Every so often comes along a series that I'm somewhat nervous to tackle, not because of any backlash I might receive from the fandom, but because I want to give a series that deserves so much respect its due justice. So I'm going to start this review off by getting right to the point... Regardless of the medium, be it live action television, film, or animation, Cowboy Bebop is simply one of the finest examples of storytelling ever created.
When the much discussed topic of "What is the best anime ever made?" comes up, chances are the general consensus will say Shinichiro Watanabe's masterpiece, Cowboy Bebop, a series about a group of ragtag bounty hunters that come together and will at that at first glance seem like just a typical episodic anime, don't let that fool you, it's much much more. Cowboy Bebop focuses on the adventures of the ultra-cool Spike Spiegel (voiced by Steve Blum), disgruntled Jet Black (Voiced by Beau Billingslea), con woman Faye Valentine (voiced by Wendee Lee) and "Radical" Ed (voiced by Melissa Fahn) on their separate journey aboard the Bebop.
The series opens with an ominous flashback, in the background a church bell can be heard sounding off, a soft and mellow jazz in the backdrop of the scene, we then see a man holding a dozen roses walking off, intersected with another scene of that same man showing down with several men in a gun fight before letting off an explosive with a smile. We flash forward to 2071 where we meet the man from that flashback, his name is Spike Spiegel and as soon as we meet him we're thrust right into the middle of a bounty he's chasing down. Spike is a member of "The Bebop", the home of Spike and his partner Jet, where together they scrape together a living by hunting down criminals and turning them in for a reward. Quickly in the following episodes they pick up a con woman named Faye Valentine, a data dog named Ein, and eventually a young erratic girl named Edward. The majority of the series shows the Bebop crew in this setting, hunting down a random bounty, seeing them live their day to day life, helping us build a connection with these characters.
At the end of the first session, "Asteroid Blues", Spike announces for the audience to come back as more family fun is in store. This is partially true, the bounties are a lot of fun to watch. I do believe the younger crowd can enjoy this anime, but make no mistake about it, layered underneath the surface of Cowboy Bebop is one of the most complex, dark, mature, and captivating stories I've seen, and this, the fantastic characterization, is what lets Bebop stand in a class of its own. Throughout each episode, we get small breadcrumbs as we learn more and more about each character that ends up on the Bebop and the reason why they're running from their pasts, which are increasingly catching up them.
While all of the characters are equally important, the primary focus of Cowboy Bebop is firmly on Spike. Spike is the epitome of a great lead protagonist. He's composed, always cool, and is essentially the ultimate badass, though throughout the series little by little his exterior is peeled away and we find out who Spike truly is. He's lost and his past is truly haunting. Hiding behind his façade as a badass bounty hunter is a man dead inside, left in shambles from being a former member of the Red Dragon Syndicate, a feared mafia organization where the only way out is in a body bag, and this is where the primary storyline comes in.
Unfortunately for Spike, while being nursed back to health after a gun fight, he fell in love with another member of the syndicate, Julia (voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn), the lover of Spike's partner and best friend, Vicious (voiced by Skip Stellrecht.) They had plans to run away together, to escape their life as mobsters. Soon Vicious caught on, and upon discovering this, threatened that Julia would face death for her betrayal should she go through with the plan and revealed that he intended to kill Spike for his treachery to both him and the Syndicate. Spike faked his death, Julia never shown up at the time they agreed to meet and Spike left his old life behind. Eventually he hears about Julia's escape of the syndicate and he took on his job as a bounty hunter in hopes on even the smallest of chances that it'll reunite him with his beloved one day.
Sprinkled throughout the series here and there are also the pasts of the other central characters, Jet, Faye, Ed and even Vicious, but I think it best if you just watch this masterpiece yourselves to find out anymore about the series, just know that everyone gets the ending that is fitting to the stories and characters. Trust me when I say that the finale is a wonderfully executed ending that is both true and fitting to the story that has been told throughout the 26 sessions, the ending is widely revered and still sparks fan conversation, resonating with viewers 15 years on. Cowboy Bebop ends with a bang.
