Cowboy Bebop

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Date Aired
September 28th, 2013
Running Time
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Cowboy Bebop is the subject of the 64th episode of Anime Abandon, hosted by Bennett the Sage. The video was originally posted to That Guy With the Glasses on September 28th, 2013, and later to YouTube on April 1st, 2014.

In this episode, Sage closes out [adult swim] Month by taking a look at a series that needs no introduction. Running for almost 13 years straight on the block between [as] and the revived Toonami (until the end of 2013, anyway), Cowboy Bebop is easily one of the most legendary anime ever made, and Sage takes a look at what makes this show so appealing to even non-anime fans.

Episode Transcript[edit | edit source]

(Before the Anime Abandon opening, we get an [adult swim]-styled opening disclaimer)

Robotic voice: Viewer strongly cautioned: the following contains no footage of Outlaw Star. If you believe you see any clip of Outlaw Star, that is only from your acute paranoid delusion. Please seek professional help immediately.

(Anime Abandon opening Version 2.0)

Sage: Otaku are all over the map when it comes to individual tastes and preferences. Some might be Magical Girl fans who believe that Madoka Magica is a brave and irreverent twist on the genre, and some might be Seinen fans who think that there should finally be a proper ending to Berserk. And…some might be both! But if there was one title that could unite all these tribes of fans under one identity…it would be Cowboy Bebop.

(Quick cut to the legendary opening, “Tank!” It is our background music as well.)

Sage: Simply put, it’s the standard by which all series are measured by. And from my point of view, rightfully so.

(Cut back to the opening credit sequence)

Sage (VO): Everyone has their own story about the first time they saw Bebop. Maybe some friend of ours who had cable was just raving about the show and made us rent it on VHS at our local Bradley Video—you know, the one that was used in Scream?

(Cut to the first episode, Asteroid Blues)

Yeah, and when we sat down to watch it, we couldn’t focus because we only had one TV at the time, and it was in the living room, so we had to put up with our dad who kept interrupting the show with his questions about the who’s and what’s and why’s and completely ruining it!

(Cut to Sage, stroking his chin in thought.)

Sage: Or was that just me?

(Cut back to Bebop footage)

Sage (VO): If I could be honest, the very first episode I ever watched was not a very noteworthy episode: Heavy Metal Queen.

(Cut to the part of said episode where Spike is trying to use a home hangover remedy involving egg yolk. Because a man is punched into him in a bar fight, he ends up losing the yolk.)

Sage (VO): I didn’t really get it, or why my friend at the time couldn’t stop raving about it, but I decided to keep with the series. Slowly but surely, as the episodes began to trickle their way through my 12-year old brain, staring at the TV at way past his bedtime on Saturday nights, the series began to grab a hold of me. Soon I was buying overpriced DVDs and becoming achingly familiar with Dolby Digital promos.

(Cut to Dolby Digital's "City" trailer, which one would usually see when popping in a Bandai DVD.)

Sage: Go ahead. Tell me that doesn’t give you a raging nostalgia boner. I dare you.

(Cut to footage from the Cowboy Bebop movie.)

Sage (VO): Hell, I was such a raging fanboy that I practically begged my brother to get me the Cowboy Bebop movie for Christmas…even though it would be two whole years before we got an official release. I still don’t know what the man had to go to find this bootleg back in 2002…and part of me doesn’t want to.

(Cut to Sage holding up said bootleg.)

Sage: Incidentally, this is the reason why I insist on calling the film “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Suck my nuts, Dylan.

(Cut to footage from Ballad of Fallen Angels. Background music resumes with “Rush.”)

Sage (VO): It was the first anime that [adult swim] showcased, starting on September 2nd, 2001, even before there was a Saturday action block for anime. And from there, the show has been rerun and rerun.

(Cut back to Sage)

Sage: It spent pretty much all of 2005 and 6 off the programming schedule, but you can’t keep a good show down for long, and it returned in 2007, where it continues to air under the revamped Toonami block. Think about that for a moment.

(Cut to the space shuttle episode and Cowboy Funk)

Sage (VO): A show, with only 26 episodes to its name, has been syndicated for almost a decade, if you cut out the two-year hiatus. This show has been on so long that there’s now an entire generation of young otaku that are just about to tune into Bebop for the first time.

