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Cowboy Bebop: The Complete Series Blu-ray Anime Review (Amazon Exclusive Edition)

9 min read
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What They Say:
Explore the far reaches of the galaxy in this undeniably hip series that inspired a generation – and redefined anime as an indisputable art form.

The Bebop crew is just trying to make a buck. This motley lot of intergalactic loners teams up to track down fugitives and turn them in for cold hard cash. Spike is a hero whose cool façade hides a dark and deadly past. The pilot Jet is a bruiser of a brute who can’t wait to collect the next bounty. Faye Valentine is a femme fatale prone to breaking hearts and separating fools from their money. Along for the ride are the brilliant, but weird, hacker Ed and a super-genius Welsh Corgi named Ein. On their own, any one of them is likely to get lost in the sprawl of space, but together, they’re they most entertaining gang of bounty hunters in the year 2071.

The Review:
The audio is encoded in Japanese True HD 5.1 and English True HD 5.1 on the Blu Ray discs and Dolby 5.1 English and Japanese for the DVDs. Both sets of tracks sounded ok through the TV and didn’t really show any issues.

The video has been altered from previous American releases to be a bit brighter than before and details show through better. The show looks fantastic in 1080p HD and holds up very well visually. There were no distortions or pixelations of any kind.

This is a side opening clamshell box with each of the characters in a different colored insert on the front and a removable product description sheet on the back that can fit inside the box. The back and spine areas show various line colored drawings of the Bebop crew. Inside is a plastic blu ray case designed to hold all 9 discs (5 DVD and 4 blu ray). There are also two art books on heavy paper, one in black and white and one in color with many drawings used on posters and insert and promo sheets. The cover to the plastic case is reversible. The front of it is similar to the outside box and the reverse is similar to the artwork found on the Cowboy Bebop Remix set Bandai Ent. released a few years back.

The menus are an odd sight as the name Cowboy Bebop is listed vertically and repeatedly throughout the screen and animated to bounce / be highlighted in response to various music cues similar to a jukebox sampling various pieces from the soundtrack. A small and colored section in the middle contains text choices highlighted by a black overlay which can make it a little difficult to read at times. There’s a low beep that accompanies each movement of the highlighter.

The selection of extras here are really quite nice. Some are carryovers from previous releases but others are pretty damned fascinating. In addition to various music videos, American and Japanese versions of openings and closing sequences as well as audio commentary of key episodes, there’s the following:

Session 0 – This is a digest of episodes 4-6, interviews with cast and crew and a music video… essentially an introduction of the tone of the show.

There’s an interview with Cartoon Network producer Sean Akins about the show’s impact on Japanese animation, reaching a new adult audience and how it was able to be broadcast in America for so many years.

Voice actress Wendee Lee talks about evolution of voice acting and use of SMPTE vs the Protools program to synch dialogue, as well as how popular the field has gotten. “No such thing as being just a voice actor; you have to be a actor.” She also gives thoughts on portraying Faye Valentine. “Many layers that make up her complexity.” This was produced by Jerry Chu for the Bandai releases.

Memo From The Bebop: Dub Sessions Remembered – This is a lengthy and very informative documentary worth watching where the dub cast gives deep examinations of who the characters are and reflect on their pasts. Some pretty fascinating insights come to light here. For example, vocal director
Mary Elizabeth Mcglynn (Julia) was given her first break here because the regular director for ZRO Limit was too busy working on Ghost In The Shell, and actor Steve Blum hadn’t really worked as a lead character before taking the role of Spike Spiegel. We also get behind the scenes happenings from actors Beau Billingsley (Jet), Wendee Lee (Faye), Ed (Melissa Fahn), and Skip Stellrecht (Vicious).

Dinner aboard the Bebop – Fifteen years after recording their dub project, the cast has dinner together and discusses the effects of Bebop on pop culture and times gone by. Different dynamic and energy here from the previous film seeing these folks talk to each other as opposed to being interviewed. The actors talk about their careers since and how much they realize they have in common and conclude with a live table read of “Toys In The Attic” that was arranged in part by Stephanie Sheh of Sailor Moon fame. Both docs were put together by ADR director Justin Cook and the results are pretty good.

Ein’s Summer vacation –Short storyboarded piece set to music about Ein kicking back and chilling out on cruise and islands. It’s endearing.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Wow… 15 years. How time has gone by.

Cowboy Bebop made its debut that many years back on Japanese TV and made an impact both on their airwaves and on the underground American anime scene before being licensed for distribution by Bandai Entertainment. So many people were getting caught up trading tapes of the show that it got a good following at anime conventions in video rooms and costume contests, sometimes compared to contemporaries Outlaw Star and Trigun. Eventually, it made its way to Cartoon Network’s new nighttime arm Adult Swim which would broadcast shows too mature for their Toonami section at the time, often devoted to other anime such as Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z.

