Cowboy Bebop is a 26-episode animated series that was shown on Japanese television for the 1998-99 season (There is also a full-length feature film titled Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' On Heaven's Door). It marked a bit of a change from the typical series in that it draws heavily on Western sources, such as pulp detective stories, film noir, and American Westerns. There are also strong Hong Kong influences, mainly of the "heroic bloodshed" mold (i.e. The Killer or Hard Boiled). Cowboy Bebop is also notable for the quality of its animation (fairly high for a TV series), the depth of its characters, stylish direction, smart dialogue, and engaging stories. It is also notable for the quality of its soundtrack, but more about that below.
Although fairly unique in style and content, Cowboy Bebop is joined by several other series in what Guardians of Order calls Space Cowboy Shonen (young boy's anime). Series with a similar feel to them are Outlaw Star and Trigun. What is interesting to note is that all three series were shown on late-night television, which allowed their creators a lot of leeway in style, design, and direction. This also meant they could experiment and break away from the more commercial aspects of anime, one reason these three series have been fairly popular here in America (and elsewhere).
For all its popularity, Cowboy Bebop almost didn't make it. In its initial television run on TV Tokyo, only 12 of the 26 episodes were aired, before the series was yanked for being too violent. Later, however, all 26 episodes were shown on the WOWOW network. In 2001, the show came to the American Cartoon Network, as part of the Adult Swim program, and was the first anime series presented specifically for adult viewers.
The Music of Cowboy Bebop
No discussion of Cowboy Bebop can be complete with out mention made of the music used in the series. Composer Yoko Kanno combines blues, jazz, R&B, rock, and even a bit of heavy metal to produce what has to be the best soundtrack ever made for an anime series. In addition, I feel the seven different soundtrack albums (five for the TV series and two for the feature film) are, in many ways, superior to many Hollywood feature film soundtracks.
The music and musicians come from many sources, with none of it being bubblegum-sounding J-pop or American pop music (thank goodness). Instead, we are treated to the likes of Steve Conte, who sings the fantastic Call Me, Call Me (heard at the end of Episode 24, Hard Luck Woman, and my favorite track from the series) and a version of Rain I feel is superior to the version used in the actual series (Episode 5 Ballad of Fallen Angels). He also lends his voice to the opening theme Tank!. Yoko Kanno herself plays keyboards as part of the mythical band The Seatbelts (liner notes having them being active around 2050 or so), who are responsible for such pieces as Call Me, Call Me, Words We Couldn't Say, Tank!, and the ending theme The Real Folk Blues (among others). American music fans will enjoy the fact most of the music was originally written in English, and is sung in English as well, and thus more accessible to the ear. Better yet, most of the singers have English as their primary language, allowing for a better sound and pronunciation.
The music used is an integral part of each episode and often is tailored to fit the theme and/or title of the show. In Episode 7, Heavy Metal Queen, the music has a distinct heavy metal sound and feel, while a mixture of classic pieces and slow ballads are used in Episode 5, Balled of Fallen Angels. Possibly the best use of music in the series comes in Episode 13, Jupiter Jazz Part 2, when Space Lion is played in its almost seven-minute entirety over both the scenes of Gren being sent to Titan and the ending credits.
For those who are interested, the TV series soundtracks are (in order): Cowboy Bebop Original Soundtrack 1, No Disk Original Soundtrack 2, Vitaminless, Blue Original Soundtrack 3, Music For Freelance; and for the movie: Future Blues Knocking On Heaven's Door Original Soundtrack (with bonus Cowboy Ed Original Soundtrack minidisc) and Ask DNA.
Get everybody and their stuff together.
OK, 3... 2... 1... Let's jam.
Tank!, The Seatbelts
It is important to establish one fact early on. The world of Cowboy Bebop is not the future of our own world. Technology seems to have advanced at a faster rate than in the real world, while many of the planets and moons have been terraformed into livable environments—a process that would take years to centuries.
