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  • Cowboy Bebop is a 1998 Japanese anime series developed by Sunrise. It featured

  • a production team led by director Shinichirō Watanabe, screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto,

  • character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto, mechanical designer Kimitoshi Yamane,

  • and composer Yoko Kanno. The twenty-six episodes (sessions) of the series

  • are set in the year 2071. It follows the adventures, misadventures and

  • tragedies of a bounty hunter crew travelling on the Bebop, their starship. Cowboy

  • Bebop explores philosophical concepts including existentialism, existential

  • ennui, loneliness, and the past's influence.

  • The series premiered in Japan on TV Tokyo from April 3 until June 26, 1998,

  • broadcasting only twelve episodes and a special due to its controversial content.

  • The entire twenty-six episodes of the series were later broadcast on WOWOW from

  • October 24 until April 24, 1999. The anime was adapted into two manga series

  • which were serialized in Kadokawa Shoten's Asuka Fantasy DX. A film was later

  • released to theaters worldwide.

  • The anime series was dubbed in the English language by Animaze and ZRO Limit

  • Productions, and was licensed by Bandai Entertainment in North America. For

  • English releases in the United Kingdom, it was licensed by Beez Entertainment

  • and is now licensed by Anime Limited. Madman Entertainment has licensed it for

  • releases in Australia and New Zealand. In 2001, Cowboy Bebop became the first

  • anime title to be broadcast on Adult Swim in the United States. Since then, the

  • series has aired continuously in rotation due to its success.

  • Cowboy Bebop received universal critical acclaim and is often considered to be a

  • masterpiece. The series became a commercial success both in Japanese and

  • international markets, most notably in the United States. The series has become

  • a cult classic and garnered major science fiction awards and international

  • praise for its characters, story, voice acting, animation and soundtrack.

  • Plot

  • Setting

  • The series is set in the year 2071, when the entire Solar System has been made

  • accessible through hyperspace gates. In 2022, an explosion of an experimental

  • hyperspace gateway severely damages the Moon, resulting in a debris ring and

  • meteor bombardments that eradicate a large portion of the Earth's population. As

  • a result, many survivors abandon the barely habitable Earth to colonize the

  • inner planets, the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter.

  • Mars has become the new central hub of human civilization, and interplanetary

  • crime syndicates exert influence over the government and the Inter-Solar System

  • Police (ISSP), limiting their effectiveness. As a result, a bounty system

  • similar to that in the Old West is established to deal with fugitives,

  • terrorists, and other criminals; the bounty hunters involved are frequently

  • termed "cowboys". The standard currency is the woolong, which is roughly

  • equivalent to the present-day Japanese yen.

  • The technology in Cowboy Bebop's world is a mixture of futuristic (cybernetics,

  • jump gates, energy weapons) and modern (wheeled cars, handguns, zippo-styled

  • lighters). Yet, even technology often looks a bit older and battered.

  • The three main classes of vehicles present are ground vehicles, air vehicles and

  • space vehicles. Ground vehicles are wheeled automobiles not much different from

  • modern automobiles. Aircraft are mostly jet-powered, although helicopters are

  • also seen. Spaceships range in size from small one-man fighters to immense

  • passenger liners and cargo ships.

  • Story

  • The series revolves around the adventures undertaken by the crew of the

  • spaceship Bebop. The crew is made up of five main characters: Spike Spiegel, an

  • exiled hitman of the ruthless Red Dragon Syndicate; Jet Black, a former ISSP

  • officer who retired following a mob hit that cost him his arm; Faye Valentine,

  • an amnesiac con artist who awakened in the future after a lengthy period of

  • cryogenic hibernation; "Radical" Edward, a barefooted preteen girl who is a

  • prolific computer hacker; and Ein, a hyper-intelligent, genetically-engineered

  • Welsh Corgi dog.

  • Throughout the series, Bebop crew members deal with unresolved issues from their

  • pasts, and the show regularly utilizes flashbacks to illustrate the history of

  • the main characters. The day-to-day life of the crew is also explored throughout

  • the series.

  • Characters

  • Spike Spiegel is a former member of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. Spike is a

  • master in firearms and hand-to-hand combat, practicing Jeet Kune Do, and is also

  • a skilled pilot. He flies a red customized Mono Racer, an atmosphere-capable

  • spacecraft called Swordfish II. His right eye is cybernetic. He is haunted by

  • the memory of his time in the syndicate, and particularly by his romantic

  • relationship with a mysterious woman named Julia, and his conflict with arch-rival

  • and former syndicate partner, Vicious. He is also a pickpocket. He is the first

  • bounty hunter to debut.

  • Jet Black is a former ISSP (Inter-Solar System Police) detective and is the

  • owner of the Bebop. Once called The Black Dog by his fellow officers, he left

  • the ISSP in disgust due to its corruption and red tape, and turned to bounty

  • hunting as a way to apply justice. Although medical science could replace his

  • lost arm, he voluntarily wears a cybernetic prosthetic as a reminder of the

  • consequences of rushing into danger. He also owns a small yellow utility ship

  • called Hammerhead. The Hammerhead has been equipped with a mechanical claw, and

  • a harpoon that can be used as a tow cable. Like Spike, he too is haunted by the

  • memory of a woman, Alisa, his longtime girlfriend who left him without reason.

