The Jazz Sound of Cowboy Bebop


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[This post contains spoilers]

“You’re Gonna Carry That Weight,” is the final title card of the show before it ends abruptly into its coda. Once the camera zooms out of the fallen body of Spike and jolts up in the blue ether, a different yet satisfying tune plays to prolong the feeling. Whether the viewer felt unsettled or indifferent about the last shot, it had a universal appeal to every fan, nonetheless.

Cowboy Bebop is an anime directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed the stylistic Hip-Hop, samurai blend of Samurai Champloo a handful of years later. As Bebop originally debuted internationally in 1998, it became one of the first shows to be broadcasted on the obscure yet appealingly obscure late-night television bloc, Adult Swim.

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Cowboy Bebop reached a level of fanfare unlike other anime shows at the time. Although the likes of Dragon Ball Z held its appeal to much younger and animated audiences, Bebop was the first and only show to blend elements of Sci-Fi films, Spaghetti Westerns, and 1950’s Noir films. Its protagonists were unlike many other conventional heroes of other action-oriented shows.

What mainly warped the three elements into a fluid series of style was the background music and the animated choreography that elevated the traits of the character. The music helped unravel the character’s traits and tribulations. The furthermore we understand the character, the further the music and aesthetic deepens into our psyche.

When Spike would get into fights with the episode’s antagonists, the scene would be supplemented by a sporadic display of hurrying and fervent Jazz instruments. If Spike or Jet would be dollying around or contemplating about something, the scene would be supported by a slow, almost isolated piano and saxophone.

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(Yoko Kanno)

The show’s composer is Yoko Kanno. Her discography also includes the musical works of Ghost in the Shell and Wolf’s Rain, but Cowboy Bebop seems to be the standing ovation of her musical talents. The appeal of the soundtrack was due to her diverse tastes and contrived placement of her tunes.

In the two-parter episode, Jupiter Jazz, Jupiter is animated as a reservoir of old, typically husky and broken men. It’s displayed as solemn drainage of rotten gunk and shattered ambitions. The sky is always gray as the climate is unbearably cold. Spike and Faye’s venture to Jupiter is fitting for the environment.

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Spike is there on a personal mission. With the knowledge of his lost love life with Julia, Spike isn’t there for his boisterous cowboy-play. The mood is wholely accentuated by the despairing piano chords matched with the idle saxophone introduced with Faye. In the scene where Faye reaches the bar and meets the “saxophone player,” the voice of the saxophone was meant to represent the decadence of Jupiter’s broken inhabitants.

Although the soundtrack could be filled with somber melodies, the show is mainly known for its nerve-titillating compositions. Nearly every episode’s climax is levied by the running play of trumpets and chords. Not only accustomed to Jazz music and depending on the episode, but the show also delves into other forms of subcultural music influences.

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Bebop has dealt with the likes of Heavy Metal music, as well as Dnb and Pop. Kanno’s understanding of music as the universal study is beyond the apprehension of many composers, and her talent really shines in this soundtrack. Coupled with support from The Seatbelts, Bebop has leveled music soundtracks not only for animated television but television in general.

Cowboy Bebop will forever survive in the hearts of fans and the memory of television. After two decades, it still holds up as an essential watch, due to its masterful soundtrack.


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