COWBOY BEBOP Episode Guide #1: “Asteroid Blues”

Welcome to the Cowboy Bebop episode guide! We begin with Session One: “Asteroid Blues.”

Cowboy Bebop was the fruit of the perfect collaboration between a great big group of people. Director Shinichiro Watanabe; screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto; designers Toshihiro Kawamoto and Kimitoshi Yamane; 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.

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, “Asteroid Blues.” What we do get sets the two up nicely: Jet is the older, more sensible, and in-control one; 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.

Asteroid Blues Spike Spiegel throws off his

The episode opens with some oblique images, washed out and grey, of Spike, in a raincoat, holding a bouquet of flowers at his side. He walks though a rainy city. 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. Soon we forget the whole affair because the show immediately bombards us 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 set a tone. Kanno’s music throughout this series is nothing short of superb. Without her melding of acid jazz, blues, big band, cowboy melodies, and Neo-noir saxes, this would absolutely not be what it is. “Tank!” is like a ’60s spy movie theme ramped up all the way. 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 we hear it. It’s not wall-to-wall score; in fact there are many scenes with no other sounds besides ambient noise. 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.

Asimov and Katerina sit in the cockpit of a spaceship in Cowboy Bebop's first episode Asteroid Blues.

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.

Jet Black wearing an apron and a pair of dark sunglasses ducks around the corner in the Cowboy Bebop episode Asteroid Blues.

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.

Katerina shatters through the glass of her spaceship while hundreds of vials of bloody eye fall around her in the Cowboy Bebop episode Asteroid Blues.

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.

Go on to episode two, “Stray Dog Strut,” here!

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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