Starwinds vs. Browncoats

When I wrote my article my article about Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, it had slipped my mind that since Firefly’s genesis, it’s been called not merely similar to, but a rip-off of an anime called Outlaw Star. Firefly, a rip off? What a load of gosa, right? Well to some people who watched Outlaw Star first, it’s not.

According to a poll most people are classifying Firefly as just an Outlaw Star imitator. As someone who has watched both shows I think that they are similar, but Firefly is by no means a rip off. before we discuss the similarities and differences between the animes and Firefly, some background.

Outlaw Star started as a manga written by Takehiko Ito, and is comprised of three volumes. It was then adapted into a twenty-six episode anime, with an english dub that aired on the Toonami block on Cartoon Network in 2001.

The shows follow a similar plot; There’s a small crew that lives on the outskirts of society, said crew always has money problems, and there’s a big organization getting in the way more often than not. Firefly and Outlaw Star both start out at a point where a “girl-in-a-box” enters the shows, one of said big organizations wants her, and she becomes a major plot point. They have different overarching stories ie The alliance tracking down Simon and River and the crew of The Outlaw Star finding the galactic leyline, but the episodes follow a “job/bounty of the week” format with character development(In Firefly, more so than Outlaw Star) for the most part. I’d also like to mention some differences between Melfina(the “girl-in-a-box” character from Outlaw Star) and River. Melfina is an android made to help navigate The Outlaw Star, and River is a child prodigy who was subjected to horrible experiments that damaged her sanity. Their introductions are similar, but their roles are different.

Another similarity that got people pointing fingers is the use of motifs of East Asian Culture applied in both shows. Okay that’s another startling coincidence, but in Firefly they’re for fleshing out a future where two cultures merged and in Outlaw Star they’re used for the aesthetic. In Firefly, when we hear characters speak some chinese words, or see some Asian-inspired architecture, it’s only because those things are part of the culture of the Firefly Universe. When we see East Asian themes in Outlaw Star, they are purely aesthetic. For example, there’s a character called Suzuka who is a samurai, who fights pretty much only with a sword in a universe where people are fighting with magical guns(or at least just magical bullets). And sure, The Operative used a sword, but the Firefly universe didn’t have space pirates that use magical laser beams to do combat. That’s right, Outlaw Star has space pirates(I think Pirates is a mistranslation, because they’re a lot more like an organized crime syndicate than pirates) with supernatural powers, they they refer to as “tao”. In real life, “tao” is part of Eastern mysticism, not a form of super powers. Giving things Eastern names, and including things we associate with the east like samurai are there purely for the “cool” factor, and not because they’re part of a complex sci-fi universe. Oh, and did I mention that Outlaw Star has a fantasy element, that Firefly most certainly doesn’t have?

As for the characters, over the course of each show they become more cohesive as family units, with characters like Simon Tam, Aisha Clanclan and “Twilight” Suzuka etc becoming more friendly with their respective crews as the series progresses. Firefly has an ensemble cast whereas Outlaw Star devotes more time to the main character Gene Starwind, than the other characters. Another difference between the main characters is that in Outlaw Star the main characters are both bounty hunters, unlike in Firefly where the characters aren’t bounty hunters, so much as just anti-government smugglers.

After reading this, you must thing I have a grudge against Outlaw Star, or maybe even the fans, but the truth is, I was actually a Starwind before I was Browncoat. I was one of those people who saw River come out of cryogenic freeze, and thought “Melfina!” at first, but after repeated viewings, I changed my mind. I speak to you as a broker of space peace saying both shows are good in their own way, and Firefly is by no means a rip off.
Have you already seen both shows before? How do you think they’re similar? How do you think they’re different? We’d love to know, please leave your answer in the comments.


  1. I haven’t seen Outlaw Star but as soon as you said “Space Pirates” I thought, “REAVERS!!”

  2. Ted Thompson says:

    When I saw Firefly, 1st episode, I thought of Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star, but it didn’t take long for me to imagine that Joss may well have seen those shows and may have been simply making an unconscious nod to them in his own creation.

    A double back is that in an episode of Castle (Nathan Fillion’s present show) they have a case set on and around a fictional sci-fi TV show. In a “Star Trek: The Experience” like setting, we see the show’s ship’s bridge, complete with a girl in a tube acting as the ships computer and (possibly) navigation system. (Series bad guys were called “Creavers” and looked more then a little like Reavers).

  3. Jason says:

    Randomly pick any show and you can find other shows with similarities. It’s been said that nothing is completely original today. There are only new ways to tell old stories. The Walking Dead is a huge success. Is it a rip-off because it has zombies in it? Do you know how many shows have had scenes where a girl was found in a box? Tons. Also, Joss was asked if he was influenced by Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop. He said he’s been asked that a lot, but he’s never seen either show. I agree with the writer of the article. Are they similar? Yes. Is Firefly a rip-off? Absolutely not.

  4. Matthew Draven says:

    I am a fan of Firefly. No I do not think Joss is God. I don’t think any director/producer is God. Whether or not firefly is a rip off of not of any show prior to it. Firefly in my opinion is in it’s own right a good show and I wanted it to continue. There is a whole verse out there for that show. It could have gone on for at the least four or five seasons and a couple of movies. I may not be a full blown Browncoat but I am a fan and I won’t take any fandom to extremes like a trekkie or a whovian. I think it is a great show with potential for more seasons and if you are a true fan. You wouldn’t nit pick about an aspect of your favorite show just accept it as it is.


  1. [...] similar to, but a rip-off of an anime called Outlaw Star. There’s an interesting article at Fan Pages discussing the similarities and differences, including the [...]

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