A rough (and brief) history of the Cowboy Bebop universe runs like this:
At some point in the 20th Century, man entered space. One has to presume he spread fairly quickly, building space stations and modifying asteroids into habitable living spaces. He also altered Mars, Venus, and the moons of Jupiter (and possibly Saturn). To ease travel between these locations (since a conventional interplanetary trip can take months to years), Man researched, designed, and built a system of Phase Gates, which opened wormholes in space, allowing for almost instantaneous travel from gate to gate. However....
In the year 2021 a Phase Gate accident on the Moon ripped out a huge chunk of lunar material and sent it spraying across space. The explosion also threw off a great deal of unspecified energies, which either killed, or (more rarely) altered those people on the Earth's surface who were directly exposed to the radiation. The accident virtually ruined the Earth's surface, destroying most of the civilized infrastructure. It also left a thick cloud of debris surrounding the planet (which still rains down on the Earth's surface). In the years after the accident, the people on Earth retreated underground, living in subterranean shelters (or left, if they could).
Currently, it is the year 2071, and man has colonized virtually all of the solar system that will support life (with or without terraforming). It is interesting to note that the total population of the solar system is roughly 1.560 billion people (Earth has only 200 million inhabitants), which means the Phase Gate accident was extremely devastating to Earth's population (presuming there were 6-7 billion people living on it in 2021).
A Rough Cowboy Bebop Timeline
This timeline is based on comments made in the course of the series' 26 episodes. The "zero date" is 2071, so any comment of "ten years ago" or "fifty years ago" can be subtracted from 2071 to reach an exact year. The birth dates were taken from official background information.
Observant readers will notice some pretty trivial events in the timeline. This is due to my noting down anything that was given as a datable occurrence.
1973—Chess Master Hex born on Earth.
1994—August 14, Faye Valentine born on Earth.
2003—Chess Master Hex joins the Hyperspace Gate Control team.
2007—A 13-year-old Faye records a Betamax message to her future (23-year-old) self.
2008—Chess Master Hex develops the main program for controlling the hyperspace gates.
2014—An orbital shuttle accident results in Faye being placed in cold sleep.
2021—The Hyperspace Gate Accident destroys a large portion of the moon. —Wen is exposed to the energy released by the Gate Accident and stops aging. —Chess Master Hex puts his 50-year plan to sabotage the Hyperspace Gates into motion after the Gate Corporation runs him out of the company. —Feng Shui master Pao Pu born.
2022—Most (if not all) data from before this point is lost due to the Gate Accident.
2035—December 3, Jet Black born on Ganymede.
2044—June 26, Spike Speigel born on Mars. —Vicious born.
2057—The last time the Blue Sox won the pennant.
2058—January 1, Edward born on Earth (Likely a false birth date.).
2061—Jet and Pao Pu meet for the last time. —Spike acquires the Swordfish II from Doohan.
2062—Alisa leaves Jet.
2063—Jet looses his left arm and leaves both the ISSP and Ganymede. This is also the last time Jet worked with his old partner, Fad.
2064—Meifa taken from Pao Pu by her mother. —Edward dropped off at daycare by her father (who then forgets she's there).
2066—Edward arrives at the nun's orphanage.
2068—Spike "dies," leaving the Red Dragon syndicate in the process. —Faye is unthawed from cold sleep and saddled with a debt of over 300 million woolongs. —Edward leaves the nun's orphanage. —Jet and Spike become bounty hunter partners on the Bebop.
2069—Gren and Vicious serve in the military in the Titan conflict. —Gren escapes from a military prison. —Julia seen on Callisto (she leaves after a month). —Ronny Spagen's medical accident reduces him to a catatonic state. —The Scratch cult forms soon after. —Ein born and/or grown.
2070—Spike forgets a lobster in a storage fridge on the Bebop.
2071—Cowboy Bebop the Series.
As stated, Man has colonized most of the solar system. This section will briefly describe these colonies.
