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The anime:

  • Alternate Aesop Interpretation: Faye states that people can't trust each other and should take advantage of each other whenever possible.
  • Awesome Art: From realistically designed yet fluidly animated characters, to a wide color palette that incorporates perfect shading, to incredibly detailed backgrounds, this is one of the best looking anime of all time.
  • Bizarro Episode: In what is a fairly grounded sci-fi series, "Pierrot Le Fou" is just out there. As Spike does battle with a super-powered Super Soldier Serial Killer who can, among other things, fly, block bullets with a force-field and has the personality of a sadistic 6 year old.
  • Complete Monster:
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    • Vicious is an ambitious assassin-turned-underboss for the Red Dragon Syndicate who exacts vengeance upon his former girlfriend Julia for cheating on him with his best friend Spike Spiegel by trying to force her to kill Spike lest he murder them both. Going on to frame a young soldier for his own treason during a war, Vicious carves a bloody path within the Red Dragon, slaughtering all involved in a peace summit, including his old mentor, to take the Red Dragon back to their old ways of bloodshed. Eventually taking over via coup, Vicious has Spike and Julia hunted down, gunning down an innocent woman in the process before Julia is killed as well, and fighting the broken Spike to the death.
    • "The Van", Wang, Sou, and Ping Long, are the seldom seen yet sinister ruling triumvirate of the Red Dragon Syndicate. Over their long rule, the Van maintain a policy of executing any who attempt to resign, and when Vicious kills their loyal capo, merely arrogantly assert their dominance without showing any care. When their soothsayer indicates Vicious finally intends to turn on them, the Van opt to capture him alive and make an example of him by having him publicly executed within the Red Dragon headquarters, murder his entire faction and even gunning down innocent civilians who so much as knew him.
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    • Knockin' on Heaven's Door: Lee Sampson is a teenage hacker addicted to video games and thrills, who has decided to try his hand at being a "real terrorist" just for fun and infamy. Allying with Vincent Volaju, Sampson uses his hacking skills to help Vincent find dispersal methods for his lethal nanovirus, and works with him to bomb a metropolitan area and unleash the virus, killing dozens and endangering hundreds more. Having such disregard for human life that he reacts to Vincent killing an innocent man with less emotion than losing at a video game, Sampson is ultimately hoping to use his skills to ensure Vincent's plan of total genocide of all life on Mars succeeds, and takes a special joy in broadcasting a haunting message for the entire planet that foretells its coming annihilation.
  • Crazy Is Cool:
    • Some of Spike's plans are pretty eccentric, and a few of them are suicidal.
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    • Mad Pierrot is a dapper gentleman in a suit and top hat, with a body shape that's almost perfectly round like a balloon. He's as fast and agile as a rubber ball, almost completely unstoppable, and crazy as a loon:
    Pierrot: Hello, gentlemen. I journeyed here in order to take your lives.
    • Doohan the mechanic coming to save Spike in the Columbia Space Shuttle!? Hell, the very first shot of Doohan is him walking into frame apparently not caring that he's on fire.
    • Edward usually is in her own little world, but whenever she's set on something, this is the result. In her first appearance, she outsmarts the police, hacks into government satellites to find her new AI friend, carves a smiley face into the continent with a laser from said AI, keeps tabs on the Bebop and manages to blackmail them into joining the crew, and has a little fun taking the ship for a spin remotely from her laptop.
  • Creepy Awesome: Vincent Volaju in the movie and Tongpu, a.k.a. Mad Pierrot.
  • Death of the Author: Shinichirō Watanabe encourages viewers to interpret whether Spike dies or not as they will, but seems to personally prefer the conclusion that he's just sleeping.
  • Die for Our Ship: Julia, according to Spike/Faye fans. Even though she, y'know, already dies.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • A lot of fans regard Andy very fondly. Teddy Bomber from the same episode is also one of the few one-shot villains fans remember.
    • Tongpu is another rare instance of a one episode villain leaving a huge impression on the fanbase. He's memorable for his terrifying presence, awesome super powers and surprisingly tragic backstory and death.
