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Cowboy REbop – Session #1: Asteroid Blues

Cowboy REbop – Session #1: Asteroid Blues

Howdy, folks, how y’all doin?! Welcome to the very first in a 27 week series which, much like my 2014 series “Batman Reanimated,” will review and discuss every episode (and the movie) of another mega-influential animated program, the 1998 (in Japan) anime space western masterpiece Cowboy Bebop.

This series will review each of the 26 episodes of the series as well as the spinoff, midquel movie. (Question: Do you folks think I should do the movie within timeline continuity or after the series? Think it over, we have a long time to get there.) I’m going to be watching and talking about the show the way I saw it the first time on Toonami in 2001, meaning with the English language dub, because this is, among many things, a revisiting of an old favorite and since I didn’t watch it in Japanese first, my allegiances lie with the dub. We’re going to focus primarily on why Bebop remains so beloved and how it perfectly melded visuals, writing, and music in a way that other animated series have always wished they could. For me, and probably many others, this is the show that introduced me to what anime could be when it wasn’t just kid-centric fare like Pokemon or Sailor Moon (though there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of them).

So, please enjoy these weeks looking over one of the best sci-fi shows in history. THIS is Cowboy REbop. Let’s jam.

Asteroid 4

Cowboy Bebop was the fruit of the perfect collaboration between a great big group of people, including director Shinichiro Watanabe, screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, designers Toshihiro Kawamoto and Kimitoshi Yamane, and composer Yoko Kanno. The stories, dialogue, action, setting, and music all had to be in absolute harmony and they were. It’s an amazing feat of creativity. For a show like this, which could be construed as hyper-masculine by people not paying attention, to have been both written and composed by women is a testament to not only to how talented they Nobumoto and Kanno are, but also how subversive and deep the show actually can be.

At the outset, the story follows a pair of bounty hunters named Spike Spiegel and Jet Black. They’re clearly not the wealthiest folks, flying around the galaxy in a beat-up old freighter named The Bebop. We get precious little information about these characters in the first episode, or session as the show refers to it, “Asteroid Blues,” but what we do get sets the two up nicely: Jet is the older, more sensible, and in-control one, while Spike is the opposite — young, brash, seemingly without a care in the world. We soon find out he’s much deeper than that, but that takes a little bit of time. Instead, here we just get glimpses of Spike training in martial arts alone and in the dark.

The episode opens with some oblique images of, washed out and grey, of Spike, in a raincoat, holding a bouquet of flowers at his side, walking though a rainy city that flash and cut very quickly. This cuts back and forth with explosive flashes of a gunfight in what looks to be a church possibly. Spike drops the bouquet in a puddle and the sequence ends. We’ll learn several weeks later that this is a flashback to the traumatic moment in Spike’s past, but as of this moment, the first minute of the program ever, we have nothing else to go on, and soon we forget the whole affair because we’re immediately bombarded with “Tank!” the opening credits theme that perpetuates the whole series.

Wow! What a way to start a show. None of these images mean anything to us yet, but the colors and the kinetic energy of it all really sets a tone. Kanno’s music throughout this series is nothing short of superb, and without her melding of acid jazz, blues, big band, cowboy melodies, and Neo-noir saxes, this serious would absolutely not be what it is. “Tank!” is like a ’60s spy movie theme ramped up to full throttle. It’s evocative, punchy, and absolutely a key part of the very fabric of this series.

In fact, what struck me a lot about “Asteroid Blues” in terms of its music is when it’s used. It’s not wall-to-wall score; in fact there are many scenes with no other sounds besides ambient noise, and yet at least four cuts from the original series soundtrack album appear just in this one episode. Music plays a huge part in the series as a whole, given that each episode title is a reference to some specific song or style of music, here being the blues, obviously.


The main plot is this: Spike and Jet take a bounty on a criminal named Asimov Solensan, a member of The Syndicate, a crime family that stretches the cosmos, who killed off members of his own crew and made off with a huge supply of Bloody-Eye, a drug that’s put directly into the ocular cavity that keeps the eyes from blinking and allows the brain to process things faster. This is represented visually in Asimov’s POV with everything being tinted red and people moving slower. Asimov has a girlfriend named Katerina who is apparently pregnant. They try to make a sale at a bar, but are ambushed by Syndicate goons trying to get revenge. Katerina clearly loves Asimov, but he’s become too addicted to Bloody-Eye and the sale of it to care about her much in return. She’s more of an accomplice at this point. Spike finds her waiting for Asimov at one point and talks her up, but then reveals that he’s a bounty hunter just as Asimov appears and attempts to choke Spike to death, but Katerina pleads for him to stop. Spike re-emerges later pretending to be a buyer of drugs, and he and Asimov fight before more goons show up and things get really messy. We also learn in this skirmish that Katerina isn’t pregnant at all, and that her belly is actually a bag holding dozens of vials of Bloody-Eye.

