…or “West Meets East Meets East Meets West.”
Before Firefly made it’s debut, there was an anime called Cowboy Bebop, directed by Shinichiro Wantanabe, that was also a space western. Today we’ll be comparing and contrasting the two shows. Before we begin, I would like to give a shout out to a great critic by the name of Bennett White ; I might’ve never gotten into editorial writing, or watched Cowboy Bebop if I hadn’t watched his review of “The End of Evangelion”, but I digress.
I strongly suggest you check out some of his work after reading this. I should also note I will only be comparing Firefly to the Cowboy Bebop English dub, which has a reputation as one the few animes that’s better to watch with an English dub than in Japanese with subtitles.
The biggest similarity between the two is that they’re space westerns, but to different degrees. In Cowboy Bebop, motifs used in the genre the episodes, but a lot of the episodes themselves are mimicking other genres. For instance, in the episode “Pierot Le Fou”, Cowboy Bebop is mimicking the noir genre, while down playing space western elements. Sometimes Bebop even imitates specific films, with episodes such as Toys In The Attic, which was an homage to the movie Alien. On the other hand, Firefly does not have any episodes that are borrowing motifs, or deliberately imitating any specific films.
Furthermore, the shows are both episodic, with episodes that feature different characters and plots every weeks. Don’t get me wrong, they do have central plots like Spike’s conflict with rival bounty hunter Vicious, and the “Hands of Blue” hunting down River, but not every episode is driven by that central plot. However, I would say that Firefly is something that you need to have watched the first episode to understand the show, because it gives all the backstory that someone would need to understand the show, whereas with Cowboy Bebop, you could show almost any episode to someone, without showing them any episodes prior. The same can be said of the movies derived from both shows. Anyone who watches Serenity without having watched Firefly will have some trouble following, but you could watch Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heavens Door, without any confusion, because it’s pretty much a very long episode of Cowboy Bebop.
Firefly and Cowboy Bebop both have ensemble casts(where the actors get roughly the same amount of screen time and have equally important roles), and the characters are just people living on the fringes of society trying to get by with the money the get from a job or bounty of the week. A difference between the casts is how we learn about character back stories. In Firefly, the back story for everyone, but Shephard (who later gets a whole book about him) is revealed explicitly, with flashbacks, like the ones in the beginning of the Pilot episode, and “Out of Gas”, and “Safe”. On the other hand, Cowboy Bebop reveals character background more slowly over the course of the series through conversation, and when there are flashbacks, they don’t usually contain dialogue, and leave a lot more things to be implied, with the exception of Faye’s past in the episode “My Funny Valentine”.
All in all, both shows are masterpieces. I give them both 5.01 stars out of 5. I’d say Cowboy Bebop is the gateway drug of anime, if you want to make the hyperjump from sci-fi to anime, watch it. And if you’re a dedicated otaku that refuses to watch anything American, Firefly will be an exception. Have you already watched both shows? Do you think one is better than the other? We’d love to know what you think, let us know in the comments below.