The “Cowboy Bebop” opening sequence, “Tank!” by the Seatbelts, contains a bold declaration hidden in its scrolling text animation: “the work that becomes a new genre itself will be called… Cowboy Bebop.” On a macro and micro level, “Bebop” mixes so many influences it defies categorization.
The setting may be science fiction, but true to the “Cowboy” part of the title, there’s Western influence too: the Solar System is a newly-settled, lawless frontier. The character archetypes owe more to Film Noir — Spike’s a former criminal, Jet an ex-cop, Faye a wannabe femme fatale. Yoko Kanno’s music score is as eclectic as the storytelling. “The Real Folk Blues” mixes jazzy saxophone riffs with lyrics out of a lovelorn ballad.
Episode by episode, widely different tones are explored. “Black Dog Serenade” is one of the show’s darkest chapters, explaining how Jet lost his right arm thanks to his corrupt ex-partner, Fad. The very next episode, “Mushroom Samba,” is the show’s silliest, featuring the adventures of comic relief character “Radical” Edward and pet “data dog” Ein while the rest Bebop crew accidentally get high on psychedelic mushrooms. While “Serenade” is a hardboiled noir, “Samba” is a love-letter to 70s stoner and blaxploitation movies — a woman who suspiciously resembles Pam Grier even shows up.
At the Japan Expo panel, Watannabe mentioned how the team enlisted different staff members for every episode to ensure each was unique. Dai Sato, a totally green writer, scripted two “Cowboy Bebop” episodes, while Minami broke out of his producing role and worked directly on episode 10; he gave the episode an “enka”-inspired tone.
If you make every episode feel different, you risk creating an unbalanced series. However, “Cowboy Bebop” begins as such a unique creation that introducing a new ingredient never upsets the flavor.