Cowboy Bebop became a gateway series and a cult phenomenon when it was first introduced to western audiences in the early 2000’s. Its influence grew ubiquitous, even inspiring Hollywood greats Like Joss Whedon and Rian Johnson. It’s an action series on the surface, but it doesn’t shy away from exploring philosophical concepts and stirring satirical undertones. Some consider director Shinichiro Watanabe the Akira Kurosawa of anime. Very few Japanese animations have reached similar global success, and even fewer impacted the industry in such profound ways. Cowboy Bebop was, and still is, one of the greatest animated television shows of all time.
The year is 2071. Earth has become uninhabitable and mankind has colonized across the Solar System. The Inter Solar System Police is established to fight the increased crime and violence, allowing registered bounty hunters to track down criminals in return for a reward. We are first introduced to Spike and Jet, an unlikely duo with conflicting backgrounds. Spike is an exiled crime syndicate hitman, and Jet is a former Inter Solar System Police officer. Even if their ideologies rarely end in concord, they make an excellent team. They’re accompanied by Ein, a genetically engineered dog with human-like intelligence. A few episodes in, Faye Valentine, a masterful con artist, and Edward Wong, a prodigious hacker, join the crew.
"It’s an action series on the surface, but it doesn’t shy away from exploring philosophical concepts and stirring satirical undertones."
Cowboy Bebop is relatively episodic in nature, but it carries an overarching plot that delves deeper into the protagonists’ backgrounds, particularly Spike. Cowboy Bebop’s characters never fall victim to typical anime tropes. They’re imperfect and complex. They’re not presented as heroic or idyllic, instead they’re portrayed as conflicted individuals with dark pasts just trying to make the best out of their broken world and unfortunate circumstances.
Themes of existentialism and loneliness are regularly explored, although the series never leans too heavily on the drama. Watanabe calls Cowboy Bebop a blending of different genres, and that’s exactly how the series feels. Combining film noir, science fiction, comedy and spaghetti westerns, Cowboy Bebop carries a unique tone and aesthetic style that remains unmatched. Watanabe tackles filmmaking similarly to Quentin Tarantino. He pastiches bits and pieces of acclaimed classics, referencing greats like Bruce Lee, John Woo and Ridley Scott. The cyberpunk vibe borrows heavily from William Gibson’s Neuromancer. The result is a world rich in imagination and cultural diversity.
"Funimation has done a remarkable job remastering the series, bringing viewers the most impressive iteration to date."
For the first time ever, the entire series is available in glorious HD. Funimation’s Blu-ray remaster is flawless. Aside from the 4:3 aspect ratio, Cowboy Bebop looks like it was animated only a few years ago. The image quality is sublime, boasting vibrant colors and expertly adjusted contrast levels. Special features include two audio commentaries: a session with Koichi Yamadera (Spike) and Unsho Ishizuka (Jet), and a second session with Wendee Lee (Faye) and ADR producer Yutaka Maseba. English and Japanese audio is presented in both Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 2.0. Additional extras include: various music clips, an interview with Cartoon Network producer Sean Akins, Cowboy Bebop Session #0 and a whole lot more. Considering the low price of only $34.49, this may be one of the best anime Blu-ray sets money can buy.
From its memorable characters to its sophisticated directorial style, Cowboy Bebop is unlike traditional anime. Funimation has done a remarkable job remastering the series, bringing viewers the most impressive iteration to date. This hallmark production showcases the best of what Japanese animation has to offer and deserves a spot in your collection.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Published by: Funimation | Review Format: Blu-ray