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Cowboy Bebop Complete Collection Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Cowboy Bebop HeaderWe’re still carrying that weight.

What They Say:
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 facade 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 would be likely to get lost in the sprawl of space, but together, they’re the most entertaining gang of bounty hunters in the year 2071.

Contains episodes 1-26.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release works off of of the Cowboy Bebop Remix edition from a few years back as we get the original Japanese language track and the English language track in 5.1 using the Dolby TrueHD language. The show works the 5.1 mix well, though it is still largely based on the original stereo mix. The main aspect of the show is where this comes into play as the dialogue is still kept to the forward channels and most of the action effects as well, though it’s well placed and definitely works well for moving across that space. The 5.1 mix really helps out more with the music and that’s definitely a big thing since it’s such a part of the show with how it filters through it all. It has a great warmth to it as we get each of the numbers and it naturally starts big and ends well with the opening and closing sequences in this format. The show largely works really well overall with its mix, though within some of its limitations of its original mix.

Originally airing in 1998, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-six episodes are spread across three discs in a nine/nine/eight format that gives it plenty of space to work with for the Blu-ray. Animated by Sunrise, the show largely holds up well here through its high definition transfer, though some of those early scenes show a bit of noise to it that can be a little distracting. There’s a little shimmer in a few scenes here and there and a touch of background noise as well, but for the most part this is a very good looking transfer that brings the show to life in a great way. Colors are rich in many scenes, especially involving hyperspace and several of the city locales, but it also handles the dingier and more worn down areas well with a good kind of rust feeling that draws you in more. The animation in general really looks good though with fluidity standing out more, color definition better and overall coming across as a significant improvement over previous editions.

FUNimation went all out with this release by offering an exclusive on their site, an Amazon exclusive and a “regular” limited edition release, which is what we picked up. There’s also a standard edition out there as well. With this limited edition release, we get a good heavy chipboard box that opens up to reveal everything inside. The front cover gives us the classic look of the four main characters in bold colors along with the logo, all of which is set against a black background that allows everything else to pop in a great way. The back of the box has a lot of character designs spread across it that uses the same colors as the cover for the outline against the black which really makes them hard to see at times but also really nicely done when you dig into it. Within the box we get an oversized Blu-ray case that holds all the DVD and Blu-ray discs. The cover is a wraparound that works the front cover artwork from the box while the reverse side has some black and gray scale artwork on the right side while the left breaks down the discs inside in a simple way.

The big extra in the pack-in side here is that we get two books with it. The first is a 140 page book in black and white that goes through all the character designs, settings, mechanics and more that’s fun to go through to see the finalized designs and sketches for the show. The other book is more appealing to me overall though as it’s a 52 page book of art materials for the series, showing off an array of covers, promotional pieces and more. I do wish they had text associated with it to list where it was originally used, but there’s just a lot of really good stuff in this to soak up and enjoy that it’s easy to overlook that in the end.

The menu design for this release is one that works the same across all volumes but left me wishing they had done almost anything else. In terms of functionality, it works well as we get a small block center left that has the logo taking up a good bit of real estate with a smaller block alongside it that has the standard navigation aspect to it with a red background. That works decently here and it also works nicely as the pop-up menu. The rest of the menu design… well, it’s mostly just the text of the series name raining downward from the top of the screen with some color variance. It’s not particularly in-theme and it certainly doesn’t set the mood well. While clips aren’t my favorite, that would have been better. Or any kind of stills would have been better. This is just… odd, to say the least.

With a couple of different releases over the years, there’s a lot of extras to be had for this release and some new ones as well. Through the main discs of the series, we get the expected ones with the Japanese and English language commentary tracks spread out as appropriate and the clean opening and closing sequences that brings it all together. There’s also a disc devoted entirely to extras where we get a lot more as well. Familiar extras from the past are here with the Session #0 piece that delves into talking with the Japanese team about the series and the always fun to see Tank! music clips. I don’t recall seeing the minute long bonus of Ein’s Summer Vacation before but it was an utterly adorable treat to see this time. From the Remix release period before, we get the interview pieces with Wendee Lee and Sean Akins which is still interesting to watch to get their perspective on the show as it grew more popular over the years. For this edition, there are new video extras as well from the English language side with some very lengthy pieces as the dub team provides memories of what came before and their experiences over the years as well as a dinner session with a few of them that will delight fans of the dub to see their favorite voice actors have a good time over a meal while talking about the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For a lot of fans, there’s always that moment when you first discovered or got your hands on the show. I remember vividly my first moments as I had just gotten in the first DVD pressings of it as part of Bandai Entertainment’s first round of DVD releases since announcing support for the format oh so long ago. I hadn’t watched the VHS versions they were putting out and held out for that release instead. When it queued up and that opening song played and I got to experience Cowboy Bebop, I was in love. And that love has held up for years since then, though I’ll always jokingly call it Lupin the 3rd in space. So when the show finally resurfaced with a Blu-ray edition, one that was getting some love with really well done exclusives across a couple of retailers, it was like re-experiencing that first time again, though this time I was introducing it to my family that hadn’t seen it before.

The series takes place in 2071 as it introduces us to mankind that has spread to the solar system and colonized and terraformed a lot of it to make it livable. There’s a natural sense of disbelief over such a thing in such a short amount of time, but technology and changes can advance very quickly when you get down to it. There’s a lot to like in the show as we see settlements on Mars and Venus, the fallout of an accident on Earth that has put it in a backwards kind of feeling for a lot of it and also a number of very large moons that are also settled in a great way. If there’s an area that bothers me about it all, it’s that it’s all so homogenized or lightly multiculutural as it goes along. Instead, there should be large areas or entire colonies that are visited that are strictly ethnic in nature. This just feels like a very Western point of view of how colonization of the system would go. Some of this is covered in the back story, but it feels very weak after millennia of cultural ingrained mindsets and concepts. With ease of movement, there’s a lot to like with this and the gate technology, and how it’s used here, is well done to give us some of the mundanity of it all as well. There are several instances where things really are just bland and dull, as it should be when you have to deal with travel of this nature.

