So never do I usually discuss television on this blog as Reviewers of the Lost Art is predominately film based, but the problem is that some TV is just way too irresistible to not sink my teeth into, and Cowboy Bebop is, well, surprisingly enough, one of those shows. If you are unaware of the incredible session by session serial that was the late 90’s Cowboy Bebop, the animated series is quite possibly Japan’s most popular and acclaimed anime show ever made, beating out favourites like Death Note, One Punch Man and even Dragonball Z. A mash-up of the western, noir and sci-fi genres, this jazz fuelled space opera is one of the most fascinating, comical and mature stories ever put to screen with incredible characters and adventures that tie every impeccable detail together. Cowboy Bebop is what I consider Lost Art, and so therefore, I am brought to the real reason why I personally want to discuss today, one of my favourite shows ever to you guys: THIS SHOW IS INCREDIBLE AND IT IS MY MISSION TO HAVE IT GARNER A LARGER AUDIENCE. So cowboy, without further ado, here I have listed eight episodes from Shinichiro Watanabe’s classic show that will hopefully alert you to this anime’s artistic flare for the mundane and rad.
Firstly though, there were so many impeccably enjoyable and deep sessions to choose from, so here are some honourable mentions you might want to equally anticipate as much as the eight I have chosen: COWBOY FUNK, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, WALTZ FOR VENUS, MUSHROOM SAMBA, JUPITER JAZZ (PT. 1 & 2) and STRAY DOG STRUT.
#8 GANYMEDE ELEGY
Eat your heart out, Boogie Woogie Feng Shui. Session 10 stands as a reminder that Cowboy Bebop is, as I said, an amalgamation of three genres: western, noir and sci-fi. Whereas the flawed protagonist Spike Speigel’s character draws more from the western and the femme fatale, Faye Valentine, from sci-fi, it’s clear that resident chef of the Bebop ship, Jet Black, is a pawn of noir, and Ganymede Elegy proves it so. With the majority of Jet’s singular sessions gaining heavy noir influence, it is this one, Ganymede Elegy, that stands as the most memorable and impactful. Following the Bebop crew as they return to Jet’s old planet of residence, Jet is faced with a woman from his past and a bounty that directly interferes with his reunion. The episode is one of many in the Cowboy Bebop pantheon that delves so effectively into the richness of the series’ protagonist’s pasts, however this session manages to standout as an emotional and epic ride nonetheless unlike any other. Jet is quite possibly the most underrated character in Cowboy Bebop though it is episodes like this one that hammer in the reasonings behind what makes Jet tick (*wink* *wink*). And if you’re not convinced, just wait to the ending; gorgeous animation and incredible dialogue is enough to get you on board this voyage of a session.
#7 THE BALLAD OF FALLEN ANGELS
It may be the fifth episode, but this is kinda where it all officially begins… Session 5 is where we, the audience, get an official introduction to the overarching narrative in the season, spawning from Spike’s troubled past. The episode follows Spike as his past actions and decisions catch up to him in the form of his mortal enemy and shadowy opposite, Vicious. I remember hearing (or reading) one time that on a whole Cowboy Bebop is like the epilogue to a soaring epic collection of predominately three main narratives; the show is like a series that ended long ago and bizarrely just kept going. The Ballad of Fallen Angels completely embodies the idea that Cowboy Bebop is the show after the main show. The narrative in this session is so powerful and potent, the story of Spike and Vicious carries out throughout the series, almost as the core conflict of central episodes. The Ballad of Fallen Angels is like an awakening, not only reminding audiences that these characters have existed long before the first episode but also that their adventures are not yet over and they all have loose ends to tie up… no matter how messy it gets. Be warned, Session 5 is a game changer and a half, and a definite must watch.
#6 HARD LUCK WOMAN
This one is a tear-jerker. Session 24 is quite possibly the most fulfilling and satisfying episode in the Cowboy Bebop pantheon as it predominately centres on Faye and the young Ed, this time around, as revelations concerning their past selves bubble to the surface in some truly emotionally climatic ways. If you were to count The Real Folk Blues as just one big episode, Hard Luck Woman is more-or-less the second to last chapter for the crew of the Bebop, therefore acting almost as the calm before the storm of the series finale. Although Cowboy Bebop does centrally draw focus on Spike for the majority of the series, Hard Luck Woman works as a reminder there are other key characters who deserve their own conclusions as both Faye and Ed, through impeccable writing and a beautifully structured sequence of events, gain their own satisfying ends to two (well, one) flawlessly built character arcs. All correlating with the infamous ‘Call Me, Call Me’ sequence, the crew of the Bebop are left roughly all in the same places they began their journey, with one difference – they have all changed because of the influence of another. No other session cries out the term ‘family’ more than this one.
