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Cowboy Bebop and its genre-bending storytelling

June 28, 2021


Cowboy Bebop 

In the opening song of the anime if you look closely in the background the text is all broken up throughout the intro, but if put together tells a story... 

“Once upon a time, in New York City 1941... at this club open to all comers to play, night after night, at a club named "Minston's PlayHouse" in Harlem, they play jazz sessions competing with each other. Young jazz men with a new sense are gathering. At last, they created a new genre itself. They are sick and tired of the conventional fixed style jazz. They're eager to play jazz more freely as they wish then... in 2071 in the universe... the bounty hunters, who are gathering in the spaceship "BEBOP", will play freely without fear of risky things. They must create new dreams and films by breaking traditional styles. The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called... COWBOY BEBOP.” 

The new genre itself Cowboy Bebop 

The creator of the show Shinichirō Watanabe was intent on breaking the conventions of storytelling at the time. Using his obsessions with what was considered western genres and music played a huge influence on the show. Watanabe uses bebop jazz as an example of what he wanted to do with this show, as bebop jazz has no boundaries it breaks normal jazz conventions and is played based on the feel of each performer. The different genres Cowboy Bebop explores are spaghetti westerns, neo-noir, sci-fi, and many other elements from different genres [1]. When I first watched Cowboy Bebop I was almost confused about the structure as it was not episodic, and each episode was a different story. However, with each episode, you get more connected to each of the main characters as you follow their wacky, serious, and sad bounty hunting adventures.

Character Arcs

The main characters that you’re first introduced to are Spike Spiegel and Jet Black. Spike is a carefree cowboy (Cowboys are bounty hunters) who lives his life in the moment and goes on as if he’s living in a dream. He is probably one of the coolest characters I have ever seen, he has a unique attire, voice, and probably some of the coolest one-liners. Jet Black is more of a serious, grounded person. He is a retired detective who has a metal arm because he lost his real one on the job. Jet, even past his rough and tough-looking exterior, gave me a sense of home, he looks out for everyone even though he does not like to show his care for the main cast. Later Faye Valentine joins the crew. Faye is like a femme-fatale, which was a type of female character in a lot of detective noir films, where they use their looks and wits to get in and out of situations. However, that does not make her whole character as she is in search of something secretly. Finally, we have Ed and Ein, Ed is a child hacker who joins the Bebop crew, and Ein is a corgi dog that actually joins in the second episode but after Ed joins they always stick together. Ed is a very wacky child as they always are saying random things while rolling all around the ship. 

 In regards to the character arcs, the one I am most familiar with is one that moves forward in time, for example, you get introduced to a character, that character goes through some changes and obstacles but towards the end, they grow, and then their story ends. However, even with character development Cowboy Bebop does something different since each episode is not continuous for the most part and they do not tell you much about most of the characters until closer to the end of the show. Because of this I felt stuck in time with them. The show would give me hints about their past, that later make sense towards the end. As I learned more about them, the more I started understanding why they acted certain ways. I started to understand why Spike was carefree and acted on impulse, why Jet no matter what would always save the other members, why Faye had a gambling issue, and always acted on her own, and why Ed was a child left alone. Their character arcs go backward instead of moving forward in time, they went back to grow. 

The Soundtrack 

Cowboy Bebop has a very unique soundtrack, the music in this show follows the same philosophy as the storytelling. It uses different genres of music to create perfect scores for each scene. I was so encapsulated by the soundtrack that I even bought a vinyl record of it. Each song used in the scenes feels weaved within the story. The soundtrack enhanced the emotions I would feel in each scene. It is even more evident in the fact that the show refers to their episodes as sessions, like a music session, and some sessions are named after popular songs. The infamous church scene in Session 5: Ballad of Fallen Angels probably encapsulates everything I am saying. The scene starts with Spike walking up the church stairs slowly and then the organs start to play, with the beautiful voice of Mai Yamane that creates this angelic atmosphere, but it also felt so jarring and real. The anxiety I felt when he walked up those stairs, built up to how blown away I was at the end of the episode. I don’t want to spoil the rest of it (don’t search up the scene on its own either).

See You Space Cowboy

Overall, Cowboy Bebop has broken every expectation of mine when it comes to a show and the usual beats most shows follow. It is something that can not be recreated, it is one season of a team of people putting their creativity and soul into probably what I think is one of the coolest, imaginative, and most beautiful storytelling I’ve seen in a long time. I will always be thankful to my friend who recommended it to me because it is something that is going to stick with me for a while.