All Roads Lead to Cowboy Bebop

There’s one anime that’s universally held up on a pedestal above many others.

It’s referenced whenever an example of an English dub better than the original Japanese is needed.

It’s been re-run on Adult Swim countless times since the block first began.

It’s brought up whenever the Anti-Moé Brigade calls for a stop to moé and a “return” to “better” anime.

The anime is Cowboy Bebop, and I’m sick and tired of hearing about it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do think Cowboy Bebop is a very good anime series and certainly deserving of its place in the Hall of Great Anime, but much of the Anti-Moé Brigade showers the show with so much praise that it calls into question why Cowboy Bebop is such a talking point for the Anti-Moé Brigade in particular.

Cowboy Bebop represents a very westernized style of anime that is extremely uncommon in the anime industry and very rarely produces a product that hits it big in Japan. However, despite their relative overall lack of success in Japan, they are commonly very popular in the Western fandom. Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block has rotated Cowboy Bebop in and out of its lineup countless times since the block began airing, and today, you can’t go anywhere in the anime fandom without a mention of the illustrious paragon of anime, Cowboy Bebop.

Of particular interest, however, is the Anti-moé Brigade’s relationship with the series. Between their clamour for an end to moé and their belittlement of moé fans ring cries, asking why we haven’t gotten more anime like Cowboy Bebop.

Why indeed? Why should the Japanese animation industry cater to a non-native fanbase by creating an anime with a style that’s notoriously unpopular with its native fans? Why should Japan abandon its native fans to, on its own, create a series specifically for a Western market? There are plenty of other solutions to the Cowboy Bebop dilemma. American companies teaming up with Japanese companies to produce anime is extremely uncommon, but does happen, and has been happening more recently, with the Madhouse/Marvel collaboration superhero anime that are coming out. Further, even, as the Cowboy Bebop English dub is almost universally regarded as better than the original Japanese, why not just cut out the middleman and produce more Cowboy Bebop-style shows in the US?

One could argue that it’s the anime “style” that’s desired, and that’s legitimate, but I think something deeper is at work here. Cowboy Bebop is, once again, a very westernized anime. It’s the kind of anime that one could start out on without knowing a thing about anime and still enjoy, as opposed to modern “moé” anime, which is quite steeped in its own native culture and more difficult to get into for a first-timer. However, deeper still, Cowboy Bebop is an anime very likely to be looked upon as “acceptable” by mainstream audiences, and with anime fans constantly put in a bad light by basically everything else, it’s the kind of anime that anime fans can point to and say “Look guys, anime is alright. It’s just like our stuff.”

To the Anti-Moé Brigade, a “modern Cowboy Bebop” would be a sort of “flagship” anime, an anime that would “legitimize” anime to mainstream audiences. The only problem is that, at its core, anime is a Japanese product that will almost always be more relevant to Japanese culture than to our own. Japan must, and should, serve their audience first. As Westerners, we can only take what we can get from what the Japanese industry produces.

So, to answer the question, “When will we get another Cowboy Bebop?” I have no idea, but don’t hold your breath. Like it or not, moé is what’s selling and, at the end of the day, those creating works of entertainment media need to go where the money is. Efforts made to “legitimize” anime to mainstream audiences by crying out for more westernized anime will ultimately be in vain. Anime is much too deeply rooted in its native culture and, barring a radical trend change, nothing is going to change that.

As far as the image of the anime fandom goes, I question why it matters that mainstream audiences appreciate anime like we do. We enjoy watching anime, and that’s what matters. Being insecure about it won’t change the fact that we consume media meant to serve a culturally different audience, one with its own preferences, its own trends, and its own fanbase.


‘Till next time!




20 thoughts on “All Roads Lead to Cowboy Bebop”

  1. well cowboy bebop was pretty popular in japan… it got a big budget movie, concerts and everything. it rode a wave of popularity for a good few years after it aired.

    also, i watched the dub again recently and it’s pretty average. when i watch it again, I should probably do it in japanese.

    but really, bebop is pretty typical as far as ’90s SF anime goes, it just alludes to a lot of film, some of which is western, some of which is eastern. the show alludes to bruce lee and hong-kong action movies a lot. i think people like it because it pays homage to various facets of pop culture, both from the east and west. actually, with the more anime i watch, the more i realize how anime-y cowboy bebop is.

    also, you know that moe anime only sells to hardcore otaku in japan, right? normal people in japan look down on all anime that’s not doreamon or sazae-san, more or less.

    1. How much do you hear from Japan about Cowboy Bebop nowadays? The franchise might have been big for a bit, but it lacked the longevity of franchises like Evangelion or Gundam, and Gundam was notably unpopular during its initial run.

      The consensus in the Western fandom is that the dub of Cowboy Bebop is better than the original Japanese. That’s not something I’m making up.

      Cowboy Bebop was nothing more than just a well-produced anime. The big deal about it is the ease at which it can be accepted by Western audiences not familiar with common anime tropes.

