Without Cowboy Bebop, anime perhaps would not be what it is today. And in these 10 ways is exactly how the series changed the genre as we know it.
Arriving on the scene in 1998, Cowboy Bebop has been one of the most influential anime series since. Set in 2071, the space western follows a motley crew of bounty hunters traveling on a spaceship called the Bebop. Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the series incorporates a mix of genres, themes, and music that still inspires anime developers today.
For years, there have been reports of an adaptation. In 2018, Netflix announced a live-action series with John Cho (Star Trek) set to star as protagonist Spike Spiegel. But with production currently on hiatus due to Cho's on-set injury, fans must wait longer for a glimpse of the project. In the meantime, the lengthy wait is a good excuse to look back at the original series. Here are ten ways Cowboy Bebop has profoundly influenced the anime medium.
10. Was Accessible To A General Audience
Anime may be beloved among fans, but it sometimes can be too niche for general viewers. Cowboy Bebop tackled the issue head-on by doing the opposite of what many anime series do. The episodes are mostly standalone in their plot, which allows for flexibility when viewing. The plots themselves tend to revolve around doing various jobs -- something anyone can relate to.
And while Cowboy Bebop is a space western set in the future, it is accessible with modern-looking settings, advanced but relatable technology, and an overarching plot that's easy to understand.
9. Balanced Tone Properly
Juggling tone can be difficult for any story. When is it okay to include a joke? Can being too serious be a detriment? For Cowboy Bebop, the profession of bounty hunting leans more on the dramatic side and that is naturally where the series primarily dwells.
Despite being animated, it has no hesitation in showing the dark side of the profession. And yet in spite of recurring violence and death, there is plenty of humor throughout the episodes. The series does a great job of making sure the comedy doesn't overwhelm the dramatic content. According to Watanabe, Cowboy Bebop is an "80% serious story and 20% humorous touch."
8. Produced A Great Dub
Anime traditionalists generally prefer their content in Japanese audio with English subtitles. Apart from lips being in sync with the dialogue, there is distinct satisfaction in experiencing art the way it was originally made. And historically, Japanese voice actors have tended to produce stronger results in the anime recording booth.
But then Cowboy Bebop came along. With a talented ensemble that includes Steven Blum and Wendee Lee, the English dub eventually became the preferred manner many fans experienced Cowboy Bebop. But most importantly, it showed that anime developers shouldn't neglect their dubs.
7. Included Non-Anime Influences
Unsurprisingly, anime developers often draw from anime influences. Setting himself apart, Watanabe allowed all of his life influences to be incorporated into Cowboy Bebop. For film influences, the director was a fan of action directors like John Woo and sci-fi films like Alien (1979), both of which were referenced in the series.
Yoko Kanno, who composed the soundtrack, drew from musical genres not typically heard in anime like jazz and blues. But what made the series great wasn't just the inclusion of unusual influences, but combining and remixing them together to form Cowboy Bebop.
6. Gave Characters Their Moments
It can be easy for storytellers to focus on favorite characters, especially when they easily produce memorable moments. For the writers of Cowboy Bebop, there was a distinct effort to give each Bebop crew member their time in the spotlight. Usually spanning an entire episode, the character's scenes would typically explore their past and life-defining moments.
Watanabe knew taking adequate time to explore the characters would give context to their actions and words while also encouraging audiences to care about them more.
5. Incorporated Western Values
To this day, anime largely remains a Japanese export. As such, it can often incorporate a style foreign to Western audiences. Cowboy Bebop, as its name suggests, distinctly leans more towards the West than the East. Watanabe took the unusual path and incorporated Western values including the use of guns, featuring characters with easy names for Western audiences, and focusing on a profession that is associated with the Wild West.
The formula Cowboy Bebop utilized worked in attracting a wider audience, and several Western-influenced anime series launched in its wake.
4. Featured Memorable, Universal Music
Typically packed with Japanese pop and rock songs, the anime medium isn't typically known for producing universal soundtracks. Watanabe sought to change that by commissioning The Seatbelts, a Japanese band led by Kanno, to create a playlist that matched the series' various moods and could be appreciated by anyone.
The final result was a setlist that included a mix of genres and styles -- from jazz, rock, blues, and pop -- that transcended its original role to become a beloved, influential soundtrack on its own.
3. Led By Complex, Flawed Characters
While many stories focus on plot, Cowboy Bebop put its characters front and center. Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, and Ed are vastly different from each other and the resulting relationship has an interesting dynamic. Most episodes of the series tend to involve chasing bounties, but a lot of screentime is also dedicated to exploring these characters and their troubled pasts.
The crew's backstories inform the nuances of their personalities, creating a deep, complicated cast of characters not typically seen in anime.
2. Explored Mature Themes And Ideas
Like the rest of the animation industry, anime can have a stigma of being meant for children. And while Cowboy Bebop has plenty for young viewers, it was also created with adults in mind. It isn't a coincidence the Bebop crew happens to be mostly adults with life experience.
Unlike other popular anime, Cowboy Bebop is about the characters wrestling with the pasts. Throughout the episodes, recurring themes include escaping one's past, loneliness, and existentialism. Over the years, these complex ideas have fueled discussions and analysis about the series and added to its replay value among fans.
1. Committed To A Certain Story
Like live-action TV, anime series can range from a handful of episodes to spanning hundreds. What makes Cowboy Bebop special wasn't its 26-episode runtime, but its absolute commitment to telling a certain story. Watanabe chose to end the series on a final note because he wanted to avoid unnaturally prolonging the story.
When asked about it in 2004, the director said he didn't want it to "end up being something like Star Trek." Unlike some anime series that have overstayed their welcome, Cowboy Bebop ended at its peak and disappeared before it could drag.