"Long ago, in 1941 in New York City... in a Harlem club called 'Minton's Playhouse', a group of young jazzmen with new sensibilities gathered. Feeling bound by the established way of playing jazz, they desired more freedom -- the ability to play however they liked. Night after night, these musicians held open jam sessions at the club, matching skills with each other. And they created new music. Not just new music within an established genre, but a new genre unto itself. This music eventually came to be known as 'Bebop'. And in the year 2041, in space, the group of bounty hunters gathered on the spaceship 'Bebop' play freely, however they want. Fearing no danger, breaking with the established style, they will create new drama, and a new anime. And the work which has become a genre unto itself shall be called: 'Cowboy Bebop'."
Thus begins the Japanese concept document for a show that has quietly become one of the most intriguing works to come out of the anime industry in years. Made in the post-Eva era by Sunrise, one of Japan's most prominent animation studios, Bebop is a confluence of crack creative direction with some of the best animation and voice talent the industry can muster. More interestingly, it is a 26-part OVA series, of which 13 episodes were shown on TV during the first broadcast. 13 non-contiguous episodes, to be precise. In fact, as of this article, the air dates for the actual final episodes of the series hasn't even been set yet.
So what is it that makes this series special? High quality animation? It's true that its animation is well above the level of most things shown on television, but there are other high quality OVAs that can at least compete with it. Super voice acting? It certainly never hurts. A cool, futuristic setting? That's surely been done in countless other shows. The real reason Bebop is garnering such praise in Japan and elsewhere is that it has class.
Bebop is a series that doesn't distort itself to fit the vagaries of the anime fast-food culture. Its tempo is alternately fast and slow, but Bebop always grooves to the beat. Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, and Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV all have style, doing their own thing on the edges of a society that is both comfortably numb and chillingly cold. Many of you reading this might not have liked Miami Vice, but one of its strong points was a distinct, secure sense of self. Bebop is like that.
CJAS will be showing the real episode 1, Asteroid Blues. During the original broadcast, the first episode shown was episode 2, Stray Dog Strut, in which the Welsh corgie-cum-mascot Ein is introduced. In episode 1, we only get to see Spike and Jet -- the introductions of Faye and Ed being delayed for another few episodes. Although the main conflict shown resolves itself by the end of the episode, those watching closely will see a few tantalizing hints of Spike's mysterious past in the world of organized crime. Though it wasn't really clear in the 13 originally-broadcast episodes, this past and how it comes back to haunt Spike forms one of the central threads of Bebop's plot. The images, and words, used in the closing credits can be taken as a reminiscence on those times.
Although we're only showing one episode, I hope that everyone becomes intrigued enough to at least look into pursuing more of the show for themselves. Happily, AnimeVillage is scheduled to offer the translated first volume for sale in June of this year, making the latency between Japanese and U.S. releases a mere six months. We can only hope that this trend continues and offers increasingly easy access for the U.S. audience to magnificent shows like this.