Bang: Why Cowboy Bebop Still Endures, 20 Years Later


To many Westerners, anime is either all nonsensical cartoons for children or escapist nonsense aimed at teenagers. Of course, this idea is ludicrous, as anime is as much equal parts transcendent and trash just as any other medium, and yet, that negative, reductive perception persists.

Even with anime getting bigger than ever in the West these days, with shows like Yuri On Ice!!! and Attack On Titan becoming mainstream hits, Ghost In The Shell and Battle Angel Alita getting big-budget, live-action Hollywood remakes, and climatic episodes of Dragon Ball Super being streamed in public to huge crowds, this reputation refuses to disappear, with older generations thinking there's few exceptions to the rule of "Anime was a mistake." One of those exceptions, Cowboy Bebop, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its original broadcast finale (kind of; we'll explain), and all these years later, it's still as striking as ever.

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For the uninitiated, Cowboy Bebop (created and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, written by Keiko Nobumoto, Watanabe, and others and animated by Mobile Suit Gundam franchise creators Sunrise) is a 26 episode, or "session," TV anime about a disparate group of bounty hunters in the year 2071. Cool-as-ice Spike Spiegel, avuncular ex-cop Jet Black, the wily femme fatale Faye Valentine, smarter-than-he-looks corgi Ein and loopy child hacker Ed cruise the galaxy in their starship, the Bebop,  searching for that next big score...or at least a decent meal.

Originally airing in 1998 on TV Tokyo, Bebop was put in a 6 PM time slot, an ill fit for its mature undertones and constant violence (shootouts, stabbings, etc.). Only half the episodes were aired before TX Network (TV Tokyo's parent company) axed it due to low ratings. As a compromise, the show's staff quickly threw together "Mish-Mash Blues," a bizarre half hour with the show's characters ruminating on various topics that aired on June 26, 1998, concluding with a title card saying "This is not the end. You will see the real 'Cowboy Bebop' someday!" (This special was never released outside of Japan.)

Luckily for everyone, Japanese satellite network Wowow stepped in and broadcast the series in its entirety in 1999. After being dubbed and aired on Italian MTV, the show would make history when its English dub aired as the first anime on the first broadcast of Adult Swim on September 2, 2001.

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