  • He is the second bounty hunter to debut.

  • Faye Valentine is a novice bounty hunter with a gambling addiction. She joins

  • the crew of the Bebop uninvited, to the consternation of Jet and Spike. Though

  • she abandons the ship several times during the course of the series, her

  • attachment to the crew always brings her back. These feelings are apparently

  • reciprocated, as Jet and Spike always allow her to return despite claiming they're

  • pleased to see her leave. She pilots a generic heavy spacecraft called Red Tail,

  • which gets its name from the red flap on the back of the otherwise pale blue

  • ship, and has been heavily modified with armament and tracking sensors. Her

  • gambling, cheating, and competitive skills are unrivaled except by Spike. Much

  • of her past and her real last name are a mystery, however it appears that she

  • was severely injured in a space shuttle accident and was then cryogenically

  • frozen until she could be healed. This expensive medical procedure left her

  • deeply in debt, made worse when she inherited the debts of her husband (a man

  • who married her shortly after her surgery, then later faked his death in an

  • automobile accident). She emerges from the cryonic sleep in an amnesiac state,

  • from which she eventually recovers. All vestiges of her pasthome, family,

  • possessionsare gone. She is the fourth bounty hunter to debut.

  • Edward is a young computer genius and master hacker. She uses the alias Radical

  • Edward when hacking. Ed is a girl, though her name and androgynous appearance

  • suggest otherwise. She had followed the travels of the Bebop before encountering

  • the ship, and agrees to help the crew track down a bounty-head in exchange for

  • becoming a member of the crew. Although extremely intelligent, Ed is still a

  • child, and looks up to the crew of the Bebop as members of her family. She uses

  • the fanciful name Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV, but an odd encounter with

  • her father reveals that her real name is Françoise Appledelhi. She spends much

  • of her time with Ein. She is the fifth and last bounty hunter to debut.

  • Ein is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, a former lab animal identified as a "data dog" by

  • the scientists who reared him. The scientists used him for unspecified

  • experiments, enhancing him to give him extraordinary data-sniffing and pattern-recognition

  • abilities. It is suggested that he possesses enhanced intelligence, which he

  • subtly displays throughout the series, including showing the ability to speak to

  • other animals (and possibly Ed), and perfectly hacking the Scratch website in

  • session #23. The rest of the Bebop crew, with the exception of Ed, often fail to

  • notice these qualities and treat Ein as an average pet. He is the third bounty

  • hunter to debut.

  • Vicious is a grim enforcer of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate, a former friend of

  • Spike and now his nemesis. Vicious wields a katana for a weapon and is always

  • accompanied by a strange, crow-like bird perched on his shoulder. He lives up to

  • his name both through his violent actions and his treacherous scheming within

  • the syndicate. Vicious is the series' only recurring antagonist, appearing in

  • five episodes.

  • Production

  • In the late 1990s the space adventure genre was a very popular TV theme in Japan.

  • Notable examples of such include Sunrise's Outlaw Star and Madhouse's Trigun.

  • Sunrise became very enthusiastic to create a series of the same genre and

  • consequently assigned its top talents towards its development.

  • The leader of the creative team was director Shinichiro Watanabe, most notable

  • at the time for directing Macross Plus, the futuristic adventure anime OVA

  • series, and Mobile Suit Gundam. Other leading members of Sunrise's creative

  • team were screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto,

  • mechanical art designer Kimitoshi Yamane and composer Yoko Kanno. Most of them

  • had previously worked together, in addition to having credits on other popular

  • anime titles. Nobumoto had scripted Macross Plus, Kawamoto had designed the

  • characters for Gundam, and Kanno had composed the music for Macross Plus and The

  • Vision of Escaflowne. Yamane had not worked with Watanabe yet, but his credits

  • in anime included Bubblegum Crisis and The Vision of Escaflowne.

  • Watanabe wanted to create a program that would also appeal to adults, exploring

  • a number of philosophical concepts and themes in the process. The most important

  • of the many elements of Cowboy Bebop were its existentialist and philosophical

  • concepts. The dialogue of the series was kept "clean", but its level of

  • sophistication was appropriate to adults in a criminal milieu. Themes such as

  • drug dealing and homosexuality were key elements of some episodes.

  • The series' art direction centers on American music and counterculture,

  • especially the beat and jazz movements of the 1940s–1960s and the early rock and

  • roll era of the 1950s–1970s, which the original soundtrack by Yoko Kanno and the

  • Seatbelts defines.

