Studio: Sunrise (Code Geass, Gundam)
Director: Shinichirō Watanabe (Samurai Champloo)
Genre: Space Western, Drama, Comedy
First complete run: 1998-1999
Regular episodes: 26
Cowboy Bebop is one of those rare shows whose genre in and of itself provides a sufficient reason to watch it. Space Westerns blend futuristic setting (and thus the themes of post-modernity and hyper-modernity) with Western style (roping in simpler, romantic conflicts between man and society). So as the show reflects how far humans have come in colonizing Mars, it also represents how little we have changed. Bebop's production fits into a rich time for Space Westerns, in between Trigun (1998) and Firefly (2002). Masterfully done, Bebop has its own unique contribution to make to the genre.
This anime is about the crew of a bounty hunter starship called the "Bebop." The bounty hunters, or cowboys, number between 2 and 5 at different points in the show as the characters fade in and out of focus: 2 men, 2 women, and a dog. The cast is superbly illustrated and well-defined; each protagonist has a unique set of motivations and attributes, and everyone feels very real. Cowboy Bebop is not very plot driven, rather, it is primarily an episodic retelling of the bounty hunters' attempts to make a living as interstellar mercenaries. The harsh realities of vigilantism frequently clash with a kind of liberated, absolute freedom. And this familiar Western juxtaposition takes place artfully on the terrain of a new/old, utopian/dystopian future. Cowboy Bebop is a Space Western at its finest.
The show sets itself apart from other Space Westerns with an especially grungy feel. Its score employs some Western and Folk music as well as some new age metal. The characters are without any fantasization at all. They are real people, making real and often regretful decisions. People die. And, tragically, the world goes on. So, while the characters may not be as likable as Firefly's majestic ensemble, the crew of Cowboy Bebop have certain charms. And they exist in a world which has problematized the themes of the Space Western genre more than any other show I've seen. It's real, it's grungy, and it's philosophical. Despite being produced years before Samurai Champloo, Watanabe's other famous work, Cowboy Bebop has a kind of polished appeal which was totally lacking from the former. Fans of the genre should like pretty much everything about this one. I know I did.