What They Say :
The crew of the Bebop is once again ready to clean up space by bringing bad guys to justice and trying to make some cash while doing it!
Now for the first time ever this Anime classic is available in amazing high-definition Blu-Ray and packaged in a limited edition slipcase and containing bonus content never available outside of Japan before including the “Ein’s Summer Holiday” short and a 40 page booklet.
Join the always-cool Spike Spiegel, investigative genius Jet Black, the alluring Faye Valentine, the amazing (but weird) Ed and the super-smart Welsh Corgi named Ein as they try to make a buck in the year 2071. How do they do it? They’re bounty hunters!
The Blu-Ray release makes me happy as it includes a 5.1 Dolby Surround sound both in English and Japanese. Cowboy Bebop is constantly praised for being one of the best dubs of all time, so having time combined with the super Japanese acting as well in clean 5.1 already makes it a great release. Some of the extras unfortunately have stereo instead (the commentaries) but otherwise you cannot fault it. No issues with synching, subtitles, etc – and with a Blu Ray release of this nature the visual quality is perfectly recaptured and remastered for high definition. I had it both set up in widescreen and full screen (disc 1 and 2 respectively) and the images are so clear watching the series it is one of those series that feels like a cinematic experience, and the way the visuals are presented, it compliments that perfectly. No issues with slowdown, pausing images or glitches, resolution is perfect – no problems whatsoever.
The menu is identical on both discs – it is basically the legendary TANK opening with a menu on the side of Play All, Episodes, Extras and Set Up on a black background. The menu as per most Blu-Ray releases doesn’t interrupt the menu loading making selection easy (though you have to remember to press right to get back to the menu instead of trying to go back I found out). One feature I hadn’t noticed on other Blu-Rays is that went you want to go back to the main menu from the show, the menu just pops up on the right hand side and the episode you are watching still continues which was pretty unique. As the menu is pretty much the opening, whilst nice, you see the opening every episode so feel a little redundant, but easily accessible and nice feature to get back to the main menu.
There were a few extras spread over the two discs, mostly on the 1st disc. We get commercials for the Blu-Ray set in Japan, as well as commercials for the DVD set in Japan. Surprised there were no subtitles on these but you can hear that most of the main characters (Spike, Jet, Faye, Vicious and Ed) introduce them at some point as they are played, basically various clips from various episodes.
The main extras came in the form of commentaries – we get an episode 1 Japanese commentary with Koichi Yamadera (voice of Spike) and Unshou Ishizuka (voice of Jet). This appears to have been set a few years ago but is still good to listen, hear how the guys feel about the show after quite a while away from it, that it was Koichi’s first lead role, how they were trying to group the stories and characters, about the cast and crew (the fact at first it was just guest parts…aside from the three recurring old men), how controversial the first episode was and how it was blocked in some networks in Japan, talk about how different it was to various other roles and how they’ve worked together with some of the cast in various other shows. It is a general fun commentary about two leads getting back together after a while to talk about the first episode of a show that made them names in the voice acting business.
The two other commentaries are in episodes 5 and 10, both hosted for the English dub by Wendee Lee (voice of Faye) and Yutaka Maseba (ADR Producer) – the commentaries aren’t really about the episodes much, they are more about the actual process of how Cowboy Bebop came to be. They talk about the Japanese side, whether the voices or the music (Yoko Kanno mentioned a few times), they talk about how the shots are establishing, how Cowboy Bebop differs from previous Japanese animation as well as American animation, how both of them were approached, and how the voice acting process wasn’t really an audition but a set mind from the cast and crew members. There are a few fun moments as well (especially with Faye’s outfits) but overall they are more discussing how the show became Cowboy Bebop, which actually is a nice change of pace because a show that has got just well know recognition in both English and Japanese, it is good to know how it came about.
Cowboy Bebop is definitely one of the defined classics of the pre 2000 era, and the fact literally 15 years after its debut in Japan we get a UK version on Blu-Ray is a case of ‘is it worth the wait?’ Anime Limited with their debut release on Blu-Ray, they converted one of the greatest series of all time flawlessly with this high-def release, which is great for both old fans and new fans (Cowboy Bebop series never got a release in the UK though the movie did strangely, a DVD collection is due for release in September though along with the 2nd half of this collection) both wondering why this is considered a classic, or how well it transitioned to Blu-Ray.
The basic nature of the series is that it is very episodic – the general story is the tale of Spike Spiegel, a former mafia agent, and Jet Black, a former cop, now bounty hunters in the year 2071, hunting their bounties on their ship, the Bebop, which in turn means a lot of financial woes for the duo due to lots of repairs, damage, etc (mostly due to Spike) and a lack of bounty successes. Immediately in the first episode you get a pull of the two main characters, Spike the impulsive but mellow one (who seems to take a lot from Bruce Lee right down to his martial art style Jeet Kune Do) and Jet who has to reel him in, the gruff old father figure who keeps everything in line. With the series being very episodic in terms of the bounties, the first episode draws you in with a compelling drug story, where you see Spike does have a cheeky side at times as well as a sardonic side, yet is very skilled with firearms and his fists, making you wonder which Spike you will face in the dark alley.
