(Ed. Note: There will be some in-depth discussions on ‘Cowboy Bebop.’ If you’ve never watched it, stop reading this and please do so. It’s available on FunimationNow. Your brain, heart and soul will thank you for it.)
I was a snot-nosed teen the first time I watched Cowboy Bebop. Between talking to my high school crush and catching reruns of South Park and King of the Hill, I’d watch on [adult swim] and set up a VHS player to record it. I ultimately bought one of the box set releases of Bebop from a Baltimore GameStop. I then bought it again in college after I sold my first version. After that collection was destroyed (don’t ask), I found the series online. Sufficed to say, my history with Bebop is a long, storied one.
I thought it was an amazing series. The way that Shinichiro Watanabe and his team mixed kung-fu, spaghetti western, film noir, mystery, romance and even a bit of slice-of-life anime into a beautiful character-driven drama? I’d seen nothing like it before and have seen few anime like it since. It was one of the reasons why I fell in love with anime. It’s the reason why I will watch anything Watanabe works on, from the musical drama Carole and Tuesday (a must-watch if you love character drama) to Space Dandy (sub or dub, though I admittedly favor the sub) to Kids on the Slope.
The humor hit hard and the drama hit harder. Steve Blum, Wendee Lee and Beau Billingslea’s voice work was top-notch and made me expect excellence in dubs, not just jokey spoofs or a bunch of “in another few hours, the sun will rise” groaners. Bebop‘s dub treated its subject matter as serious and mature and created a standard in anime dubs that has been held up, for the most part, since. Overall, it’s a classic anime. I know that. You know that. Most anime and film critics know that. That’s not why we’re here.
A few weeks ago, after not seeing the series in close to a decade, I began rewatching it on Hulu and FunimationNow. I think that because of Cardcaptor Sakura, I’ve been in a nostalgic mood. I didn’t know what to expect from this watch-through. I watched the series front to back enough that I became a space cowboy myself. I wasn’t there to tread new ground. Instead, I wanted to see if, at 32, I felt the same way about Bebop as I did during my teens or twenties.
In all honesty, I feel different thus far. That’s not a bad thing, but certain things hit differently when you’re older.
When I was younger, I laughed more at the dynamic between Jet and Spike. Jet was somewhat a cantankerous older straight man to Spike’s more “I’m going to dive in head first” mentality. These days, I still laugh (Blum and Billingslea’s performances aid this, but the sub is equally beautiful). In addition to the laughter, I also see Jet being genuinely concerned for Spike as an older character. He’s seen a lot, as everyone in Bebop has. However, he imparts his knowledge in a way that’s less like a dad and more like an equal. It reminds me a lot of my friendships with people; even when I’m being headstrong, everyone I’ve surrounded myself with ultimately wants me to be at peace. I connected that much more with their friendship and camaraderie this go-around.
The same goes for Spike’s arc in general.
When I first saw the series, I admittedly was a bit annoyed by the ambiguity surrounding its end. I remember asking “wait, did Spike die or nah?” As I grew older, I appreciated it more because you’re not told exactly what to make of the series’ final moments. It’s like life itself; there’s no real roadmap to live. The decisions you make (or don’t make) have repercussions, even if you try to atone for them. However, that’s not to say you can’t atone for your past sins. It just means that, even after atoning, you may have a reckoning of some sorts on your hands.
In Spike’s case, he loses the woman he loves, ends up killing his former friend and possibly dies himself. But he’s not entirely in the right here. Remember: Spike did steal his friend’s girlfriend, Julia, which set Vicious off on his plan to ultimately try to kill Spike. No one’s without sin in Bebop, as every character has some flaw, some human element to them.
It’s those complexities that make me relate to the series that much more as I’ve gotten older. No one’s perfectly good or perfectly bad. There is more grey in morality than we often like to admit. Bebop, and its look on interstellar bounty hunters, does one of the best jobs at painting this image–even twenty-plus years after its debut.
The word “masterpiece” comes to mind when you hear Bebop. From the first time you hear “Tank!” to Spike’s “Bang,” you’re often left widemouthed at what the series does (and doesn’t do). It doesn’t spend a lot of time on filler or shonen tropes, nor does it give one character a moral high ground over another just because of their societal standing (something we see come up again in the aforementioned Carole and Tuesday). As I said, it’s an amazing character study and it holds up even better than other character studies done in the same era, before Bebop and after Bebop.
It’s the quintessential anime, one that earns every single flower it’s received since its initial run.