In a show with as many iconic episodes and scenes as the timeless '90s classicCowboy Bebop, it can be difficult to pick out the best of the series. From the hefty drama and tragedy of "The Real Folk Blues" and "Speak Like A Child" to the simplicity and humor of "Toys In The Attic,"Cowboy Bebop has a lot to offer across its dozens of small stories.
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However, the show is still remembered primarily for its unforgettable conclusion, as well as its tragic central theme of characters haunted by seemingly irreparable past wounds. It's clear from IMDb rankings that the episodes fans love the most are those that reveal critical elements of the cast's backstories, as well as those that show viewers how those backstories influence the story's central conflict.
Mushroom Samba (8.5)
"Mushroom Samba" is a simpler, more comedic plot for Bebop, and one that sees Ed and Ein becoming wrapped up in an interplanetary mushroom smuggling scheme. The Bebop is running empty on food and fuel when it crashes on Io's surface. It's there that Ed uncovers a smuggling ring for hallucinogenic mushrooms, with bounties attached.
Naturally, Ed feeds these mushrooms to the Bebop's crew. They're soon incapacitated by hallucinations, leaving Ed responsible for tracking down the bounty at hand. It's a fun, lower-stakes episode that reminds the audience that, while Bebop might be remembered for its somber moments, it can still deliver levity when necessary, which is part of the reason why it's still so beloved by anime fans.
Waltz For Venus (8.7)
Some of the best episodes of Cowboy Bebop are those that have very little to do with the main cast, with "Waltz for Venus" being one such example. Spike and company become involved up with a small-time criminal trying to use a rare plant to cure his sister's blindness, but that plant's lucrative value has made him a target of Venusian gangs.
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One of the episode's key scenes is a moment where Spike is persuaded to teach Rocco some of his martial arts prowess through dialogue laden with Bruce Lee references. It's a moment of selflessness for Spike, and it's one that pays off for Rocco as he's able to disarm one of his foes in a coming encounter. Tragically, Rocco is shot before the battle ends, leaving Spike to take the plant and arrange an operation for Rocco's sister.
Jupiter Jazz: Part 1 (8.7)
"Jupiter Jazz" is an episode that once again expands the dramatic stakes of the old rivalry between Spike and Vicious. While perusing the solar system for a once again missing Faye Valentine, Ed decodes a signal from a woman named Julia. Spike knows that name, and, despite Jet's protests, feels compelled to go out searching for her.
In this episode, the audience learns that the woman from Spike's past is irrevocably connected to his history with Vicious, making it apparent that resolving his conflict with him is one and the same as resolving his conflict with her.
Speak Like A Child (8.7)
One of Bebop's more poignant episodes is without a doubt "Speak Like A Child." It adopts a slower pace compared to some of the more action-oriented episodes, following Faye when she flees the Bebop and Spike and Jet as they attempt to find the right player for a beta cassette they found.
The contents of the cassette ultimately offer a key to understanding Faye's backstory. She was born on Earth, and, although Faye has forgotten, the images of her childhood self speak to a more pleasant, innocent time, one that contrasts sharply with the melancholy of the modern era. Faye's radical isolation from her childhood self speaks to the inherent tragedy of growing older.
Jupiter Jazz: Part 2 (8.9)
The second half of "Jupiter Jazz" delivers more of what the first part had, that being elaboration on Spike's history with Vicious and Julia. It's revealed that Spike and Vicious used to be members of the same criminal syndicate, but Spike fled with Julia in tow.
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In the present, Vicious is attempting to broker a drug deal with another figure from his past. Spike naturally becomes wrapped up in this conflict in hopes that he will be pointed to Julia. Although Spike ultimately returns to the Bebop empty-handed, the audience learns a lot about his fatal attraction to Julia and rivalry with Vicious.
Hard Luck Woman (8.9)
"Hard Luck Woman" offers essential characterization for Faye and Ed, and is instrumental in selling the idea that the situation on the Bebop is untenable, and that its crew cannot escape their pasts. With Faye still reeling from the revelations of "Speak Like a Child," the rest of the crew have a chance encounter on Earth with Ed's supposed father.
He isn't quite what anyone was expecting, though, and appears utterly committed to the quixotic task of mapping and remapping the Earth's surface, even as it constantly changes under a hail of space debris. Discovering this, Ed is inspired to strike out on her own, leaving the Bebop behind. With their companions gone, Spike and Jet attempt to squash their sadness by burying themselves in routine and eating a lot of eggs in a clever callback to many earlier Cowboy Bebopepisodes.
Pierrot Le Fou (9.0)
"Pierrot le Fou" is an oddball for Bebopbecause it's tonally and aesthetically distinct from the majority of the show's other episodes. Although Bebop covers a range of subject matters with a varying degree of levity, it doesn't have many plots that are as simple as "Pierre le Fou," nor are there many that lean as hard into horror elements.
The episode's entire runtime is dedicated to a single fight scene between Spike and a deranged serial killer of superhuman capabilities. Featuring little dialogue and a dark palette, the fight between Spike and the killer lacks the style and elegance of Bebop's typical fight scenes, opting instead to pursue a palpable, grim intensity.
The Real Folk Blues: Part 1 (9.1)
"The Real Folk Blues" is the beginning of the end for Bebopand the moment where the players from Spike's past reveal themselves and begin to make their moves. Vicious executes an attempted coup on the Red Dragon Syndicate, provoking them to hunt down all who were associated with the organization, including Spike and Julia.
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After a chance encounter between Julia and Faye, Spike is compelled to find his former lover to protect her from his enemies. Spike is finally reunited with Julia in their old meeting place, and the stage is set for the final episode.
Ballad Of Fallen Angels (9.2)
"Ballad of Fallen Angels" is the first episode that lets the audience in on Bebop's primary dramatic undercurrent, that being the fatal rivalry between Spike and his former partner Vicious. Vicious provokes an enormity of bloodshed to draw Spike out, and Spike, knowing the work of his old partner, is compelled to respond.
Their confrontation in this early episode teaches the audience all that they need to know about Spike; his carefree attitude disguises a darkness in his past, one that he can't escape. The episode also features some excellent fight animation, fitting for the fateful encounters between Spike and Vicious.
The Real Folk Blues: Part 2 (9.5)
The climax to Cowboy Bebop really needs no introduction. The final episode is an enormous part of the reason why the show itself is remembered as well as it is. From the dramatic yet inevitable final confrontation between Spike and Viciousto the somber last words that it leaves its audience with, this episode is to many viewers what Bebop is all about.
The episode's conclusion works so well because it's tragic, and at the same time entirely unsurprising. Spike was a dead man walking since long before the first episode starts, a tension that's deployed masterfully in the episode's best scene: the confrontation between Faye and Spike before he departs the Bebop for the last time. Faye, Spike, and the audience know that he's doomed if he leaves, but he's going anyway.
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