The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Don't you want to hang out and waste your life with us?

I know I've talked about "Cowboy Bebop" a little in the past, but I've recently really been re-watching it for the first time in ages and it does feel like rediscovering it. I suppose that is not an accurate statement, because I never really lost sight of it, even if it's been several years since I really watched all twenty-six sessions, and the film.

I first encountered "Cowboy Bebop" in the summer of 2002. I had cable, but at the time my local cable company did not offer Cartoon Network (it did that winter though). A friend of mine had been part of an anime club at his college and was determined to make me watch this series. I received the first two DVD's for my birthday that year, and by the time I finished session five, "Ballad of Fallen Angels" you can say that I fell in love. Over the next month, I bought the other four DVD's, and this was back before the market was flooded with anime DVD's and each disc cost you $30. It took a while to find them all, at different stores... and at the time, across different states even. But I did it. I loved it. I really loved it.

After I finished "Cowboy Bebop" I went on an anime sampling spree, some I sampled for dozens of episodes, and even asked another friend of mine for a list of good anime, and got a huge list. How did that go? Well, I discovered "Berserk" which I also love, but that was about it. I'm not going to trash anime, but 99% of it just isn't for me. Some, like "Neon Genesis Evangeleon" are series I can respect, even if I don't love or even particularly like them. I'm not even a Miyazaki fan, although "Princess Mononoke" is great! Maybe it's a cultural thing, I don't know. But I didn't find another that meshed with me, and my tastes... and then there are some which I felt had very bad pacing. But, if you will indulge me at least one bash: "Dragonball" sucks and so do all its spin-offs, and other incarnations. I will admit, I feel some guilt over ethnocentrism about this, the two that I love are the one based on medieval European fantasy, and the one that is a space western with a lot of western culture and musical influences thrown in, but I don't think it's ethnocentrism so much as tastes in certain styles of character and storytelling.

Okay, on to the show itself.

In some ways, I feel like most of these characters are me. I can relate to each and every single one of them (except for Ed) in a way.

In Spike Spiegel, we have the type of protagonist I love to watch. A man with a past, even a dark past who is a better person than he gives himself credit for. He is laid back, easy going, but can and does get serious when the need arrives, or when the phantasms of his past appear. His attitude in life (whenever Julia and Vicious aren't involved) is "whatever happens, happens" and I often have that same attitude. Why worry about things you can't change? And as much as he pretends he is cold and unfeeling, and only after his bottom line, he is full of mercy and compassion for others. I can relate to these things, and like Spike, I am not especially fond of kids or animals either.

Jet Black is the resident den mother, whether he knows it or not. A big, tough, former cop, who is the heart of the Bebop crew. The captain and the ship's crew. He is the one who makes sure that everyone has come back alive, tends to wounds, fixes the ship, and while he can gripe and bitch, he is a big softie at heart. I have a little of this, but I have at least one friend who is very much like Jet, he didn't disagree after it was pointed out to him.

Faye Valentine is a broken, bitter woman who has been kicked in the teeth by life, and been used. So she wants to use others first before they can use her. She wants to abandon others before they abandon her. I've been there... sometimes I'm still there. Life is rough, and I appreciate her searching for a place where she belongs, her place in the universe. Of course, she realizes way too late that she was already there, but that's so universal. I'm searching for that place myself, who knows, maybe I'll find it.

Ed is, I don't hate Ed. I like Ed. In small doses. I get why she's there, but she is easily my least favorite character among the main cast, and as much as I get why she is there, I think she could easily be removed without losing too much. That being said, I wouldn't remove her because I think the series is perfect as is, and would change nothing. But that doesn't make me overly fond of Ed, I just don't relate to her. I love Ein though.

And how good is a series without a great villain? Vicious is awesome, and we only ever receive him in small doses. Out of twenty-six episodes and one movie, Vicious only appears in five. He is very cold and subtle, even in his violent brutality. Very quiet, he doesn't speak often and when he does, his voice is this creepy monotone. The Van (the elder leaders of the Red Dragon Syndicate) compared him to a snake, and there is no better comparison. I have seen a lot of villains over the years with snake motifs, and only Vicious really comes close, and that's without the motif at all... just how cold and calculating he is, and how he chooses his time to strike. He is not the slightest bit bombastic, and his nihilistic outlook on life is very realistic. He is underplayed and that adds to his scariness. How do I relate? Most people know that I have a temper... but when my temper comes into play, my bark is worse than my bite. It's relatively harmless. When I am at my worst is when I am cold and calculating, and if someone pushes me to that level of anger, no one would know it... because, and I inherited this from my father and grandfather, when I whisper is when you should be afraid. And hey, I've gotta admire a guy who can take a sword to a gun fight and win!

