I really struggle with lists. Desert island discs; top-fives; to-do lists; for whatever reason there is always a part of them I just can’t finish. With to-do lists I never have enough time to do everything, especially the important stuff like work or cleaning myself, so I inevitably put extra tasks on like ‘read new Justice League’ or ‘have a sandwich’ so I get some sense of achievement. Desert island discs I always think this will be dead easy. I know the bands I want, but then get stumped as to which of their albums I’d want to spend my days listening to while I cultivate my beard and yell at a volleyball.
Top fives are the worst, being too restrictive. I try to distil all of my favourite films, bands, video games, types of bacon or lengths of string into five measly choices and even then I can’t rank them. I usually just give up and say “these five, in some discernable order. No follow up questions”, failing even to decide what would top each list as it is so interchangeable. This is almost entirely true for my top five anime series of all time (I’ll save that attempt for a later post), except for that last part – I do know my number one: Cowboy Bebop.
Cowboy Bebop is a 26 episode series originally broadcast in Japan in 1998 by Sunrise, directed by Shinchirō Watanabe. Set in the year 2071, it follows a crew of bounty hunters aboard the spaceship Bebop as they take jobs around the solar system. The crew itself is a small eclectic (but still relatively standard) mix with Spike Spiegel, a former member of crime syndicate; Jet Black, an ex-detective; Faye Valentine, another bounty hunter they pick up on the way; Radical Edward, a master hacker; and Ein, a ‘data dog’. Throughout the series the characters have their back stories fleshed out always to exactly the right amount of detail, with their individual mysteries and motivations never becoming the focus of each player unless the episode calls for it. But each member of the Bebop still gets an arc that develops fully and feels genuine. It also, in my opinion, has one of those perfect endings, leaving you immensely satisfied but simultaneously wanting more.
The tone of the show can shift from quirky fun (there is an entire episode about the crew getting off their faces on mushrooms) to more serious noir-esque episodes, and it is consistently slick and stylish as hell. All the good stuff is in there too – life and death, drugs , tech cults, terrorism, people being kicked in the face, existentialism, a scene where a man uses a lift while on horseback, chess and bloody crime syndicates. The animation still looks good 15 years on, with some great looking fight scenes and dogfights in space. It also remains one of the very few animes where I actually prefer the English dub too (the other probably being Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), the entire cast really brings their characters to life.
Special mention definitely needs to go out to the music too, which is a brilliant mix of jazz and blues that always suits the tone and is a constant delight throughout, right up to the final confrontation. The music was arranged by Yoko Kanno and played by her along with The Seatbelts, a band basically created by Kanno for the series. It is a constant delight throughout, and the opening theme ‘Tank!’ remains one of my favourite starts to any show which I never find myself wanting to skip no matter how many times I hear it.
I really can’t express the love I have for the show. My screen name on everything from playstation network to Twitter is based on it. If you haven’t seen it, track it down on all the normal internet based retailers, or for an unnecessary mark-up if you can actually find it on the high street. The series is actually being released on Blu-ray, and I am going to have to have words with myself about whether or not buying it is a good idea (even though the boxset I already own is gorgeous). It is a great, self-contained show, and while I say it definitely should never be continued as it is perfect the way it is, I know I’m lying and would love to see more (though you can always check out the film, which is also great but with even better animation).
See you space cowboy…