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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Stories of the Top 80 Anime: Cowboy Bebop

19. Cowboy Bebop. I confess that I don't like this anime much. The reason I rate it so highly isn't because it appeals to me subjectively, but because of its objective worth. Cowboy Bebop is one of the most popular 'adult' animes of all time. It's well recognized around the world as what anime is capable of being, a serious instrument of serious storytelling. For that, I'm thankful. For whatever reason, most people can't look past the cartoon nature of stories like Dragonball and One Piece, but they'll admit that Cowboy Bebop is good. If people can get hooked into anime via Cowboy Bebop, and then watch other, genuinely better stories afterwards, then Cowboy Bebop is serving its purpose.

People like Cowboy Bebop for precisely the reason I dislike it: it's 'gritty,' 'realistic,' and 'grim.' Americans, for some reason, revel in realism and pain. That's why we make shows like Desperate Housewives, the Sopranos, or anything else that shows scummy people doing scummy things to each other in a world full of murder and death. Cowboy Bebop fits right into this spectacle, as Cowboy Bebop is full of characters who have double crossed each other, done crimes, gotten injured, and so on. Spike is an ex-mafia member, Faye a thief, and so on. It gets tiresome so I won't go much into it. In the future space world where mankind has expanded across the solar system, people are forced into jobs like these, because everything is so rotten and awful that there are no better prospects. Everyone is living in a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The earth was destroyed by an asteroid or something, and the rest of the solar system is poor and backwards.

For people who like stories like these, somehow feeling like a story is more 'real' and 'good' the worse the characters and the environment become (So, for instance, Anna Karenina is great literature precisely because all the characters in it are annoying and evil. Or Chekov's plays for instance.), Cowboy Bebop is therefore the best anime ever. For people like me, who see enough horrifying depressing things about the real world, it's one of the worst animes ever, because it just projects that despair into the future and the universe, not leaving humanity any hope at all. Madoka is the exact opposite, a story about hope overcoming despair. In Cowboy Bebop, typically, Spike rejects the hopeful life of a romance with Faye, the two of them running away together and starting over, in favor of despair and death. He rushes into a hopeless battle with his old mafia enemy, Vicious, kills him, then dies of his wounds, his suicidal charge at least achieving his desired results. But what were the results? Just more people crying than before. The mafia would recover, there's always more where they come from, but the people who relied on Spike won't recover. Faye, Jet, and Ed, what will become of them? The story doesn't care. Spike didn't care.

I hate the theme and the setting of the story, but there are things to like about Cowboy Bebop. The music, by Yoko Kanno, is classic, and really sets the mood well. The animation and art, for a series done in 1998, is amazing, it still looks brand new. The fight scenes are fast and furious, they look extremely realistic and stay within human bounds, which makes them all the more interesting. Spike can't shoot ki blasts or summon dragons, he just has a gun, grenades, and his fists, but even with that he's a total badass. There's some great humor scenes in Cowboy Bebop, a welcome relief to the ever present bleakness and woe. But it takes a warped mind to enjoy Cowboy Bebop. A bounty hunter of criminals no worse than Spike is himself, all with their own dour tales about how they had no choice but to become criminals, because of how awful the solar system was, and Spike not pitying them because his own life was even worse, and he's lost the ability to pity anyone, including himself. Ugh. I don't even want to remember this story. Could there be anything more depressing? Not in the cathartic tearful way that Key would give me. Just a blank gray despair that extends forever in all directions. Welcome to our future. Welcome to Cowboy Bebop.

No thank you. My rankings pay attention to popularity, and I can't deny the production value that went into Cowboy Bebop, but it is the antithesis of everything I like about anime. Instead of good characters getting along in a bright and happy world, it's scumbags killing and dying in a dead and dark world. If I wanted to watch shows like that, I'd turn on my American television. Americans can have Cowboy Bebop. Japan should inherit the attitudes in Madoka and Da Capo. That's the world we need.

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