Within this sprawling setting of wealth and poverty across the solar system, we’re introduced bit by by to the main crew of the series. It works well in how it spreads it out and that it is kept to a small number overall that at times drift in and out of the stories so that it’s not a constant of the group. The core of it is that of Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, a former syndicate man and a former cop that work the bounty hunter circuity in their ship, the Bebop. Or rather, it’s Jet’s ship and Spike runs a smaller craft off of it so that the two can deal with a variety of bounties, split the reward when they work together and deal with their own bounties along the way as well. The two have a very laid back and understanding nature towards each other that’s built into the couple of years they’ve worked together, but there’s also the simplicity of male living here as it’s very bland, very plain and often with little in the way of food beyond the bare minimum to deal with.

Along the way, the things Spike hates working with the most starts to come into his life. The first is probably my favorite in the form of Ein, a Welsh Corgi that he ends up halfheartedly acquiring during a job that’s far more than he seems, but ends up rarely used. Ein’s a data dog and high end technology, but outside of a couple of useful moments he’s mostly mild comedic effect or the straight man in a series where his blank expression reflects the viewers when surreal things happen. The next member to sort of join the crew is that of Faye Valentine, a woman who definitely plays fast and loose as a bounty hunter as she looks to up her money as quickly as possible. She’s very much looking out for herself, and her past as we slowly learn of it definitely makes it clear why, but it’s really interesting to see how she becomes a real part of the crew and bonds with these people that she often keeps her distance from as best as she can. The last member to join is that of Ed, a tween-ish lanky girl from Earth that’s a master hacker with a kind of disconnected personality herself that comes from being largely alone and abandoned. She naturally takes to the crew, and Ein in particular, and is useful for some of the jobs that they all get involved with along the way.

The show works a very episodic nature across it, but it also blends the character stories throughout it as well as Spike finds himself working with women, animals and kids as a bounty hunter. Each of their stories are really well done as we get to know them more, outside of Ein at least as he really doesn’t have one. Being a dog and all. Ed’s story delves into her father that left her when she was young and we see how she compensates for that in her hacks and connections to others. Jet’s story is one that plays out several times as we see him using his former police connections in the ISSP to get information but also to interact with that past. There’s more to it with what he did prior to leaving with a betrayal in dealing with the syndicate. And we also get a couple of very good episodes and material involving Faye with her long sleep that has put her in this present where she basically had to invent herself after dealing with some less than reputable characters that were taking advantage of her. I liked her story a lot for what it represented and how she dealt with it, but it also felt just a bit tacked on towards the end and needed more time to really be developed, especially since she coped with most of it away from everyone else.

Spike’s story is the backbone of the series though, since you can leave the syndicate but you can’t exactly get away from it. His reasons are touched upon in the first episode and we get various scattered bits as we learn about a woman named Julia that he felt for in a way unlike anyone else. We get to know another member of the syndicate, Vicious, who is very much a true syndicate man that had a close connection with both Julia and Spike, but we also see just how much he means to others within the group that stayed after Spike left. This past comes back to surface several times and through a couple of encounters with Vicious, but it also all cycles back to the two in the end. What’s really intriguing about the show for me is that as we get these stories that bring them all closer to the viewer, they invariably serve to separate them from each other. Going into the last set of episodes here, we get it where they go their separate ways for the most part and it all focus on Spike. And even though it’s been over fifteen years since I first saw this series, those final words still carry an incredible weight for me.

With the mostly episodic nature of this series, everyone has their favorites that they come back to regularly to enjoy. There’s strength for each of the characters in what they get to do and that’s a big plus for the show since some characters can get underserved at times. Jamming With Edward always leaves me with a smile simply because of the kind of lightness she brings to the show. Which is also why Mushroom Samba is a very big favorite with what it does in giving her, and Ein, a time to shine. That bouncing Corgi is just freakin’ adorable. Toys in the Attic is largely considered one of the best and it’s just priceless with how it gives us something creepy and dark within the hidden parts of the Bebop itself. I also really like the first two episodes a lot since it keeps its focus mostly on that of Spike and Jet without trying to jam everyone else in right away, or starting with the crew established.

In Summary:
Cowboy Bebop brings together a great fusion of story, music, choreography and science fiction with richly designed characters through and through. While not all episodes are winner, and only Pierrot le Fou annoys the hell out of me, the show is one that is strong across the board and offers a fascinating view of how people can come together for a period of time and have real meaning to each other, sometimes without realizing it until they’ve lost it. This series is definitely a gateway show for many people and it’s one of the best ones for it, whether it’s in Japanese or English. Some shows can stand the test of time better than others and Cowboy Bebop is going to be one of those as it can almost feel timeless, at least for now. FUNimation has put together a solid release here, and gave fans a lot more if they wanted it with a pair of exclusives for select retailers, but for those that just want the show, this is definitely the release to get.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Cowboy Bebop Session #0, Memo from Bebop: The Dub Sessions Remembered, Ein’s Summer Vacation, “Tank!” Full-Size Music Clip, Interview with Wendee Lee, Interview with Sean Akins, Episode Commentary (1, 5, 10, 17, 24), Original Openings and Closings, Textless Openings and Closings, U.S. Trailer

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: December 16th, 2014
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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