The story isn't serialized, and while I prefer serialization, this is one of the few exceptions. We still have Spike's conflict with Vicious and his search for Julia as the major arc of the series, even if only at the forefront of five episodes. That being said, there are subtle clues and hints of it and what happened in their past sprinkled throughout most of the episodes, in places where you wouldn't think to look. I always catch something new every time. It's like listening to a great album... and on that note, what can I say about the music that has not been said already? Yoko Kanno is a genius, and this is the greatest soundtrack I have ever heard in any movie or TV series. A mix of jazz and blues... so up my alley.

To bring things back to where I can be accused of ethnocentrism, the voice cast for this show is pitch perfect. Of course, I am talking about the English dub. Spike Spiegel was Steve Blum's breakout role, and for good reason... he is Spike. Wendee Lee brings a level of sexiness, sadness, playfulness and bitterness to Faye. Skip Stellrecht makes Vicious sound creepy and evil without sounding the slightest bit cartoonish. Everyone is perfect. I've tried watching it in Japanese, and I couldn't do it. And before anyone labels me ethnocentric, even the original Japanese producers said the English dub was better.

I suppose I should talk about the movie, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." At this point it's hard for me to separate the movie from the rest of the series, it takes place between sessions twenty-two and twenty-three and every time I re-watch the series, I watch the movie in it's proper place. It's become just another episode to me, albeit a long one. As a stand-alone, it's not something I can recommend. It's easily for fans only. I once made the mistake of trying the movie on a group of people who hadn't seen the series, and it did not go over well. And I can see why, unless you don't already know this world and these characters, this movie won't make you care. And even I have to admit, the movie itself is thirty minutes too long. But I like it, and viewed as a long episode of the series, it's great.

Unlike other shows and universes I love, I actually don't want any more "Cowboy Bebop" episodes, or movies. Sometimes a story is told so completely that to add anymore damages the story rather than enhances it. I didn't used to feel this way. When I finished the series, I wanted more. I wanted a prequel series about Spike, Vicious and Julia in the Red Dragons. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this would dilute things. Sure we don't know all the details about what happened that caused this huge rift, but we know enough. The rest we can piece together through the many clues scattered across not just the five episodes, but the entire series. They're there. To make a musical analogy, the Beatles White Album is perfect as it is, we don't need anymore.

"Cowboy Bebop" is a series I can watch any time and not get tired of. It's easily in my top five TV series of all time, regardless of medium or genre. It's one of the fictional loves of my life... don't laugh, we all have them. I love it. My brother got my a Play Arts Kai Vicious figure for Christmas, and I broke down and just ordered Spike (and yes, I will display them in the iconic pose), and will buy any more they choose to release. It's been with me for ten years, and I'm looking forward to enjoying it for at least another ten years.


  1. What a coincidence you wrote this up, since I just got the complete series for Christmas and will be watching it all this month.

    "Dragonball" sucks and so do all its spin-offs, and other incarnations"

    Ouch. You must really not be an anime/manga fan if you hate "Dragonball." Though I could see why you'd feel that way depending on what you were exposed to of it. The manga is best, IMHO.

    Given your tastes, the only other anime I'd recommend would be "Wolf's Rain" "Death Note", "Black Lagoon", "Fullmetal Alchemist" and "Monster." Those are only reccomendations, though. Not guarantees.

    1. I actually know a lot of anime fans who don't like anything Dragonball related. To me, series that are all about fighting and getting stronger don't appeal at all. I don't care if someone's power is "OVER 9,000!!!!!!"

      Didn't like Wolf's Rain. Liked what I saw of "Death Note" but I haven't had a chance to check out more.

    2. You might not like "Death Note" because two of the main characters are exactly the kind of "quirky anime" you'd hate. I expect you'd also hate the way the series handles the main character by the end. ;)

      Same with FMA, really. Though it's a serious series, there are gags aplenty in it.