      As far as moe only selling to hardcore otaku in Japan, that really changes nothing. It’s really the only thing that’s selling, and there’s not much any of us can do about that. Japan needs to sell to their paying customers first, and that’s the bottom line.

      1. It was Watanabe’s decision to put a lid on Bebop… he could have milked it for all it was worth, if he wanted. While Eva and Gundam certainly are cultural landmarks that came out at pivotal moments in Japanese history, part of why they’re still popular today is mostly by way of pachinko and other merchandise. They’re brand names now, not just series.

        But basically, I just took issue with you saying Bebop didn’t strike a chord with Japanese fans, when it actually made a decent splash back when it aired, probably because it was a unique take on your typical 90s SF fare.

        >>The consensus in the Western fandom is that the dub of Cowboy Bebop is better than the original Japanese. That’s not something I’m making up.

        I’m aware of this consensus… and it’s wrong. The Bebop dub is only just above average. It still sounds like a cartoon, and not like, you know, a real movie. The only real good TV anime dub is Ghost in the Shell:SAC, mostly because it simply requires people being completely deadpan about everything.

        Anyway, re: your main argument… I actually agree. I think it is slightly unfair to expect Japan to cater to western tastes, since that’s really not their first priority. But at the same time, anime sells to a limited audience, and making more hardcore otaku shows only limits the audience further. Of course, I personally enjoy these shows, but if the industry wants to get out of the shit (you know… maybe actually pay their animators more than ~1,000 dollars a month) they need to make stuff with wider appeal, and maybe even shoot for the overseas market more earnestly. There IS a demand for it, and Japan only makes half-hearted attempts to address it.

        Also, there’s loads of nerds in Japan with hardons for Western media, and it’s kind of sad to see their creative output not get the time of day because producers aren’t willing to take risks.

  2. It did make a splash, but it seems like it didn’t stay around for too long in terms of popularity. Obviously I don’t live or stay in Japan, but I do talk to people there frequently and none of them ever mention anything about Bebop.

    For the record, I always enjoyed it, but I’ve never really associated it as very “Japanese” in essence. Maybe that’s just me.

    @wah, I’m guessing you have the same opinion as I do regarding Madhouse’s attempts (Wolverine, X-Men etc.) to penetrate the Western markets? I certainly agree that their animators are woefully underpaid.

      1. Apart from one shred of anecdotal evidence from one place, at a singular point in time two years ago, the point still stands. Whether engineered by the director or just a product of a simple lack of inherent longevity, Cowboy Bebop just isn’t an anime you hear much from Japan about anymore.

  3. cowboy bebop was a great anime and to only one i will probably ever watch i also think making more would not be an good idea its good where its at

  4. YOU ARE ALL WRONG! Cowboy Bebop was awesome because of its PLOT, MUSIC, COOLNESS, DEEP THEMES, and NON-CHILDISHNESS! Also it was not just considered a masterpiece in America, but in Japan as well! So the question still stands!

    1. I do think Cowboy Bebop is a fantastic show. My thing is, though, that I feel like it just doesn’t have the longevity that other equally-fantastic shows do. I feel like everything that needs to be said about it has been said a long time ago.

  5. Ok First of all, I noticed somebody saying that Watanabe should have milked Bebop for “All it was worth”. That would only be the worst thing ever, because Bebop is best as a short series with a good ending, not as something like One Piece with 500+ episodes and no actual ending in sight. The anime, though short, kept focus throughout all of its episodes and had a great ending. This would be harder to achieve with a longer series.

    Secondly, I think that Bebop was a great anime not just because it appeals to western audiences and references our culture, but also simply because it had a great plot and managed to keep focus throughout all of it. It also had excellent audio and visuals, but the plot is one of the best things about it, and the ending is simply amazing- something that I find hard to encounter in today’s anime.

    All of the hype surrounding Cowboy Bebop it completely deserves. It has earned the place as the example of what anime should be, which is not anime that references western culture or has plenty of action, but anime with a good plotline that it stays true to throughout the series. I dont have anything against Moe but often its just sort of… pointless (hai there, Lucky Star…) I have seen some good Moe series tho, and have nothing against the genre (or any anime genre for that matter).

    Compare that to a modern day anime series that has a lot of hype surrounding it, like Sword Art Online. Sword Art Online has great fight scenes (visuals) and Audio, but seriously, wtf is up with the plot? Its like if you play an rpg and ignore the main quests completely but only complete the side quests. It really loses focus from what could have been a great plotline. I have always considered the plot to be the best and most important part of an anime because it is what the show revolves around. Good Audio and Visuals is excellent as well, but without a decent plot, its just meaningless eye candy.

    Cowboy Bebop has good audio and good visuals and an excellent plot, and this is what makes it an excellent anime, and this is also why it fully deserves all of the hype surrounding it. To be honest, older anime was doing it right- check out YuYu Hakusho, Slayers, Hunter X Hunter, and trigun. The only anime which I think are comparable to these “classics” would be Fullmetal Alchemist (both series are amazing) and Madoka Magica (love the plot, the visuals, the audio, and the fight scenes are really creative, an excellent example of good anime).

