Ask a Japanese anime critic to name the ten most influential anime directors of all time, and Shinichiro Watanabe would probably not make the list. Ask a Western anime critic to do the same, and Watanabe would probably top the list. Few people have done more to promote anime outside Japan than Shinichiro Watanabe. The airing of Cowboy Bebop on Adult Swim in the US marked a watershed moment for anime in the West. For the first time, people other than children or dedicated otaku — adults who would normally avoid anime — were watching anime. And they liked it. A lot. So much so that it would go on to become a fixture of the channel. Bebop continued to make waves elsewhere — in the UK, in Australia, in Canada — and anime would never be an obscure subculture thing ever again.
It's easy to see why Watanabe was such a huge hit abroad. His anime were decidedly Western. He was able to effortlessly combine themes and genres in his works: cowboy westerns, film noir, and space opera in Cowboy Bebop or chanbara samurai dramas, Okinawan culture, and modern-day hip hop culture in Samurai Champloo.
The other big draw of Watanabe's shows is the soundtracks. According to him, music is the universal language, which gives particular importance to a film's score. Be it 40's blues and jazz in Bebop, old-school hip-hop in Champloo, classical jazz in Kids on the Slope, or modern pop in Carole & Tuesday, the soundtracks of his works are fantastic, and drive the vision for the series themselves.
And it is this music that shall be the focus of our reviews this month. The four groovy anime we will be reviewing this month are:
Samurai Champloo: the epic Edo-era quest of three eccentric individuals — a breakdancing tramp, a stoic ronin, and a spirited waitress.
Cowboy Bebop: a ragtag team of bounty hunters aboard the spaceship Bebop try to make a living in the year 2071.
Kids on the Slope: an introverted pianist, a delinquent jazz drummer, their mutual friend, and their lives together in 60s Kyushu.
Carole & Tuesday: in a future where humanity has moved to Mars, and all music is AI-created, two girls might soon create a miracle.
Be sure to check out these reviews as they come out! As for next month's theme, you'll get to read all about it soon!