I was lucky: I got to watch Cowboy Bebop (the classic anime) in 2000.
I had just moved to Japan to teach English as an ALT the previous year. Stuck in the countryside with no friends and very little to do when not working, I immersed myself in Japanese language study.
Part of that involved keeping the TV on in the background, even though I couldn’t understand any of it.
After a few months of studying, I got help from a student in the English Speaking Society (a club at the high school where I was working) in getting a membership card at the only video rental store in town. At the time, the owners weren’t so keen on allowing a foreigner to rent videos; they even asked how I could guarantee that I wouldn’t simply up and leave and take their videos back to my home country.
Over the three years I was in the town, I borrowed hundreds of videos from that little store. None of the Japanese-language ones had English subtitles (obviously), and Cowboy Bebop was a series I must have borrowed at least three times, understanding more each time I watched it.
In the anime, the primary characters all have katakana names – Spike, Faye, Jet, Edward – and their computer screens always show English. The opening credits are in English, and the text behind the credits is also in English, even as the characters use Japanese (it’s never said, but we can assume universal translators in action). The show features multiethnic interaction with no hints whatsoever of racism or prejudice. A show way ahead of its time.
As various websites have pointed out, it was originally designed to sell Bandai toys, but the director had other ideas.
Episode 5 explains, with text behind the characters: “This is not a kind of space opera.” It slips in references to shows and movies like Star Trek and Star Wars, but it’s really an angst-ridden, existentialist space western with misfits galore.
Based on jazz.
“Space jazz,” really, is a better description of the show (even though pop, funk, and even heavy metal are played — entirely made by Kanno Yoko’s band, which she specifically created just for the show).
The live action remake version was just released on Netflix on November 19th (EST; click on the link to see the trailer on YouTube), who I sincerely hope do it justice (most, if not all, of their recent remakes of anime have quite frankly sucked donkey).
It’s not supposed to have a happy ending. I hope it doesn’t.
And I hope there’s no second season. The anime is brilliant. Don’t ruin its legacy.