It was a quiet night, the year was 2002, everyone in the house had headed to bed, but unlike them I couldn’t sleep. I used to be a little boy, I hadn’t yet turned 11 at the time, but that day was coming, so were a lot of other unfortunate things. I didn’t know that on this particular night however, I just knew that I wasn’t tired yet, so I snuck downstairs and switched on the telly.
I had the volume down real low and sat about 30 centimeters from the screen so as to not wake up my parents who would no doubt put an end to my late night TV exploration. I was mighty curious about what aired in the middle of the night, while all the little boys and girls were asleep in the world, my parents wouldn’t let me stay up and watch, which made me all the more curious.
Upon surfing the channels I was struck by something unusual. It was an animated dog running amuck in what appeared to be an Arabian marketplace. It was the second episode of Cowboy Bebop ‘Stray Dog Strut’, I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I’d come to love this series and all of its colourful cast of characters. Watching ‘Stray Dog Strut’ felt like something radical and revalatory to me, like I was watching something a soon to be 11 year old boy shouldn’t be watching. Which made me all the more eager to tune in again and watch whatever would happen to these strange characters next.
After thoroughly enjoying the ‘Stray Dog Strut’ episode I would routinely sneak downstairs in the dark and tune in to watch Cowboy Bebop, if I was feeling particularly brave that night I’d even stick around to watch Orphen, but it never could compare to the dynamic wonder of watching Spike and the crew of the Bebop scouring the galaxy in search of their next bounty.
Cowboy Bebop wasn’t my first encouter with anime, I was already an obsessive fan of Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z and many of the other kid friendly anime that aired on Cheez TV in the late 90s and early 00s here in Australia. But Cowboy Bebop felt different, with each episode concluding with the phrase ‘See You, Space Cowboy’, I felt a part of something.
It was the morning after I had watched the episode ‘Speak Like a Child’ that I woke up to find my Mum was crying in the kitchen. She informed me and my siblings that my Dad had left us. Without rhyme or reason, he was simply gone. I withdrew from the world for a time, unable to reconcile why my Dad had decided to abandon us in such a way and so I began to immerse myself deeper and deeper into the world of anime. I would stay up every night and watch Adult Swim, I’d watch ever series on it, but none held a place in my heart like Cowboy Bebop did.
Like Spike, the now 11 year old me, just couldn’t stop looking to the past, trying to understand the mess we both were in. Eventually the final episode of Cowboy Bebop aired and it’s ending title card spoke deeply to the wide-eyed and emotionally frustrated little boy that I was. ‘You’re Gonna Carry That Weight’. To me this wasn’t simply a message about the characters in the show or the themes it presented, but a message directly to myself and anyone else with a heavy heart, like it or not, this pain you have inside you, you have to carry it with you. And so I did.
Cowboy Bebop is a series I am very emotionally attached to because of the goings on in my life at the time I first watched it as is obvious by the first 600 or so words of this article. But after having watched the series front to back probably over a hundred times, it remains to me a very important anime series, not just for the emotional connection it holds to my life, but also for what it did for anime in the West. One quick google search will show you that I am not alone in this, I wasn’t the only little boy sneaking down stairs in the dark to watch this radical and iconic anime series. This series is special in its own right, be it in its dynamic visuals that still look incredible to this day, its heart felt emotional episodes, its unforgettable cast of characters or its catchy as hell soundtrack, Cowboy Bebop is in a league of its own.
Cowboy Bebop will always have a place in my heart. It helped me get through one of the most difficult times in my life. Irregardless of that, the series remains a animated masterpiece from director Shinichiro Watanabe. There is a reason this series is still talked about 20+ years after it initially aired, it is put simply: iconic. See you, Space Cowboy.