Funny story. Okay, it’s not so funny, but it’s a story. I was driving to the place I affectionately call the Evil Empire and heard a song on the radio. Okay, not really the whole song. It was one of those filler things they place between story segments on NPR stations. The song, naturally, was “Tank”, which is, possibly, the most amazing theme song for a TV series ever.
Though, in this case, the TV series is a Japanese anime series called Cowboy Bebop. I don’t recall how I discovered this show — possibly it was a way to break my Dragonball Z addiction. Really, I was so far out of the target demographic there, and Inuyasha was on another one of those interminable breaks. And I needed something else.
I found it in the adventures of Spike Spiegel (voiced by Steven Jay Blum), Jet Black (Beau Billingslea), Faye Valentine (Wendee Lee), Edward (Melissa Fahn), and Ein. Cowboy Bebop is the story of your basic down-on-their-luck bounty hunters. You know the type — just when they get the job done, someone pulls the rug out from under them. Spike, around whom most of the series revolves (though there are plenty of detours into the backstories of everyone), is a former member of the Red Dragon Syndicate, your basic mobster gang. He’s dealing with his love-hate relationship with former friend Vicious and his, well, I guess it’s a love-hate relationship with a woman named Julia.
Jet Black is a former cop who has been welded together after his former partner betrayed him during an investigation. He serves as the show’s ballast, the guy who gets stuff done while living the life of a Renaissance man. Or as much of a Renaissance man as is possible with little to no income. Faye Valentine is bounty hunter who is both avaricious and completely loyal to her adopted family. It depends on the day of the week and her mood. Edward is a young girl who joins the gang — helpful because Jet can’t do all the cooking and run the ship’s computers. Edward is childlike and strange — as evidenced in the great episode “Mushroom Hunting”.
Ein, my personal favorite character, doesn’t have a large role. It’s a shame. There should be more characters like Ein on television. He’s a Corgi, but don’t hold that against him. With the exception of Ed, he may be the most practical character on the series. Nobody (except Ed) really gets Ein, but he’s generally fine with this. He’s also a data dog, some sort of futuristic genetically engineered canine, but don’t hold that against him either. Ein has his priorities straight.
Okay, so that’s it for the characters. They try to capture bad guys and make money. They’re better at the former than the latter. Things always seem to go wrong, mostly because, as the series unfolds, these people come with a lot of baggage. You have Spike dealing with the Syndicate. You have Jet encountering his former partner (and, if I’m correct, a lover) and dealing with his past. Faye crumbles as she discovers an old video and realizes she’d been cryogenically frozen for about 75 years. This is revealed in a hilarious and sad episode where the gang tries to figure out how to access data on an ancient technology known as “videotape”. Edward is an abandoned child and Ein, well, Ein is like all the members of the crew. As with many anime series, the core characters are disparate group of individuals who come together to form a family.
The series is heavily influenced by jazz, blues, and rock and roll. Episodes are named after songs and the soundtrack* is amazing. It’s one of those soundtracks that you want to hear even when you’re not watching the show. The opening sequence, featuring the aforementioned “Tank” (seriously, this is one great song), is silhouetted characters positioned against primary colored backgrounds. Think the opening credits for the new Casino Royale movie or, well, the strong silhouette from Charlie’s Angels.
You know how you skip past the opening credits for most shows? You’ll never want to do that with Cowboy Bebop.
What makes this series so great is that each episode takes you deeper into the worlds of the characters. You think you know these people but you don’t. The series avoids the traditional sexual tension that would normally develop between characters like Spike and Faye — they squabble like Sam and Diane, but is it love? We’ll never know. There’s something kind of cool about that. Why does it always have to be resolved so neatly? I like the jagged edges of this series, the fact that Spike and Jet don’t always agree, that Ed and Ein didn’t find what they wanted with this particular gang (they go off with a man who is, ostensibly, Ed’s father-person). Faye isn’t going to live happily ever after, at least with these people.
An almost-final note. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Big Shot”, the official TV show for bounty hunters. Anchored by Punch and Judy, a fake Mexican and scantily clad blonde bimbo, the show is often shown in the background while providing clues as to where our hapless bounty hunters are headed next. As the series winds down, “Big Shot” is cancelled, and, in a moment of brilliance, we see Punch and Judy drop their personas. It’s really great television; you wish live-action shows would do this sort of thing.
The ending of the series is as open for interpretation as you need it be. I have mine. You can have yours. We’re both right.
You want to know what’s really wrong with this world? The boxed set, the so-called Perfect Sessions (and they really are), is out-of-print. Only available from secondhand sellers. What kind of world do we live in? Seriously. What is wrong with people that you can only buy individual sessions (series)? I treasure my boxed set as I’m sure other ‘lopers do, too. This is a travesty. I would get up a petition, but, nyah, nyah, nyah, I already have my precious boxed set. So there.
Oh, there’s also a movie. It’s set between 22 and 23. This is really important because, unlike many series, setting movie afterwards wouldn’t work. Buy it, watch it, you’ll know what I mean.
(Funny story. Okay, it’s not so funny, but it’s true. I have friends who bought their house from Faye Valentine. L.A. is so cool.)
See you, Space Cowboy.
* – So many possible soundtracks to choose from; this one has the fab “Mushroom Hunting”. The band is The Seatbelts, Yoko Kanno is key on the soundtrack.