      I'd recommend Naoki Urasawa's "Monster", either the anime or the manga. Dr. Tenma saves the life of a young boy named Johan at the expense of his own reputation, but later finds out that young boy has grown into a manipulative and terrifying criminal, and seems to have been a sociopath all along.

      Tenma makes it his life's mission to track Johan down, even though he's also a suspect in the murders connected to Johan. It's dramatic and suspenseful and doesn't look stereotypically "anime" t'all.

  2. Hmmm.... I can recommend the following anime for you, Greg.
    - Fate/Zero
    - Mobile Suit Gundam
    - Pterobat's recommendation
    - Hellsing Ultimate (?)
    - Tiger & Bunny (maybe...)
    - Blood+
    - Vinland Saga
    - Zetman
    - 20th Century Boys

  3. Actually, as a fan of DBZ, I can understand why some don't like it.

    Though I'm a little more curious on your opinion on the first series which was arguably much less repetitive (having a good number of comical stories in addition to the fights), and much better paced when there's fighting.

    1. Hated all the characters, they bored me to tears. And, well, I just hate the entire damn concept.

  4. My original post was far too long to go through, so bullet points:

    -Ed is the best character and this cannot be objectively disputed.
    -Death Note is festering, pseudo-intellectual crap that wears its Shonen Jump origins on its sleeves. It's the Dragonball Z of serial killer shows.
    -One of my all time favorite shows is the recent "The Woman Called Fujiko Mine." It's the closest you'd ever get to Faye Valentine: The Series and is a modern interpretation of the Lupin the 3rd franchise. Seeing as Cowboy Bebop is very strongly inspired by Lupin the 3rd, you might be interested. I don't like much anime anymore, but I loved Fujiko.
    -The currently going Psycho-Pass is the only non-Yu-Gi-Oh! anime (a franchise I love, but would never recommend) I actually like that's still recent besides Fujiko. A recent college grad is inducted into the police force working for Big Brother in a dystopian future and is gradually encountering a conspiracy involving one of her co-workers' past and a network of artistic and pretentiously literate serial killers. Pacing may be considered weird, but it works better in sequence than it does stand alone. You may like it, but I'm not totally sure. Just throwing it out there, but I'm surprisingly fond of it given the writer, Gen Urobuchi, is someone who usually doesn't click with me. Though the Akira Amano character designs don't hurt.
    -In general, though? Aside from a few choice shows, fuck anime.

  5. "I actually know a lot of anime fans who don't like anything Dragonball related. To me, series that are all about fighting and getting stronger don't appeal at all. I don't care if someone's power is "OVER 9,000!!!!!!""

    True. And you should be glad you're NOT an anime fan since the Japanese seem to love that sort of concept for some reason. Pleased that you know the meme, though.

    "Didn't like Wolf's Rain."

    Why's that? Is it too depressing even for a guy who like "Berserk?"

    1. I admit, I find it a little interesting that's what you jumped to. I just didn't find the story intriguing or the characters engaging.

  6. I really need to dig out my DVDs and rewatch the series. It's still one of the best Anime's out there, despite what some of the modern fans say.

    ""Dragonball" sucks and so do all its spin-offs, and other incarnations."

    Agreed. As I like to say, Dragonball is the Japanese equivalent of the Transformers franchise (except without any decent modern series). It has fans the same way G1 still has fans, because they watched it as a kid. For anyone else it's a bunch of crap with nothing happening, lots of shouting, and over the topness that doesn't come to anything.

    And since we're recommending Anime you might like 'Baccano!' and 'Big O'. But we all have our own tastes and much like recommending Sci-Fi series to someone who doesn't like Sci-Fi it'll take some doing to get Greg to like more Anime.

    1. "Bebop" is getting backlash? Oh, really?

    2. I can't find it now but I have seen anime fans say it's overrated, dated, how it's only "entry level anime" and things like that meant to say it's not a "proper anime" compared to *insert currently popular anime*. Really stupid stuff.

      I think it's like most idiots in fandoms where they put down a popular series in order to make their current favourite seem better. But I have seen those comments around whenever I see Bebop mentioned. Thankfully my friends who are anime fans are the more sensible kind, mostly.

    3. That is why I stay away from the fandom in general.

      This vid pretty much made me lose hope for the anime community in general. Especially with the fact the fandom has become spoiled.