A few more members join the crew throughout these episodes. In episode 2, we get the lovable mascot Welsh corgi Ein, who is actually a super intelligent dog due to various chips and science involved, though he’s not really involved in many of the stories throughout afterwards, the real deal breaker in terms of characters is introduced in episode 3, Faye Valentine. She is a sultry vixen who is always in debt but has incredible skills to manipulate and cheat people which are used in a way that Spike unintentionally gets involved. Whilst they part initially, she returns shortly after and for better or worse, becomes a new member of the Bebop, though never always on their side as she definitely has her hints of backstabbing and betrayal in a number of episodes. Even later during the season, a genius but very loony hacker by the name of Radical Edward helps out the Bebop in an interesting bounty mission for the price of becoming a member of the Bebop though her reasons are never made clear outside of being eccentric. All the characters are very different from each other, as Faye is the ultra vixen who whilst doesn’t exactly play a romantic foil for Spike or need act as a genuine teammate, seems to be on the road to looking for teammates, when she has been on her own for so long – she and Spike are easily the most fascinating characters to date, especially as there is an ongoing plot despite the episode nature which will get into a moment.
In a few episodes, episode 5 and the two parter Jupiter Jazz 12-13, we learn about Spike’s past to a small degree. He was a member of a Chinese mafia foundation known as Red Dragon, where one of his comrades was a man known as Vicious. He gets reintroduced into the plot in episode 5 where Faye is after a bounty at an opera house, and Vicious uses her to bring Spike back into his life. We get some information both here and in the Jupiter Jazz arc that a mysterious woman named Julia seems to be a big part of Spike’s life, and Vicious seems to be involved as well. It is left fairly ambiguous at this point and up to the viewer’s thoughts, but the fact that Spike ditches everything to see if she is around is a big change from the usual calm side Spike has, meaning this Julia is/was a big part of his life and he needs that part to get his life complete again. The fact these plot stories really are intermix with Spike’s regular life is actually very clever as it doesn’t feel immediately like filler when it switches to another bounty episode for example – all the episodes despite being very separate from each other still feel like one continuous story.
The stories are very character driven, whether introductory or ongoing, the characters become part of you as they come along. There is one episode where Spike gets a disciple of sorts that he reluctantly trains, but actually comes to like the kid and become a help for his blind sister, that you are really sad this was just one episode, and despite the short time it felt much longer showcasing Spike’s two sides of the coin. He does this in another episode with a famous space truck driver who dislikes bounty hunters named V.T, yet the two still team up and the kicker of the end of the episode is great considering the running gag about her name up until then and how Spike figures it out. Even the silly episodes, like the infamous fridge episode, have a sense of wonder about them – maybe it’s the classic music as the fridge is set up, or just the ending at how they actually defeat it – it’s stupid, but completely in character for Spike and Ed in that episode.
I also love that whilst the characters develop with each other, they never lose their initial traits. Faye is still a conwoman, screwing the Bebop out of money many times (whether from the safe or gambling with Jet’s clothes), whilst Ed is completely insane yet her theories are actually more often than not on the money, so the debate whether she is a genius or insane is one of those borderlines. Jet get’s an episode of his own when his own sense of justice comes back for an old girlfriend, seeing that whilst he respects the life he used to have, the life he now has is the one he belongs in. And of course Spike, can be sardonic, comic, silly, ruthless, and all the above – making him one of the greatest anime leads I have come across in near 17 years of watching anime.
The episodes have incredible style – they use the futuristic setting to full advantage, suggesting several ‘what ifs’ with technology that could be developed. The setting in space, with terraforming planets brings a lot of imagination and ideas to the table. The first episode for example has the concept of how drugs could be developed and their potential in the market combined with what affect that have on consumers. Another episode brings a question of if there is a way to actually stop yourself aging – could you use it? And do you wish to see if being immortal is perfect, or you just wish to die? Or if plants in the future could have the ability to cure someone’s blindness and the amount they are worth – would you use it for financial or personal gain?
Combined with an amazing soundtrack (done by the legendary Yoko Kanno), Cowboy Bebop just oozes style. It is one of the great pre CCG/computer based animated series (mostly hand-drawn) which really sets itself up as being very different from a lot of series. Despite its futuristic setting, it is seen as very realistic in terms of the gun fights, the swordplay, martial arts, the intelligence each of the characters portrays, the fact each character is so different, it really plays with you and you are surprised how quick the episodes fly by. This is even more amazing considering that at the moment there isn’t a set plot per say – we have the Vicious episodes, and the idea of Spike’s old girlfriend, but this is only a small part, the majority has been basically getting the 4 main characters on the Bebop as they struggle to make ends meet – it leads to a lot of decisions on behalf of Jet and Spike in particular in whether they go for the bounties, or have a heart considering the potential situations they face. The jazz motifs of course go with it (the episodes of the series are named after classic songs, and a lot of the characters are based on real life people as well) giving it the unique sense of style, and the fact it doesn’t really feel like a traditional anime series really gives it such an edge even in today’s market – this is why I feel this release is really timeless, and it is one of my top 5 series for a reason.
The only minor negative I will give is that a couple of the episodes do feel a bit too detracted and seem a little out of place (the fridge episode for example) and the fact that at least with Ed and Ein you wonder at the moment what their place in the Bebop is. But when you said eco-terrorists mothers turning their sons into primates, and bounties being placed on satellites, it is a mini niggle and with the second half still to come, there’s plenty of time to see what they are about. And when that is the biggest nitpick I have at a mostly episodic series, you know it is good.
Cowboy Bebop is a well known series and for good reason. Its sense of style, animation, music, motifs and characterization have become a staple in anime fans for 15 years, and it has aged tremendously as it gets the conversion to Blu-Ray. The animation is still great, the characters are still great, the episodes are still great, the plot whilst surfacing gives great interpretation to Spike’s character and what bodes for him in the future, you get hooked watching this episode even if they don’t relate to each other. It is just simply that good. And finally I can say to UK fans who haven’t already imported this in one way or another, get this. Seriously.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Commercials, Commentaries
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: July 29th, 2013
Running Time: 325 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.