Cowboy Bebop

Alex Suskind with an appreciation of Cowboy Bebop, now on Blu-ray.

Set in 2071, Bebop imagines a dystopian future where earth has been irrevocably damaged due to the creation of a “stargate,” forcing humans to evacuate the planet and create colonies across the solar system. The result is a galaxy of lawlessness, where crime lords rule and cops pay bounty hunters (often referred to as cowboys) to handle some of the grunt work. People drink in dive bars. Income inequality is terrible. Everyone speaks like they’re background extras in Chinatown. The show ultimately features so many cross-ranging influences and nods to other famous works it’s almost impossible to keep track. It’s Sergio Leone in a spacesuit. It’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with automatic weapons.

This confluence of cultures is what’s helped the show sustain influence over the last decade-plus. Countless filmmakers, animators, musicians—they’ve all been drawn into the orbit of Watanabe’s space-age cowboy western. Take Quentin Tarantino. The animated sequence from his 2003 film Kill Bill Vol. 1 is straight Bebop, with blood gushing out of each wound like an infinite geyser. There’s also filmmaker and future Star Wars spin-off director Rian Johnson, whose cult 2005 thriller Brick takes a good chunk of inspiration from the Japanese series, with its snappy, noir-friendly dialogue and overall sense of dread. Other famous fans of the series include the late Robin Williams, as well as science-fiction author Orson Scott Card, who wrote an essay in 2011 praising Bebop, comparing to another critically acclaimed space Western, Joss Whedon’s Firefly. (Indeed, both series have strong female characters, a melting pot of cultures, and killer soundtracks.)

It's perhaps my favorite anime series of all time, and any time someone mentions that they like Firefly, I tell them to check out Cowboy Bebop, which is, IMHO, far superior.

When I first started watching the series, I had to purchase DVDs from other regions off of eBay and play them on a region-free DVD player, that's how much I craved new installments. Kids these days don't realize how easy they have it when it comes to binge-watching (my first experience binge-watching was tracking down the first two seasons of the X-Files; I posted a request to a newsgroup and found some saint who accepted a box of blank VHS tapes from me, dubbed every episode of the first two seasons, labeling each tape with titles and episode numbers, and mailed the whole lot back to me. If only I had kept those tapes. If I could reconnect with that guy, I would send him a bottle of bourbon or something.)