What can be said about “Cowboy Bebop” that hasn’t been said before.? It is one of the greatest animated series of all time. The animation is still impressive by today’s standards. The characters are all memorable. The action scenes are badass. The music is epic and fits into every scene perfectly. Many regard “Cowboy Bebop” as not only one of the best anime of all time, but one of the greatest television shows as well. It’s also my all-time favorite show. With the blu-ray release back in December, new fans and old fans saw the timeless story again in beautiful HD.
After I finished watching the series again in HD, I realized how much of an impact this show really had on both anime and film to come. The grungy, yet high-tech future was something that seems to have been repeated in both recent television and film. Since “Cowboy Bebop” is not only one of the best shows of all time, but also one of the most impactful ones, what better way to celebrate its legacy with a list of the top 10 best episodes.
For this list, I have also decided to combine two part episodes into one entry to the list because they can’t be fairly judged when separate. This list also contains SPOILERS, so if you have not watched the show yet, go watch it now, and then come back here to read the list.
10) Session #20: Pierrot Le Fou
While walking the streets at night, Spike encounters a bloody crime scene. Standing in front of the half dozen dead bodies is Pierrot Le Fou, a psychotic serial killer who appears to be invincible. Spike attempts to fight Le Fou, but nothing seems to hurt him. Spike manages to get away, but only after suffering major injuries. Jet discovers that Le Fou was a government experiment to create a perfect killing machine, and everyone who encounters Le Fou ends up dead. Before they can leave the planet, Le Fou sends Spike a message challenging him to a showdown. Despite Faye’s attempt to persuade Spike from challenging Le Fou, Spike goes after him anyway.
Many of the sessions in “Cowboy Bebop” can be taken away from the series without disrupting the main story line. “Pierrot Le Fou” is no exception. In some way or another, this episode could have happened in many different television shows. What makes it so good is the execution. The intense scenery and creepy music that plays through the final fight scene puts watchers at the edge of their seats throughout the fight. At the end of every episode of “Cowboy Bebop” there is a small teaser for the next session. Usually the teaser is a few short scenes from the next episode with some comical dialogue from the crew of the Bebop thrown in. The teaser for “Pierrot Le Fou”is scenes from the episode, but with Le Fou’s maniacal laughter. “Perriot Le Fou” is intense, badass, and well deserving of the Number 10 spot.
9) Session #6: Sympathy for the Devil
After my first time viewing “Sympathy for the Devil” I didn’t appreciate it. The episode opens with a flashback of Spike laying on a surgeon’s table undergoing some sort of procedure. The scene then cuts to Spike at a jazz club with Jet listening to a kid named Wen playing harmonica. Spike and Jet are tracking down the latest bounty who is at the jazz club. Once he leaves, Spike goes to hunt him down only to see his recently shot corpse plummeting from a hotel. The bounty’s dying words warn Spike to not underestimate “him” because of how he looks.
Spike goes to track down the man he believes killed his bounty only to find Wen at his side. It is then revealed that Wen is a crime boss who has not aged in decades. Finally, the show reveals what happened to the Earth to make it nearly uninhabitable. In order to travel the long distances from planet to planet, spaceships travel through Astral Gates. Astral Gates allow ships to travel at higher speeds in different frames of reality. In what came to be known as “The Gate Accident,” an Astral Gate exploded resulting in the death of much of the Earth’s population.
The moon was also destroyed in the process causing constant meteor showers that constantly reshape the Earth’s terrain. Wen was on Earth at the time of “The Gate Accident.” His parent’s bodies shielded him from the blast, but being trapped in the different frames of reality caused his body to stop aging, and become immortal. Spike takes it upon himself to discover how to end the boy’s immortality, and stop his reign of terror.
“Sympathy for the Devil” is a confusing episode to watch if you are watching the show linearly because the revelations in the final two episodes make much of the flashbacks and foreshadowing make more sense. Wen is a very good villain because his appearance tears audiences to whether or not he should be spared. His background is tragic, which adds to the sympathy, but his lack for the appreciation of human life makes him monstrous. His last few haunting lines shared with Spike leave the episode on a very somber note that lingers even as the credits role.
8) Session #11: Toys in the Attic
If you were to make a list of the most ripped-off sic-fi movie of all time, “Alien” would be near the top. The Xenomorph design has been copied and redone an incalculable amount of times. However, it is hard to blame filmmakers for borrowing from “Alien” because it is one of the best sci-fi movies and one of the best horror movies ever created. The idea of a hostile alien on a spaceship, killing each member of the crew one by one is as scary as it is brilliant. In Session 11 of “Cowboy Bebop,” the crew of the Bebop tackles the same feat.