(Cut to Sage looking into the distance and shaking his head.)

Sage: Goddamn do I feel old…

(Cut back to more Bebop footage, this time from Brain Scratch, Black Dog Serenade, and Pierrot le Fou.)

Sage (VO): I think it’s a safe bet that if you’re watching this, then you are well aware of Bebop, so I’m not going to be recounting much of the plot for summary purposes. Instead, I aim to examine why Bebop has endeared itself many an otaku over the years, and why it became a classic after it was ported over to the States. But before we go in too deep, I feel I should speak my mind about the recent acquisition of Bebop.

I was planning to talk about the show for many months now, and it’s damn near serendipitous it’s been saved by the Superman of anime’s, Funimation, just a month before this episode has been released. True, this was a hot property for anyone to pick up and purchase from the all-but-defunct Bandai, and it was only a matter of time before somebody would pony up the cash for it, but I choose to believe that Funimation did this just for me.

(Cut to Sage holding his Bandai DVD singles.)

Sage: Sure, it’s great that the show will live on for future generations to watch, and sure it’s great that we’re gonna get streaming of every episode for free, along with high-def releases and neat packaging, but…(looks at the DVDs and sighs) nothing is going to replace my Bandai collection.

(Cut to dialogue from Bebop.)

Spike: I don’t like this setup, Jet…don’t like it at all.

(Cut to episode footage. This one has Spike with a cat on his head.)

Sage (VO): Unlike many of the shows that have been elevated to the status of essential viewing, Cowboy Bebop is unique in that it is strikingly un-Japanese.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: When you think about important anime, they usually share a common ground in their Japanese, and more broadly, Asian ancestry.

(Cut to footage of the Dragonball Z Broly movie.)

Sage (VO): Dragonball is the easiest example to go by, here, and yes, despite my misgivings with the series, I do consider the Dragonball franchise to be important. Inspired by the story “Journey to the West,” a classic Chinese novel, and infused with Asian iconography, the shows are unmistakably Japanese in source and inception.

(Cut to a Ken Burns shot of the RX-78 Gundam.)

The Gundam series, by comparison, is less obvious, but still safely within the realm of Japanese influence. It’s not a far leap to see the visual inspiration of the iconic RX-78, if you’re familiar with Japanese samurai armor. Hell, even the leaders of the Principality of Zeon share more than a few notes from different periods of Japanese military history.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: But Cowboy Bebop? Sure there are a few Asian influences here and there, but for the most part, it’s about as American as pumpkin pie and outsourcing labor.

(Cut back to more footage from Asteroid Blues.)

Sage (VO): True, the original run of Bebop in Japan was disastrous, as broadcast standards left a lot of episodes un-airable. And the episodes that were aired were shown out of order. Eventually, the show found itself on a Japanese premium network, where restrictions are more lax. But this delay caused the production to be so screwed up that the last episode was completed and delivered the day of its broadcast!

(Cut back to Sage)

Sage: And this was before Matt Stone and Trey Parker were doing this every week on South Park!

(Sage is interrupted by an alarm. HIPSTER ALERT! shows up on screen. Sage looks around for a possible culprit.)

Sage: What? It’s true!

(Cut back to episode Black Dog Serenade. Music changes to “Piano Black.”)

Sage (VO): With the debut the show had, it was no wonder that the show didn’t catch fire initially in Japan. But Bebop was not the only title to suffer this same fate. In fact, many of the anime I’ve previously covered followed the same path trailblazed by Bebop.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: Both The Big O and Trigun were met with lukewarm responses after their initial run in Japan. But it was only after they debuted in America did they get the adulation that was due.

(Cut to footage of Toys in the Attic.)

Sage (VO): Of course, with all of this talk of anime being brought over to the States and finding critical praise, it’d be easy to misconstrue what I’m saying. And anime does not need to Westernize itself—for lack of a better term—to be deemed a classic. Hell, some of the best anime ever produced are heavily reliant on Japanese culture and history. For crying out loud, my favorite anime film of all time is a political drama set in an alternate history Japan!

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: I want to make it very clear that just because these shows utilized a style and setting that are very similar to Americans is not the reason why they are considered good. You get me? Just because they’re “American,” does not. Mean. They’re good.

