Revisiting Cowboy Bebop Two Decades Later in Four Notes

Julien Neaves, Editor

If you are reading this today (November 19) then Netflix just premiered its live action TV series Cowboy Bebop based on the iconic 1998 space bounty hunter noir anime of the same name. The trailers look great and I will definitely be checking it out and reviewing it for you good folks.

Now I have heard about the anime for years but never got around to watching it. Thankfully Netflix dropped the one and only season so I finally got a chance to catch up. And it was 12 flavours of awesome sauce! With a black hole-sized SPOILER here’s my retrospective review in four notes:

Note #1 Rocking Music

Play it again, cowboy

The music in Cowboy Bebop is easily some of the best I have heard in any anime. Have you heard the opening theme? Because I have. And that super smooth jazz masterpiece was so glorious I did not hit “skip intro” once; I just let it flow over me again and again.

The rest of the music by Yoko Kanno (Macross Plus, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) is a brilliant blend of western, opera and jazz (“bebop” is the first kind of modern jazz). It really shouldn’t work on paper but the execution is simply masterful. The music alone makes Cowboy Bebop worth checking out.

Note #2 Banging Characters

Quit staring at me. You’re freaking me out!

Cowboy Bebop also boasts quite the memorable cast of characters. The ragtag crew of the titular ship the Bebop are quite memorable and entertaining. We have our protagonist Spike Spiegel, aka the coolest dude this side of the galaxy. He’s got lots of style, a dark past (he’s an exiled former hitman of the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate), a devil-may-care attitude and is quite skilled with a gun. Gotta love Spike. You have also grizzled and level-headed ex-cop Jet Black, sexy amnesiac con artist Faye Valentine and quirky young hacker Edward aka Ed. Oh, and I can’t forget Ein, a genetically engineered Corgi with human-like intelligence, though I can’t say he displays it much.

Spike and Jet are easily my favourites. Faye has some fun comedic moments but I did not find her that interesting. And uncovering elements of her past did not make her more so. Ed was somewhat off-putting at first but she grew on me. And Ein is kinda just there. There is a scene where Faye offers him some dogfood and then proceeds to eat it. The look on the poor dog’s face is priceless. Overall I enjoyed the crew and their struggles to get a bounty to at least put food on the table.

Note #3 Hit it Again

Sephiroth? Never heard of him

The 26 episodes (or sessions) range from slapstick comedy to gritty action. Two extremes, I know, but Cowboy Bebop makes it work. Most of the humour lands well and the gunfights are smooth and brutally visceral. You have ridiculous episodes like Toys in the Attic where the crew are besieged by a blob that evolved from forgotten food. Or the whimsical My Funny Valentine where Faye reunites with her hustler former lover. Then you have dark sessions like Episode 5, Ballad of Fallen Angels, where Spike encounters his archenemy, gangster Vicious. Or Sympathy for the Devil when an 80-year-old killer appears in the guise of a little boy. Not many laughs to be had seeing Spike shooting a kid in his head.

While the individual episodes hold up well I would have liked something of a through thread. You go from seeing Spike all wrapped up in bandages in one episode to being fine the next without even a mention in the dialogue. It may be a light criticism, but it’s a criticism all the same.

Note #4 Bittersweet Tune

Kiss kiss bang bang

And can we talk about that finale? That was just pitch perfect. We finally meet up with Spike’s long lost love Julia and she gets killed by a random goon’s bullet. No big setup. No ceremony. Just gone. And Spike’s one-man assault on the Red Dragon Syndicate and bloody final battle with Vicious is a mind-blowing ballet of bullets. His death was predicted at the start of the episode but seeing him fall still hurt.

Cowboy Bebop definitely lives up to the hype and all the elements come together to deliver an endlessly entertaining anime. We’ll have to wait and see if the live action version does the show justice. See you then Space Cowboy.

Editor Jules’s Score: 9 out of 10

So are you a fan of Cowboy Bebop? Sound off in the comments. And you can check out more classic anime content below:


Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.