Does The Cowboy Bebop Pilot Hold Up Nearly 30 Years Later?

Cowboy Bebop. This classic anime is arguably the reason that many Americans got into anime in the first place. The series was sadly short-lived, though that’s because the creator had only planned for one season. It follows the adventures of Spike Spiegel and his group of Bounty Hunters in the year 2071, who travel on a spaceship, the Bebop. The anime series incorporated plenty of themes throughout the 26-episode arc and has been lauded as some of the best material to land on television. However, times have changed since the debut of the pilot on September 18, 1997, has the first episode of the cartoon series held up against father time?

Anime is such a different beast from traditional cartoons. It’s not just the fact that they’re more adult than their counterparts, but the overall style, tone, and culture that really make them special. Granted, this doesn’t mean that every anime that exists is perfect, but Cowboy Bebop is almost as perfect as they come. There’s a layer of cool to the series that’s simply unmatched. What makes the pilot special is the gorgeous animation. This came out in the 90s, yet if the series dropped today then it wouldn’t have looked out of place. The beginning starts off strong by giving a hint of Spike’s past. He’s a former member of the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate, who left by faking his death after falling in love with a woman named Julia. The pilot doesn’t say that outright, but the wild gunfight that showcases how he could’ve faked his death and the flowers and rose left in the puddle indicate love. It gives you a subtle clue about the overall arc of not only the character but the series as well.

It continues to showcase Spike and the world that he lives in following that opening montage. For anime as stylish as this, it’s great that Cowboy Bebop takes its time to tell its story. The creator first allows you to warm up to the characters first, namely Jet Black and Spike. Basically, it does everything a pilot is supposed to do to thrust you into the world and characters, detail the overall arc without giving too much away, and provide enough action that wants you begging for more. However, it’s not just the fact that Cowboy Bebop checks off the tools necessary for a pilot. It’s the matter in which it does it. Who is Spike or Jet Black? What is this futuristic world? What does the beginning truly mean? It pulls you in because there’s lingering questions that gets your mind buzzing about everything you see onscreen. This new world is inviting, yet violent, and these characters are intriguing and likeable. You obviously won’t get all the answers by the episode’s end, but the pilot never feels unfinished or telegraphed for something better in the future if you continue watching. The introduction of Katerina Solensan and her criminal husband, Asimov Solensan was perfect. We understand his morals right out of the gate. He’s a drug dealer and he has no issues killing. Plus, the bloody eye drug is showcased as something powerful, and more importantly, dangerous.

It’s interesting that Katerina becomes smitten with Spike. Is she tired of Asimov? She’s clearly searching for a better life, but considering the fact that she instantly connects the dots of Spike being a bounty hunter, she should’ve let her husband choke the life out of him. But she didn’t. Perhaps she believed that he leads a life better than Asimov? She dies in the end, understandably because she knew that her chance to finally go to Mars was up in smoke after Asimov took too much of the bloody eye, but there’s still plenty of interesting questions about the mysterious beau. It’s a shame that their backstory wasn’t showcased more before their eventual doom. In some ways, Cowboy Bebop is a procedural. There’s a clear beginning, middle, and end case, but there’s an overlying arc outside of Spike and Jet’s assigned bounty. There’s really nothing more to say about just how great the pilot is. Despite the easter eggs of references, it’s not weighed down by a specific time period nor does the story feel outdated for modern times. As I previously stated, Cowboy Bebop is essentially perfect. It’s a complex story that’s easy to get into and despite Spike’s line of work, it’s not hard to get into his story as a protagonist. It leaves you wanting more, thus doing the job that every pilot is supposed to.

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