Cowboy Bebop is one of the most well-known anime series out there, and it’s the first anime series I watched in full. Initially, I was drawn to it just because it was science fiction. But I quickly fell for all the other elements that make it unique and memorable — things like the well-developed characters, sense of style, and incredible music.
The show is about a group of bounty hunters who drift through space on a ship called the Bebop, usually without much food except ramen noodles, waiting for their next big target who can help them rake in some woolongs. It seems things never go quite right, and they certainly never get rich. But that’s okay, because the characters are still cool. Money isn’t everything; attitude is. Somehow, Cowboy Bebop manages to showcase characters who are kickass but flawed; they don’t lose their edge as you get to know them better.
What does lose its edge the more you watch the series is the violence.
The first time I watched Cowboy Bebop, I thought everything was so stylish… particularly the action scenes. But rewatching the series, it’s easy to see that the music is what makes the action scenes feel “cool.” As soon as the first gunshot fires, the music kicks in and makes all of the bloody, dangerous action feel like a rocking good time. Take away that music, and you have an experience that’s much more tense and dramatic but lacks the sense of play that makes Cowboy Bebop so fun to watch.
In this way, the music trivializes the violence. There are notable exceptions to this, such as when more dramatic, almost classical music is used instead of the usual bebop — or when no music is used at all. You first see this in the 5th episode “Ballad of Fallen Angels,” in which Spike confronts his old friend-turned-enemy Vicious. The violence is still made to seem beautiful, both in the visual presentation and the music playing, but it has much more somber tones than most other action scenes and episodes in the series.
Once you spot that, it’s easy to see that a large part of Cowboy Bebop‘s charm is that it makes everything seem beautiful. There are some genuinely ugly characters, but they are still designed to impress the eye. In other words, the characters can be ugly, but the art style is always gorgeous in some way. It makes me think Oscar Wilde would have loved Cowboy Bebop.
Because of all this, the show made me really enjoy the experience of watching it, and it presented a world I love to escape to. Although much of the violence doesn’t make sense when you watch it back — why did this person have to get shot? why doesn’t the fruit being thrown at the dog Ein ever hit the ground? — Cowboy Bebop prefers to be glamorous rather than sensible. That’s what makes it such a knockout to watch, and even though you see through all the sparkle after a while, it’s impressive that the show’s unique sense of style is able to play with your emotions as you’re watching.