Years ago, I had read that Cowboy Bebop might have been one of the influences on the making of the TV show Firefly. Being a big fan of Firefly, you would have thought that I would have tracked it down and watched Cowboy Bebop long ago. And you would have been wrong. I never did. Now this might have been because it was an animated series. Or maybe because it wasn’t originally an English language show. Or maybe because I figured it wasn’t as good as Firefly. Who knows? Anyway, I started watching the first few episodes last week. My first conclusion is that Joss Whedon definitely borrowed heavily from the look and feel of Cowboy Bebop. Secondly, it is an enjoyable show and stands on its own merits. Now let me qualify that second statement. It’s a cartoon. The characters and the action are larger than life. When a gun fight breaks out bullets saturate every last square inch of wall space around the protagonist. Every fight has fists and feet flying in all directions and every facial close up has clenched jaw muscles and popping eyes. Basically, everything is exaggerated to cartoon level. Oh, and there’s a Welsh Corgi as part of the crew of a space travelling bounty hunters. Suffice it to say that reality is in no way a condition for something showing up in this show. But the characters have consistent personalities, the look of the show is very well done, there’s a fascinating backstory with terrible enemies and mysterious women and the plots although wildly unrealistic are (in my opinion) enjoyable. As I’ve said, I’ve only watched the first five episodes but I like it well enough to want to keep watching it.
Alright, now what’s it about? Cowboy Bebop is a space ship that so far has a crew of three humans and one Welsh Corgi. They are bounty hunters who work for whatever government (or other organization) that can provide a large enough pay day. Like on Firefly the culture seems to be a combination of American and Chinese culture. Also, as on Firefly, humans inhabit a number on moons and planets (but this time within our own solar system). Cowboy Bebop seems to work on both sides of the interface between the criminal and legal spheres. Their biggest problems seem to be monetary. They are chronically short of funds. The protagonist is named Spike and seems to be a young man in his thirties who enjoys his job as much for the fighting as for the rewards. In his past, he worked for a very high-level mob boss. Spike’s partner is an older man with a much angrier façade but can also be depended on in a fight. The similarities to Mal and Jane Cobb in Firefly are pretty strong. The regularity with which the ship comes up empty handed after a mission is also a point of similarity to Firefly.
I consider that I prefer live action movies to animation but I’ll go on record as saying that Cowboy Bebop seems a highly creative show and has many features that make it interesting and entertaining. I look forward to seeing the remainder of the series and will report back on its qualities.
So now I know where Whedon got his inspiration. And maybe his own effort may not have been the superior to the model.