Bebop’s unique style made it a good show for people who weren’t active anime collectors per se, but did want something different than the norm served on American TV. There’s a tremendous mix of advanced animation techniques (for its time) drama, humor, influx of American pop culture and music in a sci-fi setting. In looking at all these elements gathered as a single series, it really is difficult to dispute the show as a work like no other.

Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Kids on the Slope, Space Dandy), the introductory episode sets the stage as we meet galactic bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, one a former criminal and the other an ex-cop. After a rather lonely dinner, they set out after a criminal dealing a drug that gives its user amazing awareness and reflexes, as we see demonstrated from first person perspective during a short but hellified gun fight. The screenplay here by Keiko Nobumoto (Samurai Champloo, Tokyo Godfathers) strikes the perfect balance between drama, action, and a lighthearted tone thanks in part to the somber jazz and 20s swing style background music mix among many other styles composed by Yoko Kanno (Macross Plus, Terror In Resonance).

The rest of the series pretty much maintains this balance as new characters are introduced such as the wily Faye Valentine, a capable bounty hunter in her own right who’s trying to solve certain mysteries about her past while developing an interesting rapport with Spike. We also get to meet adorable Ein, a “data dog” with human level intelligence who can’t speak but understands everything people say. About 10 episodes in, we get our final and youngest crew member Ed (who has a really long name here). She is an incredibly flighty and talented computer hacker who more or less blackmails the Bebop crew into bringing her aboard. It’s often been rumored this character was created to emulate the personality Yoko Kanno herself, after she first met with series creators.

There’s several fun adventures that don’t need much emotional investment involving colorful side characters and stories such as an actual horse-riding cowboy bounty hunter, a native American who has insights on the crew’s fates, an indestructible gun-toting fat man who goes nuts at an amusement park, Spike trying to find the right VCR for an obsolete cassette, and a mysterious critter who makes the crew sick at one point, among other things. As a black man born in the 70s, my personal favorite focused on Ed & Ein going on their own hunt and running into two characters clearly based on blaxploitation heroes Shaft and Coffy during a time when everyone was getting high (including the dog.) Seeing classic film themes brought to life in expertly handled animation sealed this episode for me as an instant classic and honestly made me like Ed & Ein the most. (The only thing that could’ve improved it is if they’d gotten Richard Roundtree and Pam Grier to voice their respective cameo characters.) Elements of accessibility, eccentricity and nostalgia are probably why Cowboy Bebop has maintained a prominent position in Adult Swim’s programming all these years.

Although each of the characters gets to shine a bit either in team-ups or individual based episodes, there’s one overreaching arc that bridges key episodes together: Spike’s past with the criminal organization Red Dragon and a recurring rivalry with one of its leaders: Vicious. Each wants to kill the other as they were practically brothers in this group and both had affections for a woman named Julia. Much of this association is told through flashbacks and to be honest, if there’s one flaw in the series, it’s that there’s not enough time spent fleshing out this association. Only five episodes out of the twenty-six really delve into this and it probably could’ve used one or two more with a little on Julia herself.

When I see Vicious, he comes across as a white-haired evil stoic version of Captain Harlock (shoulder-bird and all)…. and then it occurs to me that Spike resembles the care-free aspects of Lupin III and maybe Julia is a cross between Fujiko Mine and Maya. (the blonde-haired loves of both characters). As this show is influenced by many other icons of anime and sci fi, it wouldn’t surprise me if character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto (Gundam 0083, Sword of the Stranger) had done this intentionally. In any case though, despite the deficiencies, Watanabe’s dramatic emulations of Hollywood and Asian film noir work best during these episodes right up until the series finale ‘The Real Folk Blues’ where we see one of the best conclusions in modern anime. Very few works like Golgo 13 or Wicked City capture the soulful action aspects of film noir effectively, but Watanabe did so handily and was able to use the best animation techniques at the time to improve that emulation.

Due to its exposure on TV and the convention scene, Cowboy Bebop has been a fixture for anime fans and casual viewers a very long time now. The jazz and blues variations still take me through all the times of watching this on TV, at anime clubs and even a local Atlanta rental store / hangout called Neo HK. Bandai Entertainment and ZRO Limit Productions did a great job on the series’ American distribution on VHS and DVD. We’ve now moved to the era of blu-ray and streaming, with distribution now in the hands of Funimation. I have to say in looking over the video and amount of extra materials that have been made available, Funimation has done a really good job on this set and others commemorating the fandom.

In Summary:
There are four versions to own and 2 of them (sold at Amazon and Funimation’s websites, respectively) sold out weeks before they were released, currently getting auctioned for crazy prices like they were the final volumes of Dunbine or Dairugger XV or something. The enduring fandom is a testament to the special work this production team did before moving on to works like Samurai Champloo and Space Dandy, and it makes this one of the best anime releases of 2014.

Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A+
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: Funimation Entertainment
Release Date: December 16th, 2014
MSRP: $99.98
Running Time: 877 minutes (650 minutes content + 227 minutes of extras)
Video Encoding: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment: Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3

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