Earth has a population of 200 million people. The surface is covered with extensive ruins, a result from the orbital bombardment of moon chunks. Most people live underground, although there are those surface dwellers who search the abandoned towns and cities for useful scrap. The Earth appears in a number of episodes, particularly Jamming With Edward, Wild Horses, and Hard Luck Woman.
Venus, Earth's virtual sister planet, as a population of 500 million people, mostly of African and Arab descent. The planet is 7-13 hours from Earth by way of Phase Gate. It is notable for the immense floating plants (which produce much of the breathable oxygen) and for the spore "snow" from these same plants. This "snow" can cause blindness in roughly 0.1% of the population. Venus also has a high helium content to its atmosphere, with humorous side effects on those who have never visited before. Venus only appears in one episode—Waltz For Venus.
Although Mars only has a population of 300 million or so (mostly Chinese, with a mix of Indian, Russian, and various Asian races), it is the business and cultural center of the solar system. Mars is 13-24 hours from the Earth by way of Phase Gates, and serves as the gateway to the outer solar system.
Cities are built on Mars by placing them in large craters and then running an air curtain around the rim to keep the atmosphere in and the cold out. Most cities on Mars are a mixture of styles, and look a lot like either Hong Kong or New York. Mars appears in a great number of Episodes, with notable examples being Ballad of Fallen Angels, Cowboy Funk, and The Real Folk Blues Parts 1 & 2.
The asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, has a population of around 80 million people. The population is a broad mix of races with no set majority (although this can vary according to location). The asteroids themselves are known to be a free-trade zone, and businesses of all types are located there. It takes 2-8 days by Phase Gate to get to the asteroids. Notable episode appearances are—Asteroid Blues and Heavy Metal Queen.
Although Jupiter itself isn't colonized, three of its moons are. All three have populations of around 150 million persons, with the majority being of European descent. Jupiter is roughly 2-3 days from Earth by Phase Gate.
Callisto: Callisto is a cold place, with blowing snow and freezing temperatures. The economy on Callisto is fairly stagnant, a situation which led to the war on Titan (see). Callisto appears in Jupiter Jazz Parts 1 & 2.
Ganymede: A water moon, Ganymede is covered with oceans. Cities float on the oceans, and much of the economy is based on aquaculture. A popular export is the Ganymede sea rat. Ganymede appears in several episodes, most notably Ganymede Elegy and Black Dog Serenade.
Io: Io is a virtual desert planet (complete with cactus). It looks a lot like Arizona, Mexico, or parts of Texas. Apparently, it is a prime source of produce. Io appears in the episode Mushroom Samba.
As with Jupiter, Saturn isn't settled, but its moon(s) are.
Titan: Titan has a population of around 30 million people. It is around 4-7 days from Earth by Phase Gate. Titan is part of a commonwealth made of up the moons of Saturn and is the scene of much fighting between commonwealth forces and forces from the rest of the solar system.
Uranus, Neptune, Pluto
These planets are not colonized and have no real population. Uranus is around 2 weeks from Earth by Phase Gate, Neptune 3 weeks, Pluto one month. Pluto is used as a prison planet, and is the destination of the prison ship in Black Dog Serenade.
One final note on the various planets and the like. It seems that no matter where you go, gravity stays the same. Earth, Venus, Mars, and Ganymede all look to have the same gravitation pull. This may be pure cinematic convenience, however.
Technology in Cowboy Bebop is a mixture of futuristic (cybernetics, jump gates, energy weapons) and the mundane (wheeled cars, handguns, zippo-styled lighters). Both types of technology are blended together, giving one the impression things are settled in their ways and haven't changed for some time. Even the "new" technology often looks a bit older and battered (much like the look of Tatooine in Star Wars: A New Hope).
Projectile weapons are still the weapon of choice. Handgun technology doesn't seem to be any different in 2071 from what it is now. Automatic pistols are popular, although a few revolvers are sighted. Faye blasts a shop with an H&K MP5K, and we also see pump-action shotguns, automatic assault rifles, and even a few grenade launchers (one with a pump-action as well).