The episode begins with Jet going to the storage area of the “Bebop.” While he is in there, he feels something bite the back of his neck. Spike and Faye come to his aid only to discovery a purple colored welt on the back of his neck. As Spike checks the bite for toxins, he finds nothing in the database thus coming to the conclusion that it is alien. For a show that takes place primarily in outer space and on foreign planets, “Cowboy Bebop” rarely has aliens on the show. The only aliens that come to mind are the space rats in “Gateway Shuffle” and the thing that Ed catches while fishing in “Speak Like a Child.” Other than that, “Toys in the Attic” is the only session where the main focus is an alien lifeform.
As the members of the Bebop drop one by one from the alien’s bite, they have inner monologues that reflect their current mood and views on life. Along with being one of the most intense episodes in the series, it is also one of the quietest. Much of the episode is Spike walking through the dimly lit Bebop as his footsteps echo throughout the ship, which only adds to the ambiance of the episode.
7) Session #17: Mushroom Samba
When you ask fans of the show what their favorite episode is, a lot of the time the answer you receive is, “The one where they trip out on shrooms.” While I do think that “Mushroom Samba” is one of the funniest episodes, and one of the best episodes of the series, I think it is also far from the funniest and far from the best. The episode still captures a lot of attention by primarily focusing on Ed rather than Spike, Faye, or Jet.
After benighted victim of a hit-and-run accident, the Bebop crash lands on a planet. While the Spike, Jet, Faye repair the ship, Ed is sent with Ein to find food. What follows is classic Ed related humor and action. Ed stumbles upon the hit-and-run driver who is a drug dealer who specializes in mushrooms. He also has a bounty on his head. Ed takes it upon herself to apprehend the bounty, and get food for the crew. What comes next is a high-speed train chase with Ed, Ein, the bounty, another bounty hunter, and a person victimized by the bounty’s mushrooms.
During this scene, the episode cuts to Spike, Faye, and Jet reacting to the hallucinogenic mushrooms. Spike hallucinates himself walking up the stairway to Heaven. Faye hallucinates herself drowning in the water filled bathroom. Jet discovers the meaning of life during his. Although funny, the hallucinations also provide a bit of insight into the characters. Spike traveling towards the Heaven shows his complete lack of care about his own fate. Faye’s drowning experience shows that she feels overwhelmed and helpless at times. Jet’s discovery of the meaning of life teaches the viewer about his need for answers in life and higher understanding, which fits his tragic detective background.
Although it is not my favorite episode, “Mushroom Samba” is still one of the funniest and best episodes the series has to offer.
6) Session #22: Cowboy Funk
Although “Mushroom Samba” is funny, “Cowboy Funk” is where the series is at its funniest. The episode begins with Spike on the hunt for a bomber named Teddy Bomber who targets tall buildings. Spike catches him, but when a fellow bounty hunter named Andy dressed as a cowboy comes on his horse to capture Teddy Bomber, he mistakes Spike for the bounty resulting in Teddy getting away, and Spike being trampled by his horse. During the second try at capturing Teddy, Spike brings Jet as back-up. After Teddy is captured for the second time, Andy shows up again, but this time mistakes Jet for the bounty. Once again, Teddy gets away.
What makes the episode so hilarious is watching Spike and Andy bounce off each other. Both characters are cocky and hard-headed, which causes them to nearly get each other killed over and over again. However, my favorite part of the episode is Teddy Bomber’s reaction to everything. Teddy blows up buildings to send a message on his thoughts of the spending of millions of dollars that is causes by corporate greed. However, every time he tries to talk about why he blows up buildings, Andy and Spike interrupt him with their banter. Teddy repeatedly tries to convey his message, but he just ends up feeling so defeated and tired at the end that he doesn’t care.
The episode ends with Spike and Andy having a shootout at the top of a recently exploded building. By this point in the show, the viewers know that Spike can kick his ass because of his martial arts ability, but Spike keeps falling over due to the loose ground on the top of the building, so he just keeps getting madder and madder. “Cowboy Funk” is without a doubt the funniest session in the series. I have watched the episode dozens upon dozens of times, and I laugh more and more each time.
5) Session #18: Speak Like a Child
The best way to describe “Speak Like a Child” is “the beginning of the end.” The episode begins with a package being delivered to Faye. Faye immediately runs away because she believes the package is a bill from a collection agency, or a threat from a former enemy. Upon opening the package, the remaining crew of the Bebop discovers that it is an old Beta tape. Jet, after having to pay the ridiculous postage fees for the package, is determined to find a Beta player so he can see what is on the tape. Jet and Spike make their way to a retro electronics store to find a Beta player. The scene in this store is the funniest scene in the entire series. As Jet talks to the store’s owner, a collector who loves his merchandise more than anything, Spike messes around with the electronics in the store. During this time, he accidentally rips nobs off devices, and destroys a Beta player by repeatedly kicking it.
