Friday, December 21, 2007

Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop; animated science-fiction series, Japan, 1998; D: Shinichiro Watanabe, S: Koichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Unsho Ishizuka, Aoi Tada, Norio Wakamoto, Miki Nagasawa, Gara Takashima
The year is 2071. The Moon exploded and created a mysterious substance that enables people faster traveling through the Solar system. Spike, an ex-convict, and Jet, an ex-cop, are bounty hunters who capture renegades from Mercury to Pluto with their spaceship 'Bebop'. They soon get joined by wild lady Faye and later on by Ed, a little girl. There are many bad guys to capture: ecological terrorist who protect the creatures on Jupiter's moon, the killer of a company owner, drug dealers, crooks...When Spike finds his long lost love, Julia, he leaves 'Bebop'. She gets killed by Vicious' gang, so Spike kills him and dies in the combat.

Extremely stylish "Cowboy Bebop", an elite example of anime class, is in some critic circles considered to be the best show in 1998, and that's justified since the authors manifested both a noir and a genius ode to sci-fi rush that ended as an extremely rich, ambitious contribution to that genre. It is a pastiche of various pop culture stories and genres, from "Lupin III", through "Desperado", "Shaft" up to 'Spaghetti-Westerns', yet it emulates them a level higher, to create a copy better than the original. The incredible imagination of the authors is astounding in some scenes, from a laser that drew a "smiley face" over the whole surface of South America (!) through a church on Venus; the explosion of the Moon whose sparks arrive to the meadow on the Earth; up to a harbor on the satellite Ganymede from which the "sunrise" of the gigantic Jupiter can be seen. The animation is also top notch and gives the series a special plus in virtues, while besides the unionism of action (the shootout in the church) the characters are also special—the star is probably the cold blooded lady Faye, voiced by Megumi Hayashibara, who was drawn mischievously by the animators in a smooth yellow bikini-like suit to underline her curves.

But it is a pity that between her and the main protagonist Spike, there are almost no romantic feelings, thus that is the main flaw of this anime—a sometimes too cold, "clinical" approach towards the characters, even though there are many scenes that give them a little spark of light (especially touching and masterful is episode #18 where the tough Faye sees a recording of herself as a little teenage girl on a found video tape, back then when she was a cheerful teenager). Indeed, one could complain about such darkness and pessimistic approach, but one could also say that it is somber and realistic, since it shows that even in the future life is tough and offers no easy choices—however, precisely because the relationship between Spike and Faye is so understated, even the smallest touch between them is so intense and precious that it is more exciting than some love stories. Remarkably, Spike is always, to the core, loyal to his true love, Julia, and defies the expectation that he "must" seduce Faye as a "hot shot" protagonist. Some also complained that the story is too much action based, too simplistic, infantile gimmick for grown ups with too many filler episodes—all those complains stand, yet director Watanabe's skill is really too powerful to be that easily dismissed. A shining anime, almost too rich with style, while the finale contains such tragedy, heartbreaking intensity and incomprehensible contemplation about life and death (summed up in the epic, unforgetable quote by Spike: "I'm not going there to die. I'm going to find out if I'm really alive.") that it is easily one of the top 10 best anime endings ever, a masterpiece of such strong stuff that can cause the viewers to feel a lump in their throats.


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