Cowboy Bebop: Initial Thoughts

Despite recent posting, I didn’t spend the entire month watching horror movies. Indeed, at this point, I’m almost finished watching Cowboy Bebop (I’m up to episode 22 out of 26, 1 disc left). So far, I’m loving it. It’s action packed, fun, and extremely well done. Assorted thoughts, comments, questions, and of course screenshots below.

  • It’s the year 2071, and humans have colonized most of the solar system using hyperspace gateways that allow easy interplanetary travel. The series follows a group of bounty hunters (often referred to as “cowboys”) who travel the solar system in their ship, the Bebop. At the start of the show, Jet (a 36 year old former police officer) and Spike (a 27 year old with a myserious past in a syndicate) are the only characters, but as the show moves on, they pick up additional members of their crew. For the most part, each episode focuses on a specific bounty that our heroes are trying to nab, but this is usually just an excuse to delve into one of the characters’ past or to expound upon the relationships that are being built among the various members of the crew. More on these characters, and additional screenshots below the fold.

    Jet and Spike eye a bounty

    Jet and Spike eye a bounty

  • When I was soliciting recommendations for anime, Steven Den Beste warned me that he thinks the ending is a real downer that ruins everything that came before it (he’s got a couple posts on this, including one that I don’t want to read until I finish the series). I gather that this sucker-punch happens somewhere around episode 24, so it’s coming up soon. The knowledge and expectation that this is going to happen will amost certainly color my reaction, probably softening the blow. I don’t generally like downer endings, but I’m not necessarily opposed to them either. We’ll see what happens. I’m not sure what’s going to happen (I’m assuming the not-so-happy little family that’s coalesced around the Bebop will split up in some way), but I find it hard to believe that it will actually ruin what came before. I guess we’ll see.
  • When I mentioned that I’d be watching this next, Alex mentioned that I might be put off by the more episodic format of the series, but I rather like the way this series mixed stand-alone stories with an overarching continuity that underlies everything else.
  • As previously mentioned, this series is extremely well done. It’s got great set and character design, a well-realized futuristic setting, wonderful action sequences, and the visual style is overall very effective. My recent Anime viewing has seemed very much like television (of course, it is television, so that’s not really a complaint), but every episode of Cowboy Bebop feels cinematic. There’s a lot of humor in the series, but it’s not a comedy. There are some dramatic and earnest moments, but nothing that feels pretentious or pushy.

More thoughts and screnshots below the fold.

Update: I’ve finished watching the series, and have some preliminary thoughts on the ending.

Spike is ready to hunt

Spike is ready to hunt

This is Spike. If pressed to find a main character, Spike would probably be it. His past is by far the most mysterious, and it also seems to haunt him to this day. I would imagine that his past would be part of the catalyst for the aformentioned sucker-punch. Or not. We’ll see, I guess. Spike has a knack for getting into or causing trouble, and more than once in the series, he gets beaten to within an inch of his life. In the movie Brick, the main character is said to be based on a Dashiell Hammett character whose primary strength wasn’t that he was smart or overly powerful – it was that he could take a beating. Spike kinda reminds me of that, except that he’s a badass as well. So maybe not. Anyway, Spike and Jet are the first characters we’re introduced to, and as the series goes on, they gradually start to pick up other members. First among them is Einstein:

Ein is hungry

Ein is hungry

Ein joins the cast in just the second episode, and a big deal is made of his being a “data dog,” yet this hasn’t been mentioned since then. I think perhaps this is something that will need to come up in the next couple episodes. After Ein joins the crew, Spike and Jet run into what is probably the other main character of the series, Faye Valentine:

Faye Valentine

Her past is also mysterious, and she seems to constantly try to distance herself from the crew, yet always finds herself returning. I think perhaps she likes being part of the little disfunctional family of the Bebop, and as the series progresses, you see her begin to fit in a little more with Spike and Jet (who, in turn, seem to fit more with her as well). As a viewer, I want her to stay with the crew, but my expectation of an upcoming sucker-punch makes me think that perhaps that she’ll have a nasty fight with Spike and Jet. We’ll see I guess. Finally, there’s one of my favorite characters from the series, radical Edward.

Ed and Ein

Ed and Ein

She’s kinda hyperactive (and yes, Edward is actually a she), and is constantly fidgeting around and saying silly things. I’m sure lots of people are annoyed by her (and when I watched the movie, I remember being a bit confused by why the character was acting so weird), but I think she fits in well, and I really like the Mushroom Samba episode (where she hunts down a mushroom toating bounty).


Spike is a badass, and you can tell because the director frames him the same way John Woo frames Chow Yun Fat. Or something.

Spike and Vicious faceoff

One of the recurring villains is a guy from Spike’s past named Vicious (how’s that for subtlety). Visually, the scene pictured above reminded me of the famous standoff scene between Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs, except one of them has a sword.

This kid looks like something out of Akira

This is one of the aformentioned bounties, and I wanted to call it out because this visually looked like something out of Akira (which is one of the most visually impressive anime movies I’ve ever seen).


The future that the creators came up with is pretty interesting, and the way they’ve laid out the technology that drives everything is interesting as well. For instance, colonies on the various planets of the solar system aren’t really in domes, but neither did humans terraform the entire planet. Instead, you’ve got these craters that seem to have an atmosphere of their own, but you can see it sorta leaking into the atmosphere of the planet. I have no idea if there’s any scientific basis for this at all, but visually, it’s pretty neat looking.