    • Wen, the Creepy Child of episode 6, is probably the third best remembered one-shot villain of the show, particularly due to his harmonica playing skills and having a memorable Alas, Poor Villain death that even serves as foreshadowing for how the series ends.
  • Evil Is Cool: Vicious is a pretty entertaining antagonist and his backstory and his betrayal of everyone is generally seen as a good part of the story. Not to mention, he dresses in black, wields a katana and has a cormorant as a pet. Vincent from the movie also counts.
  • Evil Is Sexy: Vicious and Vincent again for both being Tall, Dark, and Handsome and having very deep voices.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple: Spike/Faye by a mile- not that there's much competition. Their exchange, and her subsequent reaction, before he heads off to his final fight in the last episode just hammers it home.
  • Genius Bonus:
    • In The Movie, when all the classic war planes are taking off one of the planes is piloted by the three old guys. As they're taking off one of them asks the others where they're going and gets the (incorrect) response that they're "going to sink the Bismarck". The plane they are flying in is the same model of plane that delivered the crippling torpedo shot to the Bismarck. In a further bonus the name of that model of plane is Swordfish.
    • In the two halves of the finale, Jet and Spike make references to The Snows of Kilimanjaro and the Japanese children's book The Cat Who Died a Million Times. Both deal with characters who view the world in terms similar to Spike, and both savage that view mercilessly.
    • Spike's Jericho pistol has a small Laser Sight mounted on it, but it never seems to be turned on. This is because it's an infrared sight that's Invisible to Normals designed to work in tandem with his cybernetic eye.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: While it was a commercial hit in Japan and is still respected there, this series is one of the most beloved anime in Europe and especially America. This is partially because it uses so many American action movie and Western tropes that at times it seems like it was made for a Western audience.
  • Growing the Beard:
    • The first four sessions of the show are fairly standard Monster of the Week trysts, only really serving to establish the characters and setting while not offering much in the way of artistic compulsion. That all changes with session 5, "Ballad of Fallen Angels", which introduces the show's continuous exploration of Spike's past and adds a level of Myth Arc and character drama not previously seen up to that point, and afterwards the series only exponentially grows in quality.
    • Incidentally, the show's English dub took an identical path of progression, starting out fairly shaky for the first four episodes before taking a major upwards leap in "Ballad of Fallen Angels" and rapidly establishing itself as one of the greatest and most enduring English dubs in voice acting history.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • The episode "Wild Horses" has the space shuttle Columbia, now a long-disused antique, being brought out for one last mission. Cartoon Network actually pulled this one off the air for a while after the Columbia was destroyed during re-entry. Even worse, the episode mentions the shuttle's heat-resistant tiles being damaged, which is what caused the real Columbia to be destroyed.
    • Cartoon Network pulled "Cowboy Funk" from its first run in September 2001 for its depiction of a pair of identical skyscrapers being destroyed by a terrorist.
    • "Waltz for Venus" was pulled due to the opening scene where terrorists taking over a commercial airliner.
    • The Movie didn't get an American release in theaters until two years later due to its terrorism theme and that the movie made its run in Japanese theaters just days before 9/11.
  • Heartwarming in Hindsight:
    • The relationship between Spike and Julia ended with their deaths—but their respective English voice actors, Steve Blum and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, entered into a relationship that saw them get married.
    • With time it's possible to see Columbia's presence in the episode "Wild Horses" as this. Here the space shuttle survived far longer, and brought everyone back in one piece after one last mission.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
  • Ho Yay:
    • Gren admits to Faye that he is "not interested in women," and much of his interaction with Vicious could be read as jilted former lovers. At the very least, it's very much in Vicious' character to be aware of Gren's affections and manipulating him through them.
    • Ed rubbing her head against Faye's thigh in "Ganymede Elegy". Also, Faye's constant glancing at Julia in "The Real Folk Blues".
  • Hype Backlash: Considering its status as an apparently universally beloved anime that is so great that people should like it even if they don't like anime, someone is bound to be disappointed by it. Even if a viewer likes the series' style, the episodic stories that the show focuses on can be seen by some as underwhelmingly average.