After Spike destroys the Beta player, Ed discovers that there is one known in existence in an abandoned museum on Earth. Spike and Jet head towards Earth to find the Beta player. While excavating in the museum, the show cuts to a montage of their hardships in the museum where they constantly almost die from falling down elevator shafts, or falling debris.
Once they find the room with all the players, Spike and Jet grab each one that they can find, and lug them back to the Bebop. Upon arrival, Ed tells them that all the players they found were VHS, and that they cannot play Beta. Devastated by the failure, Spike and Jet give up on trying to watch the tape. Faye finally returns after seeing that the coast is clear. Upon returning, the postmaster returns again to drop off another package. In a scene of pure comic justice, the postmaster delivers a Beta player to the crew of the Bebop.
As soon as the Beta tape is inserted into the player, the humor of the episode ends and tragedy takes over as the mystery of Faye’s past is revealed on the tape. The reaction to seeing herself as a child on film is extremely well done. Animating facial expressions this well is difficult nowadays, but it was unheard of back in the 90s. Faye’s face shows both elements of shock, sadness, and also great remorse because the little girl in the footage grew up to be her. The scene is less than a minute long, but it feels like it lasts an eternity. The entire crew of the Bebop watches the video, which adds an awkward tone to the scene, and it makes it all the more tragic for Faye. The episode ends in total silence as Faye continues to look a the screen. It’s a hard scene to watch, but it is also one of the show’s best. This episode got a few tears from viewers, but it was nothing compared to the deluge of waterworks that was still on the horizon.
4) Session #24: Hard Luck Woman
As far as “Cowboy Bebop” fans go, they are very divided when it comes to Ed. Many feel that her childish and comedic nature takes away too much from the show’s serious tones. I always felt that Ed was meant to symbolize the safety of the crew. When she makes her departure in “Hard Luck Woman,” this was the show’s way of informing the viewers that the kid gloves were literally coming off, and that the finale was only going to mean disaster for the remaining crew, and that Ed needed to get out of the way because play time is over.
Although much time is spent explaining Ed’s background, “Hard Luck Woman’s” prime focus is Faye, who finally regains her memory. Faye takes Edward to Earth to find the school Faye attended before the she lost her memory in The Gate Accident. Along the way, they encounter an orphanage Ed lived with, and also Ed’s father. After being reunited, Ed decides to leave the Bebop crew, and live with her father. For keeping Ed safe, her father gives Spike and Jet a giant basket filled with hard-boiled eggs.
The scene that follows is without a doubt, the saddest in the entire series. One of the long-running gimmicks of the show is that the crew is constantly trying to get food. As Spike and Jet sit across each other with a giant basket of eggs between them, they begin to ravenously devour them. The two share no dialogue with each other in this scene. They continue to eat the eggs as the depressing music continues to play. Despite finally having enough food to share between them, Spike and Jet are filled with nothing but sadness and regret for losing Ed and Faye. For Jet, Ed was the daughter her never had, and the family he never started. For Spike, Faye was the second chance at love that he never took. As the episode comes to a close, and the credits start to role, fans with tears in their eyes start to wonder what the finale might hold. What came blew all expectations.
3) Sessions #25 & #26: The Real Folk Blues Part I & II
Coming off the loss of Faye and Ed, Spike and Jet find themselves in a bar on Mars drowning their sorrows. Members from the Syndicate come to take out Spike. Spike and Jet get away with the help of Shin, brother of Lin from “Jupiter Jazz Part I & II,” but Jet takes a bullet to the leg. After they get away, the episode cuts to Faye who is also on Mars. She runs into Spike’s old love interest, Julia, who is being pursued by the Syndicate as well. As they get away, Julia tells Faye to tell Spike to meet with her. The episode ends with the long awaited reunion with Julia and Spike.
The final episode begins with Julia and Spike standing together in a graveyard in the rain. The two stare at each other until for what seems like an eternity. Julia finally reveals to Spike that she did not run away with him because she did not want to spend her life with him on the run from Vicious and the Syndicate. However, she reveals that she should have run away with Spike because a life with him is better than a life apart. For a character that has been built up from the beginning, Julia does not disappoint. The chemistry between her and Spike is rushed, but believable. Every moment between them emphasizes that they are each other’s other half, which only makes the finale all the more tragic.
