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Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop was the first anime series I saw in its entirety, and it's what got me seriously into anime (before then I had seen Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies, Akira, and plenty of Ranma, but I was still a fairly casual fan). I think this is probably the best series to show someone (a Westerner, anyway) to get them "hooked."

What is Cowboy Bebop? Well, it's a mature, teenager- and adult-oriented bounty hunter show set in the future, but it's kind of retro. It's episodic and postmodern in construction, but it has some very strong plot threads and underlying themes holding the show together. It's technically an anime but feels more Western in style than most other anime shows--due largely to the international cast of the show and to the excellent jazz and blues soundtrack scored by Japan's most talented composer (in my humble opinion), Yoko Kanno. Of course, this might also have to do with the fact that I first watched this show in English, and I must say it has one of the best English dubs out there.

Cowboy Bebop follows the lives of a group of bounty hunters--ex-cop Jet Black (bottom, in the suit), ex-Mafia member Spike Spiegel (top, with the cigarettes), gambling addict amnesiac Faye Valentine (left), crazy computer genius Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV (Ed for short, above with the red hair), and the super-intelligent Welsh Corgi, Ein (bottom, wearing the hat). Together, they pursue bounties, often failing and, as a result, going broke, running out of food, and running out of gas. Looking at this aspect of the show, it is easy to see why it is so popular among disillusioned Gen-Xers (I hate this term but it actually fits).

Cowboy Bebop's main strength is in its variety--in its large and colorful cast of characters but, more importantly, in its tone. This series really covers it all: Robert Rodriguez-style action, parody, serious film noir, blaxploitation, science fiction horror, slapstick humor. Some episodes made my stomach hurt I was laughing so hard, and some episodes disturbed me or made me sad, but all of them captured my attention and made me forget about the outside world for just a little bit.

Did I mention that Cowboy Bebop is episodic? Yeah, and fragmented. Kinda like this review. But, seriously, its episodic nature is another of its strengths, as it allows one to experience short, self-contained "stories" within the overall series without feeling obligated to finish the series right away to find out "what happens." (Of course, after a half dozen episodes, one will want to finish the entire series.) Does this mean nothing of import happens in Cowboy Bebop? Actually, there are some very deep and relevant plot threads in CB, mostly dealing with the main characters' various pasts and their complicated relationships with others, but the series is structured in such a way that you don't realize its depth until you're completely sucked in.

Verdict

One of the best and most original shows I've seen, Cowboy Bebop is an excellent series to start off with if you're new to anime. (Of course, if you're already an anime fan you'll just appreciate it that much more.)

Cowboy Bebop links