#5 PIERROT LE FOU
Wanna get nuts? Well come, lets get nuts! Session 20 is unlike any other Cowboy Bebop episode before it or after it. Pierrot Le Fou centres around Spike’s showdown with a demonic clown murderer who targets Spike after he witnesses the killer in action. Most Cowboy Bebop sessions adhere to similar tones and story elements, however Session 20 is a whole other beast. A psycho killer story infused with the horror and thriller genres, this may be the most terrifying episode yet with animation that clearly operates in servitude of terror and nightmarish visuals. Pierrot Le Fou paints one of the most engaging Cowboy Bebop villains outside of a rare few, with the central demonic clown figure casting horror in visual design and general writing. This session is one best kept in the dark, in case of spoiling what seethes beneath the surface of this engaging watch, but trust me, you’ll know Pierrot Le Fou when you get to it – it sticks out like the sorest of sore thumbs, and damn does it bleed a beautiful crimson.
#4 MY FUNNY VALENTINE
Ok, yeah, I personally adore this episode. Session 15 takes the character of Faye Valentine and broadens her femme fatale persona to deeper depths creating one of animes most endearing characters ever. The session basically revolves around Faye facing an obstacle from her past for which unearths the reasonings and motivations behind why Faye is the hardened bounty hunter she is regularly depicted as in the series. I love Faye Valentine (… for multiple reasons), but whenever Cowboy Bebop dares to dig further into what makes her character tick, I go from ‘love’ to ‘high respect’. My Funny Valentine introduces us to an origin story so unique and different that, the experience felt watching Faye Valentine become Faye Valentine is one of the most poetic and elusive journeys you’ll ever take in not only this series, not only anime, but just storytelling in general. My Funny Valentine is a must watch in character work and building, with a keen eye for subverting expectations behind the past of a supposed one-dimensional hot stuff, gun-toting bounty hunter.
#3 ASTEROID BLUES
First impressions are always important. Session 1 of Cowboy Bebop starts the series with a bang. Prior to the introductions of Faye, Ed and the dog, Ein, the crew of the Bebop consisted of just two: Spike and Jet. With focus on only two of the series’ main stay protagonists, Session 1 of Cowboy Bebop has time to expand on a highly engaging subplot revolving around two runaway lovers. The session basically follows Spike and Jet as they track down two individuals wanted for thievery of expensive drugs, as a goose-chase across the galaxy ensures. Being the first episode, Asteroid Blues works to successfully set a tone, world-build, introduce Spike and Jet in likeable and endearing ways, and also promise the audience a series of engaging stories… and with all that on it’s plate, Session 1 still works as one of the series’ finest. With Bruce Lee styled fighting, Sergio Leone styled aesthetics and George Lucas styled space battles, Asteroid Blues is one of the most watchable episodes in the whole of Cowboy Bebop and a near perfect first episode for a series ever.
#2 TOYS IN THE ATTIC
Ever seen Alien? Yeah it’s kind of the same thing. Session 11 follows the crew of the Bebop as their ship is overrun with a mysterious mutated force that targets Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed and Ein, one by one. Part parody, part homage, Toys in the Attic is the retro sci-fi inspired horror one-off of the Cowboy Bebop series. Similar to the later episode, Pierrot Le Fou, Toys in the Attic is the series attempt to create a more singular enclosed thriller adventure, and damn, do the efforts of the writers behind this episode pay-off. Claustrophobic, tense and a master class in animation, Toys in the Attic is not afraid to build fear and terror whilst underlying it with some humorous and comedic revelations to draw the story out to obscure lengths. This session may not do a huge lot for character growth or advancing the overarching story of the Bebop crew, but is a fun inclusion that is so off-grid that it really, really, really works, in every way.
#1 THE REAL FOLK BLUES (PT. 1 & 2)
Yeah Breaking Bad had a satisfying finale but…. Sessions 25 & 26 of Cowboy Bebop are animation gold. Not only are the visuals some of the best in the series, but with returning characters and a stage set for the ultimate confrontation of Spike against his past traumas really sells The Real Folk Blues (Pt. 1 & 2) as the best sessions of Cowboy Bebop ever. The episodes are rather self-explanatory in their synopsises: Spike and Vicious showdown one final time as our suave, troubled protagonist is forced to choose between fulfilling his vengeful desires or comfortably accepting a future with his new family. This final two-parter really defines the characters of Cowboy Bebop in their purest states. It may all be a show for Spike to uncover his destiny and erase the demons of his past, but the remaining protagonists like Jet and Faye also get their due. A particular sequence between Spike and Faye towards the end of Part 2 is quite possibly one of my favourite conversations between two characters in storytelling ever. With a final shot that really “bangs”, The Real Folk Blues (Pt. 1 & 2) will have you carry a weight long after the series concludes and that jazz outro plays one final time…
So there you have it, a must-watch list of Cowboy Bebop sessions that you need to start like right now! … or whenever you get time or whatever… The show from me obviously gets Lost Art status and a big recommendation from Mr. Reviewers of the Lost Art himself.
Till my next post, see you space cowboy…
- Seidel, B 2017, ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Will Never Work in Hollywood, Study Breaks, Study Breaks, viewed 17 October 2018, <https://studybreaks.com/tvfilm/cowboy-bebop/>