Monday, August 1, 2011

Anime Review: Cowboy Bebop

If you're an anime fan and happen to live in the US then you've probably heard of this show and there's a good chance that you've watched it. The show almost didn't get shown in Japan (due to it's depiction of "graphic violence," clearly the definition has changed between 1998 and now) but in the US it was one of the first shows shown on Cartoon Network's [adult swim] block where it gained a huge following for how different it was (in both art style and plot) from the other cartoons on American tv at the time. It's also considered to be one of (if not the first) anime to have a dub that is superior to the original Japanese dub, even anti-dub fans will usually list it as one of the dubs they like. Despite all of these things, many fans haven't seen this show (personally I was too young/didn't have cable when [as] started airing the show) and I had quite a few friends berate me for only now getting to the show when I mentioned I was watching it. Also, this show is distributed by Bandai and they have fewer legal streams of their show than other companies (especially for their older shows, the ones that people really need to see) so I had to wait to watch this until I had enough time to get them all out from the local college library (and notice them there first). But better late than ever and I hope that even more people try this show out.

Cowboy Bebop

Summary: In 2071 Mars has become the new center for humanity (Earth was partially destroyed in an accident involving one of the space travel gates) and life continues on as it always has been.  There are the the rich and the poor, the good and the bad and every shade of character in-between including cowboys or bounty hunters. Two of these cowboys are Spike and Jet who operate out of their ship called The Bebop and they travel all over the solar system just trying to find someone to take down in order to pay for their next meal. 

The Good: This is a very satisfying show to watch because of how well everything in the show comes together, it feels like a very well produced and cohesive show. The characters, who carry the show, are interesting, complicated, grow at least a little and their interactions are often the highlights of the episode (and their backstories provide the show with the underlying plot threads it needs to be cohesive). The setting is well thought out and established, it never seems like the creators based any of the locations off of a couple of cliches and left it there, even if the technology is a bit retro. But even when something, such as the retro technology, feels a little off it still feels a right, the creators managed to capture so many of the little details of life that it makes sense that people still have tape players in 2071 that you have to hit to make work. That really sums up this show, it just has so many little details in it that the show can't help but feel life like and that's always a huge accomplishment.

The Bad: Some of the later episodes, 20 through 23 in particular, just seem rather pointless and not as tightly written as the other episodes. Part of the problem is their placement, by this point the cast has received almost all their character development so it's clear that something will happen soon and then there are filler episodes that don't do anything new (and, since this is a 26 episode show, two could have been cut easily and it still would have been a full two-cour). While the show doesn't follow the "first half episodic, second half plot heavy" formula, it remains an episodic show to the end, it is frustrating to see so many unconnected episodes that late in the show. Ed's ending was also a bit unsatisfactory, although necessary, and Jet didn't really get a good ending either, his character had the most unresolved ending but again, there wasn't much else that the story could do that wouldn't feel out of place. 

The Audio: As mentioned earlier, this is considered one of the first really good dubs in the US and it's just as good as the good dubs today. The characters sound a bit stiff when they start out (except for Ed who starts off good) but by the end of the show all of the characters, even the more minor ones, sound incredibly natural and there really isn't any reason for an English speaker to watch the Japanese dub instead. The music is also equally praise-worthy, if you tried to tell most people that jazz and blues would work perfectly for a space western and that the show wouldn't be complete without it they would probably think you're crazy. Now if you told an anime fan this and mentioned that it was composed by the legendary Yoko Kanno then they would probably understand, even though you still need to really hear the show just to see how incredibly well it works. Kanno composed all the music for the show (including the mostly instrumental opening and the ending, which is thankfully sung by a woman who has a great rang for the song) and it's hard to describe how amazing everything is unless you actually hear it, it's a shame that she hasn't done as much work lately.

The Visuals: These DVDs were some of the Remix DVDss so the show actually looks incridbly good for being over 10 years old (I would put the quality between the super-nice Utena upscales and the not always impressive Evangelion DVDs). The show is entirely hand-animated except for a single space station in one episode (where the CGI is jarringly obvious) and everything in the show, from the backgrounds to the character designs, has a nice level detail which helps it feel like a well produced show.

In case you guys need any more reason to check out this show, this show created Studio BONES. Yes Cowboy Bebop was produced by Sunrise and some of the staff went on to create it's spiritual successor, Samurai Champloo, but the rest of the staff worked so well together that they went on to create Wolf's Rain (which also had Kanno composing) and it's really rare to see people get along that much that they stick together and make another project. The only other example I can think of like that is how the group that made Tokyo Godfathers under Satoshi Kon got along so well that they created Paranoia Agent and then worked on that. So yeah, just go watch this show already, it's on my to-buy list for sure. 

TOMORROW AND WEDNESDAY'S REVIEWS WILL BE UP LATE! I'm going to see a visiting author tomorrow (who is actually visiting over an hour away from me, sadly that's still pretty close)  and then I've got family visiting on Wednesday so my post might go up around a normal time or it might not, just giving everyone a heads up! 


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