I finally watched Cowboy Bebop
So, I’ve been a weeb since I first saw Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon on Cartoon Network back in grade school. I’m pretty sure I was in first grade. I remember seeing the very first episode and just being in awe. No more Power Rangers or Star Trek for me, why watch that when I can watch guys with awesome hair blow up planets? So it may shock you that, for as long as I’ve been a weeb, there are certain iconic shows I never watched. Mostly because they either aired at a time when I didn’t have TV access, or they came out during the three years I lived in Germany without American television. My whole life I’ve been told how great these shows are, and I’ve slowly but surely made my way through the list. One anime everyone told me was unbelievably fantastic, was Cowboy Bebop. I have been recommended it by every single anime fan I’ve ever met. So, two days ago I sat down and forced myself to watch every single episode. Given there’s only 26 episodes and I’ve breezed through something like that in a day or two, I assumed I’d fall for Bebop just like everyone told me I would, and finish it in the same day I’d started. Sadly, that was not the case.
Cowboy Bebop was a struggle for me to get through, it got to the point that my boyfriend would see it on our TV and just wish me luck, even once suggesting that my crusade wasn’t worth it. However, I’m stubborn, and an hour before writing this, I finished the final episode. So, here’s my thoughts on this long hyped up space opera.
For it’s time, I’d definitely consider Cowboy Bebop one of the best anime available to American audiences. Considering the very limited and odd collection of what was available to us, I can completely understand people falling in love with this series. A beautiful score, cool looking spaceships, great depictions of people of color, occasional good fight scenes or shootouts, and main characters who definitely didn’t fit what we were used to at the time. The Bebop crew is nothing like the Z fighters or the Sailor Scouts. They smoke, seem to almost always be out of fuel, food, money, or all three, and even though they often find themselves doing the right thing, they do it for personal reasons. No one is talking about vanquishing evil or freeing the universe from alien dictators. Cowboy Bebop feels adult, in every sense. It’s grown enough that it doesn’t have the overflow of fan service, or the optimistic idiot, and it’s full of very believable outcomes in it’s stories. For anyone who wanted a break from shonen formula in the 90s, Cowboy Bebop was the best TV had to offer. I’d also like to commend this very short series for exploring a wide variety of genres with it’s episodic storytelling.
However, in 2020, Cowboy Bebop just isn’t that great. A futuristic space world where almost everything not flying looks exactly the same as the 90s, a scattered story that feels like a series of one off noir dramas, with a main storyline that’s only touched on for probably 6 total episodes, and a gang of misfits whose horrible communication skills feel worse than watching Guardians of The Galaxy do the “found family” troupe two movies in a row. I’m not saying it’s bad, just that it’s not as good given the kind of selection we have nowadays. It holds a place of greatness of it’s time, but not now. I feel like it’s one of those pieces of media that’s hype is fueled by nostalgia at this point. When people kept telling me how great it was, they weren’t thinking of the cult episode or the cowboy episode, they were thinking of the two part series finale, or that one really cool episode from earlier in the series. Those special episodes are truly great, but the series as a whole left a lot to be desired. Of course it’s still better than it’s numerous rip-offs (Firefly, Outlaw Star, Canon Busters) but that’s because it was a genuine game changer for 90s anime and 90s anime fans.
I’m not writing this to trash the show, simply to offer some perspective. When you recommend someone something from your childhood, your also recommending your experience, which in this case was staying up late as a kid or a teenager, hyped to watch all the shows too adult for Cartoon Network. But the rest of us aren’t having the same experience you did. Now Cowboy Bebop is just a few clicks away on Hulu, or some other streaming service. It’s been over 20 years since the series aired and everything about the anime art form has evolved. That’s like recommending Dragon Ball when MHA, Attack on Titan, and so many other shonen exist. Sure, both Dragon Ball and Bebop revolutionized their respective genres, but the anime that came from that revolution has outgrown it’s predecessors. For it’s time, Cowboy Bebop is a 10/10, but as someone who watched it now, if I judge it strictly as is with no regards to the era it came from, I’d give it a 6/10. It’s, fine. But just that, fine. In all honesty, it probably would have been more enjoyable without the years of built up hype and expectations.