    4. " For anyone else it's a bunch of crap with nothing happening, lots of shouting, and over the topness that doesn't come to anything."

      This makes it clear to me that you have only watched Z, or at the very least you only remember Z. The original Dragonball anime is not like this at all. Whereas Z's fights don't come to anything because they try to make Toriyama's goofy fights serious and "epic," the original understands the whimsy and fun of the work, and thus the series always retains it's humorous, light-hearted nature and delivers a pay off at the end of every fight scene. And plenty happens per episode, with the anime only material actually helping expand on the original. Colonel Silver's defeat and Pilaf's return in the Red Ribbon Army saga is given a lot more weight in the show than the comic because of anime only material providing additional build up to them. Anyway,there is also absolutely no excessive yelling and screaming like in Z, no power battles. It's whimsical, mystical martial arts with the occasional Kamehameha. The only fight even close to resembling what you are describing is Goku vs. Piccolo Jr., which takes place at the end of the series and isn't nearly even 1% as bad as the kind of crap the Z adaption pulls.

      It frustrates me that people judge Dragonball when it's clear they are basing their opinion from watching Dragonball Z. It's like judging Gargoyles based on The Goliath Chronicles or BTAS based on The New Batman Adventures (although, I don't hate TNBA all too strongly myself). They may be a part of the same franchise, but one's suckishness does not equate to the other's just because they are related.

  7. Seconding the Baccano! rec, I'd be really interested in hearing your thoughts on that one. Great, colorful cast (I think you'll take a liking to Ladd Russo in particular--he's a gleefully fun villain of a Joker-sort of caliber with an adoration for violence, extending to romantic declarations) and a fantastic English dub. I know you're a Tarantino fan, and if Tarantino made an anime, this would be the one.

    1. Wouldn't that be Black Lagoon too?

  8. You disliked Trigun?

    There is an anime called Gun Grave that i belive you would like as long a you dont see episode 1 (its just a nonsense episode that take place in the future of the series thats full of sci-fi zombies and violence thats basically is only there so that when all this stuff i introduced later on in the seires viewers wouldnt say "it jumped the shark and introduced all this sci-fi).

    The story really starts in episode 2 in the past and its basically a mob drama. Its like anime godfather.

  9. "You disliked Trigun?"


  10. I agree with the guys who recommended Gun Grave, Black Lagoon, Fullmetal Alchemist and Monster. Similar to Berserk and Bebop they have a less Japanese and more western feel to them than most other anime.

  11. I'm sorry, but I just cannot agree with the notion the original Dragonball sucks. Not to say I don't see how you wouldn't like Dragonball, but mostly because it's about fighting and not for "justice" or actively against villainous forces like in most western action cartoons, but for the sake of enjoyment, and unlike the two anime you like, it also isn't concerned with style or "complex" characters, and is hence a kind of light-hearted children's action series you probably wouldn't have been used to after growing up on Batman: TAS and Gargoyles in the 90's. For the record, Dragonball is not the same as Dragonball Z. There are no power struggles or battles that last 30 episodes. Yes, it's about fighting, and improving one's strength. You aren't going to find deep, complex plots, themes, or characters (except for Tenshinhan and Kami), but it's pure, unadulterated fun. It does not have a complex, deep storyline, because it never, ever tries to.

    Toriyama was a gag mangaka. His previous series, Dr. Slump, was a comedy series dealing in magic, science-fiction, and parody of popular culture. Dragonball was created as humorous take on adventure tales like Journey to the West while mixing in his interest in science fiction and martial arts. While the Z portion of the series is very fighting centric rather than plot centric (character development for Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, Mr. Satan, and to a lesser extent the good Majin Buu aside), Dragonball, the original Dragonball, is not about going off fighting the forces of evil or bad guys, it's about adventure and the thrill of martial arts taken to super-human levels. It is nothing like Transformers G1 or G.I. Joe, which aims to teach lessons and depict heroes fighting evils. Goku doesn't give a crap about good or evil; he is not a super hero, none of the characters in the original are. He doesn't care about "justice," he doesn't crusade against crime. He trains and fights because he likes improving himself and his skills and fighting stronger opponents, not because he wants to save the world from bad guys. And that's just fine, because Dragonball doesn't want to be a serious action show, it wants to focus on fun, and the fights in the series are also meant to be fun, not epic or brutal.

