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Review - Cowboy Bebop - Fool me twice...

From my distant, ignorant perch, Cowboy Bebop always seemed to be one of the pillars of anime. Along with Evangelion and a select few other choice favorites, I have heard it pulled out time and time again as an untouchable favorite of countless anime fans everywhere.

While I enjoyed my time with the odd crew of the Bebop, I can’t say I empathize with the level of unbridled reverence lavished upon what seemed to me to be a slightly above average action romp.

Perhaps the weight of such lofty expectations prematurely killed any chances of me joining the ranks of the Bebop faithful. Perhaps I somehow missed the point. Perhaps I simply wasn’t paying enough attention. One way or another, this anime classic failed to instill the wonder in me that I was hoping it might.

My path to Bebop started with Samurai Champloo. I made it a good way into the stylish series before getting fed up with the paper thin characters, sketchy writing, and lack of any plot worth mentioning. 

Champloo did have flashes of greatness. A few episodes had fantastic self-contained stories and the whole ordeal exuded style. Had I been in a different mood at the time I might not have criticized it so harshly. As a mindless bit of action fluff, I’ll admit it was above average. 

A friend’s suggestion led me to finally try Cowboy Bebop, the renowned predecessor of Champloo. The familial DNA they share is obvious even at a glance. Episodes are almost exclusively self-contained. There’s a heavy focus on food and money, or more often the lack thereof. Character backstories are either unimportant or unexplained, except on the rare occasion a single episode doles out a tiny morsel of information. Even the knack for brilliantly unorthodox musical choices is shared, with Champloo’s hip-hop being replaced by Bebop’s spirited jazz and blues.

Make no mistake, Bebop is the better show. Its shallow characters are less so than Champloo’s transparently thin protagonists. Its writing is, on the whole at least, decidedly less dumb. Most importantly, Bebop trades Fuu, the single most annoying female character in all of anime (only a slight exaggeration), for Ed and Faye. While Faye never rises above acceptably generic (the groan-inducing and pointless amnesiac backstory they saddle her with later on certainly doesn’t help matters), Ed was the saving grace of the series for me. Her delightful antics never ceased to amuse. 

Ed’s humorous distractions weren’t enough to cover up Bebop’s lack of depth. Having finished it, I’m left with the same general feeling I got after completing much of Samurai Champloo. A few bright spots shine amongst a blur of forgettable episodes. It’s good as mindless fun, but doesn’t manage to rise above that level. Maybe I set my expectations too high. Perhaps the hype was the culprit here. 

The ending of the series is what ended up souring me on what could have otherwise been at least decent fun. Within the span of a few short episodes, Bebop abruptly shifted its focus to serious philosophy and character backstories. What we end up with is a meaningless ending to a story that was never properly developed in the first place. Not only that, it’s a conclusion that goes against the strengths of the series. Lighthearted action is where Bebop is most comfortable, and its attempts at a dramatic conclusion, with nary a knowing wink anywhere in sight, felt more awkward than satisfying. It certainly didn’t help that the fate of most of the cast was left completely up in the air.

Closure? What’s that?

I’ve probably been too hard on this poor anime. The fact that I made it through 26 episodes is proof enough that it wasn’t terrible. My track record with completing shows of any kind, much less anime, is more than a little sketchy. Unfortunately, I seem to have made the same fatal mistake twice in assuming either Samurai Champloo or Cowboy Bebop contained anything in the way of satisfying character development or deep plot. Both have recognizable strengths in other areas, Bebop in particular, that are worth looking into if you know what you’re in for, just don’t pretend they’re something they’re not. You’ll be left as empty and unsatisfied as I was. 


Maybe I should stick to comedy anime.

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