Cowboy Bebop (Series, Episodes 1-26)
Plot = 7/10
Characters = 8/10
Music = 10/10
Overall = 8/10
The plot to Cowboy Bebop at first appears to be rather simple, Spike Spiegel and Jet Black fly around the galaxy aboard the Bebop, bringing perpetrators of the law to justice and making themselves a tidy profit whilst they’re at it right? Well no, there is slightly more to it that that.
The key to Cowboy Bebop is it’s flawless ability to mix past and present into a packageable product, a plot that would in most cases prove to be one-dimensional or lacking is given a hint of having a greater meaning when the episodes that relate to the past of the characters are thrown in. For example, at the beginning of the series we have four episodes, broadly speaking, three of these are watchable at best whilst the fourth is nonsense, carrying on like this, the series would be mediocre at best. Then comes along Session #5 “Ballad of Fallen Angels”, a well-crafted masterpiece of an episode which reflects the side of Spike which we have yet to see and poses the questions that will keep the viewer watching through to the end.
That’s Bebop in a nutshell, a small amount of meaningful episodes thrown amongst a great series of ‘fillers’. This is where it gets even more interesting for some of these ‘filler’ episodes are very good! Sessions #6 & #8 “Sympathy for the devil” and “Waltz for Venus” could very successfully be made into a feature-length film themselves and both very easily bring a tear to the eyes of even the most dry of eyes.
Some of the more plot-driven episodes are rather beautiful also, session # 18 “Speak like a child” at the end was one of the most delicate and sensitively handled episodes of anime I have seen for a long time, doing more for building the empathy between myself and the character of Faye than the entire series had managed to do so! Session # 10 “Ganymede Elegy” was probably the biggest surprise to myself. Having written off Jet as a secondary character, this episode threw him into the centre and gave him the dark, sorrowful past that all Bebop characters seem to have behind them.
The pinnacle of the plot in my eyes comes in sessions #12 and #13, the two parts of “Jupiter Jazz”. These don’t advance the plot that much, but are of such quality that I think they show the best aspects of the series. From the showdown between Spike and Vicious to the loneliness of Faye in the Jazz club…showing that the strength of the series is not particularly single aspects but rather the entire product as a whole.
There are a number of problems with the plot however, most namely that a lot of the times the ‘humour’ in the series is then hit with a dark twist behind it (Session #20 Pierrot Le Fou) and in a lot of the cases this works…but it puts the series beyond the enjoyment of the more light-hearted anime fan I feel. The ‘filler’ episodes can also get frustrating unless you’re planning to watch it all in one sitting and some are just of a poor quality not befitting the series (Session #19 Wild Horses and Session #23 Brain Scratch come to mind).
But apart from these problems, the series sticks to its guns…it knows what it does well and tries to accomplish this throughout. Cowboy Bebop fluctuates between brilliance and mediocrity in almost equal measure but due to its fantastic conclusion that I haven’t the literary talent to describe, I have to admit I was gripped by it, even during the weakest of episodes.
Reminds me of a phrase that I used to see on my school reports, “Good, but can do better.” Many characters in this series are done very well, fluctuating between tremendously life-like to beyond human experience. In short, the characters work. You will feel for them, have your favourites and hate some of them…all you can ask for really.
Spike Spiegel is one of the greatest creations a writer could ever come up with (No, it’s not an over-statement) At first, he comes across as a lovable goofball, trying to act cool in a world that fits him. Slowly but surely Spike is developed into the pinnacle of melancholy, a tragic hero with a past better best forgotten but that he cannot let go of. It’s hard to work out what his reason for living is, is he trying to be free? Or is the only way he can live to be trapped in the past? Either way, Spike will have questions asked of his character a long time after watching the series.
The two secondary characters, Jet and Faye aren’t quite as developed and both struggle to different extents to make an impression on the viewer. Jet is a lovable character. An old, wise head with old-world values in a brave new world. His past is one of lost love and a lost place but due to his easy-going attitude in the present, it’s very easy to like him, very well written and a totally realistic character.
Faye’s a different matter all together. I found her to be a character that just didn’t “work”. The building blocks were there but it seemed that her past didn’t justify her demeanour in the present, she’s a lonesome character but you don’t feel for her because of her abrasive nature and selfish attitude. More is done for her character in one episode (Session #18 Speak like a child) than the rest of the series put together. Her issues aren’t resolved come the end of the series and it’s hard to imagine where she would go from there. In short, Faye Valentine is a bit of a disappointment.
Radical Edward doesn’t really count as a character to be reviewed in my eyes, used for comic relief and maybe the odd functional reason the technical aspects of the series. Poor development and a weak past hamper her ability to be viewed upon as a “serious” member of the cowboy bebop cast.
The characters that appear frequently in the images of Spike’s past are obviously not developed to a large extent but are just used as devices to bring out the hidden depths to Spike. Vicious as the villain does a job adequately but there’s nothing new or innovative in his character and Julia struggles to make an impact as anything more than the woman of Spike.
