The Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop, which premiered in 1998, is widely regarded as a director The main work of Shinichirō Watanabe. Set in 2071, in a post-apocalyptic world where Earth has become largely uninhabitable, the story follows a ragged group of bounty hunters, known as cowboys, aboard the spaceship “Bebop”. As they traverse planets and moons in search of wanted fugitives, each cowboy fights against shadows of the past that they cannot escape.
More than twenty years since its debut, Cowboy Bebop is still hailed as one of the best in anime in large part due to the genre-merging episodes, the kaleidoscopic music of composer Yoko Kanno, the cinematography and the voice acting. But while the artistic and technical elements of the series deserve a lot of praise, it is the experience watching a group of lonely outcasts build trust and friendship with one another — after suffering betrayal and loss — that makes many spectators return. On November 19, fans will have the opportunity to watch new performances by the bounty hunters reconnect with Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the anime. The new series stars John Cho as a mild ex-union member Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as a trusted former police officer Jet Black and Daniella Pineda as a brave cheater Faye Valentine. It credits Watanabe as a consultant and welcomes back Kanno to head the score – her return is probably the strongest selling point of the adaptation to existing fans.
Here’s everything to know about the original Cowboy Bebop before you watch the Netflix adaptation.
Cowboy Bebop‘S dark tone has led to some inconsistent beginnings
Watanabe, who worked at the animation studio Sunrise, made his solo directorial debut with Cowboy Bebop in 1998. The series was originally envisioned as a project that would sell toys, through sponsorship from Japanese company Bandai. In interview with Otaquest from 2017, Watanabe described Bandai’s toy division as showing interest in something with spaceships as its core. “They thought both the series and affiliated genre would sell well,” the director said. “That’s why the proposal of my ‘Bebop’ project was taken.”
But Bandai drew the sponsorship when the initial episodes were produced. “They didn’t think that such a dark and faint portrayal of spaceships would do any favor to their sale of toys,” Watanabe said. While Cowboy Bebop has its comedic moments, the show abounds in violence and questions concepts like existentialism and fatalism – not exactly the best-selling material for toy makers. After a separate subsidiary of Bandai intervened, the project was allowed to continue without a connection to toys.
Cowboy Bebop‘s relatively dark tone was met with skepticism elsewhere. When Cowboy Bebop had its original run on TV Tokyo beginning in April 1998, only 12 of the 26 episodes, plus a special, were aired due to its mature issues. “Before the broadcast even started — during the production of the first few episodes, there were a lot of internal stakeholders saying things like‘ This show is too adult, ’” Watanabe told Otaquest. “Viewers who want the other 13 episodes will have to buy them on a laserdisc, ” a reviewer wrote then. The full series was later broadcast on Wowow a few months later in 1998.
How Cowboy Bebop made anime history in the United States
English synchronized version of Cowboy Bebop released in the United States three years after premiered in Japan. Cartoon Network announced in 2001 that Cowboy Bebop would be in the lineup for the launch of Adult Swim, making the series the first anime broadcast on the adult-targeted programming block. Many aspects of the show made it seem appealing to American audiences, Jason DeMarco, then senior vice president at Adult Swim, told the animated publication The Dot and Line in 2018.
“Cowboy Bebop was strongly influenced by western design, music and classical noir storytelling, “said DeMarco.” Those elements, plus the structure of the show – stand-alone episodes followed by “story-arc” episodes, much like The X-files, or other American shows on the air at the time, made the show seem like something that could work for an American audience. “
Cowboy Bebop is a very Japanese show, full of nods to Japanese culture, from Jet practicing the art of bonsai to shopping bird-shaped sponge sweets inspired by the Japanese treat Hiyoko cakes. Watanabe also said that Spike Spiegel is formed after Japanese actor Yūsaku Matsuda. But influences from the West are prominent in the show, seen in the very concept of cowboys, in jazz-heavy music and in countless pop culture references. While making Cartoon Network a green light show “this dark and fatalistic” was a challenge, according to DeMarco, the series ’impact on the American animation industry could not be missed once it was aired. “Bebop was a key example for distributors and creators that adult storytelling can have a place in animation in the United States, ”he said.
But similar to its release in Japan, the show was not aired in its entirety during its original run. Cowboy Bebop premiered on Adult Swim in September 2001 just before the 9/11 attacks, and three episodes featuring special forms of violence – including one that focused on a serial bomber targeting skyscrapers – were cut. Since its initial broadcast, all episodes have been aired in reruns on the program block. Prior to the release of Adult Swim, Cowboy Bebop was broadcast in countries including Italy and France and aired around the world after 2001. Submission and synchronized versions of the series are now available to stream on platforms such as Hulu and Funimation, and Netflix added the original show to its catalog on September 21. October.
How influenced by the musical direction of Yoko Kanno Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop has one of the most iconic openings in all anime: the brass, thick “Tank!” composed by Yoko Kanno and performed by Seatzones, the band she formed for the series. But the song is far from the only impressive track in a soundtrack that includes several music genres, such as blues, funk and heavy metal. In interview in 2020 with Surprised, Kanno said she met Watanabe in the mid-90s while working on the mini-series and film Macross Plus. “He asked me,‘ I want to do [Cowboy Bebop] jazz-oriented. Can you work? ‘She said. “My response then was, ‘I think I can, but I don’t think it will sell.’ I’m glad my prediction turned out to be wrong. ”
Watanabe and Kanno went on to develop a highly collaborative dynamic, the director shared at a news conference (2013). “First, let me register as saying [Kanno] doesn’t compose music exactly as I tell her, ”he said, prompting laughter, according to Anime Superhero. He continued: “There were occasions where I heard these songs for which she created Cowboy Bebop, took inspiration from them and created new scenes for Cowboy Bebop. And then she would be inspired by these new scenes that I created, they would give her new ideas for music and she came to me with even more music. “
In the interview with Otaquest, Watanabe gave the example of “Green Bird”, a hymn-like song that is both soothing and haunting and first played after a pivotal confrontation between Spike and his nemesis in the episode “Ballad of Fallen Angels”. “The scene at the end of episode five where Spike falls from the window [of a cathedral] was inspired by the song ‘Green Bird,’ and was made without being originally commissioned, ”Watanabe said of the memorable sequence. “It’s fair to say Cowboy Bebop is full of such occasions, and that the project’s music budget may have gone well overboard. “
Like the original Cowboy Bebop fits in the live-action adaptation
The live-action series is informed of the music choices, Christopher Yost, writer and executive producer of the show, says in a recent Netflix feature about Kanno’s return to win the adaptation. The composer says the new project uses “about a tenth of the music from the original animation.” Showrunner André Nemec said in an interview with Polygon that “Yoko’s involvement in this show for me was paramount to almost everything else.” And John Cho told Vulture, “I made sure of that [Kanno] was locked before saying yes … Our rehearsal minus she would suffer too much. “In addition to Kanno’s participation, the adaptation also sees the return of the voice actors from the Japanese original. The cast members reprise their roles with synchronizing the Japanese language track of the Netflix series.
No remakes can fully capture the energy of what Watanabe, Kanno and the team at Sunrise created in 1998. But it is clear through decisions how to bring along Kannon and the original voice actors, while retaining the opening theme “Tank!” (yes!) and the attention to detail in adaptation specific scenes that Netflix was trying to pay homage to the anime classic.