There are five main characters in the series, with two other important recurring characters, but only Jet and Spike appear in “Asteroid Blues.” This is important because it lets us know what a “typical” day in the life of these two is like. They sit around the ship, eat bell peppers and beef (which is really just bell peppers because they can’t afford the beef due to Spike’s recklessness during the last bounty), and wait for the next big payday. They seem to be kind of bored. They’re good at what they do, but they lack all kinds of excitement, the kind which will show up sooner than they know.


It’s amazing to me just how much time is given for things to unfold. Granted, there’s not a ton of story here, which is good for a first episode, ease us in gently. But, Spike sits in his ship getting ready, which takes a few seconds; there’s lots of scenes of Spike and Jet separately looking for leads; we get time just to be in the world of the show without having to have wall-to-wall story. It’s also an incredibly violent first episode. People get shot up in the various gunfights and we get to see it pretty graphically, in the way that only anime can do.

While having nothing at all to do with the overall plot arc of the series, “Asteroid Blues” does a masterful job of setting up the universe of Cowboy Bebop. We get the future-western vibe of the whole thing, know the kind of action we’re going to get, see that Spike fights like Bruce Lee, learn what Spike and Jet do every day, and know that the ending probably won’t be very happy. It’s a completely standalone piece of storytelling and if no one ever watched beyond this, they’d at least get to see a full story and know, in the most basic of terms, what Cowboy Bebop is.


But we’re not stopping here, of course. We’re only just beginning! Next week is a real romp of silliness (that a lot of people don’t think is very good, actually) that introduces us to the first NEW member of the Bebop crew: Ein, the data dog. “Stray Dog Strut” is next week, so star gearing up now.

See you, space cowboy. Bang.


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  1. Fartbooty says:

    Also did you watch the Tenchi series and would you be open to review those episodes next? – Thanks a lot 4 your time peace out

  2. Fartbooty says:

    I think you should review the movie in order of it’s release. Like if it was made and released after the series then you should review it at the end. That’s my vote!

  3. dadevilish1 says:

    Shhhhh… Hollywoood will hear you and totally butcher the Live Action Remake

  4. mxx says:

    Definitely movie within timeline continuity. The end has to be the end. 

  5. Higuide says:

    i remember the first time it was broadcasting on adult swim, only increasing my obsession and thirst for anime

  6. autifon says:

    Love, love, love this show! Collected the whole series off eBay. Went & saw the movie in a local theater when it came out. (which you need to do in timeline – who cares about the movie after ep 26 is done?)

    Other than what the author mentions about a perfect storm of dialogue, visuals, & music, some of the things I appreciated was we were following adults doing adult things in adult situations. 

    I’ve watched stuff like Fullmetal Alchemist, which is ok, but when kids are the protagonists, the problems & issues that are so cataclysmic for them are just teen angst BS. I so don’t care about the problems or the characters!

    I also like that they did so many different film genres. There was certainly the baseline vibe of the show, which tended toward film noir, but they had so many different styles, it kept the show fresh.

    Lastly, & I know someone who never wants shows to end, but almost all good stories have an ending, & I respect shows so much more when they do. (otherwise you end up w/ Bleach or Inuyasha!) 

    There has to be an end to the story arc to get the full payoff, & man, does this one pay off! Will always be my first & most favorite anime series.

  7. Chris says:

    Discuss the movie where it falls in the show’s timeline, otherwise the discussion will make less sense, you’ll have to explain things further than necessary, etc etc etc…

  8. Ed says:

    You should place the movie where it belongs in the series and not at the end.  The movie does nothing to advance the character development but it is seamless and it does not distract from the story.

  9. LongBottomLeaf says:

    Cowboy Beebop is amazing. Unfortunately i ahve only watched the first 9 episodes becaues watchcartoononline has failed me, but it is amazing. The show Space Dandy takes a looooot of inspiration from Beebop. Would highly recommend checking it out. Cowboy Beebop meets Hichthikers Guide to the Galazy, made by adult swim.

