What do you do when you create your magnum opus on the first try? Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe-sensei’s debut as a chief director was a YUGE success! It is still considered one of the greatest anime of all time, and rightly so. This late 90’s anime is truly a turning point in anime. And stands tall among the greatest anime of the time, like Kochikame, Detective Conan, and maybe even Crayon Shin-chan, the three pillars of my childhood.
The series follows a band of bounty hunters on the spacecraft, the Bebop. Aboard are Spike, an ex-syndicate member turned bounty hunter, with a mysterious past; Jet, an ex-cop turned bounty hunter, with a mysterious past; Faye, a bounty hunter and a gambling enthusiast with no real luck and a MYSTERIOUS PAST; and Ed, an airheaded genius hacker kid from earth who doesn’t know much of the world, nothing much about their past. The story is set in space in our solar system, where humans have colonised all major rocky bodies with the help of GATES. Our crew travels from planet to planet (or moon) in search of criminals with bounty on their heads to make cash and, you know, sustenance.
The series was produced in the late 90’s with cel animation; WOW, just WOW. The colour palette is aged and the “effects” are old school, but the details are CRISP. I just love it. Anything that is in focus is drawn beautifully, the faces, backgrounds, even the guns (looking at a beautifully drawn Beretta M9 or H&K MP5K is just, wow). The animation is done with cel animation and at no point in the series did I feel the frame rates were inadequate, which is commendable. The visual design of the sci-fi stuff doesn’t make me wanna go “why tho?”; the space crafts are beautifully drawn, the gadgets are all from the POV of 90’s imagination, and make sense from that perspective.
Watanabe-sensei is known for his musical obsession, deeming it a universal language, and that fascination shows itself in Bebop. From the beautiful background score that punctuate the moments of the series, to the LEGENDARY opening that you have heard even if you don’t watch anime. The music breathes new excitement into the series. The voice acting is on par with the modern standards, and even the dub is worthy of all the praise it gets.
The characters are not really unique, the setting makes everything unique. The side cast is surprisingly diverse with many kinds of people and ethnicities, and even a shota. The side characters were surprisingly deep in the small time they had.
The character development progresses in a way that all characters except Faye do not grow, but their depth is shown through their past. Faye is the only character that grew, and in the solitary aspect of becoming a part of the Bebop from being a rogue. Each character has immense depth, except Ed (of course), and the ‘baggage of the past’ episodes are well narrated.
The show progresses till the very end like a slice-of-life with the episodic subplots and small character moments as the primary focus, and a few sprinklings of the main story, but towards the end the series has it’s big (and only) overarching story arc. The narration of the episodes was good, with no glaring plot holes. But a few things were not explained as well as they should've been, making me prowl the wiki for answers.
The show has its roots in 90’s futurism and presents a view of the future based on the minds of the past. It shows a modest vision where we have personal spacecrafts and immortal kids, but still use a trusty 9 mm and plastic explosives to get the job done.
The overall experience was great, the ‘must-watch’ tag for the series is well justified. Comedy is a big part of the series but the emotional scenes also felt real, and I repeat what thousands before me have already said, Cowboy Bebop is one of the best anime experiences out there.
An ageing art style but nothing really to complain about.
VA? Good! BG score? Good! OP? GOOOOOOOOD!
There's good depth to characters but no real growth.
No real overarching story, but good episode wise plot.
A point for most sci-fi elements not being absurd and outlandish.
A point for the bang-bang, not pew-pew.