animefringe may 2003 / reviews

Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Stars Vol.1
Format: right-left Manga / 192 pages
Production: TOKYOPOP / Cain Kuga / Hajime Yatate
Comments: Spike might not look like himself, but it's all Bebop.
Animefringe Reviews:
Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Stars Vol.1

Last year, when North American fans heard that TOKYOPOP would be translating manga based upon Cowboy Bebop, there was much rejoicing. After all, the show left many of its followers wanting more, despite the way it ended. At the time, the movie was still months away for most of us, and there was only a slight chance it would be properly marketed anyway. Thus, having a manga featuring some of the most popular anime characters ever in a series of short stories seemed like the best way to get our Bebop fix.

Then we saw the books.

Before I go any further, allow me to clarify my stance. Personally, I love the entire Bebop universe. It's an incredibly original hybrid of a number of great elements that have been done before, but never in such a stylish way. I don't think any show has ever consistently kept my emotions doing cartwheels as well as Cowboy Bebop. I listen to the soundtrack at work (the fancy limited box set) and the dialogue makes me laugh as much as it makes me cry. Honestly, while I love Miyazaki and pimp all sorts of anime goodness to any potential buyer, I was looking forward to Knockin' on Heaven's Door more than Spirited Away.

Don't get me wrong, Miyazaki's latest release was a work of cinematic art, easily one of last year's best films. However, Cowboy Bebop is one of the most entertaining series I've ever encountered. I'd pay $7 just to see a music video of Gotta Knock a Little Harder in theatres.

Yet, as much as I love the show, I admit I was a bit disappointed when I saw the style of the three-volume manga series released last year. The character designs diverged from the television series, and while that itself is not a sin, they diverged in a decidedly uncool way. Much of the charm of the series comes from its appealing visuals, and even as a work independent of a visually outstanding series, the manga adaptation of Cowboy Bebop was not the greatest to look at.

Now, however, we have a new manga based upon the world of Cowboy Bebop to check out . This time around, the character designs are once again different. But it's not necessarily bad.

For the uninformed, Cowboy Bebop stars a group of bounty hunters, called Cowboys, who try to make a living hunting down various criminals. The core strength of the show was its high quality animation, outstanding music (by Yoko Kanno), and excellent characters. In an abstract sort of way, each of the show's main characters has died in the past. They're all trying to make a living, while at the same time relentlessly pursuing (or being pursued by) their former lives. As the story goes along, there are all sorts of emotional ups and downs, with the occasional space-based dogfight or martial-arts battle to keep things moving smoothly.

Shooting Stars is a two-book series that serves as an alternate take on the Bebop universe. There are plenty of similarities, but this is not really meant to be the same setting as the TV show. Readers familiar with the show will quickly notice the drastic change in Faye's character, but rest assured that Spike still hates kids, women, and animals. Oddly enough, Ed is consistently referred to with male pronouns, though I'm not sure if it was on purpose (because the crew can't tell) or a mistake (because the writers don't know). Visually, Cain Kuga's take on Spike may be the most upsetting difference from the original show for hardcore fans; however, while Spike doesn't look the same as his animated incarnation, he does look good. In the previously released manga, he didn't.

This is a step in the right direction.

Overall, I'd say the look of this manga is very sharp. It focuses more on characters than on technical things, such as the Swordfish, the Bebop, or backgrounds in general, but the characters are at least illustrated well. Ein, the data dog, is as cute as ever. The change in looks did not bother me at all for this release.

Technical details are rather good, as far as I'm concerned. The book reads from right to left, and it's priced at TOKYOPOP's standard price for their "100% Authentic" line of manga - $9.99. There's an informative explanation from the editors that help place this release within the Bebop mythos, and they've also included an amusing illustrated short called "The Making of Bebop." The original sound effects were left in place to avoid altering the images, as well. Perhaps sound effect translations would have made a nice addition to this release, but otherwise it's very solid.

Unlike the first Cowboy Bebop manga trilogy, I can easily recommend this set to any fan of the series. While it's not exactly the show we all know and love, it boasts an interesting and well-told story, and deserves a look even if you haven't seen Cowboy Bebop before. Hopefully this won't be the last Bebop-related release we'll see. Chances are, good or bad, if it says Cowboy Bebop, I'll purchase it.