So… what’s Cowboy Bebop?
If you’re not one of the millions of fans who have hopped on the train of this series somewhere in the past 20 years, that may be an actual question you have now that the live-action adaptation has landed.
For the uninitiated, Cowboy Bebop is based on a manga of the same name that was first published in 1998 and created by Hajime Yatate. The accompanying anime series is widely viewed as a classic and the debatable pinnacle of anime storytelling as it follows the adventures of a group of bounty hunters (a.k.a. cowboys) aboard a spaceship called the Bebop.
To be fair, that synopsis doesn’t do the concept justice and seeing it trend on social media every time a trailer drop doesn’t necessarily explain why everyone gets so worked up about it. And while our Jason Tabrys said the show “delivers by way of its playful and creative presentation and the strength of its cast” before saying it gives off fun “rogues in space vibes” akin to Guardians Of The Galaxy and Firefly, gaining a deeper understanding of what inspired it might make you like it more… or cause you to be totally frustrated (which may happen anyway, because overall reviews have been mixed-to-negative). Either way, here’s a list of five episodes of the original Cowboy Bebop that we recommend before diving into this new version.
As a note, this list is meant to serve as a crash course into the world of Spike Spiegel and co., not an all-encompassing, best-of list. Although a couple of these episodes could definitely make one. No, our primary goal is to give you a road map to one of the most respected anime television series of all time so you can decide if you want to take a deeper dive from here.
The best way to understand the world of Cowboy Bebop is to start at the very beginning of the anime series.
“Asteroid Blues” introduces viewers to two of the main members of the crew, Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, and shows how chaotic their day-to-day lives can be as they chase down bounties. But, more importantly, how in control they always seem to be amidst that same chaos.
In this case, Spike comes across a woman named Katerina and her smuggler boyfriend, Asimov, as they’re being hunted down by the mob because of some high-value drugs he stole. What starts off as a chance encounter quickly evolves into high-speed chases with even higher stakes.
Along the way, it becomes blatantly obvious that, along with his sleight-of-hand and marksmanship, Spike has mastered the skill of coming off as charming and non-threatening when needed despite the fact that he’s capable of taking out an entire battalion on his own. It also reveals that he ultimately has a good heart even though he works in a profession where that same trait can be hard to find.
Most importantly, this episode shows that not all criminals are bad people and not all bad people are criminals.
This episode also serves as a jumping-off point for the live-action series.
“Gateway Shuffle” makes the cut here for a few reasons. To start, it includes 80% of what ultimately becomes the primary cast of the show. This gives viewers a chance to see all of those dynamics play out as Jet and Spike have since adopted a genetically enhanced Welsh corgi named Ein and have crossed paths with Faye Valentine, a woman with a desperate need for cash and trouble trusting others. Here, Faye gets promoted from a charismatic guest star to the main cast and we learn more about Jet’s past life as a police officer.
Secondly, unlike some of the previous episodes of the series, “Gateway Shuffle” expands the world that much more. It’s not rooted in one specific location as the adventure takes place in the stars— there’s even a great scene in hyperspace!
As fun as it is to see Spike have his shootouts on land, watching him and Faye finesse their way through space to blow things up with lasers is always a treat.
“Ballad of Fallen Angels”
“Ballad of Fallen Angels” is one of the episodes that would likely earn a spot on a “best episode” list. It’s our very first time getting a good glimpse into Spike’s past with organized crime as he gets pulled back to hunt down the person responsible for killing an old friend and mentor. That person just so happens to be the show’s big bad and Spike’s deadly rival, Vicious.
Cowboy Bebop does a good job of slowly giving out sparse details of the crew’s lives so that you can piece it together yourself over all 26 episodes. While Spike’s origin story doesn’t become clear until much later in the run, this episode gives you an idea of just how much there is to uncover.
The gang’s all together! By this point in Cowboy Bebop, the crew is complete as they’ve also picked up Radical Edward (a.k.a Ed), a talented hacker with a youthful spirit, a self-adorned name, and a mysterious backstory all their own.
“Mushroom Samba” focuses largely on the adventures of Ed and Ein as they try to find food and fuel to help the Bebop’s crew out of the desert, where it’s currently stranded. Whether it’s due to desperation, confusion, or naivete, Ed ends up bringing back a bunch of hallucinogenic mushrooms that takes the entire crew on their own bad trips.
This inspires Ed to then go on their own bounty hunt for the person who grew the mushrooms and use the profits to buy food. If it wasn’t clear before, this episode proves that everyone on this crew can hold their own.
Not every moment of Cowboy Bebop is devoted to gunfights and space chases. Sometimes, it’s nice to just buckle in for a fun story and spends more time with the crew.
“Pierrot le Fou”
If you only have one episode to show someone the heights of Spike Spiegel’s badassery and his potential to be an enduring favorite character, “Pierrot le Fou” is it. The episode doesn’t make any references to past plot points, so it’s free of spoilers but full of intense action.
This episode focuses primarily on Spike as he accidentally walks right into a fresh murder scene. From there, he’s directly in the crosshairs of an assassin who’s a perfect killing machine and doesn’t like the idea of survivors.
The episode relies more on action than dialogue as Spike goes one-on-one against a maniac with a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal and a mind that’s quickly in decline. And Spike’s truly at peak performance as he goes in with nothing more than his intelligence and a couple of weapons he’s always relied on. Again, this episode proves the essence of Spike and how formidable he is.
Will the new series provide the same payoff and do justice to these and many other moments? The critics have had their say, maybe you should give it a look for yourself… after watching these amazing anime classics, that is.