Retrospective: Celebrating the Enduring Legacy of 'Cowboy Bebop'

If you ask an anime fan what Cowboy Bebop means to them, you will get any numbers of answers. The iconic series was not only one of the first anime titles to make its way onto TV worldwide, but its unique aesthetic piqued curiosity about what the medium could become. Spike Spiegel’s crew proved anime was more than just mecha monsters and speedy racers. No, Cowboy Bebop showed the world just what anime could do.

Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, Cowboy Bebop made its modest anime debut exactly 20 years ago today. The heralded milestone is being celebrated worldwide as fans gather online to reflect on its sci-fi journey. The powerful series has transcended its 1990s origins to become a timeless piece of pop culture, and fans don’t expect the crew to fade away anytime soon. After all, Cowboy Bebop went out with a (literal) bang, and it continues to ensnare new fans after all these years.

Still, the anime holds up to repeated viewings, and veteran anime lovers admit Cowboy Bebop is one show they never tire of it. Its distinct style, smooth animation, and polished pacing keep audiences coming back for more. Even after the marathons have ended, fans keep Cowboy Bebop in their back pockets as Spike’s ragtag crew sticks to them like a bad bounty.

Here at ComicBook, we’re lifting up just some of the voices out there reflecting on Cowboy Bebop for its anniversary. With two decades under its belt, the anime has converted its share of believers, and those followers have a lot they’d like to thank the Bebop crew for:

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  • "Cowboy Bebop changed so many things for me as an anime fan growing up in the '80s and '90s. Until then, anime movies like Akira, Ninja Scroll, or Ghost in the Shell had been the only things in anime big enough to achieve the sort of mainstream crossover appeal that made them big topics of discussion, but the TV side was a barren landscape; even Dragon Ball Z had yet to grow into more than a cult-hit on US shores. When Cowboy Bebop arrived as the first anime series on Adult Swim in 2001, it quickly and quite subtly changed the game: Here was the first real "cool" anime TV series that thrilled underground American fans, and drew an entire new generation to the genre. DVD compilations or reruns of the show became a must, and the opening and closing themes became legit jams fans passed around like mp3 treasures. Once audiences embraced Bebop, anime (or "Japanimation") was no longer an underground cult-indulgence. American TV airwaves were quickly inundated with new anime or anime-inspired series like Samurai Jack, Dragon Ball Z became a breakout hit, and a little guy named Naruto would soon appear thereafter. Toonami has been running strong ever since, leading to a new age of anime simulcasts and streams. If you know your history, you know you have Cowboy Bebop to thank for all of that.” - Kofi Outlaw, ComicBook Senior Staff Writer
  • Cowboy Bebop was a series which changed the kind of anime I sought out. In fact, it was the first series I remember clocking as an actual "anime." Growing up I had a ton of access to anime I never quite registered as such like Pokemon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Dragon Ball. But Cowboy Bebop was different than all of them. While each of those shows provided copious amounts of well-crafted action sequences, Bebop's methodical and deliberate pacing drew me into its world. Each episode played like its own contained novella, as the core cast passed each other like ships in the night. The cast of characters each facing their own individual trials and tribulations, but occasionally coming together like a dysfunctional family absolutely took a hold of me and never let go. To this day, asking someone what their favorite episode of the series will most likely result in a moment of hesitation because, frankly, it's a loaded question. Each episode felt like a property all its own. And for the record, the best episode is ‘Heavy Metal Queen.’” - Nick Valdez, ComicBook Staff Writer
  • Cowboy Bebop entered my life at a weird time. During college, I worked a number of odd jobs, and one of those was for a local security company. They'd regularly place me from 11pm to 11am the following morning all over town, but most often at a small office building nobody visited and a retirement home where the first living person I saw was the garbage man at 6 AM. In order to stay sane during these long stretches of monotony, I'd watch DVDs, and a friend let me borrow the entirety of Cowboy Bebop. I knew the show was special from the moment I put it on, and I was completely rapt with its characters, music, and themes. There are very few shows of which I can recommend every episode, but Cowboy Bebop is one.” - Rollin Bishop, ComicBook Editor

Of course, ComicBook doesn't have a monopoly on Cowboy Bebop fans. The series is a ubiquitous one with fans spanning around the globe. All you have to do is search the series on Twitter to find its loyal legion of fans, and those followers never fail to rally behind Spike's gang when called upon. Cowboy Bebop might have ended 20 years ago, but its impact is still felt by the anime industry today. The series is rightfully credited with opening up the west to anime, and its suave style energized a generation looking for a new brand of entertainment. The advent of Cowboy Bebop's arrival is one of a few anniversaries the fandom enjoys gathering over, and it doesn't take long to get the nostalgia going. All it takes is funky jazz line, an anime opening, and a three-beat countdown before fans start to jam.

How did you first get into Cowboy Bebop? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @MeganPetersCB to talk all things comics, k-pop, and anime!