(Cut to episode footage.)

Sage (VO): It’s because these shows—and especially Bebop—presented themselves using tropes, visual language and storytelling mechanics that were more traditionally Western—and did it WELL—is the reason why they are so highly regarded.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: So what is it about Cowboy Bebop that makes it so American? Well, simply put, there’s no one thing. The show hops from reference to reference without skipping a beat. Everything from Blaxploitation films…

(Cut to footage of Mushroom Samba where a black woman with an afro and a revealing jacket steps out of a car. Cut back to Sage.)

Sage: To film noir detective stories…

(Cut to footage of Black Dog Serenade once again.)

Jet: You’re under arrest!

(Udai Taxim looks back at Jet as a spotlight shines right into Jet’s eyes behind Taxim.)

Jet: A setup!

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: To American Westerns.

(Cut to footage from Cowboy Funk.)

Man: Andy!

(Panning shot up reveals Andy, a cowboy dressed in all white. Spike is confused.)

Spike: Andy?!

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: Cowboy Bebop homages more American films than Tarantino’s entire filmography.

(We cut to commercial, but not before we are presented with an [adult swim] bump. Music is Hammer by Pelican City.)

Jet: We better not play here. They’ll kick us out if we win too much.

Spike: Thanks, Mom.

Robotic voice: Anime Abandon will return in a moment.

(We return from commercial, and we get our final bump for [adult swim] Month.)

Faye: Now, I didn’t really open this thing, you know. It just opened by itself!

(Faye opens the box, but we don’t find out what’s inside.)

Robotic voice: Anime Abandon now continues.

(Cut to…you guessed it, Asteroid Blues.)

Sage (VO): From the first episode, Asteroid Blues, and their slightly subtle tribute to Desperado, to the more direct Alien nod in Toys in the Attic, Shinichiro Watanabe’s affinity for American films shine through.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: But, again, this wouldn’t mean much if all this was, was just an homage. Thankfully, Bebop is a lot more clever than that.

(Cut to footage, this time from Stray Dog Strut.)

Sage (VO): It’s the way the show’s characters interact and react to these outside influences is what makes this show unique unto itself. Yes, it would’ve been all right if Spike just fought a guy who looks like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Game of Death…

Hakim: So, you a bounty hunter? Or some animal rights chump?

Spike: You know, you really make me laugh, Hakim! Risking your life for a dog that’s only worth a fistful of Woolongs!

Hakim: What’s it to you?

Spike: Nothing but a giggle.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: But seeing him teach a guy about Jeet Kune Do and Bruce Lee’s philosophy…

(Cut to footage from Waltz for Venus.)

Spike: It means becoming like clear water.

Rocco: Water…

Spike: Right. Water can take any form. It drifts without effort one moment, then pounds down in a torrent the very next.

(Cut to footage of Bruce Lee’s 1971 interview with Pierre Burton.)

Lee: Now water can flow…or it can crash. Be water, my friend!

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: That…is character building.

(Cut back to Waltz for Venus footage, music changes to “Stella by Moor.”)

Sage (VO): If the show were in lesser hands, then Spike would’ve been in Bruce’s yellow motorcycle suit, and that would’ve been the extent of Spike’s character. But by expanding the pastiche, Spike’s character grows as it becomes obvious to the audience that he took Bruce Lee’s teachings to heart.

(Cut to Sage)

Sage: And yes, I am counting this moment as an American influence. Enter the Dragon was an American production, it was written in English, and it was financed by Warner Bros. If Bruce Lee were born in America, there’d be no argument.

(Cut to Jupiter Jazz footage)

Sage (VO): If there was any doubt left in your mind of Bebop’s American identity, then look no further than Laughing Bull: the only Native American character I know of in anime.

Child: A star just fell from the sky.

Laughing Bull: That is not an ordinary star, my son. That star is the tear of a warrior.

Child: What warrior is it?

LB: A lost soul who has finished his battle somewhere on this planet.

Child: Ohhh…

LB: A pitiful soul who could not find his way to the lofty realm where the Great Spirit awaits us all…

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: That part always gives me shivers.

(Cut back to Laughing Bull scenes from Jupiter Jazz.)

