Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999)
Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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Some time in the future, a pair of bounty hunters, Spike and Jet, travel from planet to planet on their spaceship, the Bebop, hunting for various persons wanted by the police. As they do so, they pick up a sexy, traitorous gambler named Faye, a peculiar young computer hacker named Ed, and a very valuable dog named Ein.

Shinichiro Watanabe's twenty-six episode animated television series Cowboy Bebop is so consistently exciting, so wonderfully fun, and so frequently sexy that watching it is a real delight.

Each episode of the series tells a complete story, although these are often informed by events and facts from previous episodes. The characters' minds are thus gradually revealed to the viewer, and their lives are given some trajectory, so that Cowboy Bebop is not merely an amorphous collection of independent little adventures. Besides binding the program's episodes together, the ever resurfacing troubles and sorrows suffered by the four protagonists in the past, by giving the characters themselves some degree of depth and a capacity to involve the viewer in their lives, also make these persons into surprisingly intriguing individuals.

In fact, the series' heroes are all likeable and nicely delineated. Spike is lackadaisical, cynical, and burdened with memories of a dark and brutal youth. Jet is a former police officer and a decent individual who is often concerned about his friends' welfare. Faye is a conniving, irresponsible, untrustworthy, self-involved vamp who is so outrageously sexy that all her faults are forgiven because of her physical charms. Ed is a strange, androgynous young girl who happens to be a brilliant computer hacker, and Ein is a genetically altered Welsh Corgi.

Happily, not only are these four fun to watch, but both their adventures and the universe in which they live are genuinely mesmerizing. In fact, Watanabe keeps his program constantly riveting by combining, in nearly the perfect proportions, depictions of violent combat, moments of comedy, atmospheric adventures, fascinating imaginary worlds, occasionally complex narratives, and an alluring sexiness. Each of these elements is appealing individually, but each also enhances the appeal of the others. All, consequently, add to the program's richness and make it invariably engaging.

What is more, all the characters' violent adventures, daring feats, and the like are brought to life with tremendous style. The series' intoxicating jazz soundtrack, composed by Yoko Kanno, complements every scene in the program, and the dark themes present in most of the series' tales are always given enough emphasis so that Cowboy Bebop has an intense but invariably modish and deliciously entrancing edginess.

Lastly, I should note that the animation used in Cowboy Bebop, while never truly stunning, is consistently nicely done and incorporates a number of charmingly inventive details. For instance, at various points throughout the series, the characters visit a casino shaped like a roulette wheel floating in space, a Martian city built in a glass domed crater, a whirling vortex of rubbish, and many other outlandish places besides these.

While I cannot say that Cowboy Bebop is ever brilliantly realized, it is one of the most fun and appealing television series I have encountered. It is almost certain to captivate and thrill any viewer able to appreciate an exciting tale of adventure.

Review by Keith Allen

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