Cowboy Bebop is one of those seminal works which occasionally find themselves elevated to the position of classic. No doubt most anime fans have seen at least one or two episodes, if not the entire series multiple times. The shows asks watcher what is your goal and purpose when you’ve been used up and washed out by the universe. For a show released in 1998, it’s remarkable that a show about some bounty hunters adrift in a used future has had such staying power. 1998 seems to have been a magical year for anime, giving us Cardcaptor Sakura, Trigun, Outlaw Star, and Initial D, but the wandering drifters of Cowboy Bebop hold a special place above the rest.
From Venus to the Jovian moons, warp-gates link the solar system in a setting of crime and weak governments. Bounty hunting has returned to try to aid law enforcement in stopping rampant criminal activity from the dregs of society. Drug deals, Mafia criminals, scientific monstrosities on the loose, all are waiting for our intrepid bounty hunters to stumble into and try to capture. The somewhat loosely connected episodes don’t seem to be all that special until the overarching plots and aching backstories of our protagonists come to light. The pain and loss of Spike Spiegal, the darkness in Jet’s past, Faye’s lost history, and Ed’s abandonment all ring powerfully in later episodes.
But I won’t ruin the story here. It’s worth watching the crew of the Bebop struggling to get by in a universe where they really don’t fit in. The story is a timeless example of the struggle and anxiety people find themselves in when they don’t know what to do with their lives. The setting is the only difference and I myself am a huge fan of used future in narrative. While Mars is a fairly nice settled place, Earth is effectively a ruined backwater due to events which caused the destruction of the moon to rain debris upon the planet. The Jovian moons are on the fringe, the asteroid belt full of sulking criminals, and more, there is just so much character in the universe that we see in Cowboy Bebop.
What makes Cowboy Bebop special is the connection we feel to the characters. Through every episode and mystery there is a real human presence to all of it’s characters, their struggles and problems. There is no perfection in this universe and the characters match. We see antagonists all with different motivations and reasons for their criminal activity, but even then there is pathos and pity for some. The universe here works in shades of grey though many of the antagonists skew towards the darker end.
There is a reason that this show with it’s setting similar to Outlaw Star and Trigun stands tall above those pieces, elevated to the status of classic. It is not unique on it’s cover, but to judge it so lacks the manner of which everything is portrayed. The overarching story is a masterpiece and the shorter contained stories with few exceptions meet the same criteria. Some are better and some are worse, but all bring the same flavor and presence that makes this show something special.
The remaster of Cowboy Bebop has been excellently handled, and the Blu-ray’s have a very clear polish to them. The visual aesthetic of the show was always good, even fifteen years ago viewed on an old television, and with the shine and polish brought from the remaster, it’s almost like watching a new show. The animation quality is superb and fluid, and while there is some graininess to the remaster, this is almost expected. After all, the show was done with cels and backgrounds, far from the clean polished digital animation we find in anime today. Do note that the anime is in a 4:3 ratio, as widescreen was not common for anime from this time period. It will be letterboxed and I do not find this a flaw, since that is the original method of filming for the anime.
The fact is, this show was ahead of it’s time, and the animation proudly displays this well. The only parts of the release which let down, visually, are some of the extras and the CG. Unfortunately the CG isn’t quite as crisp in resolution as the rest of the animation, due to the time in which it was made. The DVD release of the same version is also a well done remastering, though obviously it’s not as nice as the Blu-rays. However, it’s perfectly acceptable for watching on a laptop or if you don’t happen to have a Blu-ray player of any sort. It lacks some of the crisp definition, but it’s still just as beautiful a show.
As I said above, the used future appeals to me greatly. Everything in the show is beat up and worn down, from the titular Bebop itself, to the examples of old technology we find (I still can’t believe a beta cassette player found it’s way into the show), to the character’s themselves. And it’s just that which helps to make the show so great; who can believe the the future will look perfect? Look around any major city today, from London to Sydney to Beijing to Seattle. There’s grit and wear and tear even in the brighter parts of the city center, much less the seedier parts of town. This dirtiness, especially with the film grain effect which is the result of how the show was originally filmed, gives Cowboy Bebop a feel which matches the tone of the show.
The audio of the show has been remastered as well. Anime is rarely released in 5.1 Dolby, but both the Japanese and English channels are 5.1. Unfortunately for some strange reason Funimation didn’t release a 2.1 track for either Japanese or English. While I did not find this to be a problem when I checked the show in stereo, downscaling 5.1 to 2.1 can downgrade the audio quality for watchers. I’m not an audiophile, so to me it didn’t make a difference. The audio sounds even better than it did when I used to watch the show on TV, as a remaster should.
Of note is the excellent soundtrack by Yoko Kanno. No review of Cowboy Bebop can be complete without mentioning the outstanding soundtrack brought to bear by Kanno. With the remaster, it sounds excellent, clean and crisp, bringing a jazzy vibe to the whole series. It can be argued without the motifs and music brought to the show by Kanno’s music, Cowboy Bebop would not have been anywhere near as good as it was. The series is strongly dominated by it’s musical themes, and the presence of this sound in it’s remastered state drives me to want to listen to it even more.
This version of the release does not come with any physical extras, unfortunately. While Funimation and Amazon both released special limited edition versions, this is the basic edition which comes with just the discs. The discs themselves are quite nice, designed to appear as old vinyl records, fitting with the musical themes in the show.
The real meat and potatoes of the extras come in the form of the wide variety which have been provided. As is standard, Funimation has given us textless openings and closings, as well of original openings and closings (the Japanese credit versions). They have also provided the same for the alternate openings and closings for episodes 13 and 26.
Some episodes for the show also come with commentaries. Episodes 5 and 10 come with English commentary from voice actor Wendee Lee (Faye) and the ADR Producer Yutaka Maseba. Episodes 1, 17, and 24 come with commentaries from some of the Japanese cast and crew, subtitled. Unfortunately the backing track for those episodes is Japanese without subtitles, so it’s more for just listening to the various cast. Episode 1 has Spike & Jet’s VA’s, Koichi Yamadera and Unshou Ishizuka respectively. Episode 17 has the director Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno, while Episode 24 features Megumi Hayashibara and Aoi Tada, Faye and Ed respectively.
As if this wasn’t enough, we also receive interviews with Wendee Lee and Sean Akins, the producer for Cartoon Network (who aired the show in the US to great success). There is also a documentary style look back at the show from the dub cast, which is an excellent hour and a half look at the dubbing of the series.The US trailer, Japanese PV “Session 0”, and Tank! music clips are also featured.
The extras aren’t all in HD, but they’re an excellent inclusion for the landmark series, and I enjoyed watching them personally. They offer a good look at the background of the series both in Japan and in the US dubbing process.
Whether or not you own a copy of Cowboy Bebop it’s hard to not recommend picking up the Blu-Rays. In fact, whether or not you’ve seen the show I recommend picking these up. This is Bebop in it’s best ever version, and for such a landmark work as this show is, I highly recommend this copy. Even with the minor flaws, it’s a perfect version of the show to own, and it’s unlikely Funimation and Sunrise will come up with a better release. My only further suggestion would be to perhaps pick up one of the limited edition versions, but this series is a must-own, especially this release. The prior two-part Blu-ray release for Australia was very well done as well.
This is a show everyone needs to watch, and the story will grab any fan of a good science fiction show. If you have a friend who likes Firefly, they should see it. If you have a friend who likes sci-fi or westerns, again, it’s excellent in both categories. Cowboy Bebop: The Complete Series is a must-have, and I hope that you will all enjoy it just as much as I have. With that…See You, Space Cowboy.