  10. FunkBob says:

    Actually it did not appear on Toonami until 2012 so you saw it on the first iteration of Adult Swim. While the same team that worked on Toonami started Adult Swim with a similar focus, Adult Swim was created to show things like Cowboy Bebop and Trigun and then later adult comedies all of which could not at the time be on Toonami proper due to censorship.

  11. Loved this series and I totally fell in love with Kanno’s music. Still listen to it pretty often. 

  12. joe says:

    Awesome show watching it again for like the fifth time

  13. The theme – “Tank” actually reminds me more of the 70’s – It kinda reminds me of “The Streets of San Francisco” and I keep expecting an announce to pop in toward the end of the theme music announcing that this was a Quinn Martin Production… 
    That said, Yoko Kanno is pure musical GENIUS. Period. Full Stop. Her work on Bebop, GitS, GitS 2nd gig, etc.. Simply brilliant and fits the atmosphere the show creators were aiming to create. 
    Maybe next year – how about a series based on her works? PLEASE!

    • Oh. and One more thing… Bebops still rocks – it’s been going on 15 years since it first aired on Toonami – and it’s STILL on… Granted, it’s now providing late nite filler duty, but I still watch…

  14. DragynBlack says:

    I have enjoyed many more modern anime but all of them (even my favorites) have terrible theme songs. This is the one show that I could even listen to the soundtrack, and it’s worth listening to alone.

  15. Emma says:

    By fantastic happenstance, I received the BluRay box set of Cowboy Bebop for Christmas and last night we watched the first three episodes. I’m looking forward to following this series and watching along. 🙂

  16. The Gneech says:

    Heh. My opinion is that “Stray Dog Strut” is the one really good episode of the series and the rest is downhill from there. Ah well.

  17. Damon says:

    Holy crap! I was just watching Archer and realized that the opening credit sequence was probably copied from Bebop. Why had that never occurred to me before?

  18. farleyk says:

    This was the first anime series I ever watched, and it set an incredibly high bar for any I’ve seen afterwards.I wholeheartedly agree with the fact that the music in this series was absolutely amazing. Here’s a live version of Tank! with Yoko Kanno and her band the Seatbelts:

  19. Chelsea Baldwin says:

    Absolutely the best series to dive into!  I loved watching this “back in the day!”  Can’t wait to follow along!

  20. Renae says:

    Are you going to touch on the theory that Spike is really dead this whole time and each episode is a “dream” his wandering spirit that can’t make it to heaven (or wherever) is having?

  21. I loved this show, I loved that it was one of most hardcore sci-fi shows of it’s time. I like the idea that our solar system had been almost completely populated and that the Earth is one of the least habitable places in our solar system. I loved the Zero G action sequences and the general vibe of the show. It was like a 70’s style detective show made in the future that had fallen through a jumpgate and ended up in the past/our present.This is fun also

  22. I remember in high school writing a paper for my lit class about how Cowboy Bebop is heavily influenced by classic Greek style tragedy and making all be it at the time short correlations between the main characters and classical lit. kind of how the three old men who recur in almost every episode one way or another are like the fates of classic Greek mythology.

  23. joe says:

    I love this anime so much that I used Tank! as the entrance music for my wedding reception.

  24. Shayde says:

    Where does the movie fall in the timeline? I always thought it was at the end. I’m re-watching with my Blu and want to play them in order.

    • Pedantobot says:

      Between episodes 22 and 23.

    • Jay says:

      Usually right between “Brain Scratch” and “Hard Luck Woman.”  You can argue for earlier in the series, but everyone comes through as being traumatized by the end of “Knocking of Heaven’s Door” that it justifies Faye’s identity crisis, Spike’s sudden fatalism and drive for closure, and Ed/Ein realizing that there’s life outside the Bebop.

    • "Bob" says:

      Chronologically, it falls between episodes 22 and 23. It doesn’t impact the series story arc, though, so you can watch it whenever.

  25. The movie within timeline continuity, please. And, yes, this is a true anime masterpiece through and through.

  26. Matty says:

    I watched Bebop for the first time last year loved it, and the intro theme is amazing. It’s also the first anime I go for when someone says they are all school girls not wearing much.

  27. Hayley says:

    I adore this show, I think it was the first anime I actually watched and cared about. I remember scrounging around Honolulu for copies of the DVD so I could see what happened next.  Totally broke my heart at the end, but I’m looking forward to this review of the series.

  28. matt says:

    Within timeline continuity for sure.

  29. Dave says:

    Typo at “star” on the last paragraph above See ya space cowboy. Just sayin…