  • The atmospheres of the planets and racial groups in Cowboy Bebop mostly

  • originate from Watanabe's ideas, with some collaboration from set designers

  • Isamu Imakake, Shoji Kawamori, and Dai Satou. The staff of Cowboy Bebop

  • established the particular atmospheres early in the production. In early

  • production, ethnic groups were not fully established. Watanabe wanted to have

  • many racial groups appear in Cowboy Bebop.

  • Mars was the planet most often used in storylines in Cowboy Bebop. Satoshi Toba,

  • the cultural and setting producer, explained that other planets "were

  • unexpectedly difficult to use". Toba explained that each planet in Cowboy Bebop

  • had unique features, and in the plot the producers had to take into account the

  • characteristics of each planet. Toba explained that it was not possible for the

  • staff of Cowboy Bebop to have a dramatic rooftop scene occur on Venus, so "we

  • ended up normally falling back to Mars".

  • Analysis

  • Style and appeal

  • Several planets and space stations in the series are shown to be made in the

  • Earth's image. The streets of celestial objects such as Ganymede resemble a

  • modern port city, while Mars is replete with shopping malls, theme parks,

  • casinos and cities. Cowboy Bebop's universe is filled with video players and

  • hyperspace gates, eco-politics and fairgrounds, spaceships and Native American

  • shamans. Futuristic elements are combined with the modern elements, "allowing

  • audiences to easily connect with the Cowboy Bebop world".

  • In his review of Cowboy Bebop, Miguel Douglas, editor-in-chief of iSugoi.com,

  • describes the style of the series:

  • the series distinctly establishes itself outside the realm of conventional

  • Japanese animation and instead chooses to forge its own path. With a setting

  • within the realm of science fiction, the series wisely offers a world that seems

  • entirely realistic considering our present time. Free from many of the elements

  • that accompany science fiction in generalwhether that be space aliens, giant

  • robots, or laser gunsthe series delegates itself towards presenting a world

  • that is quite similar to our own albeit showcasing some technological advances.

  • Certainly not as pristine a future we would see in other series or films, Cowboy

  • Bebop decides to deliver a future that closely reflects that of our own time.

  • This aspect of familiarity does wonders in terms of relating to the viewer, and

  • it presents a world that certainly resembles our very own.

  • Daryl Surat of Otaku USA commented on the series' "broad-ranging" appeal due to

  • its style:

  • Cowboy Bebop was that rare breed of science-fiction: "accessible". Unlike many

  • anime titles, viewers weren’t expected to have knowledge of Asian culture

  • character names, signs, and the like were primarily in English to begin with

  • or have seen any other anime series prior.

  • Susan J. Napier argues, in her book Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke:

  • Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, that anime increasingly "exists at

  • a nexus point in global culturean amorphous new media territory that crosses

  • and intermingles national boundaries". Napier goes on to point out that many

  • Japanese commentators refer to anime with the term mukokuseki, meaning "stateless".

  • This implies that much anime is not specifically Japanese and therefore lacks a

  • distinct national identity. Napier states that this "very quality of 'statelessness'

  • has increasing attraction in our global culture". It is said that Cowboy Bebop

  • reflects this and it is a great part of the show's appeal.

  • Genre and cultural references

  • Watanabe's main inspiration for Cowboy Bebop was Lupin III, a crime anime series

  • from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. According to Watanabe, the series

  • paid subtle tribute to his favorite American films and series, which were shown

  • in Japan during that time, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bruce

  • Lee films, films with blues or jazz soundtracks, as well as Blaxploitation films.

  • Individual movies from Alien to Midnight Run were pastiched.

  • The series covered genres such as comedy, detective caper, action and thriller.

  • The musical style was emphasized in many of the episode titles, which were in

  • English, such as: Asteroid Blues, Honky Tonk Woman, Ballad of Fallen Angels,

  • Heavy Metal Queen, etc. The anime draws heavily on Western sources, such as

  • pulp detective stories, film noir, and American Westerns. There are also strong

  • Hong Kong influences, mainly of the heroic bloodshed mold which includes films

  • such as The Killer or Hard Boiled.

  • These continual borrowings from other genres and cultural products create a

  • familiar access point for a western audience and perhaps in some part explain

  • Cowboy Bebop's popularity. The sense of the familiar is emphasised and

  • reinforced by popular culture references throughout the series. Kung fu films

  • are an obvious influence. In Stray Dog Strut the final fight between Spike and

  • Hakim is influenced by Bruce Lee's Game of Death while in Waltz for Venus, Spike's

  • kung fu lesson is similar to a scene from Lee's Enter the Dragon.

  • Big Shot, the fictional news source within Cowboy Bebop which provides

  • information on various bounty heads.

  • The genre of the western is another influence on Cowboy Bebop. The most obvious

  • reference is in the title of the show, immediately suggesting a lawless society.

  • There are further examples throughout; a show called Big Shot informs the

  • characters of the current bounties, the crew continually come across saloons and

  • desert worlds and engage in gunfights and stand-offs. The show has a perpetual

  • sense of lawlessnessboth from the bounties they chase and from within the

  • crew of the Bebop itself.

  • Similarly science fiction is another key influence, not only in the spaceship