As soon as they are reunited, they are driven apart again as Julia is shot in the back by a member of the Syndicate. Spike fights off the remaining members, and gets away, but he leaves a broken man. Back on board the Bebop, Spike and Jet share some final banter and life stories. Although their friendship was a simple one, their last scene is one of understanding the lives they both lived. Spike and Faye reunite as well. Faye realizes that Spike is going to go fight the Syndicate single-handedly, and she urges him to reconsider and stay with her. Spike tells her that he is not going to die, but to see if he is still alive.
The chemistry between Spike and Faye was built far more than his chemistry with Julia, which makes him leaving Faye all the more tragic to watch, yet it is what makes the most sense. The crew of the Bebop are all people who are running from their past, and from responsibility. Spike doesn’t want to face the Syndicate after Julia broke his heart. Faye doesn’t want to face the demons from her past because she doesn’t know what they hold. Jet doesn’t want to return to the police force because of the tragedies that befell him such as losing his arm and losing his girlfriend to another man. Ed is running from being alone, but she also wants to find her father, which is why she gets the happiest ending.
The ending action scene where Spike takes on the Syndicate and Vicious is some of the best action and animation the series has offered. The bullets fly, and the grenades explode as Spike heads up the tower for his final showdown with Vicious. As the two collide, Spike shoots Vicious dead, but suffers a mortal wound. As Spike collapses, the credits start to role as the music starts to play, ending “Cowboy Bebop.”
Although the ending is far from happy, it is the ending that makes the most sense. The shows portrays the ending as something that was unavoidable. Spike had to die, but only after taking down the Syndicate thus finishing the job that he ran from. Many feel that “Cowboy Bebop”‘s main lesson was to figure out what you need in life rather than what you want. Spike wanted friendship, with Jet, fun with Ed, and love with Faye, but he needed to be with Julia and he needed to settle the score with Vicious. “The Real Folk Blues” is one of the greatest episodes of “Cowboy Bebop,” and one of the greatest finales ever written.
2) Session #1: Asteroid Blues
Being the first episode of “Cowboy Bebop,” “Asteroid Blues” perfectly sets the scene of what’s to come. The episode begins with a flashback of Spike being stood-up in the rain, as he drops a bouquet of roses and walks away. As the main story begins, Jet is cooking dinner while Spike is training in another room on the Bebop. The long-running joke of not having enough food is cemented in this scene.
The episode’s main focus is a bounty hunter named Asimov who experiments with futuristic narcotics that speed up his reaction time and senses. He also has an expecting girlfriend whose dream is to make it to Mars, and start a life there. Spike puts a damper in their plans as he tries to catch Asimov, and collect his $2.5 million bounty.
Everything that makes “Cowboy Bebop” great is shown in this episode. The great characters, animation, story, and action are all shown in the first episode. The episode also contains a lot of foreshadowing of what’s to come. Asimov’s girlfriend wants to make it to Mars (where the finale takes place). Spike talks to a native on Mars who tells him that he sees a woman in Spike’s future, and then death. Although this fits with the final scene of this episode, it also fits with the finale of the series as well. Asimov’s relationship with his girlfriend is also compared to Spike’s relationship with Julia because there is genuine love and affection, but their dangerous lives can only lead to tragedy. “Asteroid Blues” has all the elements of what makes a perfect Pilot episode.
1) Session #5: Ballad of Fallen Angels
Throughout this list, there have been two different types of episodes. Those essential to the main story, and those non-essential to the main story. Although the non-essential episodes have their own charm and their own strengths, the episodes that delve into the main story are brilliant. The episode that served as the catalyst to spark life and interest into the rest of the series was “Ballad of Fallen Angels.”
In this episode, the synopsis of the whole situation with Spike, the Syndicate, Julia, and Vicious is shown, while still keeping to the style of a “Cowboy Bebop” episode with exceptional music, action, and character development.
The final half of the episode is Spike confronting Vicious and the Syndicate for the first time since running away. The music that plays while Spike approaches a church where the main battle takes place, is so beautiful and fitting that it must be heard to be believed. The action in the church is the best action scene in the entire series. Bullets fly, punches are thrown, and grenades explode as the body count steadily rises. The bout with Vicious ends with Vicious throwing Spike through a stained glass window. As he falls, Vicious notices that Spike threw grenades behind him to try and take him out. As the church explodes and Spike falls, music continues to play as flashbacks of everything the audience needs to know. Spike fell for Julia who was with Vicious. Spike and Vicious were comrades in the Syndicate, but their mutual affection for Julia drove them apart. As Spike and Vicious drifted, Vicious saw an opportunity to take control of the Syndicate, but it meant eliminating Spike. A battle consumed that led Spike being heartbroken by Julia, and on his own. All of this backstory is shown in less than a minute, but my God is it effective. Mere words on a computer screen cannot do this scene justice because it is without a doubt one of the greatest exposition scenes in television history.