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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Actual Cowboy Bebop Top 5 - Mushroom Samba


In my last article, I gave an introduction to Cowboy Bebop and my favorite episodes from the series, specifically my top 5.  I'm going to have to backtrack a little and remove "Asteroid Blues" from that list.  While it is a groundbreaking episode mainly because of what it is (first in the series that sets the tone of the show), I wouldn't say it's one of my favorites.  Important, yes.  Memorable, sure.  But not in my top 5.  If I'm going to through my actual top 5, I'm going to go with ones that I could watch over and over regardless of it's contribution to the show.

That's why of my actual top five, Mushroom Samba is in there.  I can't say it's really that important of an episode to the series.  Some might think it's actually pretty stupid.  The plot centers around the Bebop crew running out of food and crash landing on Io.  They send Ed to find some food, and she comes back with hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Hilarity ensues.  Kind of a silly plot compared to Bebop's usual serious faire.

However, comedy works pretty well with Bebop, and this is one of two episodes that's a straight up comedy story (the other being Cowboy Funk).  It's a nice change of pace from the darker episodes (like Sympathy For The Devil) or the heavy Vicious storyline that runs throughout the show.

What I enjoyed about the episode is Ed.  She makes this episode.  She hasn't really gotten an episode of her own other than Jamming with Edward, which was her introduction episode.  She's always been relegated to a support character as opposed to Jet and Faye, who gets entire episodes catered to them.  Most of the time, she's used as a convenient way for writers to move along the plot with her technical prowess.

However, other than Spike, she's probably the most interesting character of the crew.  She's the perfect comic relief compared to the rest of the Bebop crew whose storylines are heavy.  And the best thing is, the writers never "make it serious" with Ed.  There's no back story to weigh her down, every interaction the crew has with her pretty funny.  I kept waiting for there to be an episode where ED GETS SERIOUS, like a messed up back story or something, but that never happened.  And I was glad it never did.

That being said, there certainly are flaws, the obvious one being the over exaggerated caricatures of those on Ed's pursuit.  It's almost cringe worthy, but then again, you have to take it in for what it is.  But then again, everything is pretty over the top in this episodes, from the hallucinations to the bad guys.

The small things also make this episode great.  From Ed's first attempt at wearing socks to the way Ed tricks her crew members into eating the mushrooms.  Again, this isn't really an episode for everyone, but if you watch binge watch Cowboy Bebop, it's really a much needed break from the doom and gloom of humanity that the series sometimes focuses on.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cowboy Bebop Top Five - No. 5 "Asteroid Blues"

I was never really into anime growing up.  The extent of it was Dragonball Z, and that was a longgggggggggggg time ago.  It's only until recently that I started picking it up again, and that mainly started with my consumption of Cowboy Bebop.

Cowboy Bebop is long considered a "gateway" anime, which I agree and disagree with.  I agree because it's pretty good for Western audiences with it's faster pace, crisp action sequences, and clever dialogue.  The fact that the dubbed voice acting is superb (Steven Blum and no one else is Spike) doesn't hurt it either.  It's probably as close to a "Western" cartoon that happens to be an anime.  And the fact that a lot of its influences are from Western pop culture (the use of Jazz and it's heavy references to Blade Runner), it makes it perfect for people like me who haven't watched anime that much.

However, for the same reasons, I disagree with the notion that it's a gateway anime because it's style and storytelling is different from common genre staples in anime.  Instead of episodes being long and drawn own, each is episodic and often wraps up nicely in the end.  Things move quick in Cowboy Bebop, with the story jumping from scene to scene instead of the slooooooowwwww pace I've seen in other animes.  And, most importantly, the plot moves on its own.  I've noticed after watching other animes (like Death Note....ugh) there's A LOT of exposition.  Sometimes I'm sitting there for minutes while the main character describes every meticulous detail of his plot.  Cowboy Bebop rarely does this, which is nice.

When thinking of my favorite episodes, Asteroid Blues (the first one in the series), didn't even come across my mind.  However, as I watched it over again, it made me realize that it's the perfect introduction to the world of the Bebop crew.  It's hard to understand things at first.  There's little set up to the future world Cowboy Bebop has created and little explanation.  Instead, you simply jump right into the action, picking up on things as you go.

The episode centers on a drug called red eye, a hyper steroid of some sort that makes Bane's venom look like child's play.  After a demonstration of its power, we follow Spike and Jet on their quest to get the bad guy and collect the bounty.  It's pretty straightforward plot wise, but it's the small things that show why this episode, and the series as a whole is so great.  It paces back and forth between the comical and serious, and that's thanks to Spike.

He is the reason you watch the show.  Between his good guy vibe and his lethal skills, you couldn't ask for a more bad ass hero.  Spike is a bounty hunter, a good one, but he doesn't come off cocky or sadistic.  He just seems like a nice guy who understands his role in life and goes with it.  Charming is the best word to describe him, and it comes across when he interacts with his target, Katrina.  And as the chase continues, and the situation looks more bleak, Spike continues to realize that this is his job.  No matter how ugly it gets, he has to do what he has to do.

I won't go into great detail about what happens, I'll let you decide that for yourself.  But all I can say is that when Katrina utters her last words and the battle is over, you can't help but feel the way Spike does.  He's ambivalent about his lot in life, but like a spoke on a wheel, he continues because he knows that's his role in life.  Few shows, let alone animes, can pull you in so closely and leave such an impression with it's opening episode.