Cowboy Bebop 90210

In one episode, Spike and Jet are trying to figure out how to play a video cassete (Beta, no less), so they go to this guy who specializes in it, and he’s watching “20th century TV” and it seems to be a bit of a spoof on Beverly Hills 90210 (note the names, which are cut off, but it’s still obvious who they are).

Pippu, choice of people 4 generations from now

Pippu, choice of people 4 generations from now


It’s nice to see that the cola war is still in full swing. Pepsi seems to have rebranded as Pippu, but Coke is still itself. And look here, it seems that later in the series, Pippu takes a page out of the Coke design book and redesigns it’s logo with the Coke swoosh:

Pippu, choice of people 4 generations from now

Both Coke and Pippu in one frame there. On that note, I think I’ll call it quits. I took something like 250 screenshots while watching the first 20 episodes, so I’ll post some more in the next post.

12 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop: Initial Thoughts”

  1. One strange thing about me and Bebop is, nominally I watched the ending, but I did not understand much, and what I understood was all wrong. It was years ago, and I thought about returning to it, but since it would include rewatching 26 episodes of something that I did not like all that much in the first place, this review is getting postponed year after year.

  2. Oh and by the way, the “PREVIEW” button is broken. It says “Publish error in template ‘Comment Preview Template’: Error in tag: Error in tag: The MTCommentFields tag is no longer available; please include the Comment Form template module instead.” Looks like an MT upgrade went badly.

  3. “When I mentioned that I’d be watching this next, Alex mentioned that I might be put off by the more episodic format of the series, but I rather like the way this series mixed stand-alone stories with an overarching continuity that underlies everything else.”

    Yeah, honestly, the fact that most of the episodes *can* be watched alone, but still progress the over-all series is something that I really appreciated. Glad that you’re enjoying it so far, though.

  4. Author, At this point, not having seen the ending, I’m not really sure what to say. If it’s confusing and a downer, that sounds like two strikes, but again, I seem to be enjoying the individual episodes quite a bit.

    As for the preview button, I’ll have to look into it. My site got hacked the other day, and so I figured I should update all the software on the site… It turned out that the vulnerability was in my forum software, but I was also running a RC version of MT4, so I figured I should upgrade that as well. It turns out that this upgrade broke a few things that I haven’t had time to track down just yet.

    Roy, It’s definitely a good format and it works well for the series. The other examples of this sort of thing that I immediately thought of are shows like the X-Files (though that had more defined lines between stand-alone and continuity episodes) and, oddly enough, Venture Brothers (though it’s more silly and not necessarily going anywhere).

  5. Steven is right about there being a sucker punch, but we disagree 100% about it. IMHO, the series has been building up to it throughout its length, and as painful as it is, it is the RIGHT choice, storywise. Had the writers done anything else, it would have been a sellout ending.

    It’s “The Real Folk Blues” for a reason…

    (And since I just brought up the music, I want to say that I’ve yet to find a better series score than Yoko Kanno’s work here. She did a fantastic job. Wolf’s Rain was another of hers, might be in the ballpark, but I haven’t caught enough of it to say.)

  6. I should make it clear that I think “Hard Luck Woman” is one of the finest episodes of anything ever, along with Macross’s “Love Drifts Away”.

  7. The thing about Ein is not that he’s a data dog so much as that he’s very intelligent. IIRC, the data Ein is carrying is made obsolete at the end of the episode in which he joins the crew.

    Although his data is obsolete, he is nevertheless very smart. His abilities are key in a few episodes (Brain Scratch and that one with the rock, for example).

  8. Ubu, Damn, I totally forgot to mention the music. I LOVE the music in this series. I actually saw the Cowboy Bebop movie a while ago, and I liked the music so much I went out and bought a bunch of soundtrack CDs. I listen to them all the time.

    Anachronda, D’oh, I guess that makes sense, but I thought the end of that episode had that bounty hunter show saying that the dog had a huge bounty on it’s head. Ein is definitely intelligent, as demonstrated several times throughout the series. You mention a couple, he was also able to talk to other animals in the Animal Samba episode, and he seems to hang out with Ed the most…

  9. I strongly disagree about any kind of sucker-punch at the end. It’s for everyone to decide on their own if they enjoy the series and if the plot makes sense. I, for one, think the ending is the best possible ending. A lot of people seem to expect something that is so purely awesome and enjoyable to watch, like Bebop, will ultimately leave the viewer with the same raw joy at the end. It’s kind of a shallow view that there can’t be a “sad” end to a happy story. And I won’t even concede that Cowboy Bebop has a very happy story. If you look at it from start to finish for Spike, Faye, and Julia, it’s a pretty frustrating story.

    So don’t let other people’s tastes influence your opinion on the series. I saw the end coming from a mile away and it makes sense. Even if you don’t see it coming, it could still make sense to you. And even if you think it is some kind of sucker punch, you might decide you like it anyway. Lots of chances for you to come away from the series feeling much more than disappointment.

  10. Agreed with ubu and William Harnett, I felt like the ending was the only one possible.

    I’d also say that, between Wolf’s Rain and Cowboy Bebop’s soundtracks, I think Wolf’s Rain edges it out for me. Though I might just be saying that because I’ve listened to it far more (due to it being less demanding on of attention).

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