Two unusual weapons seen in the series include the flame-thrower used in Episode 11 Toys in the Attic and the netgun. The flamer-thrower is a small weapon with a pistol grip, a large cylinder of fuel, and an igniter right in front of the muzzle. It bears a close resemblance to the flamer-throwers used in the film Alien (almost certainly not a coincidence). The netgun is a large shoulder-launched weapon consisting of a long tube with two vertical grips. At one end are four rubber posts with a rope (?) mesh attached. The netgun can easily entangle a single person, and might even be able to entangle two or three people standing close together.
Spaceships are mostly armed with projectile weapons as well, with turreted machine-guns common, as well as pop-up gatling cannon and the like. Energy weapons do exist (such as plasma cannon), but are rare (only two appear in the show). Missiles, mostly of the self-guided type, are very common, and are usually launched in clusters. For defense, flares and chaff can be dropped by a targeted ship.
There are three broad classes of vehicles in Cowboy Bebop, ground vehicles, air vehicles, and space vehicles. Ground vehicles are the most mundane of the three, being wheeled automobiles not much different from modern cars and trucks (with the exception of styling). Steering seems to be a mixture of standard steering wheels and joystick like controls. Aircraft are mostly jet-powered, although helicopters are common in urban areas (including unmanned package delivery 'copters). Spaceships range from tiny one-man "fighters" to immense passenger liners and cargo ships.
Spaceships in Cowboy Bebop come in all shapes and sizes, but they do have a few things in common. The first is no artificial gravity. Instead, ships have rotating sections, which spin to give a semblance of gravity to some portion of the ship. The Bebop has a large rotating cylinder in its middle (mostly hidden by the rest of the ship). The prison ship in Episode 16, Black Dog Serenade, had a rotating drum under the main "spine." Gordon's ship (from Episode 3, Honky Tonk Women) has a rotating ring with support posts.
Ships also require action/reaction thrusters. There is no "warp" drive or "etheric rudders" in Cowboy Bebop, and ships behave much like they would in the real world. They will go in one direction if given thrust, and need to reverse thrust to slow and stop. Although not obvious in some scenes, may times one can catch glimpses of maneuvering thrusters being used to change direction, even in the middle of space dogfights. The Swordfish II is described as using a nuclear fusion aero-spike motor, which seems to be the standard type of engine for propulsion (apparently, most ships run off of water).
All ships are controlled via what is called the "monosystem." This stands for "machine operation navigation of outer space" and refers to the computerized system that controls the airframe, automatic billing system (for gate travel), and navigation. All spaceships use this system, and are thus known as "monmachines." There are various subclasses of monomachine, such as monoboat, monocatcher, monoracer, and so on. Small ships (such as Spike's Swordfish II or Faye's Redtail) are known as "monopods" as they have small life-support pods which can be removed and transferred to a new machine easily (provided it meets certain operational standards).
The smallest ships seen in the series are the one-man monoracers, of which the Swordfish II is a prime example. The ship is a narrow-bodied vessel 45 feet long with a wingspan of 43 feet. The largest seen seems to be Gordon's ship from Honky Tonk Women. It is a full 1300 feet long, although it is possible military ships are even larger (none of these are ever seen in the series, however).
Bebop: This is Jet's ship. It started out as an old Ganymede fishing vessel before he bought it and rebuilt it. It is atmospheric capable, and can land on water. The ship is 460 feet long and 224 feet wide at it widest point. It is unarmed, but stores three smaller ships in its hanger bay.
Hammerhead: This is Jet's one-man shuttle. 70 feet long, 40 feet wide, and equipped with a grappling hook/claw for hauling cargo around. Its meant to look like a tugboat.
Red Tail: Faye's ship. It's a small monopod and a very popular type of ship in the Cowboy Bebop universe. 28 feet long, 23 feet wide, and armed with two 30 mm cannon and a multiple munitions launcher capable of firing a variety of missiles and grenades.
