tale that has been weaving in and out of the series since the beginning. But the fact that it is the only part of the series that is crafted in such a manner leads it to feel a little rough and lacking the signature Bebop style. There is also a subplot that comes to fruition in a most disappointing manner therein.

While there are only a few recurring characters outside of the main cast, each is fleshed out fairly well. Those that only show up for a single episode are generally quite memorable, whether it is because they are a hardened freight runner, an overweight mushroom salesman, or a goofball cowboy caricature. Still, the heart of the story belongs with the five main characters, and the creators of Cowboy Bebop should be commended for creating such a perfect group – especially since one of them only ever barks. Whether it is an action fix you’re after or a well-scripted story, Cowboy Bebop should satisfy both.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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