For twenty years, anime fans have been singing the real folk blues. On April 3, 1998, Cowboy Bebop premiered for the first time on Japanese TV and instantly changed the anime game forever. It would later air in the U.S. on Cartoon Network in 2001, further cementing its status as a worldwide classic. However, despite its popularity, there have been no sequels or revivals, and attempts to reboot the property in Hollywood have languished in development hell. Why? As it turns out, there’s a good reason why the creators of Cowboy Bebop have not revisited the adventures of Spike, Jet Black, Faye, Ed, and Ein.
In 2006, at a panel in New York City, director Shinichiro Watanabe told fans he wanted Cowboy Bebop to have a definitive ending. Because if the series kept going, he’d have to keep writing and directing it. He even brought up the sci-fi juggernaut Star Trek, as an example of what he didn’t want Cowboy Bebop to be.
“I knew it would be a hit. And that it would be a really big hit,” Watanabe said. “I thought people would ask for more, and it would end up being something like Star Trek. I thought it would be a problem if I kept creating a new Cowboy Bebop series for the next thirty years until I’m an old man. So I thought if I finished it, I wouldn’t have to draw anymore.”
Though Watanabe’s comparison is somewhat misguided — many different people have wrote for and contributed to Star Trek — his point appears to be that he wanted to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. While most popular anime like Naruto, Dragon Ball, and Pokemon thrive with continuations and spin-offs, Cowboy Bebop is uniquely conservative with its output. In total, there is just the one series spanning 26 episodes, one movie, and a two-volume manga. That’s all fans have had to live off of for two decades.
But that’s probably the strength of Bebop. While the success of any anime franchise is often measured by volume, Cowboy Bebop may be popular because it’s one of the most accessible anime of all time. The low amount of Bebop things to consume is incredibly low, and for newbies to the medium, Bebop doesn’t require a vast knowledge of the genre.
It helps that the show legitimately kicks ass, too. Cowboy Bebop’s jazz soundtrack and western-style animation is unlike anything else in most anime, even today. It should be no surprise that the franchise’s biggest fans in the west include Quentin Tarantino, the late comedian Robin Williams, sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card and Rian Johnson, the director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Cowboy Bebop is available on Blu-ray and DVD.