Swordfish II: Spike's racer, this ship is the fastest civilian machine in space. 45 feet long, wingspan of 43 feet (they fold up for storage), and armed with four machine-guns (two in each wingtip). Under the nose is a plasma cannon with a maximum range of 1000 km and an explosive force of 1 ton of TNT (about 26-27 Damage Classes or an 8d6 RKA).
Travel from planet to plant is normally by large (and I do mean large) shuttles. The shuttles use the gates to get from planet to planet and are capable of negotiating an atmosphere and landing directly on the planet's surface. Cargo is hauled about via space "trucks." These trucks consist of a thruster/living quarters/control module and one to three cargo pods strung in a line. Cargo pods are around 260 feet long and roughly triangular in cross-section.
Computer technology is pretty sophisticated in 2071. There is no longer a world wide web, but there is a "solar system web." Scratch's website (Episode 23, Brain Scratch) is ssw.scratch.tr.mr for example (I presume the "mr" stands for "mars."). Two computers show up constantly in the series, the Bebop's PC terminal, and Ed's home-brewed machine. The Bebop's PC can be used to read mail, search the web, watch TV, and make videophone calls. It has a vertical holographic screen which is visible (but not exactly readable) from both sides. Ed's machine, "Tomato" (name comes from the tomato case it's built inside), has a separate keyboard and a liquid crystal flatscreen display. Ed normally uses a pair of data goggles instead of the display to view what ever she's looking at and hacking into. Everything seems to be a visual interface, and hacking is a mix of passcodes, backdoors, and fake IDs (Not to mention knowing where to click!).
According to a comment from Faye, medical technology is good enough to regrow and replace Jet's missing arm. It's also good enough to replace Spike's eye, keep Faye frozen for 54 years, and build the nightmarish assassin/killing machine Tongpau. One presumes cloning technology (or a close substitute) is available since Jet could have "regenerative" surgery on his arm. Aside from Jet's arm, there is virtually no cyberware, no pop-out razors, or dermal plates, mono-wire whips, or neural interfaces. However, Tongpau's abilities (such as his strength, weapons, flight, and apparent force field) argue for the existence of various cyberware systems.
Bloody Eye (a.k.a. Red Eye): This is a form of drug, sprayed directly on to the eyeball. There are different varieties (such as "Yellow Eye" and "Purple Eye"), but Bloody Eye is the purest form. When used, the drug accelerate the user's reflexes and slows their sense of time, allowing them to react quickly to events (Asimov dodges a bullet when under the effects of the drug.). It may also augment the user's strength. As a side effect, the drug tints the user's eyes red, and also tints everything the user sees (other versions of the drug will create different tints). Upon coming down from the drug, the user will probably end up vomiting and feeling ill. Excessive use tends to lead to mental instability. Bloody Eye is featured in the episodes Asteroid Blues and Jupiter Jazz Parts 1 & 2.
A note on money. The standard currency in Cowboy Bebop is the woolong. Its is roughly equal to one present-day Japanese yen. A sample prices: Appledelphis's bounty (fake)—50.000000 (i.e. 50) woolongs; 1 watermelon—1,000 woolongs; to ship a package from the Venus starport to the desert—5,000 woolongs; COD on a package shipment—6,300 woolongs; toll for gate passage—roughly 7,000 woolongs; Whitney's bounty—19,800 woolongs; fine/bounty for littering—20,000 woolongs; COD for betadeck and tape—31,500 woolongs, typical bounty—1 million woolongs, Asimov Solensan's bounty—2.5 million woolongs; Faye's bounty—6 million woolongs; reward for the return of Ein, the stolen data dog—8 million woolongs; Chess Master Hex's bounty—12 million woolongs; Faye's debt—300,028,000 woolongs.
There are many groups out there, but only a few are mentioned more than once or have any special significance.
ISSP (Intra Solar System Police): This is the interplanetary police force. They are much like the modern Interpol, except they do more than broker information. They also sponsor the bounty program in order to bring in and catch criminals. Apparently, they've also done some pretty unpleasant things over the years the general public doesn't know about.