    1. SAO and Bebop isn’t really a fair comparison. Sure SAO is popular and all. But critically acclaimed? God no. Even by modern standards the general consensus on SAO is… less than universally positive. Much, much less.

      However FMA and Madoka, the shows you did enjoy, ARE critically acclaimed. Those are the sort of shows you should be having high expectations for. If you went into SAO expecting that it would be up there with Bebop, then you’re obviously watching the wrong shows.

      So to that I say go watch Fate/Zero, Hanasaku Iroha, Wolf Children and Welcome to the NHK.

      1. I wasnt really comparing it seriously to SAO, I just really need to vent my frustrations about my show.

        If you want a good comparison though, I also think that Madoka Magica deserved all of the hype taht it got.

    2. I don’t think anyone’s saying that Watanabe should have “milked Cowboy Bebop for all it’s worth.” What I’m saying, at least, is that Cowboy Bebop lacked the longevity of other greatly heralded anime series like Evangelion and Gundam and, while it might be true that Watanabe didn’t want Cowboy Bebop to be a real big thing, neither did Anno with Evangelion, and Gundam was cancelled during its initial run. Still, however, despite Anno’s desires, and despite Gundam’s initial failure, Evangelion toys and figures are still being actively manufactured, and Gundam is still going very strong. My point is, a series with longevity can and will stick in the minds of the consumers and generate a demand long after its initial run, despite initial failures or director wishes.

      I will 100% agree that Cowboy Bebop is a well-presented anime. My issue is that well-presented anime have come out before Cowboy Bebop and continue to come out after Cowboy Bebop, yet Cowboy Bebop still stands on a pedestal. Where Eva changed the course of anime (The term “Post-Evangelion anime” is proof of that) and where Gundam became a cultural icon for decades after its initial run, Cowboy Bebop has nothing going for it other than being a well-presented anime. While I will agree that it’s a classic and that anyone who considers themselves an anime fan should have at least checked it out, I can’t get on board with the hype train because I feel like there’s nothing special about Cowboy Bebop, other than being a rare example of anime geared toward a Western audience.

      The idea of what anime “should” be really bothers me. The beautiful thing about a medium is that anything can occur within it. That’s how anime ends up with many disparate works within it like Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, Clannad, Hidamari Sketch, Joshiraku, Alien Nine, Big O, and Bakemonogatari, and that’s great, because there’s something for everyone. It’s worrying when I see someone talk about what anime should be because, ultimately, it ends up coming down to limiting what the medium can create. In addition, I think the focus on plot and story a lot of people have really limits their perception of what anime is, and it’s damaging when they disparage an anime for focusing less on plot and more on other elements.

      The hype surrounding Cowboy Bebop is not based on the quality of the visuals, audio, and plot. If those elements were driving the hype, Girls und Panzer would have just as big a hype train, and with the same groups of people. The visuals, audio, and plot are very well done, but Cowboy Bebop is also notable in that it has a wealth of elements that many Western anime fans enjoy (Realism, grittiness, cynicism) and a lack of elements that many Western anime fans do not enjoy (Cuteness, lightheartedness, idealism), and that is the conductor of this hype train. Just like you consider Cowboy Bebop the example of what anime “should” be, these members of the Western fandom also consider it the example of what anime “should” be, and the reason they consider it what anime should be is because it caters to them very specifically and they do not like the alternative. Rather than it being a question of quality, they hold Cowboy Bebop on a pedestal because it’s the exact kind of Westernized anime they desire.

      The only thing anime should be is anime. That’s how we got so many great shows over anime’s history. We don’t need to change that just to get more Cowboy Bebops.

      Doing so would ruin anime.

      1. everything you say is fairly true, now that I look at it.

        I thought that the hype would be surrounding the visuals, audio and plotline, because it should be.

        Other than that, as for watanabe milking bebop for all it was worth, I was not referencing you on that. I was referencing a comment made by Wah, but i realized just now I misread it, so my apologies.

  6. I must be weird. The first anime I would introduce people to would be something like Higurashi, or Attack on Titan, or even Madoka Magica. Just to show them some of the different and interesting storytelling that Japan has to offer. Maybe even something like gakkou gurashi. Because I want people to make comparisons. After all, every culture has had incredibly good stories at some point in time. Plus, as many companies understand, any publicity is good publicity. I agree that people should research the subject they are talking about. I also agree that cultures should remain diverse and unique. But as proved by how much good publicity cowboy bebop and fullmetal alchemist get. The mixing of cultures can lead to amazing things too. We as the consumers have to keep in mind what we want out of the product when we advertise it. That is the best way to get interesting products. I do not believe in removing all moe from existence because of ‘sexualization’. Nor do I believe in the idea that everything must be moe or westernized. I believe the statement “Everything in moderation.” If I only have my favorite food for three meals a day I will get tired of it. But at the same time if I’m tired of it I should be the one to change my meal.

    I made way to many contradictory statements in this rant. I hope you understand what I said because I meant it all. ( but re-reading it is kinda confusing ;P)

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