Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series), on DVD

Cowboy Bebop is a 26-episode sci-fi series about a group of bounty hunters in space. The show starts off with Spike Spiegel (a laid-back cool guy) and Jet Black (a grumpy secret softie), who are later joined by Ein (a Welsh Corgi), Faye Valentine (a sexy bounty hunter with a tendency to gamble her money away), and Edward (a brilliant and weird young hacker). A good portion of the series is composed of self-contained single-episode stories, although there are a few story and character threads that run through multiple episodes.

The first time I saw this series was back when it was first airing on Adult Swim. I had seen other anime, but I don't think I'd ever heard such a wonderful English dub before. I can't say that Cowboy Bebop is my favorite anime – the pacing is a bit weird at times, and the ending still makes me mad – but its English dub is my favorite. I've never been able to bring myself to listen to more than snippets of the show in Japanese, because the English dub has, for me, become how the characters should sound.

Re-watching this show was hard, though. I did pretty good, flying through it, right up until the last few episodes. Then I stalled for weeks, because I didn't want to re-watch the ending. Watching Ed and Ein peel away from the cast was hard enough, but knowing that it was happening because it wouldn't be right for them to be there for the end was horrible. I'm not sure how else the series could have ended, and yet I hate how it ended.

Okay, backing up a bit. There were so many aspects of this show that came together and made it good for me: the cast, the voice acting, the music, the stories. During my re-watch, I found that I tended to like the lighter episodes more than the darker, heavier ones, even though the lighter ones were the most likely to be kind of pointless. I loved “Stray Dog Strut” for introducing Ein. “Toys in the Attic” was wonderfully weird and suspenseful, and yet ended in such a way that it was baffling that the next episode didn't even mention it. “Pierrot Le Fou” (not one of the lighter ones) was one of my favorite more action-filled episodes, with a violent and yet tragic villain.

I loved that the series packed so much into each character. Every one of the main cast members had a life that stretched beyond the boundaries of the series' episodes, some of which was shown and some of which was left to viewers' imaginations. Heck, even the hosts of Big Shot had lives. It made the show feel so much larger than its 26 episodes.

Considering that this was created back in 1998/1999, it's held up amazingly well. There were times when the CGI was a bit too noticeable, but, overall, the series looked great. I can't think of too many anime TV shows today that feature the same level of detail as some of Cowboy Bebop's worlds. I don't know what the series' budget was like, but it was either really good, or the crew managed to make magic happen.

This is one of those series that I'd recommend to anime newbies who are skeptical that cartoons could possibly work for adults. Right from the start, there's action, darker subjects (in the first episode, Spike and Jet chase after a drug dealer/user and his girlfriend), and tragedy. If that's too much for some, the second episode is lighter and fluffier and stars an adorable dog.

All in all, I enjoyed most of this re-watch, and I loved getting to re-listen to my first favorite English dub. That ending, though.


First, some info. I own several Cowboy Bebop boxed sets. I re-watched the series via my new Funimation DVDs, but I also have Bandai's Cowboy Bebop Remix release. I'm going to be offloading one of these, so I figured I'd compare their extras a bit. Sort of. I, um, kind of lost track after the second or third disc of each set, but I can at least do a general comparison.

The most noticeable thing, right from the beginning, is that each of Funimation's discs begins with an unskippable preview of another show. I hate this kind of thing with a passion. While I think Funimation's release is prettier than Bandai's, at least the Bandai one doesn't force me to sit through anything.

Extras in both releases: staff interviews and commentary (the same audio commentaries, and the same interviews, with one exception), Session #0, various trailers.

For me, the most noticeable difference was in Funimation's last disc, which included “Ein's Summer Vacation” (a very short series of Ein drawings arranged like a mini short story – Ein dreaming about summer – set to music) and “Memo from Bebop: The Dub Sessions Remembered.” “Memo from Bebop” is one and a half hours of the main cast, plus the director (who also played Julia) and Henry Douglas Grey (who played Vicious), talking about the various main parts, their experiences, and the enduring popularity of the show. It's very long, but also wonderful to watch if you're a fan of the English dub. It made me wish I could see these people at a con, even though I'm pretty sure anime conventions would make me panic and overload.

The Funimation release also had “clean” opening and closing songs, as well as closing and opening credits in Japanese. My notes for the Bandai release mention a “clean” closing, but nothing to the extent of the Funimation release. Although maybe I missed something. Like I said, after comparing a couple discs, I started to slack off.

  • Trigun (anime TV series) - I've only seen a few episodes of this one, but I think it's another space Western with bounty hunters.
  • Samurai Champloo (anime TV series) - Those who'd like something else with a similar "cool" factor, another bunch of misfits that turn into something a little like a family, and few English dub cast repeats might want to give this a try. It's a very slick, good-looking show, although, if I remember correctly, it doesn't quite have Cowboy Bebop's character depth.
  • Lupin III (TV series) - I remember reading someplace that Lupin III was one of the inspirations for Spike Spiegel. I tried one of the movies once and was never able to get into it, but that was mostly because I'm shallow as far as my anime is concerned, and Lupin III's style was a little too old for me. Those who'd like another Spike-like character should give it a shot, though.
  • Firefly (live action TV series) - Those willing to give non-anime shows a shot should try this one out. It's another space Western with similar elements, although Whedon's overall world is darker.

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