There are a few standout performances in the series by characters…Rocco in “Waltz for Venus” was brilliant, a decent guy mixed up in things above his head but still having a good heart. Teddy Bomber in “Cowboy Funk” was quite possibly the funniest single aspect in the entire series. To a lesser extent, a romantic, tragic figure is very well presented in the form of Gren in “Jupiter Jazz”.
Most importantly, the background characters such as these were very, very realistic and served as great foils to build a story around.
In conclusion, although some characters failed to make the desired impact, a select few truly came to life and were easy to empathise with; tragic and thought provoking…which is what the series is all about.
What does music seek to achieve during an anime series? Probably most notably, the fit and supplement the mood of the series. If this series achieved nothing else, it surely got this right.
Opening theme “Tank!” when I first heard it, I thought was awful. But when coupled with the outstanding “Real Folk Blues” come the ending credits, I have to admit it work. From the upbeat, lifestyles lived by the characters in the present being reflected in the opening, to the mournful, sorrowful pasts left behind as shown in the ending credits. Sometimes you just have to give Yoko Kanno major acknowledgement when she does something this well.
However, anyone who’s seen anything of Cowboy Bebop knows that the music is much more than just an opening and ending theme…it’s constant, it differentiates and more importantly it works.
The pieces that appear during the series are of such a high quality, it’s ridiculous. Firstly it has to be noted that the choice of where each piece goes is perfect. The ending to Session #13 “Jupiter Jazz (Part 2)” is a brave use of the piece “Space Lion” which is a sorrowful, but majestic sax piece accompanied by tribal drums. Saying it again, it just “works”.
The soundtrack is unsurprisingly blues and jazz based which for a big fan of both these genres is a treat. The vocal pieces can really stand out by themselves, pieces such as “Want it all back” and “Call me call me” are used sparingly in the series but are both magnificent.
Of course grandeur is not the be all and end all. The most poignant tune has to be the wonderfully simple “Memory” which is most notably used in the final episode to great effect and also highly ironically in many of Spike’s recollections of gunfights.
It would be very easy to write an amazingly long review of the music in this series for it is that good! Perfect pieces fit every situation but instead of that…just watch the last episode’s conclusion when the credits come up and “Blue” suddenly begins to play. Perfection!
A fully professional product that is thorough and well done throughout. The series does have its weak points but for pure mood and as an emotional roller coaster there isn’t anything better out there. It is flawed but these flaws can be overcome by even the most lukewarm fan. This is an enjoyable experience full of beauty.
Episode Number: 001
Jet and Spike must track down a dealer of a dangerous, very addictive drug which induces berserker rages. Has Spike been swayed by the charms of a mother-to-be? Can even Jet’s strength stand up to the power of “Red Eyes”?
Episode Number: 002
Stray Dog Strut
Spike and Jet are hired to recover an item stolen from a research scientist’s laboratory. Spike is led on a wild chase first by the thief and then by the item itself! But this dog is more than it appears to be, and is the product of some unusual research.
Episode Number: 003
Honky Tonk Woman
As luck would have it, Spike and Jet stumble across Faye Valentine, a wanted criminal, in a casino on Mars. But Faye is more than a handful and she holds her own against them and her other would-be pursuers. She’s in the middle of a very shady deal, but whose side is she really on?
Episode Number: 004
The eco-terrorist group known as the “Space Warriors” stage a hit on a casino. They intend to hold a world hostage with an experimental virus, but Spike and Jet, lured by the 25 million bounty on the leader’s head, aren’t going to let them get away with it.
Episode Number: 005
Ballad of the Fallen Angels
Spike’s past comes back to haunt him as he goes after a bounty on a member of the Red Dragon Syndicate. But it’s a set up, and if Spike is going to survive – and rescue the impetuous Faye as well – he will have to face his old friend and comrade, Vicious, alone.
Episode Number: 006
Sympathy for the Devil
While chasing another bounty, Spike and Jet meet Wen, a musical prodigy. But they immediately notice that there is something strange about him. Is there a connection between this kid and the stone a man handed to Spike with his dying breath?
Episode Number: 007
Heavy Metal Queen
Spike meets up with space trucker VT. A strong, independent woman, she and Spike seem to become fast friends until she learns he’s a bounty hunter. Their paths cross again however, as VT is after a guy who hit and run one of her friends. When the situation turns grim, they will have to put their differences aside if they are to survive.
Episode Number: 008
Waltz for Venus
Venus is a beautiful planet, now that it’s been terraformed. Unfortunately, the floating plants used to maintain the environment make some people sick. The Bebop crew is pursuing another bounty here, and Spike seems to have reluctantly accepted a young man named Roco as a pupil. But Roco is not all he seems, and he is in fact a wanted man. But he’s not the bad guy he appears to be. What’s a bounty hunter to do?