Red Dragons: The crime syndicate Spike used to, and Vicious does, belong to. They are run by a trio of old Chinese men (Pin Long, Sou Long, and Wang Long) and apparently are heavily involved in the drug trade. The events depicted in Episodes 25 and 26 (The Real Folk Blues Parts 1 & 2) probably result in the Red Dragons breaking apart and/or dissolving entirely.
Blue Snake: Another syndicate, this one is pursing Pao Pu's daughter in Episode 21, Boogie-Woogie Feng-Shui.
Space Warriors: This Greenpeace-like organization was originally a pro-environment group trying to save the Ganymede Sea Rat from overfishing. Now, its a neo-terrorist force willing to commit mass murder and virtual genocide. They get wiped out in Episode 4, Gateway Shuffle.
These are some of the major and/or more interesting characters encountered in the 26 episodes of Cowboy Bebop. Naturally, this short list only scratches the surface.
A word on the write ups. The character sheets were developed by using the "Competent Normal" on page 224 of the HERO System 5th Edition Rulebook as a guide. Thus, for example, Jet Black has a 16 DEX and CON to make him just a little tougher than Talented Normal (who has 14 DEX and 13 CON) or a low-end "Hero" with a 15 DEX and 15 CON.
Appledelphi Siniz Hesap Luften: Edward's father, Appledelphi is a huge man, standing 6'10" and weighing in at around 400 pounds. He lives on Earth, mapping debris falls, and is more than a little loopy (He can't remember if Ed is a girl or not...). Appledelphi is notable as being the only "normal" person (Tongpau doesn't count) to take Spike to the cleaners in a fist fight.
Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV: Better known as "Radical Edward," Ed is a 13-year-old genius hacker. See her character sheet for more information.
Ein: A Welsh Corgi "data dog" who is a lot smarter than he looks. See his character sheet for more information.
Faye Valentine: A woman with no past, Faye possess a debt of staggering proportions. See her character sheet for more information.
Grencia Mars Elijah Guo Eckner: A former soldier in the Titan campaign, Gren was framed by Vicious for military espionage, and sent to prison. He went insane from insomnia, became a drug addict, escaped from prison, and fled to Callisto, where he plays saxophone in bars. Gren also has a secret above and beyond his past—he's no longer fully male, having developed certain female features as a side effect of his drug addiction.
Jet Black: Former ISSP cop, Jet is the captain of the Bebop. See his character sheet for more information.
Julia: A beautiful blonde woman, Julia used to be Vicious's girlfriend, until she fell in love with Spike. After Spike left the Red Dragons, she vanished as well, losing herself in the solar system. Spike still has an ear out for information leading to her whereabouts.
Punch and Judy: The hosts of Bigshot, the show for bounty hunters. Judy starts every episode with "Hi to all you 300,000 bounty hunters in the solar system!" Punch (real name Alfred) is a handsome black man with a mustache, while Judy is a beautiful blonde who only plays at being dumb. Both are dressed in full cowboy-themed regalia, but while Punch dresses in a fairly "normal" outfit, Judy wears very short shorts and a jacket that only stays on through wishful thinking.
Spike Speigel: A man who won't talk about his past, and who claims to have died once already and is now only living in a dream. See his character sheet for more information.
Tongpau: An assassin/killing machine created by the ISSP, Tongpau escaped his confinement and proceeded to hunt down and kill everyone responsible. He is also quite mad, and has a childish and childlike mentality. Tongpau is about Spike's height, shaped pretty much like a beachball, has a Joker-like grin, and the world's most creepy laugh.
Vicious: A Red Dragon executive and a bitter enemy of Spike. See his character sheet for more information.
Wen: A young boy caught in the 2021 Phase Gate explosion, Wen no longer ages due to the disruption of his circadian rhythm. He also cannot be harmed, and will regenerate most any damage. Wen is also a master musician on the blues harp.
Cowboy Bebop Episodes 1-26
Cowboy Bebop Anime Guide Volumes 1-5