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Cowboy Bebop: Session One

Bandai // Unrated // March 7, 2001
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Chris Hughes | posted July 3, 2002 | E-mail the Author

Features: Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1, Available Audio Tracks: English (Dubbed) (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), Japanese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), Available subtitles: English, Full-Size Music Video, Character Introductions, Contains Episodes 1-5.

Cowboy Bebop Session One:

What do you get when you mix equal parts of Charlie Parker, Star Wars and Otaku? You get about the coolest Anime series to come out of Japan in decades! Cowboy Bebop was originally produced in 1998 by Sunrise Inc. and ran for twenty-six episodes. The series was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Macross), written by Keiko Nobumoto (Tokyo Dragon) and features character designs by Toshihiro Kawamoto (Ghost in the Shell, Escaflowne). This super-team of creators gave birth to a program that struck a chord with both Japanese and American audiences and that has, in the short time since it's original airing, become a cult favorite.

Cowboy Bebop is far from your typical Anime fair. Set in 2071, after the Earth has become a global slum and mankind has moved to various colonies around the solar system, the main plot focuses on Spike Spiegel and his right hand man Jet Black. A bounty hunter (or Cowboy as they're known in the future) and former member of the Chinese Mafia, Spike is one cool cat. He's a wise cracking, cigarette smoking, Jeet Kune Do master who knows his way around a gun, is a hot solo space ship pilot and has a shadowy, dangerous past. Jet Black is a former government spy who turned his back on institutionalized corruption to become the caretaker of the Bebop, Spike's ship. Together they ply the space ways in an endless search for big bounty pay offs, revealing small details about their pasts along the way.

Each Cowboy Bebop episode is a complete adventure and one might even say a mini movie. The programs feature impeccably written plots that never fail to engage the viewer and offer a level of depth that's seldom seen on small screen animated shows. In addition to the episodic nature of Cowboy Bebop there's also a series long story arc that slowly unfolds until the stunning conclusion in episode twenty-six.

Good writing and character design are the keys to Cowboy Bebop's success but there are two additional factors that cause the series to rise to genuine classic status. The first of these is the incredible sound design. Cowboy Bebop is filled with amazing and lovingly rendered sounds that create a unique aural backdrop. But the show isn't afraid of strategic silence either. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Cowboy Bebop exhibits a full spectrum of soundscapes ranging from quiet and contemplative to frenetic and electrifying. Each of these audio environments supports the story and acts in an almost expressionistic manner.

Second and even more importantly is the singularly stunning score by Yoko Kanno (Escaflowne, Macross Plus, Turn A Gundam). Yoko provides music for the series that ranges in style from traditional Delta Blues, through Kansas City Swing to Big Band Jazz and 60's Bebop style. Kanno displays an encyclopedic knowledge of the language of American music and composes it with a natural intuitiveness that one would expect to come only from those born state side. Kanno's score is responsible in large part for Cowboy Bebop's smooth cool feel.

Available on a collection of six DVDs, Cowboy Bebop is produced and distributed in America by Bandai Entertainment. Disc one (Cowboy Bebop 1st Session) includes five episodes: Asteroid Blues, Stray Dog Strut, Honky Tonk Woman, Gateway Shuffle and Ballad of Fallen Angels. In these five shows we meet the crew of the Bebop, encounter the series' main villain (a youthful albino godfather type known as Vicious), discover how they came across their pet dog and are introduced to Faye Valentine who will have a bigger role in the episodes to come.

The Picture:
Cowboy Bebop is transferred to disc in its original full frame broadcast ratio. The image quality is a little inconsistent from disc to disc but volume one is quite good. The color saturation is spot on, not too hot and not too cool. The black levels are deep without losing detail and I was unable to detect any digital compression artifacts. The source material used is free from any hint of dust, scratches and other physical flaws.

The Sound:
There are two sound choices on each Cowboy Bebop disc. First there's the original Japanese language track in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. This track is quite crisp and clear. Next there's the English dub track, also in Dolby Digital 2.0. Now, usually when it comes to Anime titles I'd encourage you to stay away from the English dub. As a general rule English dub tracks are horrendous affairs that actually detract from the enjoyment of the material. In this case however you'll find what may be the best English dubbing job ever to grace a Japanese language program. The voice actors who did the dub commit to the parts as if it were an American production and their stunning performances are supported by a fantastic English translation. Sound effects like explosions and rocket engines are louder on the English track as is often the case with Anime imports but they don't seem out of place. The designers of the dub seem to have put as much effort into getting it right as the designers of the original Japanese language track and the results are a joy to listen to. If only all Anime dubs were this good!

The Extras:
There aren't a lot of extras on any of these discs though each one does have a smattering. Session One has excerpts from a publicity piece on the show introducing the characters, a full length video for the opening theme 'Tank' and a handful of trailers for other Bandai releases.

If you thought that Anime was all about Pokemon and Sailor Moon think again. Cowboy Bebop is clever, funny, engaging, violent and eminently suited to an adult audience. The sound design, scripting, music and English dub all combine to form a series the likes of which has never been seen in either Japan or America. This is a superb place for the Anime novice to start and a show that the hardened fan shouldn't miss. My rating: Collector's Series.

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