  • I Am Not Shazam: No character is actually named "Cowboy Bebop". "Cowboy" is an in-universe slang term for bounty hunters, while the ship used by the main group of hunters is named the Bebop. Referring to the Bebop as such is practically a fandom Berserk Button.
  • It Was His Sled: Anime fans to whom the ending isn't spoiled are a rare breed.
  • Jerkass Woobie: It's impossible not to feel bad for Tongpu when he cries for his mother after Spike throws a knife into his leg.
  • Magnificent Bastard:
    • "Bohemian Rhapsody": "Chessmaster" Hex was once a brilliant technological prodigy who designed the system behind the Astral Gates. Hex foresaw the dangers inherent in his system—a flaw that would later result in a cataclysm that cost over three billion human lives—only to be fired by the Gate Corporation. Hex concocted a revenge scheme to expose the Gate Corporation's corruption by exploiting the flaws in his own system to deposit countless amounts of the Gate Corporation's own funds into the hands of random bystanders. Hex's scheme is so meticulously plotted out it unfolds without a hitch fifty years after he had set it up, long after Hex has regressed into a senile old man who idles his days away playing chess. Completely untouchable in the end, Hex peacefully dies of old age with a final "checkmate," his vendetta long forgotten yet accomplished nonetheless.
    • "Black Dog Serenade": Fad, Jet Black's former partner, is a veteran police officer who Jet had trusted time and time again with his life from Jet's time as the formidable "Black Dog" of the space police force. In truth a Dirty Cop, Fad lured Jet into a trap years ago with the criminal hitman Udai Taxim and shot him, causing the loss of Jet's arm. In the present, Fad manages to lure Jet back in and send him against Udai again, killing Udai himself when Jet has him cornered before tricking Jet into shooting him so he may atone for his betrayal, requesting only a final cigarette from his old partner at the end.
    • "Boogie Woogie Feng Shui": Pao Pu-Zi is a great Feng Shui master and seemingly deceased consultant to the Blue Snake Syndicate, left estranged from his beloved daughter Meifa after his wife left him due to his criminal activities. Unable to escape the syndicate thanks to the vast amount of knowledge he held for them, Pao launched a plan to reunite with Meifa through subtle manipulations by way of Feng Shui. Masterminding Jet Black and Meifa's meeting, Pao leaves them a series of clues, culminating in them coming upon his ship stuck in a pocket in hyperspace, having the final conversation he sought with his daughter before dying on his own terms.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY...
      • SEE YOU IN SUPER ROBOT WARS SPACE COWBOY...Explanation 
    • SPIKE DIES.
    • DYKE SPIES
    • Related to the spoiler above and much more common nowadays: "Bang", or "You're gonna carry that weight."
    • Generally, within three posts of SPIKE DIES there will be a MAYBE
    • "Don't talk to me or my son ever again". Explanation 
    • "I love the kind of woman that can kick my ass."
      • "I love the kind of woman that can actually just kill me."
  • Moe:
    • Edward, full stop. She's like a little sister you would love to own.
    • Ein, he's a Welsh Corgi, one of the most adorable puppies ever, so yes he's definitely this.
    • Faye as a child.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Udai Taxim breaks it through his Establishing Character Moment, which is breaking out of jail and slaughtering everyone inside who isn't assisting him.
    • Vicious breaks it by betraying Gren, who was arrested, imprisoned and experimented on with a nasty drug that changes his body, making him develop breasts. This is despite Gren being loyal to him.
  • Most Wonderful Sound: Whenever Edward giggles or chants.
  • Narm:
    • Spike's arch-enemy and former ally goes by the name of Vicious. Although many people say that Faye's reaction to hearing him introduce himself by name to her helps to subvert it and effectively establish him as someone to be feared.
    • The ending of the episode "Pierrot le Fou". Let's just say the sight of a grown man squirming on the ground crying out for his mommy just before being stepped on by a big goofy dog thing doesn't exactly help his previously established image as a stone cold assassin who is Immune to Bullets and kills for the love of killing.