    This wasn't supposed to be like Cowboy Bebop, which told interesting, thrilling stories experimenting with ideas and employing a western inspired style. It's not like Berserk which I find to be a "light" but still provocative tale of trust, ambition, and sin. And it's not like superhero cartoons or most western action animated cartoons that focus on a sustained fight against a force of evil for the sake of achieving peace or justice. At the end of the day, Toriyama and Toei Animation created a show profiling a boy's journey to improve his fighting skills to become the best, and the adventures and journey he takes to achieve this.

    IT IS NOT THE SAME THING AS DBZ. DBZ is about saving the earth from planet destroying mass-murderers and power fights and stretched out, filler heavy battles (note the same material is for the most part still enjoyable in the comic. The animated adaption of the Z portion of the comic losses sight of the fun of Toriyama's original and tries to make it serious and epic, which isn't at all what it ever tried to be). Dragonball the original is a genuinely enjoyable action adventure that deserves it's acclaim and it holds up to this day. I'd take it over any children's western cartoon in the last decade, western or eastern, any day of the week.

    1. I've seen it too, and sorry, I can't say I agree.

      "Avatar the Last Airbender" is better. "Spectacular Spider-Man" is better. I could go on. Writing, character, etc. This sort of thing is important to me. Dragonball doesn't do it for me on either front.

  12. Writing and Characters are the most important things for me too. They've always been, even as a kid, which is why I hated stuff like Transformers G1, G.I. Joe, and Beyblade. For me, Dragonball succeeded in making me enjoy Goku's exploits and journey into adulthood, and he is surrounded by a quirky, humorous cast that play off each other excellently. As far as character development goes, only Tenshinhan, Kami, and Master Roshi have more complicated characters that have fulfilled resolutions, but the personalities of the rest of the cast are strong enough for me t care about them and be invested in them.

    I haven't seen the "Spectacular Spider-Man," so I'll get back to you on that one. But "Avatar" I've seen multiple times, and while I like it, some elements of the plot and the characters have always prevented me from truly embracing it. Korra's romance subplot and misuse of the Equalist concept and unfortunately convenient elements in the finale dragged the first season down for me quite a lot. Justice League and Unlimited are fantastic, first half of the first season and last season of Unlimited aside. Transformers Animated was also good and off the top of my head I can't think of much I didn't like. Transformers Prime is not nearly as solid but it's still enjoyable enough. Young Justice is great, though a little too tightly packed which led to some plotlines feeling too rushed for me personally, Green Lantern: TAS was great some problems in Razor's character development in the middle of the second half aside, Avenger's: Earth's Mightiest is awesome and I like it better than Justice League personally, the only misteps being unresolved plotlines in the second season. Batman: The Brave and the Bold's take on Silver Age DC Comics and emphasis on both camp and great, fun story made it easily my favorite superhero cartoon and second favorite western action cartoon after Gargoyles. Beware the Batman doesn't do anything much for me yet but it has promise.

    In any case, I enjoy Dragonball more than any of these shows. Dragonball is just that fun and engaging to me. My tastes are varied, but I've always tended to gravitate towards complicated characters and storylines like those in a series like Gargoyles or Monster. However, Dragonball's story and characters, while not being serious or deep, is the one of the most balanced and consistently entertaining mixture of light hearted fun and full hearted character and enjoyable action among any of the 300+ television cartoons I've seen. There is nothing like it in western animation. Nothing. Hell, not even in anime or other foreign animated series match up to the original Dragonball in it's pure,unadulterated and genuine entertainment value as an action-adventure series, except maybe the One Piece manga. I was drawn to Dragonball and not to Z because of it's engaging characters and storyline. It has that. It's just different than what action cartoons normally have, because most other action cartoons want you to take everything seriously. Dragonball just wants to entertain you with a fun story and fun characters, and for me, it does that, and that's why it's one of my favorite shows of all time.

    I don't know how much of Dragonball you've seen, so I have no clue on what exact part of Dragonball turned you off from it, but in my opinion, it has great writing and characters, and those who enjoy it as adults come back to it because of that. It's not your cup of tea, I understand that. But also understand that I think the original Dragonball IS well-written and succeeds as the light, action-adventure romp it sets out to be, and much like any great tv series or movie, is a wholly unique experience I enjoy and have enjoyed time and time again.

    We are just going to have to agree to disagree. ;)