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Cowboy Bebop

Japanese animated tv series (1998-1999). Sunrise, Bandai Visual. Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe. Written by Keiko Nobumoto and others. Voice cast includes Megumi Hayashibara, Unshō Ishizuka and Kōichi Yamadera. 26 episodes of 25 minutes. Colour.

In the year 2071, the Solar system is home to a colourful melting-pot (but largely Chinese) diaspora, made possible by localized Hyperspace gateways. Earth, however, is off-limits, as the result of hazardous meteorite strikes caused by a wreath of lunar rubble from a 2022 gateway accident. Criminal-turned-bounty hunter Spike Spiegel (Yamadera) teams up with a former cop, a vampish gambler and a child computer prodigy on a series of missions that serve as a grand tour of Venus, the Asteroids and the Jovian moons (see Jupiter), although all roads lead to Mars.

Cowboy Bebop represents a convergence not only of styles, but of attitudes behind the scenes, conceived in reaction to Shinseiki Evangelion (1995) as an effort to make an sf Anime without Japan's ubiquitous giant robots (see Mecha). Its characters draw for their inspiration on several cultures' pop traditions, including blaxploitation, kung fu, Westerns and the good-hearted villains of Japan's long-running Lupin III franchise. The animators at Sunrise, under producer Masahiko Minami, were part of a corporate "happiness project", aimed at getting Japan's overworked anime staff to take new pride in their work. Director Watanabe conceived every scene as if viewers were watching a pulp TV show in the future, refusing to explain any elements that would be common knowledge to the characters themselves.

The show was innovatively distributed, with its first run on the terrestrial channel TV Tokyo limited to 12 relatively tame stand-alone episodes. A far more complex and harder-hitting story arc was revealed in the satellite broadcast on the WOWOW channel, which interpolated 14 more chapters of drug abuse, harder violence, and a tragic quest narrative for one of the characters. It is this 26-episode "complete" edition that was distributed abroad, and which won Cowboy Bebop its Seiun Award. Where other anime series from the period have swiftly faded, Cowboy Bebop has remained popular, not only for its robustly ageless retro look, but also for a charming jazz soundtrack by Yōko Kanno, preserved on several best-selling albums. The remix album Music for Freelance (1999) featured English-language bridging narration from Peter Duimstra, posing as a pirate DJ in the year 2072 and extending the show's metatexts into a new medium.

A feature film spin-off Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku no Tobira ["Knockin' on Heaven's Door"] (2001) is another interpolation, sited between episodes 22 and 23, before events in the storyline would break up the ensemble. As part of the movie publicity, screenwriter Dai Sato published the online short story "Cowboy Bebop: UT" (web 2001, trans Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro 2001), which purported to be the first chapter of a spin-off novel about the minor supporting character Ural Terpsichore, although no further chapters were forthcoming. There were also two Manga adaptations, by Cain Kuga and Yutaka Nansen. [JonC]

see also: Crime and Punishment; Space Dandy.


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 04:28 am on 22 July 2024.