published in Empire No.67, Sydney
In a post-Tarantino climate where every word uttered and every image projected is a nod to pop culture iconography, this re-release of the late 90s' TV series Cowboy Bebop remains in synch with the times. Since the 50s, Jap pop culture has openly flirted with much American and European pop culture, and anime has long been rife with fast-paced riffing on Hollywood action and European mind-sets. Cowboy Bebop is an arch amalgam of bounty hunter archetypes drawn from spaghetti western gunmen, film noir detectives, European pro hitmen and wandering vengeful samurai.
The series' core group of bounty hunters - duo Spike and Jet, plus ring-ins Faye and Edward - travel the solar system in their tarnished spaceship (called Bebop) seeking the most dangerous of wanted criminals - yet always just missing out on claiming their hard-earned rewards. That description sounds relatively puerile, but the style and panache with which this series maintains and transforms those stereotypes propels it beyond mere baby-boomer parody. If anything, Cowboy Bebop - like its influential bounty-hunter predecessors City Hunter, Golgo 13, Cobra and Lupin III - reveals stronger connections to similar figures in French and Italian cinema from the 60s and 70s. Once one has spent time with the series, this darker tonality becomes apparent. The sci-fi element evolves in muted form, inuring a sharper focus on Spike and Jet's brooding complexion.
Yet deft humour ensures that Cowboy Bebop steers clear of ponderous introspection, and the comedic shifts are never awkward. The artwork and design of characters and mechanicals are not purposely ground-breaking, but always add to the atmosphere of the varied scenarios of the crew's escapades. A retro flashy jazz score keeps everything percolating hot. For those who demand entertainment with a capital E, Cowboy Bebop is bound to deliver.