In the week following Indy Pop Con, it seems only appropriate that this week we’ll be looking at the soundtrack for one of the most popular anime shows of all time. While I didn’t see any Spike or Ed cosplayers during my time at Pop Con this past weekend, you would have been hard-pressed to find a Pop Con attendee who’d never heard of the acclaimed series.
Cowboy Bebop ended in 1996 with only 26 episodes, which seems like far too few for how good it is. The series mashed together elements of film noir, science fiction, pulp fiction, and action into every episode. The premise: a group of bounty hunters try to scrape by catching criminals throughout the solar system.
That’s the hook. But the real meat of what Cowboy Bebop is about lies just underneath. It’s about a group of people, each of them trying to come to terms with their past, and not letting it define their future. Themes of existentialism and loneliness run throughout the series, interspersed with fast-paced action sequences and shoot outs. Oh, and it’s funny as hell. Did I mention that?
Yet when I often hear fans raving about the show, one thing I’ve noticed that doesn’t come up as often as it should is the soundtrack. It’s a shame, too, since the show’s creators seem to be begging its viewers to pay attention to the music. Example: the title of each episode of Cowboy Bebop alludes to either a song, or a different style of music. There’s “The Real Folk Blues”, “Black Dog Serenade”, “Heavy Metal Queen”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and the list goes on.
Cowboy Bebop’s soundtrack succeeds because it so successfully mirrors the show. A story told in multiple genres and sub-genres deserves a soundtrack that is equally diverse. And that’s exactly what you get.
Tank! and Yoko Kanno
If there’s a single track that you’d recognize having never seen the show, it’d have to be “Tank!” the Cowboy Bebop theme song. The big-hitting, funky jazz jam is impossible to mistake.
A big portion of the credit for the soundtrack goes to composer and musician Yoko Kanno. Kanno made a name for herself composing the score for the 1994 animated series “Macross Plus”. Other anime series she’s scored include “Wolf’s Rain”, “Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex”, and “The Vision of Escaflowne”. Kanno also makes music with her instrumental band, The Seatbelts.
In an interview with Red Bull Music Academy in 2014, Kanno talks about her past experiences that inspired her to write some of the songs of the soundtrack.
“The seeds for that score were sown in middle school and high school when I was a member of the brass band. I’m not sure how it is nowadays, but back then all the songs kids were taught weren’t at all cool, so I made and performed originals. But a part of me was always frustrated because I couldn’t understand why everybody else was content playing the uncool music. I wanted to play brass music that shook your soul, made your blood boil, and made you lose it.”
Kanno later states that, “This yearning became “Tank!” which was the opening theme. I wanted to make music which would light a fire in me when I played it”.
Cowboy Bebop OST Track List
All songs written by Yoko Kann, and performed and recorded by The Seatbelts.
- Spokey Dokey
- Bad Dog No Biscuits
- Cat Blues
- Space Lion
- Waltz For Zizi
- Piano Black
- Pot City
- Too Good Too bad
- Car 24
- The Egg And I
- Felt Tip Pen
- Rain, featuring Steve Conte
- Digging My Potato
Another thing that this soundtrack does so well is evoke a sense of place in nearly every scene of the show. Whether its a saxophone droning in the background of an interstellar space bar, or a soft acoustic strumming as Spike and Jet lounge on board the Bebop.
While watching the show, you feel like you’re there. It’s something you don’t quite notice until its pointed out to you. The music brings you into the moment, and keeps you wrapped up in the show. If that isn’t the mark of a successful soundtrack, I don’t know what is.