Director: Shinichirô Watanabe
Set in what appears to be the closing part of the 21st century, Cowboy Bebop is the story of Spike and Jet, two bounty hunters and the odd collection of people they pick up during their adventures. Far from your average quirky bounty hunter and eccentric crew story, Cowboy Bebop is a new and original take on an old theme.
The series gets its name from two things, the cowboy-like nature of the bounty hunters (and the hilarious weekly television show they watch to get the latest bounties) and the ship that Spike and Jet travel in, the Bebop. Rather than a linear plot, where the characters are aiming for some goal, Cowboy Bebop is character-driven, with self-contained episodes. While there is a background story which focuses on Spike's past in the Martian Mafia, the series presents each episode as its own story, only loosely connected to the others. This allows for a wide ranger of styles in the plot of each episode, from slapstick comedy and parody to more dark and serious episodes. While this may seem disconcerting if you haven't seen the series, the lack of a over-ridding plot allows it to pass almost unnoticed.
The setting of the series is well developed. Set about 70 years after an experiment into faster than light travel destroyed half the moon and left a ring of debris to fall on the Earth for centuries to come, mankind has spread across the solar system. Forced to leave Earth, they carried all their assorted cultural baggage with them as the colonized the solar system. Each planet has a distinctive feel, from the mafia-controled crater cities of mars to casinos orbiting Jupiter. Also noteworthy about the plot is the technology. Jumpgates and advanced space craft are the most futurist of the technologies in the series, almost everything else feels timeless, as if it could have come from any time in the past few decades on into the future. Guns still use bullets, there's a version of the internet floating around, even television is still there. This allows the series to feel much more accessible to the viewers, an will add to the appeal of Cowboy Bebop to those who aren't usually fans of Sci-Fi.
The characters real stand out in Cowboy Bebop. Each of them, Spike, Jet, Faye, and Edward (who's actually a little girl), have their own haunted background. Spike is haunted by his ex-lover, Julia, who he left behind when he fled Mars, and is hunted by his old partner, Vicious, a blood & power-thirsty maniac. Faye claims to be a gypsy, though in truth she can't remember her past. And Edward is a genius computer hacker picked up during a stop on Earth. Despite the name, Edward is actually a little girl, and one of the more hilarious characters.
The art and animation are well done, and well suited for each episode. When the story calls for humor, the settings are bright and cheerful, when it calls for melancholy, the settings are pure "Dark Knight". The English voice actors are outstanding for anime, and the range of accents in the series is excellent, without the feeling that it's all just the same guy trying to disguise his voice.
The music diserves a special note. With a name like Cowboy Bebop, you'd expect the series to have a good sound track, and it does. The opening song is particularly good, with an upbeat, jazzy feel. Each episode has its own musical theme as well, if you listed you'll notice how well it fits in with the episode's overall theme and story. All of the songs were composed by Yoko Kanno, of Macross Plus fame.
The only downside was the rushed felling of the ending. While there had been a subtle ongoing storyline, everything comes to a head in the final two episodes. I had been enjoying the series and was a little disappointed to see it end so suddenly. The ending was very good, and didn't leave me disappointed in itself, I just would have liked to see the series continue for another 26 episodes.
Cowboy Bebop - Session 1 (DVD)