  • Narm Charm:
    • Specifically, the sight of a preteen Faye in a cheerleader getup giving a cutesy cheer to encourage her future self should be utterly ridiculous. And yet, it's the one time she's shown to be genuinely happy, she's utterly adorable, and Megumi Hayashibara delivers her lines like a young girl might, with all the awkward enthusiasm you'd expect; makes it one of the series' most memorable scenes.
    • Tongpu's Villainous Breakdown should be silly and hard to take seriously, yet can still come off as just as terrifying and creepy as anything else he does, precisely because it's so childhish and greatly contrats his previously established image as a stone cold assassin. The saccharine goofy parade and the carnival music emphasize the contrast, making the scene even more creepy.
  • Nausea Fuel:
    • In the third episode, Spike's response to Jet pointing out a "No Smoking" sign is to pretend to swallow his cigarette.
    • Spike opening the disused fridge in "Toys in the Attic" and seeing the incredibly spoiled contents of it. No wonder he shuts the door looking so horrified afterwards.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
  • Presumed Flop: The series is often brought up as an example of an anime that tanked in its home country but became a huge success overseas. Except half of that isn't true. While it didn't have the lasting staying power the series still has in the West, it was very well-received in Japan and sold very well. In fact, of all anime released in 1998, it was the number one best-selling anime on home video in that year. Even counting anime from previous years, the only two series that sold more in that year were the absolutely juggernauts that are Neon Genesis Evangelion and the original Mobile Suit Gundam. It's possible the misconception stems from confusion with fellow 1998 Space Westerns Outlaw Star and Trigun, which are examples of that trope (the latter to a point where the movie premiered there first).
  • Sacred Cow:
    • Needless to say, this series is near-unanimously regarded as one of the greatest anime of all time, if not the greatest— attempting to question its quality and legacy is a good way to get your ass handed to you online. The series is so thoroughly acclaimed that the announcement of a live-action adaptation led to immense backlash among both casual and hardcore anime fans.
    • The English dub is subjected to this: to this day it is still held up as the gold standard for an English dub, to the point where people who prefer the Japanese version are in a very small minority.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: While this series is still among the pantheon of anime classics, some aspects are not perceived as they once were:
    • The English dub is something this series has been praised for. However, given that the quality of dubbing in anime has improved since 2000, this isn't as big of a selling point as it once was.
    • While Spike is still an indisputably popular character for his badassery and cool attitude, he ends up coming across like a clone of countless other generic cool guys that are a dime a dozen in anime that followed.
  • Signature Scene:
    • Julia getting shot, then falling to the ground in excruciating slow-mo is one of the most iconic moments in all of anime, not to mention a major Tear Jerker.
    • Spike's final moments on the stairs at the end of the series.
    • Spike's fall from the cathedral to the music of "Green Bird" in "Ballad of Fallen Angels".
    • Also from "Ballad of Fallen Angels", the duel in the cathedral as a whole, but particularly the shot where Spike and Vicious are on the ground, each holding his weapon (in Spike's case a gun, and in Vicious' case a sword) against the other's chest.
    • Spike going One-Man Army and effortlessly destroying a group of thugs who mistake him for Vicious in "Jupiter Jazz Part 1".
  • Superlative Dubbing:
    • One of the most well-known examples. The series is very often used as the example of what an English dub can/should be. There was even an Pop Culture Urban Legend that Word of God found the English dub superior to the Japanese. While this rumor isn't true, the English dub is good enough for the rumor to be plausible.
    • The Mexican Spanish dub is not a slouch in this department, despite having some not-too-serious translation mistakes.
    • Cowboy Bebop is one of the most consistently well-dubbed anime of all time. Other famous good dubs of this anime are, among others, the Western European languages: European Spanish, French, German and Italian.
  • Suspiciously Similar Song: When the back story of Tongpu is revealed, minimalist synthesizer music with a marked similarity to "On the Run" by Pink Floyd can be heard in the background. In fact, the song is more accurately described as a cover, sharing the same name on the official soundtrack.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!:
    • One that came up years after the series stopped airing, but if you don't want to get ranted at for a long time, don't remind anyone of the Spike pencil drawing by the original designer in a Cartoon Network stairwell that some intern doodled over with a sharpie.
