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!