Sage (VO): The character of Laughing Bull appears only briefly in a few episodes, but he does highlight both Spike’s spiritual nature and the setting of the story: a Native American residing on Mars, surrounded by broken technology and expounding warrior wisdom and seer prophecy to Spike and Jet.

LB: Do not fear death. Death is always at our side. When we show fear, it jumps at us faster than light. But if we do not show fear, it casts its eye upon us gently…and then guides us into…infinity…

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: It never occurred to me how rarely we see Native Americans in anime. I mean, when I sit down to think about it, I can only come up with two anime that have native characters: one, Bebop, and if I stretch the definition, two…The Mysterious Cities of Gold?!

(Cut to the opening footage of said show. Smash cut back to Sage.)

Sage: BAM! Nostalgia blindsided ya, didn’t I?

(Cut back to Bebop footage, this time from Sympathy for the Devil, music changes to “Spokey Dokey.”)

Sage (VO): Still, the show would be nowhere near the hit that it was or be as culturally significant as it is without its soundtrack. It still remains Yoko Kanno’s masterstroke, and it will be a long time before any soundtrack can come close to its profound impact.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: And yes, the soundtrack is American as fuck.

(Cut to footage from Sympathy for the Devil.)

Sage (VO): Yes, it was produced entirely in Japan, but of the 50-odd songs used in the show, only a couple of songs are sung in Japanese. More to the point, however, is that the style of music that was most prevalent, though eclectic as the soundtrack was, was jazz and blues: the two most American musical genres there are. Still, regardless of musical motifs, the soundtrack is what makes the series, from the opening sonorous clashing of drums and sax that opens “Tank!”…

(Quick clip of the end of “Tank!,” then cut back to Sage.)

Sage: To perhaps my most favorite out of all of them: Space Lion.

(Cut to footage from Pierrot Le Fou. Music changes to “Waltz for Zizi.”)

Sage (VO): So, here you are, as an American watching a show that makes all these references to movies you’ve seen, backed by music you’re not only comfortable with, but also kicks all sorts of ass. And it’s well-animated, well-written, well-acted, well-directed, and well-choreographed! And to top it all off, it is unlike anything you have ever seen before!

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: It doesn’t take a genius to see why this caught on in America.

(Cut to footage.)

Sage (VO): But the show couldn’t coast on its American appeal for long, and thankfully, it didn’t try to. People tend to overlook the fact that Cowboy Bebop was a sci-fi anime, and those tend to be alienating to newcomers to the genre.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: When you get down to it, the only reason why people watched Cowboy Bebop—and kept watching it—was because for an anime, it was incredibly accessible. Not just because of its American appeal.

(Cut back to footage, this time from “Speak Like a Child.”)

Sage (VO): The world that the story is set in is fleshed out and nothing important is left unexplained. There are no alien cultures to muddy the narrative, though the Earth population brings their own brand of eccentricity. And the technology seems advanced, but grounded in modern notions of how technology would progress…at least modern for the late ‘90s. Hell, one of my favorite bits in the entire series is when Spike and Jet are fiddling with VCR’s like they’re cavemen.

Store attendant: The tape is messed up!

(Spike kicks the VCR repeatedly and the attendant gives a look of utter horror.)

Jet: That isn’t helping, Spike…

(Spike continues to kick the VCR…and then it breaks.)

Spike: It’s not? Huh.

Sage (VO): To me, this idea of world building is very reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s vision of the future, as set by Alien. Instead of the harmonious, oddly sterile future of Roddenberry’s Star Trek, Scott—and by extension, Bebop—saw humanity’s future barely making it past Earth’s gravity. While the Weyland-Yutani corporation are the presiding force that govern peace and progression, the actual police force in Bebop are so powerless to stop crime, that they have to resort to hiring bounty hunters. This complete reliance is so ingrained into the culture that there is a whole television show dedicated to bounty hunting information.

Punch: He escaped from prison three years ago and the statute of limitations is about to run out!

Judy: And the bounty?

Punch: Sho’ nuff…it’s now double time! Judy: Don’t miss this opportunity! Though I hate to admit it, I kinda hate to see him go. What a shame!

Punch: Whoa! Judy, what are you saying? This buckaroo’s an escaped convict!

