All images via Funimation
Cowboy Bebop is the sort of anime that can’t be summed up with one simple description. It’s remained one of the defining shows in American anime fandom, in part because everyone has their own idea of what makes Bebop such a remarkable achievement. For some, it’s the way it incorporates decades of cinematic techniques and references from around the world. For others, it’s the show’s effortless sense of cool. For me, Bebop’s most striking element is its confidence.
Every episode, from the goofy comedy of “Mushroom Samba” to the regretful nostalgia of "Ganymede Elegy," is presented with the same unerring certainty. Bebop practically oozes confidence, both in the stories it tells and the audience it’s telling them to. Take, for example, the soundtrack. Bebop is filled to the brim with iconic tracks, any one of which would be the defining sound for a lesser show. But almost all of its best tracks only play once and are never heard again outside of their one big moment.
“Green Bird,” “Rain,” “Blue,” “Call Me Call Me,” to give just a few examples, are only heard once, and have remained in fandom memory ever since. Rather than reusing tracks to keep them fresh in the audience’s mind, Bebop uses its best tracks for the scene that they match and no other, trusting the weight of the story and the quality of the music will speak for themselves. And it worked. Who comes away from Bebop without remembering the way Spike fell from the church while the soothing vocals of “Green Bird” played? Moments like that have become iconic in a way most stories could only dream of and wouldn’t have reached that level without soundtracks that tie in perfectly.
In the same vein, Bebop trusts its audience to understand the tone and mood of a scene without needing any music. One of my favorite scenes between Spike and Jet is a perfect example of this. In Episode 5, Jet asks Spike about his past and what he’s hiding. Spike replies by asking Jet what happened to his arm, which Jet refuses to answer, asking what it has to do with anything, with neither of them giving the other any answers. It all happens in complete silence, no background music playing, which emphasizes the scene more than any amount of music could. The silence gives it a feeling of discomfort, which is the point. Spike and Jet are partners, but neither wants to open up about anything real. Bebop conveys all this with a distant silence and a few obtuse lines of dialogue, trusting the audience to understand without needing to spell anything out.
For that matter, Bebop rarely goes into detail about what its characters are thinking. Spike, Jet, and Faye all avoid being honest with each other, leaving it to the audience to interpret what they’re actually thinking and feeling. Even Spike’s farewell to Jet comes in the form of a fable about a tiger-striped cat, which Spike ends with a quip about hating cats. The only time anyone on the Bebop (with the exception of Ed) is honest about themselves is when Faye tries to stop Spike from leaving, one of the hardest-hitting moments of a show stuffed to the brim with hard-hitting moments. The fact that these characters have spent 26 episodes deflecting and refusing to open up makes their farewell all the more impactful. It’s not easy to maintain a compelling cast of characters who hide everything meaningful and refuse to connect with each other but Bebop does it with an easy confidence that never falters.
Bebop's entire run is presented with this kind of twofold confidence: confidence in the story it's telling and confidence that the audience will understand it. Spike's final “bang,” which has left its mark on viewers for over 20 years, is itself a callback to the end of Episode 6, “Sympathy for the Devil,” where that same line is Spike’s farewell to a dangerous adversary. The show never has to explain that connection; there’s no dialogue about it, no flashbacks, nothing. Bebop simply trusts the audience to remember.
Then there’s the final end card: “You’re gonna carry that weight.” Anywhere else, it would be almost insufferably arrogant. But after watching Spike’s last battle with Vicious, watching him run away from his past for 25 episodes only to finally turn around and confront it, that end card reads more like a statement of fact than a boast. Bebop gave viewers an unforgettable story that’s resonated with fans for decades and did so knowing exactly what kind of impact it would have.
So yeah, you are gonna carry that weight.
What's your favorite part of Cowboy Bebop? Let me know down in the comments!
Skyler loves writing and chatting about anime, and is always ready to gush about the latest One Piece chapter. Read more of his work at his blog apieceofanime.com and follow him on Twitter at Videogamep3.
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