Thursday, March 4, 2010

POP CULTURE: Anime Baby Steps

Geeks tend to like animation. Whether it's Batman: The Animated Series, or the latest PIXAR masterpiece, or even obscurities like Galaxy Rangers or Bionic Six, geek imagination responds well to cartoons. Some of you will obviously already be well aware of Japanese animation, having seen Akira on VHS back in college, or maybe you first saw Ninja Scroll or Ghost in the Shell in similar magnetic tape format. Perhaps you got in on the ground floor years ago and like many, you're starting to find recent anime offerings to be lackluster. Personally, I got started with Gundam Wing on Cartoon Network, which at the time I remember really enjoying. Rewatching it recently on DVD, the constant reuse of stock battle scenes really got to me, so I moved on to the next piece of anime in my DVD collection. Cowboy Bebop.

Here's what you need to do. Find a copy of Cowboy Bebop, schedule an hour or two a day for a couple of weeks, and watch it. Will it make you a better nerd? Definitely. Remember, it's your responsibility to know about things that are awesome, and spread those things to others. And Cowboy Bebop is one of the originators of Japanese animated awesomeness.

From the moment you hear the opening theme, this show should have you. And keep that in mind as you watch, because all of the music is composed by Yoko Kanno, and the woman is a genius. I have few complaints about Cowboy Bebop. The two in particular are both the whining of a fanboy more than anything else. I wish there was more Cowboy Bebop in general, and I wish there were more episodes about the arc plot. But these are not actual bad things about the show. They pretty much nail everything. Every character in the series has at least two episodes about their personal story, and several of those will wring tears out of you if you are in fact a living person. The show has five main characters, which to me, seems to be about right for almost any show. More than that, and character roles and personalities start to overlap too much, and it becomes increasingly difficult for a team of writers to compose episodes where all of the characters actually stay in character. Cowboy Bebop also eases you into the characters, starting with only two, and then gradually adding the others.

Here's something else I like about Cowboy Bebop. One of the characters is a dog. And yet, somehow the show remains serious and mature. Ein, the Welsh Corgi "data dog" will make you smile, even as the arc storyline strives to extract your heart through your tear ducts. Ein is frequently teamed up with Ed, the teenage computer hacker who also serves to bring some fun to an otherwise serious show. Spike, Jet and Faye are all about the aforementioned heart wrenching, however. The overall theme of the show is that in the modern world, there's no effective distinction between a friend and a family member. Your family is who you choose and in some cases, who chooses you. This is part of the secret magic of Cowboy Bebop... It's a lot more deep than just a cartoon with a dog who can play Go.

And yes, here is the one stuffed animal that has stayed with me for the past ten or so years of what passes for my adulthood. It's Ein. He's adorable.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about Cowboy Bebop is that the production company told the creator, Shinichiro Watanabe, they wanted him to do something with space ships, and this is what they got. There are all of about 4 episodes that feature space ships, and a couple of brief scenes in the movie. What Watanabe delivers instead of just spaceships is a fully realized vision of a near future where terraforming and interplanetary travel are possible. He takes you from the massive Tokyo-like cities of Mars to the slightly screwed up atmosphere of Venus, to the ruins of Earth, to the colonized moons of Jupiter. And they give you just enough story about how the tech works that it feels like science fiction without being focused on the tech. He gives us a setting that Joss Whedon would later soak up and make his own for Firefly. He makes space cowboys work. I promise you will love it.

You definitely want to get in on the Cowboy Bebop action now, because Fox has signed up the rights, and are currently working with Watanabe, and a number of other producers and writers from the series to create a live-action movie due in 2011, starring Keanu Reaves as Spike. So, watch it soon and enjoy it before you have to take your chances with Hollywood.

...see you @nerdsherpa


  1. Bionic Six was so cool! Although after reading the Wikipedia entry, I guess I really don't remember much about it except the rings and wrist bands. Now MASK was the bomb.

  2. Epic article on Bebop ;)