Episode Number: 009
Jamming with Edward
The crew of the Bebop encounter the genius hacker known as Ed, but only after solving a complex mystery. Bored with hacking, Ed wants to go with the Bebop crew, but they really don’t want a kid tagging along and getting in the way. So Ed sets out to change their minds…
Episode Number: 010
The Bebop returns to Ganymede, Jet’s home, to drop off a criminal they’ve captured. But this trip home for Jet brings back only painful memories. While he goes to visit someone from his past, Spike gets a lead on a new bounty from the local cops. Fate is rarely kind.
Episode Number: 011
Toys in the Attic
There’s an intruder on the Bebop! A strange organism roams the ship in search of – what? It’s touch causes great illness, and the crew being to fall prey to it. Is it an alien invader? A disease? Soon only Spike and Ed are left to deal with this dangerous creature…
Episode Number: 012
Jupiter Jazz PT 1
Faye’s abandoned the Bebop – and taken their cash! When they have Ed search for her, one name comes up: Julia. Spike sets of on his own to find his long-lost love, but only finds company in a strange man known as Gren in the town of the Blue Crow, a place without women. And Vicious is somehow involved in all of this.
Episode Number: 013
Jupiter Jazz PT 2
All roads lead to Vicious as Spike searches for Julia, Jet tracks down Faye, Faye confronts Gren, and Gren reveals his secrets. But as Spike looks desperately for answers, Julia is nowhere to be found. Can Spike get his answers from Gren before it’s too late?
Episode Number: 014
Toll booths at the interstellar travel gates have become the scene of high-tech robberies. There’s a large bounty for the culprit, but over 20 perpetrators are arrested. The Bebop crew pools its information and tried to track down the mastermind behind all this, but their only clue is a chess piece, and even that seems worthless.
Episode Number: 015
My Funny Valentine
Faye is brash, reckless, and sometimes uncouth. But who is Faye Valentine really? Even she doesn’t know. All she knows is that her story began over fifty years ago!
Episode Number: 016
Black Dog Serenade
A riot on a prison ship reunited Jet with his old partner from his days with the ISSP. The criminal who took over the ship is the one responsible for the loss of Jet’s arm. And now, Jet, the Black Dog, has a score to settle. And once the Black Dog bites, he doesn’t let go.
Episode Number: 017
The Bebop is out of fuel, the crew is out of cash, and now, they’re out of food. Driven by hunger, Ed and Ein set off on a hunt for food and wind up in the middle of the strangest bounty hunt yet. What can a thirteen-year-old genius and a data dog do against their adversaries? Plenty!
Episode Number: 018
Speak like a Child
A package comes for Faye – COD of course. So when she refuses to open it, Spike and Jet take the liberty of seeing what’s inside. Their search for the equipment needed to decipher this package takes them to the ruins of Earth, and lead them back to Faye’s past.
Episode Number: 019
While Spike is off getting his ship overhauled, Jet, Faye, Ed and Ein go after the “Space Pirates”. Unfortunately, though, they soon find themselves at the mercy of a computer virus. It’s up to Spike to get them out of a difficult situation, and time is running out.
Episode Number: 020
Pierrot Le Fou
Spike stumbles across a strange-looking man who has just murdered some high-ranking ISSP officials. After narrowly escaping for the first time, he finds himself being hunted by a madman with incredible paranormal abilities. When the killer invites Spike to a party, it’s an invitation he can’t refuse…
Episode Number: 021
Boogie Woogie Feng Shui
Jet gets some mysterious mail from an old acquaintance, but when he arrives to meet him, he finds he’s too late. He does, however, wind up helping out his friend’s daughter as they try to unravel the mystery of the Sun Stone. But why is Jet going to so much trouble?
Episode Number: 022
The criminal Teddy Bomber is blowing up buildings. Spike almost has him caught, until the bounty hunter known as Andy shows up. Now, Spike has a new rival. As Spike and Andy continue to lock horns, who will come out on top? And is anyone going to catch Teddy Bomber?
Episode Number: 023
Faye in an attempt to flee her debt, seems to have joined a cult called Scratch, which encourages migrating the human soul into electronic form and forsaking the body. But the leader of this cult is wanted by the police after a string of his followers commit suicide. Now, the Bebop crew has to rescue Faye and get to the bottom of “Scratch” before more people die.
Episode Number: 024
Hard Luck Woman
Still haunted by her missing past, Faye searches for more clues to her identity. But is seems that one of her crewmembers is having more luck. Ed is reunited with her father, but there’s an annoying little problem of a bounty that needs to be settled. Of course the identity of this strange man is suspect, but if he really is Ed’s father, what will she do?
Episode Number: 025
The Real Folk Blues PT 1
Spike has been searching for Julia for what seems like forever, but he has never wavered his determination to find her. Now, at long last, he is reunited with his one true love. But will this reunion bring happiness or only more sadness to a life that’s already full of sorrow?
Episode Number: 026
The Real Folk Blues PT 2
Spike convinces Julia to leave with him, to put the past behind them once and for all. However, Vicious, their onetime friend, is not about to let them just walk away. Spike and Julia must now face the greatest danger of their lives, and the stakes are their happiness, and their very lives.