I had heard that Firefly might have been based on an anime series called Cowboy Bebop. So being a fan I rented it. And as I noted elsewhere, I tend to agree that Whedon borrowed many thematic and visual elements from Cowboy Bebop. This being the case I was intrigued by the idea that I might be missing a whole undiscovered land of creative stuff. I decided to try something else that was recommended by people who had liked Cowboy Bebop. I rented Ghost in the Shell 2.0.
I’ll put down my impressions and explain my preferences. First off, the beginning of the story is an introduction to the protagonist. She is a woman who for obvious reasons is mostly topless. This while she is jumping off buildings and murdering bad guys with her bare hands. She’s a cyborg who works for a government agency (I think). After this intro, there is an about 10-minute sequence of very intricate graphics of the heroine being assembled from molecular components all the way up to her synthetic skin being applied. So basically 10 minutes of naked girl.
After that we go through the plot and meet her co-workers who are also mostly cyborgs and follow them as they track down bad people and fight them with guns and cyborg fists. There are all kinds of factions inside and outside the government agencies that are involved in the story line and I’m not really sure who I was supposed to be rooting for. By the end of the movie all the main characters have been smashed and or dismembered pretty thoroughly but since they can be sent back to the factory for demand and periodic maintenance I guess it’s all in a day’s work for your friendly neighborhood cyborg spy.
I guess I haven’t been subtle enough to leave you guessing which way my thumb is pointing. This was not a winner. Pretty girl with no clothes on is not a bad thing. But to what purpose? The graphics are well done and the action is occasionally interesting. But I didn’t care about the characters or the plot at all. I think it was the flatness of the characters and the lack of humor. This is in contrast to Cowboy Bebop which includes lots of humor. Granted some of it is silly and not all of it seems relevant to the story line sometimes, but a certain style builds up which on the whole works pretty well. And the characters have some personality. You find yourself sorting out your favorites and enjoying the silly interactions that the crew go through together. Sometimes it’s closer to Gilligan’s Island than The Odyssey but it has charm.
I will read some more reviews and see if any other anime movies sound like fun. But so far it looks like Cowboy Bebop has no cousins I want to meet. If anyone has any suggestions please leave them in the comments and I’ll give it a shot. But for now the jury is still out.
I have now finished off all the Cowboy Bebop (CB) available as DVDs on Netflix (Discs 4 and 6 are permanently unavailable). This includes the 2-hour movie which I watched last night. And I think that’s sufficient to allow me to make a definitive judgement on the series vis-à-vis my taste.
It has some weaknesses from my point of view. There is a silliness that can be annoying for me. The crazy adolescent girl Edward can be a bit much. Some of the episodes are pretty thin on plot. And some of the space battle scenes seem (not surprisingly) cartoonish. I think most of this can be chalked up to the standard cartoon sci-fi conventions. Things are simplified and standardized to allow economic production of the animation product. And to be fair, since I have never been a comic book or movie consumer, I’m not their primary audience. To an anime consume, CB is probably well to the right side of the standard deviation curve with respect to production values, plot and characterization.
I like the quality of the animation especially the scenes in outer space. Some of it is strikingly well done. I liked the scenario of independent contractors moving in and out of the legitimate world acting as bounty hunters while they themselves are not without a certain air of criminality. And obviously here are the similarities with Firefly. After viewing the majority of CB I’ll state that I’m convinced that Whedon borrowed heavily from it when making Firefly. But I’m sure CB borrowed from earlier anime for some of its ideas so I don’t think it’s a big deal. But I will say that at this point I’d much prefer a big screen (or big budget tv) version of CB were made rather than of Firefly. Whedon is such an SJW that he’d probably have Serenity going back in time just to battle Donald Trump. My only hedge on having CB instead of Firefly is that is I’d like to see Jet Black played by Adam Baldwin. He would be damn near perfect for the part.
Anyway, I would say that the CB movie demonstrates how a longer treatment of the material improves it. More characterization shows through and there is more scope for interesting story telling. Also, the animation of the city in the movie was extremely well done. It looked like whole sections of New York City were digitized to make the action possible in the chase scenes. And speaking of the chase scenes, one of the flying chases was a little too long. Although intricate and well laid out it eventually started to drag on. The fight scenes between the protagonist Spike and his nemesis were very good and enjoyable. Most of the minor characters were fairly well utilized. Surprisingly, the seemingly superfluous presence of the welsh corgi dog on the space ship actually felt like a positive addition to me. But maybe I just like dogs.
So, bottom line, Cowboy Bebop is good sci-fi anime. If you don’t particularly like anime you still might enjoy it. It has piqued my interest in the genre enough that I’m going to give another anime movie (Ghosts in the Shell 2.0) a look-see and find out if this was just a one off or not.
See you Space Cowboy!
Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 1
So I’ve watched two and a half of the discs. Interestingly Netflix says there is “Unknown Availability” for Discs 3 and 6. How’s that for the customer is always right? I’m liking the show. The episodes vary. Some are back story. Some introduce new characters. There’s usually at least a little bounty hunting involved. The ratio of comedy to drama is high. The visuals are a mixture of standard cartoon and high-end graphics. Some of the space scenes are especially well done and interesting.
I’ve been trying to think of what I can compare the viewing experience to. As I said in my last post, there is a decidedly close resemblance to the look and atmosphere of Firefly. But because it’s animated it’s obviously not identical. And in a related sense it is reminiscent of Westerns.
Not being a recent consumer of Japanese cartoons, I guess another thing it reminds me of are the Japanese cartoons that were on when I was a kid back in the sixties. One that has a little relevance was “Eighth Man.” The story was completely unrelated. But just something about the pacing makes it seem akin in my mind.
With respect to back story, the protagonist, Spike, has a history involved with a crime family. There is an evil brother figure lurking in his past. Down the road there is sure to be a reckoning for past sins.
I still don’t know what the relevance of the welsh corgi will be. Maybe he’ll turn out to be super intelligent. Right now he’s just sort of annoying. They’ve also added a young girl who is also (of course) a world class hacker to the crew. I’m guessing she’s the River Tam of the crew.
So, just to update, not sure where it’s going, still liking it.
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.