Judy: I’m aware of that! But my word, what a handsome guy! Oh…just look at his picture!

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: But unlike Scott, Watanabe’s future is strangely…racially diverse.

(Cut to more footage of the space shuttle episode.)

Sage (VO): Without a doubt, Cowboy Bebop is the most racially inclusive anime I’ve ever seen…and possibly ever! Hell, the anime about world nations interacting with each other are almost entirely presented by white people!

(Cut to footage from Hetalia)

China: Christmas trees are illegal in my country. It kinda sucks.

Italy: Heh! Just like girls!

China: It’s because they catch fire too easily. The trees, not the girls.

(On-screen text: “…just stop, Hetalia…”)

China: We started celebrating Christmas when Hong Kong introduce it. I’m sure it’s a little different than Western Christmas. We do have pizza now…

(Cut back to Bebop footage. Music changes to “Space Lion.”)

Sage (VO): But here is Bebop with its characters living through a slightly dystopian world, where the Earth is constantly bombarded by space debris, leaving it mostly uninhabitable, but still, there are recognizable world cultures on display. Hell, Spike, though he was born on Mars, is hinted to be Jewish, what with his name being “Spiegel.”

We tend to not look at Bebop as a sci-fi story, even more so than Macross Plus, though mainly for the same reason. The human drama is front and center in Bebop, and save for a few episodes like Pierrot Le Fou and Brain Scratch, the series could be set at any time. By the way, those two episodes are probably my favorite, along with Jupiter Jazz and Ballad of Fallen Angels.

Truth be known, I could’ve easily grew to Cowboy Bebop if it didn’t stylize itself after American movies and such. But I don’t think it would endear itself to me the way it has if the characters didn’t go through a metaphorical Americanization.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: Sure, Bebop is a stone-cold classic, there’s no disputing that. But I think…the series means something more globally minded than that.

(Cut to a Ken Burns shot of Astro Boy.)

Sage (VO): One of the hidden appeals of anime is that it’s a product of a merging of cultures. It’s well-documented that the progenitors of the anime style we know today drew their own inspiration from the art styles of Walt Disney and company. The use of large, expressive eyes are especially noteworthy.

(Cut to a Ken Burns shot of Osamu Tezuka posing with an Astro Boy statuette.)

From this foundation, Japan was able to explore their own cultural identity through manga and anime, telling stories and creating characters and worlds that would shape their own ideas of popular fiction.

(Cut back to Asteroid Blues footage.)

And Bebop, I believe, is the realization of this history, and bridges a cultural gap because of it. Here is a show, foreign in production but wholly committed to professing its admiration and inspiration to the culture that influenced it. And here we are, returning said admiration with praise and interest in exploring what other stories this culture may have told. Transcending geographic and linguistic barriers, a dialogue can be established: a connection built on cultural exchange and understanding, and a love for telling stories.

Bebop is more than a great anime. It’s nothing short of important. It opens doors and minds to ideas that otherwise might never have occurred.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: I once talked about standards and hard it was for anime fans back in the day to keep up with their hobby. It’s through programming blocks like [adult swim] and the Sci-Fi Channel’s Anime Saturdays and Anime Festival and most importantly Toonami…that we were able to indulge our interests, and most importantly, broaden them.

(Cut to footage from Ballad of Fallen Angels.)

Sage (VO): Would the likes of Bebop, Trigun and other classics be where they are today without [adult swim]? Maybe they could’ve caused enough buzz for fans to get their attention. But I don’t think it would’ve had its widespread appeal without the push the Saturday action block provided. And most importantly, it showed people who never even thought about anime before…what they were missing. Thank you, Williams Street.

(Cut to Sage.)

Sage: Normally when I close a positive episode, I languish over the fact that the next anime is going to be pretty terrible. But instead…this time around…I think I want to leave you guys on a more emotional note than that. EYES of Mars on next episode, but for now…let’s have Space Lion play us out.

After the credits end, in true Cowboy Bebop fashion, in the lower right corner of the screen we see...

“’Til next time…”

Sources Used[edit | edit source]

  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door
  • Hetalia
  • Jin-Roh
  • Dragonball Z
  • The Mysterious Cities of Gold
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