Cowboy Bebop needs no introduction, but for the sake of the 2 people out there who don’t know what it is I’ll lay it down for you: Cowboy Bebop is an anime and manga written by Cain Kuga (also including a production team led by director Shinichirō Watanabe, screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto, mechanical designer Kimitoshi Yamane, and composer Yoko Kanno). We’re going to focus on the anime part.
The anime had its original run on Adult Swim in 2001, and all the youngins like me who were staying up late on school nights got our first real taste of anime with this show and most of us didn’t even know it. Cowboy Bebop is widely considered one of the best animes of all time, or extremely overrated depending on who you talk to. Now whether you think it’s the best or not, there’s one thing that you can’t deny, and that is the fact that Cowboy Bebop has stood the test of time, and even after more than a decade since its original run in America it’s still just as funky fresh as it was back then. These are some of the reasons why I feel Cowboy Bebop is timeless and will be enjoyable for decades to come.
Let’s get the most obvious reason out of the way first: the soundtrack. Now if you haven’t listened to the full original soundtrack then I advise you to listen on YouTube or buy it somewhere. The soundtrack features music from “The Seatbelts,” a Japanese jazz band led by composer Yoko Kanno, and every single song on that soundtrack is different and unique while being jazzy and funky all the while. The ending theme, “The Real Folk Blues,” captures us with its melody and vocals, while the opening theme “Tank” ignited us with its hard start. The intro monologue of Tank is still one of the coolest things to me. “Ok 3,2,1 Let’s Jam” is still the hypest shit.
The soundtrack was used in every episode, and if you know which episode each song was used in it just makes the soundtrack even sweeter. One of my personal favorite songs on the OST is “Too Good Too Bad,” and I still jam out to it almost everyday. The soundtrack features fast and slow melodies that can be used in almost any situation whether you’re just taking a stroll, driving, or flying a Swordfish in space. You can bust out the soundtrack and make whatever you’re doing even better. Believe me.
Now let’s get to the meat of Cowboy Bebop, and also the thing that some people use to knock down the show: the story. The story of Cowboy Bebop is episodic, meaning most of the episodes have their own contained story with a beginning and an end inside of of each. The show can introduce characters, develop them, and end their story in a span of a single episode, which might not appeal to some, and that’s understandable if it’s not your thing.
One episode of Cowboy Bebop feels completely different than the next, and with every episode having a different feel it’s hard to get bored or feel the show is getting stale. The episodic format also helps to flesh out the main characters with its subtle inclusion of their pasts and how they came to be the characters we know and love. Sometimes it would be through flashbacks, or just from things that were stated by the characters themselves that add a sense of realness to them. There is also an overarching story that was hinted at throughout the show, but I wouldn’t really consider it the main story line.
You’ll most likely realize that the story of Cowboy Bebop is actually the characters themselves, and as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. We start to care more and more about them and their relationships with each other more than we realize, and by the time the show ends it will have hit us like a Falcon Punch. Spike, Faye, Jet, and Edward all have something in common in regards to their stories: the past. That isn’t to say that their pasts connect, but that their pasts all have an important effect on them.
Whether it’s Spike and his past with the syndicate, Faye and her journey to find out who she really is and where she comes from, Jet with his prosthetic arm that he chooses to keep even though science has advanced enough to where they can fix it completely, and then we have Edward and her past with her father that gets explored in the show as well.
Whether a character is leaving to start their own journey, learning about their past, or heading into a battle they know they can’t win, the show continues to show the ins and outs of each and we really feel like we know them. The episodic formula of Cowboy Bebop means that every episode might not be exclusively connected, and instead might have little references about past episodes in them and that makes this show feel a little bit like real life. In life everyday is different — some days might feel the same, but there are tiny differences and the episodic formula of Cowboy Bebop is the epitome of that. Cowboy Bebop takes us into the life of the characters from beginning to end and we laugh and cry every step of the way.
Another thing I’d like to point out is the setting of the show. The western-space-cowboy feel is appealing to anyone and has elements of old and new inside of it. It can go from a deserted wasteland to an overpopulated city without feeling out of place in any regard. Cowboy Bebop‘s setting is our solar system, which is another thing that stays fresh even a decade after the show’s original run. They fly to planets seeking out bounties and hunting them down for money and connecting with each other all the while. The planets and moons that are visited all have their own unique feel to them which adds to how the episode feels overall. The cool space bounty hunter shtick never gets old and most likely never will.
The show also included a lot of references, most notably in the end of each episode there’s a card with words on the bottom. “See You Space Cowboy” is the most prominent one that is used throughout the series and when that line is altered to fit the episode we can really appreciate it. “See You Space Samurai” is the one that still tugs on my heart strings, and “See You Cowgirl, Someday, Somewhere!” The episode “Toys in the Attic” is a reference to the movie alien with its tone and the fact that you really don’t see the thing that’s attacking the crew. Spike uses a fighting style that resembles Bruce Lee’s “Jeet Kune Do,” and in episode 2 of the show there’s a fight that is a homage to a fight scene in the movie Game of Death.
In addition to the multiple movie references, the title of the episodes are usually song references themselves. For example, the episode titled “Stray Dog Strut” is a reference to the song “Stray Cat Strut” by the Stray Cats. A more notable reference is an episode called “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is of course a reference to the Queen song of the same name. There are enough references to appeal to everywhere and they add to the timelessness of the show.
The last and final thing that makes Cowboy Bebop timeless is the show’s ending itself. The climax of the show is a powerful battle and has a certain weight to it that viewers can feel. It impacts all the characters that we’ve grown to love. The characters that we’ve seen connect and sometimes separate all lead up to the final episode and it ends with a resounding bang. And then finally, after all we’ve been through, after all the characters have been through, it’s over.
The ending card reads “You’re gonna carry that weight.” It references the weight that the characters have been carrying from their pasts. The weight of all the memories they’ve shared together, and finally, the weight that we, the viewers will carry with us every time we remember Cowboy Bebop. This anime has stood the test of time because of the weight it has on fans and the anime industry itself, and you know what? I’m proud to be one of the many who carries that weight. We carry that weight together. So now, I leave you all with a final “See You Space Cowboy, Someday, Somewhere.”