Years ago, a friend asked me, “Have you seen Cowboy Bebop? You’d probably like it.” I don’t think she knew how correct she would be.
Cowboy Bebop is a 1998 anime, an animated Japanese TV show; but keep reading, it’s not one of those weird ones. In the year 2071, astral gates connect the solar system via wormholes, humans have terraformed the planets and moons after abandoning the mostly inhospitable earth, and bounty hunters (aka cowboys) catch criminals for money to keep themselves adrift in space.
Bebop came to America in 2001 with the English-dubbed version airing on Adult Swim, and it opened the floodgates to anime being more widely accepted and appreciated by an American audience.
But what makes it life-changing? It’s more than just a great show, more than my ringtone, laptop background, and the only thing I wanted this past Christmas: Cowboy Bebop is a case study in excellence.
Before the first episode even begins properly, viewers are thrust into one of the greatest intro sequences ever created: “Tank!” Between then and the ending credits is a litany of stylishness.
A gunfight between a small mob and a guy without a gun, a fist fight that looks like it was filmed with a handheld camera, a dogfight in futuristic fighter jets that ends outside the atmosphere of Mars: this show breathes style, and this is just the first episode, by no means the best.
The award-winning music of Cowboy Bebop is as good as it gets. It brims with instant classics: “Tank!,” “Rush,” “Digging My Potato,” “Space Lion,” “Mushroom Hunting” and “Call Me Call Me.” Jazz, bebop, blues, bluegrass, pop, rock and even opera and heavy metal elevate the show to beyond greatness. Completing the aural sphere is the stellar English voice acting.
These elements are enough to leave a lasting impression, but Bebop also charges its scenes with emotion and feeling.
This is where it got me. The intensity of “Ballad of Fallen Angels,” the feels in “Waltz for Venus,” the laughs in “Mushroom Samba,” the thrill of “Pierrot Le Fou,” the heartbreak in “Hard Luck Woman” (I cried) are portrayed in under 30 minutes each.
No other TV show, song, book, game or movie has engaged my emotions in the same way that Bebop has. Combining this with its visual and musical beauty, Cowboy Bebop is one of the best shows ever, and it changed my life.
Influenced by Dizzie Gillespie, Blade Runner, Star Trek: TNG, Game of Death, A Better Tomorrow II, Babe Ruth and Flash Gordon among others, the details of this show are undeniably rooted in American culture, making it approachable and appealing for audiences outside of Japan.
Influencing The Matrix, Spirited Away, Monsters, Inc., The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, Looper and likely the future Star Wars VIII among many others, this show has left a legacy and a following that is ever-increasing.
My new philosophy in life mimics that of Koichi Yamadera, the Japanese voice actor for the main character: “Whoever doesn’t think it’s a great show is no longer my buddy. If you don’t like this, I can’t be your friend.”