Artist: Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts
Title(s): Cowboy Bebop
Released: between 1998 and 2001
Genre: techno, jazz, bebop jazz, acoustic, blues, funk, alt rock, soul, harmonica blues, post bop, hard rock, etc…
Why an anime review? Read this.
First off: I’ve decided to briefly discuss the soundtracks released for this series as a whole, as there were at least seven official volumes and a few companion releases. Also, there is a box set floating around out there containing four discs; however it’s allegedly a bootleg. But, it features live sets and demos the band and composer created.
A brief bit about the series: Cowboy Bebop originally aired in 1998 and won huge acclaim both here and in Japan. It quickly became a favorite amongst anime fans (otaku) and fans of film in general.
The show follows two freelance bounty hunters, Spike and Jet, and their adventures (or misadventures) as they try to track down some of the galaxy’s most vile, insane and demented criminals. Now this is a post-futuristic series, set sometime ahead of us where humanity has already colonized just about every nearby planet or moon in the solar system. Therefore, it’s like Wild West films met up with kung fu films and joined forces with sci-fi.
Anyway, they eventually run into Fe Valentine, super-though-wild child hacker prodigy Ed and the ultra-intelligent Corgi named Ein. The team works to track down scum to finance their next meal and to fuel their ships while running away from / trying to track down ghosts from their past. It’s an amazing series that I would highly recommend in either language dubs. The show lasts a mere twenty-six episodes before it rightfully ends itself flawlessly. The series did spawn one full length film. And, a word to the wise, avoid buying the “remixed” version on DVD, as it’s merely recap-styled episodes. Go for the original DVDs or the box set.
The Music: Yoko Kanno had already established herself as a maven in the studio. She became the go-to composer and musician for many anime scores, including prior works for the likes of Macross Plus, Escaflowne and later series such as Wolf’s Rain, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Genesis of Aquarion. Here, Kanno teams up with the mighty jazz force known as The Seatbelts and together, they create something truly amazing, spanning multiple genres.
Overview: The first thing you’ll hear is the series’ theme song, “TANK!” Right away, you know you’re in for something awesome. To kick off a sci-fi show with jazz so in-your-face and explosive is just an amazing idea. It gives the show its style and in a way, sums up each of the main characters personalities perfectly. The music evolves and bolts in many directions depending on what was needed for the various scenes in each episode or what might have been called for when faced with certain dynamics in characters.
A good example of this has to be the track “On The Run.” Originally a Pink Floyd track, this piece was used during a scene when a government syndicate was genetically manipulating, bioengineering and mentally conditioning a super soldier prototype. The scene was intense and shockingly dark, more so when we learn the experiment failed and the prototype had escaped, going on a brutal and insane killing spree. The music captured the emotion of this scene perfectly and it remains a fan favorite of the series for that reason.
Some tracks utilize brilliant instrumentation alongside powerful vocals. “Real Folk Blues,” the track used most often as the end credits theme is one such example. Most of the song is in Japanese with some minor verses in English and yet, it still captures the essence of the show. A stronger example would have to be “Rain.” This song is just so damn powerful that the show literally stops for it. It’s a brilliant collaborative effort between director and composer. The chorus alone sends shivers down my spine.
With such a variety of sounds, these OSTs standalone quite well as albums. Whether you like the crazy jazz numbers or the techno interludes, Kanno does well to make them all fit together. If you’re curious about the music but don’t much care for anime, this would be a good example of a soundtrack that doesn’t need to completely rely on the context of the show to be understood or liked. Just about every track is memorable, something few soundtracks can say.
Now, you may be asking, if there are so many different volumes to this soundtrack, which ones should I buy? Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Each has something unique to offer in style and genre. Even the remix album is worth it, with reworks by Dj Vadim, 4 Hero, Luke Vibert, Ian Pooly, DMX Krew, Fila Brazillia, Ian O’Brian and Mr. Scruff. Sadly, all of these albums are out of print and are kind of pricy. A few 12” versions exist as singles, and those are a tad bit cheaper, but you’re not really getting the full picture there. My suggestion would be to just grab what you can. You’re bound to find something you like.
See ya, space cowboy.