+ One of the best overall stories out there.
+ The core cast of characters are excellent.
+ One of the best English dubs of all time, if not THE best. Steve Blum's portrayal as Spike is masterful to say the least, and is my personal favorite dub performance I've heard. He brings such a layered, nuanced, and beautiful performance to such a complex character.
+ The episodic episodes formula which can be tiring in a lot of shows, are unique, fresh, beautifully paced, and executed perfectly here in Bebop.
+ One of the best finales I've ever seen.
+ Breathtaking visuals and production values.
+ One of the best soundtracks on any show out there.
+ The Blu-ray transfer is gorgeous.
- Only 26 episodes? Absolutely no complaints about Cowboy Bebop.
Video and Audio:
Back when it first came out, Cowboy Bebop was far ahead of it's time with it's gorgeous animation and thanks to Sunrise doing such a stellar job bringing this fan favorite onto Blu-ray that it honestly holds up to the standards of animation today. It looks absolutely stunning on Blu-ray. The visuals are nicely layered, the action sequences are fluid and seamless. The color palette is utilized the most when we see the crew travelling to the various planets, everything is just so vibrant, textured and layered. The images were cleaned up beautifully for this release and are sharp and crisp throughout. An absolutely gorgeous transfer.
I'm going to say this right now. After watching the series in both tracks, I will probably never watch the Japanese version of Cowboy Bebop again, it just doesn't capture the same magic as the English cast. The dub is 100% flawless. As for the soundtrack, that falls into the same category as the dub, it's flawless. Yoko Kanno's legendary score of this series is absolutely mesmerizing, the best I've heard in fact, and thanks to her scoring, Kanno helps Bebop transcend into something even greater than it was. The mix, presented in a 5.1 Master audio is brilliantly done with no dropouts or distortions throughout.
The Amazon exclusive (the copy I received for review) comes with 2 gorgeous art books, one dedicated for production sketches and the other for a traditional art book. The whole box set comes inside of (sadly) rather flimsy, but aesthetically pleasing, clamshell case.
As for the on-disc special features, FUNimation has transferred all of the extras from the previous releases as well as adding a few extra goodies for the dubbed fans of the series.
The first standout is titled Memo from the Bebop: The Dub Sessions Remembered, which clocks in at an hour and 35 minutes long. The retrospective has Steve Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, Melissa Fahn, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, and Skip Stellrecht all looking back on how Cowboy Bebop changed their careers and lives. The cast and director of the dub discuss how they got their respective roles, what Cowboy Bebop has done for them over the years.
The other brand new feature is titled Dinner Aboard the Bebop which reunites the core cast, Steve, Beau, Wendee, Melissa and Mary as they all share a dinner together (aptly at that, they have Bell Peppers and Beef), the cast share memories together throughout and then the 5 do a script reading of the series' eleventh episode, "Toys in the Attic." They weren't always staying on topic about the show, It honestly felt like I was watching 5 friends just catching up. It was a really fun and appreciative feature.
The standard features from previous releases are...
- Cowboy Bebop: Session 0 - A behind the scenes featurette discussing the production and story of Cowboy Bebop
- Commentaries on select episodes.
- A couple of old interviews with Wendee Lee and Toonami/Cartoon Network producer Sean Adkins.
- Ein's Summer Vacation - A collection of stills featuring Ein.
- Tank! (the opening theme) Music video
- Textless opening and closing themes.
- Trailers for various FUNimation titles.
Cowboy Bebop is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It literally has everything you could possibly want in a show; Amazing storytelling, excellent episodic stories that are the best of it's kind, a breathtaking soundtrack, layered, nuanced and well developed characters, it has possibly the best anime dub of all time, and an extremely satisfying conclusion. Cowboy Bebop for me, transcends animation, it's its own genre. There's nothing negative to say about this show, it's one of the best experiences I've ever had watching a show. This deserves no other rating than the DVD Talk Collector's Series. You're gonna carry that weight.