To celebrate the release of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop adaptation, we’re taking a look back at stunning music of the classic anime. Watch the video essay above; a full transcript follows.
Shinichiro Watanabe’s 1998 series Cowboy Bebop is more than one of the greatest animes ever produced; it’s frequently cited as the gateway show for non-anime fans to get into the medium.
Why is that?
You could say it’s the exciting stories, its endearing crew of intergalactic bounty hunters, or its beautiful, fluid animation; or maybe it’s that the English dub is one of the few unimpeachable examples of the form. But for me? It’s the music.
From those opening bursts of trumpet from the series’ iconic opening theme, “Tank!”, it’s clear that Bebop is more than just a word in the show’s title — it’s a thesis statement. Saxophone flourishes and frenetic cymbals jam over monochromatic portraits of the main characters, guns, ships, an impressionistic shock to the senses that gets the viewer primed for the dynamism of the next 22 minutes.
(The title sequence’s style obviously hearkens back to the geometric abstractions of Saul Bass and Maurice Binder, but there’s also a note of Reid Miles’ innovative, effortlessly cool cover albums for Blue Note Records from the ’40s to the ’70s. Like Spike Spiegel from his criminal past, Bebop just can’t escape its jazz foundations.)
Bebop, a subgenre of jazz popularized in the 1940s by musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Charlie Parker, leans heavily on fast tempos and adventurous improvisation. It was one of jazz’s first real stylistic rebellions, as younger musicians tested the limits of the more swing-centered jazz of their time.