3, 2, 1... let's jam! The anime classic Cowboy Bebop is 20 years old, and it's time to celebrate. Debuting in 1998, the show featured the adventures of Spike Spiegel and his team of consistently down-on-their-luck bounty hunters. Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe and written by Keiko Nobumoto (who also wrote the score), the series contained 26 episodes, and also a feature film.
When the show finally hit stateside (dubbed in English by Animaze), it became the first anime program to feature on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Dazzling audiences everywhere with its heart, wit, and universal tales of humanity, the show is often referred to as a gateway into the world of anime. The gang behind the Bebop crew's many misadventures recently gathered at New York Comic Con 2018 to celebrate 20 years of ill-advised escapades.
Present at the panel (courtesy of Funimation) were Nobumoto, character designer and animation director Toshihiro Kawamoto, mechanical designer Kimitoshi Yamane, screenwriter Dai Sato, and American acting legends Steve Blum (Spike) and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Julia/Voice Director).
"Bebop lives!" said Blum as the panel began. McGlynn noted that Bebop was the first time that she ever directed (which she did for the American dubbing), and that she fell in love with Blum's voice so much that she swore she'd cast herself as Julia— not only did she end up doing just that, but the two are now engaged in real life. "It's the show that keeps on giving," Blum said. Blum and McGlynn were both highly sought-after talent in the wake of Bebop — they are two actors who are always working, and rightfully so. Most recently, they both appeared on Star Wars Rebels (with Blum being a series regular) and McGlynn was recently announced to be taking part in Star Wars Resistance.
It wasn't just McGlynn dealing with a first—Sato noted that it was his first screenwriting job, and thanks to the success of the show, he's "still here." Nobumoto said that it was only her second time in front of an audience like this, and that although she was nervous, she was incredibly grateful.
Blum and McGlynn recounted how they got one episode at a time for dubbing. They didn't want to mess with the beautiful show that they had received, and that reverence seems to persist — Blum made no secret of being amazed by the artists sitting next to him.
Did they ever think that the show would be such a hit? McGlynn says that she knew it would be the first time she saw Spike walk through the church in the rain. Turning to the panel, she emotionally said, "What you gave us to work on was so beautiful, I can never thank you enough."
Though Blum and McGlynn seemed to know that they had something special, the others did not think of it the same way. If they were asked then about being here 20 years later, still celebrating, they would've said, "Nahhh." Kawamoto noted that there were no giant robots or huge space battles, and that may have prevented it from being popular back in the day. He mentions the church scene, though, and also having a special feeling from that moment.
Yamane wasn't sure when he knew the show would be a hit, as there wasn't the instant judgment of social media present when the show came out. It wasn't until he got a call about videos "flying off the shelves" that he had a vague notion that it was hitting, but still, he never thought that it would be a hit overseas. When was Sato sure? In 2000, when he started coming to conventions. McGlynn can certainly tell, because when she's working on new projects these days (like the new She-Ra) the younger actors she works with are always obsessed with it. "Little kids all the way up to 90-year-olds love this show," Blum added, shortly before showing a Bebop tattoo he bears and revealing that he and McGlynn listen to the music occasionally in their car.
Nobumoto was really happy to hear that young people grew up with the show, but that it also reminded her that they did it 20 years ago. She grew up with some American sitcoms (Bewitched) and other shows like Sesame Street, which inspired her. That American audiences have taken to Bebop in the way they have "is kind of like closing a loop," which she finds incredible.
Are there any favorite stories, moments, or characters among the group? Yamane recalled Session 19, "Wild Horses." One of his co-workers on that episode was a Star Trek fan, so when it came to naming the shuttle that appeared in that episode, this co-worker kept pushing to name it Enterprise instead of Columbia. He's sure it would have been okay, but the shuttle only rode on top of a jet — that's why Yamane stuck to his phasers and called it Columbia. It didn't do anything Enterprise-worthy.
Kawamoto mentioned the crew's corgi, Ein. The character was invented by Nobumoto, and the love went so far that he ended up with a corgi of his own. For that reason, Ein is most likely his favorite. He recalls using Ein for "mental sanity breaks" during the show, though when you get Ein, you get Ed... a much less calming character.
Session 23, "Brain Scratch," was memorable for Sato — he notes that it took 22 episodes after his introduction to show how great Ein really was. Blum countered that Ein kept him humble, before McGlynn shared her love for the bonkers episode "Mushroom Samba," which certainly stuck out to her. "It's one of the only times on television we got away with a swear word, because it was in the middle of the words Shiitake Mushrooms." The equivalent swear word apparently does not exist in Japan, so it was fully unintentional from a writing standpoint.
Nobumoto shared that the inspiration for that particular episode came directly from Watanabe. She wasn't involved in running the episode, but she agrees that "it's pretty far out" and that "it came out great."
As to how the industry has changed over the years, Kawamoto says that there has been progress, though they probably wouldn't be able to make the same show today. That's a big reason why he still feels so lucky to have been a part of it, originally. Yamane says that one of the biggest differences 20 years later is a current lack of truly original anime, and Blum added that nobody had ever seen anything like it back in the day. Not everyone loved it, initially — Blum recalls being threatened at a convention for "trying to ruin anime."
In terms of acting styles, McGlynn mentions that the show brought in a whole new style that was "naturalistic" and hadn't been seen (heard) before. What they were given to work with "set a new tone." Nobumoto gets asked a lot why she thinks that people still watch the show— and it's something she discusses a lot with Watanabe. They believe it's because they showed characters in their real lives without them "saying too much," which is something the original Japanese actor playing Spike was quick to point out to her. "The fans who watched it had their own interpretations, and it made them want to revisit it."
As for the big question, possibly the biggest of all — do they believe that Spike is alive or dead at the end of the series? Blum was quick to point out that he was right there, and that "he got the girl, too." Nobumoto quickly said "alive," and they went right on. Could there ever be a sequel? Kawamoto's personal take on it is that the show came together the way it did because they had the crew and cast that they had — if they could ever get everyone back together again, then maybe they could. Not should, he clarified, but could. For him, the ultimate factor would be Watanabe, and what he would want.
Sato made it clear that he'd write anything, and Blum echoed that he would also be sitting by the phones. Aside from the message of wanting more work, is there another message they hope fans will take away? Kawamoto said, "If you ever want to make something...you have to kind of step away from the mainstream, and make what you want to make. Just stick to your guns...hey, that's what happened here, right?"
"It's all a dream, so live your dream," said McGlynn. "Make the most of it." Blum was sure to share his gratitude once again, and said that he never expected to work on something like Bebop. He also thanks everyone from Japan who was not at the panel, as well as all of the fans. "At the time, we just made something that we wanted to watch, that we then fell in love with immediately."
The panel was sincere, incredibly funny, and emotional — just like the show itself. Long may the crew of the Bebop rock and roll.
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