Groundbreaking animated series wins Netflix remake for iconic artistic fusion
The classic 1998 animated series Cowboy Bebop is back in the public eye with a daring and highly anticipated live-action adaptation that arrives on Netflix on November 19.
The opportunity provides a moment to reflect on the vast cultural and artistic significance of an anime that has crossed literal and figurative boundaries to help carve out an international audience for the Japanese animation industry.
The original Cowboy Bebop has played a monumental role in establishing the transnational potential of anime. Its mind-boggling space bounty hunter storyline offered viewers a pastiche of American mafia films, Italian westerns, Japanese cyberpunk, Hong Kong-style martial arts films, and many other international influences.
The sampling of story genres is accompanied by an equally diverse sampling of international music, perfectly integrated. Music is an integral part of both the atmosphere and the storytelling of Be-bop, which features jazz, funk, hip-hop, blues, rock, metal and beyond.
Anime hits western pop culture
First released on home video in the West in 2000, Cowboy Bebop straddled one of the first major waves of anime in Western popular culture.
Thanks to the foundations laid by shows like sailor moon, Dragon ball z and Wing of Gundam, Be-bop not only found a sizable following on DVD, but became virtually an overnight success when it was selected as the first anime to air on Cartoon Network Adult Swim’s booming late-night programming block in 2001.
As media scholar Sandra Annett noted, Cowboy Bebop represented a work of art that existed outside national borders – what she calls a “shift towards post-nationalism”. The series, set in 2071 and grounded in the center of civilization on the planet Mars, presents a dynamic, compelling, and surprisingly cohesive melting pot of disparate cultural influences, all of which combine to articulate a story that is – at the core – globally inclusive.
Its critical and financial success is testament to a radical change in the existing media landscapes in the 1980s leading into the 21st century. Communications specialist Fabienne Darling-Wolf explores how media producers in Japan were among others who found international reach, urging viewers to negotiate their own sense of belonging with “cultural products, images and information. increasingly disconnected from their place of origin ”.
Style and substance
Although flooded with style and verve, Cowboy Bebop was not lacking in substance. At the heart of the bounty hunting adventure series was a poignant relationship between a pair of now iconic main characters, Faye Valentine and Spike Spiegel. The two find themselves emotionally estranged from each other due to a Shakespearean divide: a woman who cannot reconnect with her past and a man who cannot envision a future.
The origins of Be-bop itself seems almost too impossible to be true. The show was a production of Sunrise, the best-known animation studio for the Gundam franchise. It was originally designed as a vehicle to sell spaceship toys by parent company Bandai before this idea was scrapped.
Most of the creative staff were studio veterans. Director Shinichiro Watanabe, writer Keiko Nobumoto, character creator Toshihiro Kawamoto and composer Yoko Kanno had previously collaborated on beloved series such as Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory and Macross More, of which the latter was a cult success abroad.
Unusual music, dubbing
Be-bopThe soundtrack was as eclectic as its influences, and Kanno’s career skyrocketed because of the series. Its grandiloquent opening theme “Tank! And closer to the mood, “The Real Folk Blues” remain beloved to this day. And most of the series episode titles are named after famous songs and albums.
Kanno’s name has since become industry royalty, to the point that she was selected to compose the music for the rise of Japanese Emperor Naruhito in 2019. Unsurprisingly, Kanno is back for the next series. Netflix.
Even the translation work received high praise, as the English dubbing of Cowboy Bebop is considered a benchmark in English dubbing for the richness and depth of English dubbing performances: a work of art in itself.
There was continued life in the Western fandom for the series long after its last entry, the feature film Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven’s Door in 2001.
Even 20 years later, the animated series consistently tops “best anime” lists by fans and critics. As film critic Chris Stuckmann writes in Anime impact: “No anime in history has the effervescent pop-magic of Cowboy Bebop… All it takes is a few glances and you’re hooked.
As a new generation receives its own iteration of Cowboy Bebop, the shadow of the original is rightly looming. Like recent successes such as Squid game and Demon slayer Let us remember, the media landscape of 2021 cares little about national borders.
That wasn’t always the case in 1998, when an unlucky bounty hunter crew sailed a modified fishing trawler in television history. Set among the stars, so to speak, Cowboy Bebop was truly universal.