25 years is a long time as it spans the length of two-and-a-half decades. When it comes to entertainment, you have to ask, what shows or films have withstood the test of time? Have they aged well or not? For example, TV shows like Highlander continue to age well. The TV show Friends definitely has NOT withstood the test of time.
In terms of anime, Ai Yazawa's Nana (one of my all-time favorite anime shows) didn't age well because of all of the misogyny in the story (I'm talking about you, Takumi Ichinose) and the romanticism of toxic relationships (Nana O. and Ren Honjo). Great Teacher Onizuka (G.T.O.) hasn't withstood the test of time the titular protagonist would have been put in jail a long time ago.
Cowboy Bebop, though, aged well and continues to age well. I'm surprised but happy that this remains one of the most popular shows.
On April 3rd, 1998, which was 25 years ago, TV Tokyo aired the first episode of Cowboy Bebop, a unique science-fiction anime series whose legacy remains strong. Cowboy Bebop tells a story in a world that meshes facets of film noir, jazz music, western music, and more. Its themes, especially the interpretation of modern-day Western culture, made the series a hit with North American audiences.
Cowboy Bebop is one of those shows that helped people, me included, get through the roughest moments in our lives.
Humans have achieved space travel, which has been achieved now in real life, and made space colonization possible (we're definitely NOT at that stage yet, in real life). This is all thanks to advancements in technology that allowed for hyperspace travel across the Solar System which allows quick & easy travel between planets and moons.
Humans have populated planets like Mars and moons like Callisto.
There was a cost, though, the devastation of the planet Earth, which suffers rock showers on a regular basis, thanks to a decades-long accident, resulting in the explosion of a hyperspace gate, that took out a chunk of the planet's moon. That chunk broke up into smaller pieces that shower the Earth in random locations and at different times.
Most of humankind is forced to leave Earth and settle in outer space.
When humankind migrates to other places, the overall population increases. The human population has increased tenfold and that meant an increase in crime. The Inter-System Solar Police (I.S.S.P) is established to uphold and enforce the law but that's a tall order because there are more criminals there to handle.
The I.S.S.P outsources by establishing a legalized bounty-hunting system.
While the I.S.S.P. does its usual thing, bounty hunters (who are called “cowboys”) are tasked with bringing the bounties in, alive, for a reward.
Cowboy Bebop follows the lives of a group of bounty hunters on board the spaceship “Bebop.” The five members are brought together through a series of unexpected events which strengthens the plot of the story. Like the other bounty hunters, they get information on the latest bounties through a show called Big Shots.
The series is mostly episodic with a majority of the episodes involving the “bounty” of the week but does explore the character arcs of some of the main characters. The crew of the Bebop often ends up broke over a series of circumstances that prevents collecting on the bounty rewards.
Bounty Hunting Is Neither Simple Nor Is It Black and White
One bounty involved hunting the perpetrator involved in hijacking Earth's military satellites to “vandalize” the planet. It is revealed that the culprit is a sentient A.I who wants to tell stories of Earth's history. A clone A.I is created so that the original A.I can migrate to safety.
When the clone A.I is taken into custody, the heroes aren't able to collect the bounty because A.Is aren't considered eligible. The heroes did all this hard work and ended up with nothing.
One bounty (an eco-terrorist) got trapped in hypergate space forever because the I.S.S.P decided to cut its losses in order to prevent a virus from infecting a colony. The members of the Bebop had no choice but to sacrifice the bounty or risk getting trapped forever.
There were also bounties that proved to be not worth it at all.
The main characters have their own sense of justice that they abandon a bounty hunt after learning the truth of the circumstances. They would rather turn down a bounty assignment rather than risk their integrity.
It doesn't matter how down on their luck they are, they have their own moral codes that are more important than anything else. One example is when Spike Spiegel, one of the main characters, won a bet that would've gotten him a huge stack of Wulongs (the universal currency in the story). He only took back the money he bet and left the stack alone because he knew the reputation of the person that he won the bet.
Spike believed that taking the huge stack would be disrespectful to that person's legacy.
In the case of one bounty, a former programmer who's a chess master, the Bebop crew chose not to pursue the bounty and warned the party who issued the bounty to leave the programmer alone. Once the Bebop crew learned the truth about the chess master's actions, they wanted to let the man live his last days in peace, as he was senile, and that his actions were justified.
The Bebop crew chose justice even though they went empty-handed at the end. Ed, a member of the Bebop crew, did find a formidable opponent in chess, though.
They do occasionally have success with bounties but the money is soon spent, especially by Faye.
Some bounty hunts have a couple of unique, comical, outcomes.
The Dysfunctional Surrogate Family That Is The Bebop Crew
The crew originally started out as a two-person team, Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, respectively, a former hitman for the Mars-based Red Dragon Syndicate and a former detective with the I.S.S.P. It is unknown how the two crossed paths and became partners, though. Their intimate knowledge in their fields is invaluable when it comes to hunting certain bounties.
