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Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is a 26-episode Japanese anime TV series that initially ran starting back in 1998. The show was quite popular in Japan and has also been widely popular in the United States, often credited with significantly broadening the horizons of anime to U.S. viewers.

One of the reasons why Cowboy Bebop is such a popular television series is that the story is broad on many different levels. While the general plot is of a team of bounty hunters, set in a world of the future, the story revolves around the characters and their interactions. Each character has a distinct back story that molds their character: their ambitions, their desires and what drives them.

Combine the layered story with a very free-flowing feel to the story itself (heavily influenced by American culture, especially the jazz movements of the 1940s) and a large amount of well-done action sequences and it's easy to see why Cowboy Bebop is so widely-respected and well-liked.

History of Bebop

Cowboy Bebop almost didn't make it on Japanese television. It had an aborted first run on TV Tokyo, broadcasting only episodes 2, 3, 7-15 and 18 starting on April 3, 1998 and running until June 19. Later that year, the series was shown complete on the satellite network WOWOW, starting on October 23 and running until April 23, 1999. Cowboy Bebop was popular enough that a movie, Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku no Tobira (Knockin' on Heaven's Door), was commissioned and released in Japan in 2001 and later released in the United States as Cowboy Bebop: The Movie in 2003.

Also in 2001, Cowboy Bebop became the first anime to be shown as part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block of programming. At the time, it was quite the risk as a more "adult" anime had never been broadcast in such a mainstream avenue before. However, it turned out to be a rousing success, continuing its broadcast off and on for another two years and led to Cartoon Network's addition of more anime to its Adult Swim lineup, including Inuyasha, Lupin III and Witch Hunter Robin.


In the year 2071, the crew of the ship, Bebop, travel around the Solar System, trying to catch "bounty-heads." Each of the four (or five) bounty hunters (called "Cowboys") contribute their own unique abilities to catching bounties. The story follows less of their actual travails in bounty hunting, but more of exploring the pasts of each character, slowly unraveling each of their stories as the series progresses.


In the year 2021, a series of rings were constructed across the Solar System. The rings were hyperspace gates and allowed for fast transportation throughout the Solar System and colonization of other worlds. Unfortunately, a defect was accidentally built into the gate system and was subsequently ignored by the Gate Company, who constructed the gate system. This negligence led to what was known as the "Gate Incident."

The Gate Incident occurred when one of the defective hyperspace gates between the Earth and the Moon exploded, taking a massive chunk out of the Moon. The debris from the Moon now perpetually rains down on Earth, leaving massive craters in the Earth's surface and driving most of the remaining population that choose to live on Earth underground. Most humans, however, left Earth following the Gate incident and now live on Venus, Mars, some habitable asteroids, Ganymede or Europa. Other worlds are also habitable but are far more harsh and are not home to many humans, like Callisto, Io and Titan.


Spike Spiegel - A 27-year-old bounty hunter who was born on Mars, Spike was an up-and-coming player in the Red Dragon crime syndicate. Initially teamed with his then friend, Vicious, a series of events occurred (that are only alluded to in the series) that caused Spike to leave the syndicate, appearing to die in a blaze of glory. In fact, he regularly ruminates that he's not sure whether or not he's really alive, saying that he's "watching a dream [he] never wakes up from." Given Spike's previous association with the syndicate, he is well versed in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat skills. He specializes in Jeet Kune Do, the fighting style created by Bruce Lee (another major influence on Cowboy Bebop). Otherwise, Spike is very laid-back and lackadaisical, often a source of consternation for his crewmates.

Jet Black - Jet, a 36-year-old former cop, acts as Spike's foil during the series. Where Spike acts lazy and uninterested, Jet is hard-working and a jack-of-all-trades. Jet was an investigator in the ISSP (the Inter Solar System Police) for many years until he lost his arm in a sting that went awry. His arm was replaced with a cybernetic limb but his loss of limb coupled with the general corruption of the police force, Jet quit the ISSP in disgust and became a freelance bounty hunter. Jet also considers himself something of a renaissance man, cultivating bonsai trees, cooking and enjoying jazz music, especially Charlie Parker.

Faye Valentine - Faye is vice personified. At 23 years of age, she is corrupt and often cold-hearted. Being a bounty hunter is conducive to her independent-minded lifestyle. Addicted to gambling and a kleptomaniac, Faye uses her significant sex appeal to get whatever it is that she wants. However, her vain and merciless exterior hides a frightened girl. Stored in cryo sleep for 54 years due to a space travel accident, Faye awoke to a mysterious word that she didn't understand only to find people who were all-too-willing to take advantage of her naïveté, which hardened her personality. But she was still a woman without a past, the circumstances of her accident, her previous life, even her name ("Faye Valentine" was a name given to her by a doctor) remains a mystery to her.

Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV - Ed is a very strange, young girl (assumed to be about 13). Born on Earth, Ed is what you might call a free spirit. Not much is known about her origins, only that she wasn't really raised by her parents and spent some of her earlier childhood in an orphanage. However, this has not dampened her very sunny and energetic disposition. For all her quirks, Ed is also a genius hacker, maybe the best ever. She has a self-styled computer built out of a pizza box that she calls "Tomato." Ed has a good rapport with Jet, who acts as a surrogate father and Faye, who acts as something of a big sister (much to Faye's chagrin). Ed also seems to be the only person who can understand Ein the dog.

Ein - Ein is a Welsh Corgi brought aboard the Bebop by Jet after a failed attempt to capture a bounty. Ein is what is known as a "data dog," but it is never explained what that actually entails. We do know that Ein is an abnormally intelligent dog, able to answer the telephone, use the internet and generally do a number of other things that an average canine shouldn't be able to do. Ein initially takes a shine to Jet, but when Ed joins the crew, he comes around to her as well.

Vicious - Vicious is a man out of Spike's past. The two were partners together in the Red Dragons crime syndicate, but they began to fall out as a result of loving the same woman, Julia. Vicious lives up to his name: he is ruthless, cunning and ambitious, willing to do anything in order to secure his position of power. Vicious' weapon of choice is not a firearm, but a katana that he is quite adept at wielding. The ongoing blood feud between Spike and Vicious is an ongoing story throughout Cowboy Bebop.

Julia - Julia is a beautiful and mysterious woman out of both Spike and Vicious' past. A love triangle between the three led to a falling out between Spike and Vicious, eventually causing Spike to leave the syndicate. Julia herself only appears in flashback until the final two episodes of the series. Julia herself acts as a stark contrast to the world around her - her blonde hair and her bright red umbrella and automobile standing out in the drab environs that she inhabits. She really does love Spike, but doesn't want to spend her life on the run from Vicious and his men.


Cowboy Bebop was created by a top-notch staff. The series was created by "Hajime Yatate," a collective pseudonym for members of the staff at Sunrise, the animation studio that also developed Mobile Suit Gundam, Big O, Outlaw Star and Vision of Escaflowne. Cowboy Bebop was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed Macross Plus and A Detective Story and Kid's Story from the Animatrix. The spectacular music of Cowboy Bebop was all composed by the incomparable Yoko Kanno, who also composed music for Earth Girl Arjuna, Macross Plus, Vision of Escaflowne and Wolf's Rain.

The Cowboy Bebop movie was animated by Studio BONES, a new studio created by many former employees of Sunrise, and was one of their first projects. They have since developed other popular series like RahXephon, Wolf's Rain and Full Metal Alchemist.


Cowboy Bebop's influences are many and varied. Cowboy Bebop is heavily influenced by American culture: from cinema, including mobster movies and westernss to the free-form jazz music out of the Harlem nightclubs of the 1940s. Cowboy Bebop is also influenced by kung fu movies of the 1960s and 1970s. Spike's innate fighting abilities (and even his martial arts style) were borrowed from skilled fighter Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee's influence is felt elsewhere throughout the series. The name of the bounty in the second episode is Abdul Hakim, borrowed from the Bruce Lee film Game of Death that co-starred Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who played a character called "Hakim." On two other separate occasions, Spike also makes mention of both Enter the Dragon and Way of the Dragon, two more Bruce Lee films.

Spike's lanky and laid-back character was also heavily influenced by the charismatic thief, Lupin, from the anime and manga, Lupin III and they share many of the same personality characteristics.

Many of the stories of Cowboy Bebop and even cinematic stylings were also lifted from other movies. These include influences from or homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Crow, John Woo, Alien, blaxploitation films, Star Trek and Dirty Harry.

Cowboy Bebop also features many musical influences, including with many of the episode titles as famous song names and/or album titles, including "Honky Tonk Woman," "Sympathy for the Devil," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "My Funny Valentine," "Speak Like a Child," "Wild Horses," "Hard Luck Woman," "The Real Folk Blues" and also the subtitle of the Cowboy Bebop movie, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."


Cowboy Bebop has still managed to resound in the hearts of anime fans in both Japan and the U.S. A recent poll in Newtype magazine asked the notoriously fickle Japanese anime fans to rank the top 20 anime titles of all time and rated Cowboy Bebop number eight on a list that includes perenially-respected favorites like Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion. In the U.S., Cartoon Network has dropped Cowboy Bebop from its Adult Swim line-up several times, only to return it later due to its popularity. It goes to show how unique and popular Cowboy Bebop is and how it has influenced a generation of new anime fans.

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