    • This series is held in such a high regard that the simple announcement of a live action movie in the works led to this sentiment.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Ed. In her introductory episode, she's positively eager to join her idolized Bebop, which is literally the only motivation she shows in the entire series, and even manipulates events around so she can do so. After joining, however, she spends the rest of her screentime barely doing anything to even help the Bebop's crew in the first place, aside from very sporadic info breaks and a fortuitous solo bounty hunt played for laughs. This not only clashes with her initial mindset, but also prevents a lot of the action she might have produced in their next battles with her masterful abilities.
  • Time Marches On: When "Speak Like a Child" was made in 1998, videotapes and tape recorders were commonplace, and part of the humor was about Spike and Jet being completely unfamiliar with how these devices work. As these devices are becoming relics of the past, some of the jokes will lack some of the punch with future viewers, such as Spike and Jet trekking into the ruins of Earth to find a tape player, only to learn that it's the wrong format for the tape they wanted to watch.
  • Too Good to Last: Shooting Star, the first manga spinoff. It was meant to run for a year but got cancelled after just ten installments. Due to its being made while the anime was still airing, it had an almost completely different continuity, which may have been the deciding blow against it. Yet, many reviewers in the West considered Shooting Star superior to the second manga spinoff (this one simply named after, and hewing much closer to, the show) due to its lively artwork and interesting, though abortive, story arc.
  • Viewer Gender Confusion:
    • In addition to several characters in-universe, many viewers initially assumed Ed was a boy.
    • VT from "Heavy Metal Queen" also a very masculine appearance and a deep voice which can cause some initial confusion.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: If you first see the title of the series, was the first thing that came to mind "Hey, my son loves cowboys! Maybe I can let him watch this show!"? Despite the show having the word "Cowboy" in the title, don't make an assumption that it's actually about cowboys. It's not very kid-friendly, either. It has very strong violence and adult themes, but despite this, when it aired on TV Tokyo, it ran on Fridays at 18:00 (6 p.m.), a time previously occupied by G-rated or almost-G-rated shows like Kodomo no Omocha and Akazukin Chacha. The series only made it through half of its initial run.
  • The Woobie:
    • Everyone and their dog, really. Spike's a seemingly happy go lucky thrill-seeker that couldn't care less about his safety, using the adrenaline rush to mask his suicidal and apathetic outlook, still running from a dark past he refuses to acknowledge. Jet's a cynical cop that's haunted by his failures to protect his love and stay an honorable man in a police force gone corrupt, believing the world has no place for him, vainly attempting to project a wiser image of himself to his few friends. Faye's a Fish out of Temporal Water forced into an unfamiliar world with amnesia, feeling she cannot belong to a past with a home and family she cannot remember nor the present with people that have only betrayed her. The only exception is Ed, who seems cheerfully oblivious to everything around her, having fun in her own little world where she skips to her own beat, speaking in silly rhymes in a singsong voice without a care in the world. Not even learning she's an orphan with a father that abandoned her seems to slow her down much, though her last scene in the series suggests otherwise.
    • As for the not-main cast, Gren takes the cake. Despite fighting alongside Vicious and considering him a close comrade, Vicious frames Gren for a major crime that he didn't commit. To say that this shattered his faith in making friends is putting it lightly.

Shooting Star manga:

  • Magnificent Bastard: "The Scorpion", born Ryushuka Niagle, Jr. was a Child Prodigy kidnapped by the Dragon Head Syndicate for his intelligence to become one of their leaders. Rising in the ranks, the Scorpion first encounters the Bebop crew while effortlessly escaping from a maximum security prison, managing to reverse their hacking to drive the ship haywire and force the crew to retreat. Later erasing all data gathered on him, the Scorpion nearly succeeds in capturing Spike Spiegel for his unseen employer, only killed by an allergy to tranquilizers.

The live action series:


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