One example is the bounty placed on a person named Mao, a leader of the Red Dragon Syndicate, who was once Spike's mentor and father figure. Once Mao's bounty was announced, Spike knew what places to hit up.
Faye failed to do her research on Mao and nearly got killed for it. This did lead to the comical ending of Spike telling Faye that her singing sucked, which is one of the most priceless scenes in Cowboy Bebop.
This would lead to Spike's past eventually catching up to him where people get hurt or killed in the process.
Jet's past with the I.S.S.P is also invaluable with one example involving an outer space casino that's after a special poker chip with a special program installed. When Jet learned about the chip, he was reminded of a case that involved a murdered programmer and his missing program. He uses that to his advantage.
Despite leaving the cop life behind, Jet retains his relationships. His old partner becomes an important source of exclusive intel that increases the crew's chances of apprehending certain bounty heads.
Faye's past is just as tragic as Spike's and Jet's pasts. She is introduced as someone who had woken from almost 60 years of cryosleep with no memories of her past only to learn that she owns a substantial debt, no fault of her own, for the decades of medical care. After being tricked by a con man, Faye inherits a lot more debt.
She's always on the prowl to make a lot of money in a short amount of time which often leads her to backstab her fellow crewmates from time to time.
Despite her attitude, Jet and Spike are happy she's around even though neither of them will admit it. It is through the story that Faye realizes that the Bebop crew is now the only family that she has after regaining all of her memories.
Ed and Ein complete the crew with the former being the typical young member and the latter being the unofficial mascot. The combined skills of Ed and Ein supplement the skills & knowledge of everyone else, though everyone else fails to realize it.
Ed provided the necessary comic relief and joy that was the necessary counterbalance to the dispositions of the grownups.
This is a dysfunctional family that I found myself relating to as I come from a dysfunctional family. It is one of the reasons I felt drawn to this iconic series. Despite having no blood relations, they treat each other like actual family members.
The dynamic reminds me of something an old flame told me, treat your family members like friends and treat your friends like family members. I see that embodied in the crew of the Bebop because they're somewhat friends but they treat each other like family members.
They're definitely a family and it becomes apparent in the last few episodes of the anime. I felt solace that the story taught the moral that it was all right to be emotionally damaged. With the exception of Ed and Ein, the other three are emotionally damaged. Spike, Jet, and Faye are trying to deal with their personal and emotionally damaging traumas.
Music played a very integral part in the show and is considered to be the “fifth cast member.” My emotional chords were crazily struck when hearing certain tracks from the anime. I love the opening theme “Tank!” by Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts which is upbeat to get the audiences pumped up for what's to come in the latest episode.
If I had enough (booze) to drink, I would be bawling in tears if I listened to the track “Call Me, Call Me.” This track, alone, made me really appreciate the full-length film Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' On Heaven's Door.
My favorite track from the series was the ending theme “The Real Folk Blues” which is something I can sit back and relax to, especially when I just want to get piss drunk in the comfort of my bedroom. I believe that this song is one of the best songs that I ever heard. The Japanese vocals blended very well with the music.
Cowboy Bebop wouldn't be what it is without the music.
The Voicework of Cowboy Bebop
The English dubbing of the show was wonderful. Jet is considered Black, spiritually, because he is voiced by Beau Billingslea. That would translate decades later with Netflix's live-action adaptation of the show with actor Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage and The Deuce), not to be confused with NBA player Mustafa Shakur, being cast in the role of Jet Black.
I became a fan of Billingslea's voicework because of his role as Jet. His role as Bear Walken was one of the reasons I watched the anime adaptation of Gungrave.
Steven Blum really nailed it with the voice of Spike. There was a coolness in Spike's voice that resonated with me and I have followed most of his work since. This is the one role that would cement Blum's accolade as being the “King of Anime.” That role was the crucial stepping stone for Blum's career in voice acting and now passes on his knowledge through BlumVox Studio.
I also became a fan of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn's voicework, too, because of how she voiced Julia. It would be a voice that I looked forward to hearing in other works such as Naruto, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and more.
Wendee Lee nailed it as Faye and I've been a fan of her voicework, too. Her voice was perfect for Faye and I cannot imagine someone else doing the English dubbing.
The same applies to Melissa Fahn whose voicework as Ed has been imprinted in my brain. I CANNOT imagine someone else doing the English dubbing for Ed.
It's also amazing that the five of them kept in touch with each other over those years and even worked with each other again on future projects.
The Legacy Continues Strong
One of the reasons that Cowboy Bebop's legacy remains strong is that mostly everything was grounded in reality. There were mostly no alien lifeforms, except for a mysterious mass that secretly invaded the Bebop, and everything was a reflection of everyday life in the modern era. The world was a reflection of our world but in outer space.
The family dynamic, itself, enticed me to watch Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' On Heaven's Door.
The franchise expanded beyond the show and film through a number of mediums. This is a show that I would recommend to anybody, not just anime fans.
You can read my other Cowboy Bebop articles through these links