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COWBOY BEBOP Video Essay Explores the Rich Nothingness in Space

I write a lot about various animated series, (Batman: The Animated Series, Samurai Jack, the like), but truly none of them gave me as much to think about—and as many fun examples of bending genre—as Cowboy Bebop, the beloved 26-episode anime from the late-90s that revolutionized sci-fi action in the medium. I did a retrospective of all of the episodes (it was called Cowboy ReBop) and I feel like didn’t even come close to the heart of what makes the show’s main characters tick. Video essayist Channel Criswell was able to do it in 12 minutes.

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Criswell’s general thesis about the show is that the characters are exploring their past by being an objective observer to the pasts of others. Spike Spiegel is a zen-like former gangster turned bounty hunter whom we know has some deep dark secret, but it takes half the series to understand what that is, and the other half before he finally resolves it. The rest of the time, he floats around with his crew and tries to catch bounties, and each of those bounties have a past worth exploring. It’s equal parts hypocritical and self-unaware for them to be tracking down people with dodgy pasts when they have questionable beginnings of their own.

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And this is not simply a Spike issue—the other three members of the crew have to deal with their own pasts (Jet Black had a relationship end badly because of his former life as a policeman; Radical Edward was raised in an orphanage and doesn’t know her parents at all; Faye Valentine has entirely lost her memory of her life before she became a con woman) and one by one, they choose to either leave because of it or continue on. There is an inherent nihilism to all of this, but after you solve your big life’s problem, what else is there?

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This is legitimately one of the best video essays I’ve watched, even by Channel Criswell’s standards, and really gets to the heart of a show that continues to be worth revisiting time and time again.

What do you think about Cowboy Bebop and why it frigging rocks so hard? Share opinions in the comments below!

Images: Sunrise


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s written the animation retrospectives Batman: Reanimated, X-Men: Reanimated, Cowboy Rebop, and Samurai reJacked. Follow him on Twitter!


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