I stumbled across Batman Ninja and had to click ‘watch’ because the premise sounded pretty fun – Batman, his enemies and allies are sucked back in time to Feudal Japan… and it’s exactly as crazy as it sounds.
Above the wildly bold strokes when it comes to the storytelling is what I thought was a really pleasing visual style and a fairly seamless integration of the CGI with the ‘hand drawn’ style; I really liked it and wished I could find images to show the full colour range of what the studio did, it was often beautiful.
Supposedly the English subtitles present quite a different story to what the original screen writer had in mind but for me, I didn’t feel like the film was meant to be a dialogue-heavy character study, there are few moments of introspection/reflection in any event – it’s mostly action scene to action scene, with the ante being ratcheted up nicely each time. And yeah, too many villains/allies get too little screen time but it works for me even so.
Aside from a pretty great Joker performance from Wataru Takagi, I also really enjoyed the character designs by Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai) and I’d recommend taking a look at this if you wanted to see what DC + Anime looks like (though it’s not the first time Japan has taken on Batman).
Obviously, I won’t be able to add anything new to discussion of a series that folks have been talking and writing about for 21 years but I still wanna mark the occasion on the blog because I’ve really enjoyed Cowboy Bebop.
dip but swiftly into the category of ‘things already said about the show’ I’m
sure words and phrases like bounty
hunters in space, gateway series and
trailblazing or greatest anime of all time and genre
defying would be on that list and for me, most of those things feel true
but one of them is also reductive.
probably is a pretty good
introduction for Western (sceptical) audiences looking to trial the genre of
anime, a genre which is just as varied, in terms of content and quality, as any
other. The show largely works as an introduction because both the cultural
references and aesthetic tend to be very recognisable to western audiences –
creator Shinichirō Watanabe mentions Dirty
Harry, Bruce Lee and John Woo among his influences, and of course the OST
is a veritable library of US and UK-influences.
I still fear the words ‘gateway series’ are too often used to suggest that Cowboy Bebop is a creation of a certain
depth and value only, a stepping stone toward works that are either better or
more ‘difficult’. It can feel as though the series is ‘merely’ an entry point
into an unfamiliar art form, the way that maybe you start with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue before trying Bitches Brew or Agharta. Yet that accessibility common to both Kind of Blue and Cowboy Bebop
belies a depth and complexity that – like all great art – is better
revealed during subsequent encounters.
I believe part of what makes the show so rewarding is how heavily intertextual Cowboy Bebop remains but also the episodic structure, which invites repeated viewings. Obviously, I won’t present any sort of exhaustive list here but I still want to mention a few things at least. Sometimes that intertextuality is more overt – like the similarities between Spike’s costume (and his frame for that matter) and Lupin the III or our hero’s Jeet Kune Do fighting style and the famous ‘water’ speech he gives in Episode 8 (Waltz for Venus) which Bruce Lee fans will certainly recognise. Another episode that many viewers often single out to demonstrate this is the Star Trek/Alien tribute, Toys in the Attic – but which I won’t spoil here 😀
the references, depending on any given viewer’s cultural literacy, become subtler
like the Spike/Vicious weapon swap a la John Woo, or the setting recreated from
Desperado in Episode 1, Asteroid Blues, (which I didn’t pick up
on at first but felt like I should have when I did finally put it together). Later
in the series, as the oppressiveness of the odds stacked against the Bebop crew
really starts to build we’re given session 20: Pierrot Le Fou. In this episode the colour palette becomes far more
muted as greys and shadows really start to dominate in a way that evokes both
film noir (without Jet this time however) and Gotham City. The Batman
references won’t be surprising to folks who are aware that members from CB’s
production team Sunrise also worked on Batman
the Animated Series prior to Cowboy
Bebop. Antagonist Tongpu himself clearly evokes (at least) both the Penguin
and the Joker and much of the imagery throughout the episode brings Batman to
mind (and it’s one of the more harrowing episodes in the series).
a lot more to love about Cowboy Bebop
but I also want to quickly mention another aspect that I’ve always enjoyed
about the series. Blessedly, CB isn’t one of those shows that just keeps going
and going until the character and story arcs are rehashed in an endlessly sad
cycle of diminishing returns and contradictions. No, it actually presents a
complete story – it has an ending! In part because of this, viewers are treated
to some great character development, none perhaps more striking than that of Faye
Valentine. Now, my personal favourite character remains Jet but Faye has the
better character arc, I feel. Considering where she begins the series
emotionally and where she ends up, it’s pretty grand. Again, I don’t want to
offer spoilers in this post but Faye’s fear and her quest for belonging really
plays out in a touching way – though there’s a certain montage involving other
characters that’s probably just as moving, damn thing nearly gets me every
Now, I’m aware that I’ve only really offered three points to support my assertion that Cowboy Bebop is far more than a gateway series but they were the first ones that came to mind. If you’d like to read other folks’ exploring the depth of the show, there’s a series of posts available at Overthinking It which are pretty ace 🙂