See You, Space Cowboy
When it comes to anime, there are many serie to choose from. One that sticks out from the rest is none other than Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999). Created by Hajime Yatate, the series followed four people, Spike Spiegel (Japanese: Kôchio Yamadera, English: Steve Blum), Faye Valentine (Japanese: Megumi Hayashibara, English: Wendee Lee), Jet Black (Japanese: Unschô Ishizuka, English: Beau Billingslea), and Edward Wong (Japanese: Aoi Tada, English: Melissa Fahn), who all go after bounties while having to confront their pasts.
Despite this anime only having a short run of 26 episodes, plus a movie, it became a huge hit for its memorable characters, engaging storylines, and a great setting, with it being a Western set in outer space. It’s also considered by many to be one of the few anime with a good English dub. Each episode is special in its own way, but here are five of the best. Minor spoilers ahead!
5. Toys in the Attic (Season 1, Episode 11)
This episode follows the titular Bebop crew as some of them start to become deathly ill by a strange organism. What makes this episode great is that even though it’s a standalone episode, it doesn’t devolve into filler like a lot of shows do. That’s the great thing about this series. Even the isolated episodes are still fun and this one is no exception. The plot is intriguing.
The entire episode takes place on the ship and leads to suspenseful moments that are well-executed. Later in the episode, the characters are forced to move around the ship in zero gravity, which leads to some inventive action scenes. Each time another character falls ill adds another layer of dread. The reveal of the organism’s origins is brilliant yet hilarious.
The animation, as always, is amazing. As mentioned before, part of the episode has the characters in zero gravity, and it looks wonderful. The characters are all pleasant to watch. Most of them take a bit of a backseat to Spike which is a bit of a shame, but it does help sell the tension, and there is still Spike being as awesome as always. The pacing is also well done. Every story beat flows into each other organically and nothing feels underdeveloped.
The music is terrific. Overall, “Toys in the Attic” is a fun ride from beginning to end. It’s a perfect example of how even an episode that is independent of the overall main story can still be delightful.
4. Black Dog Serenade (Season 1, Episode 16)
This episode follows Jet, who reunites with an old partner to hunt down the man who is responsible for Jet losing an arm, only for him to discover the truth. This episode has classic noir vibes, which make for an enjoyable episode. It’s nice to see Jet be the center focus of a story. Spike seems to get the most attention in the series followed by Faye, so to have something about Jet is quite refreshing. Anytime the show delves into a character’s past is always rewarding, and this one also delivers. Seeing Jet go out of his way to find the criminal is incredible to watch. There had already been teases beforehand about Jet being a police officer, but to learn more about it was satisfying.
The rest of the crew do a good job of being supportive players. The story hooks the viewers and Jet’s ex-partner, Fad (Japanese: Masashi Hirose, English: Doug Lee) is an interesting character. Despite this being his only appearance, he leaves quite the impact. The ending might be predictable to some, but the payoff still works.
The animation, once again, is truly something special. The action is outstanding. The humorous moments don’t distract from the more dramatic scenes. The music is also soothing, which fits the noir style perfectly. The pacing is just right. The tension throughout is excellent. When all is said and done, ”Black Dog Serenade” is a solid character dive that never gets dull.
3. Hard Luck Woman (Season 1, Episode 24)
The penultimate episode of the series follows Faye and Edward, who both find something about their respected past that leads to an exciting adventure. This is fantastic for several reasons. As said before with the episode “Black Dog Serenade,” having a story that devotes itself to one of the characters’ backstories is rewarding. Faye’s storyline had been building up for a while until now, and the ending result is both sad and gratifying. Seeing her more serious in contrast to her usual wild self is entertaining. Learning more about Edward is interesting. The character never got too many episodes about her, but this worked to wrap her character arc as this would mark Edward’s final appearance on the show along with the crew’s pet dog, Ein.
Jet and Spike were a bit of fun. Although their role is minimal in the story, they have a few good moments. The backdrops are exceptional. It almost feels like a painting coming to life. The episode, while not ending on a somber note, still leaves viewers feeling a bit sad since it truly feels like things are coming to an end. It works as a calm before the storm. It may not set up the finale per se, but it does wrap up some of the remaining story arcs leaving room for what’s to follow. In the end, “Hard Luck Woman” is an astonishing experience that resolves Faye and Edward’s character arcs excellently.
2. Ballad of Fallen Angels (Season 1, Episode 5)
If there was one episode that would pop into people’s heads when talking about the best of Cowboy Bebop, this would be one of them. It mostly follows Spike, who comes head-to-head with one of his greatest enemies, Vicious (Japanese: Norio Wakamoto, English: Skip Stellrehct). It was the first time Spike got his past explored, and so much is revealed. Discovering his criminal history and connection with Vicious is fascinating, not to mention the action being spectacular. Several nail-biting moments leave viewers on the edge of their seats and again, this is only the fifth episode. Even at the beginning, the stakes were high.
The animation is at its finest here. There are plenty of iconic scenes from this episode alone. The shot of Spike and Vicious at a standoff is one of the greatest moments in anime history bar none. Faye and Spike fit well into the story. There are a few amusing parts that help add a sense of levity to an otherwise intense episode. The music is at its best as well. It goes along with the action marvelously. This episode could almost be interchanged as the number one spot if the episode above it wasn’t slightly better. All in all, “Ballad of Fallen Angels” is one of the best representations of Cowboy Bebop. It is an exhilarating watch that sets up the main storyline brilliantly.
1. The Real Folk Blues (Season 1, Episodes 25 & 26)
Technically, this is two episodes, but it’s a single storyline told in a two-parter. The series finale to Cowboy Bebop follows Spike as he heads off for his final confrontation with Vicious. With this being the last episode, everything comes to a head. Several supporting characters come in and then get killed off. New revelations are uncovered. No stone is left unturned, and the show has one of the most definitive endings to a series. The action is so over-the-top, but at the same time, absolutely magnificent. Since this is the end, all bets are off. Scene after scene, the main characters are put in life-threatening situations. It hardly ever lets up. The final battle between Spike and Vicious is a work of art.
When it comes to animation, there are so many ways to describe it. The animators must have spent most of their time on just the finale alone because it is beautiful. The pacing is phenomenal. A lot happens, but despite that, viewers can still follow along just fine. Another outstanding aspect about this two-parter are the final moments Spike has with Faye and Jet. They’re both brief, but they’re very quiet and emotional. They serve as a good break from all of the constant action as well as provide resolution between Spike and them. Ultimately, “The Real Folk Blues” is the best ending that Cowboy Bebop could ask for. While there was a movie that was released afterward in 2001, that still was only a midquel. This brings the show to a full conclusion, ending the anime on a high note.
Cowboy Bebop can be found on several streaming services including Netflix and Hulu.
Official Cowboy Bebop Trailer