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Cowboy Bebop and The Phrase “Why Don't They Make More Like...”

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera

#21 – Cowboy Bebop and The Phrase “Why Don't They Make More Like...”

Shinichiro Watanabe's new anime Kids on the Slope just premiered, and it made me think about American online fan reaction to the show even before it ran. Long-time fans were really excited to have Watanabe back, because he's been mostly dormant since Cowboy Bebop, and American anime fans have been asking for years now:

“When's the next Cowboy Bebop? Where's the guy who did that?”

I'm not sure how popular it was in Japan (I've heard wildly conflicting reports over the years), but Cowboy Bebop is a very significant show with American anime fans.

The show ran on Cartoon Network late at night, repeated in reruns for years straight (alongside Trigun!) as the channel all but quit running new anime. A lot of people saw Bebop, and with its blend of an understated adult sensibility with a more typically “anime” aesthetic, it resonated particularly well with American geeks.

It resonated so much that a funny thing started to happen. A lot of new fans were brought to anime by Cowboy Bebop and looked around, expecting other Cowboy Bebops to be right around the corner. Of course, Bebop was a piece of work truly unlike anything else in the medium, and especially unlike the anime that American otaku were watching in 2000 or so.

If someone came to anime as a result of Dragon Ball Z, you could tell them to try Yuu Yuu Hakusho or Rurouni Kenshin: the shows were on TV and everything. After all, Jump is tailored to make “the next Dragon Ball.”

But there was no “other Cowboy Bebop” to be found. There likely never will be, and that's okay. There's no need to clone a masterpiece. Despite having jazz in common, Kids on the Slope is no clone of Bebop-- it's in a completely different genre!-- and I expect to see some fan anger online that after Watanabe's long absence, he didn't work on something exactly like his previous work.

Evangelion was another title that had such a reaction, and again, there was no “next Evangelion”, just a whole lot of pretenders appearing in a “post-Eva” anime landscape.

A lot of would-be fans have a single, brief encounter with anime/manga: with one extraordinary, unique series-- a Gurren-Lagann, a Death Note-- and that becomes their perception of what anime or manga is in its entirety. When they don't find something just like it-- and they won't, because they also probably want the show to be no older than two years-- they walk away from anime and say “No anime is good except for that one show I watched!” As I have to say to my fellow fans all the time: “It's a medium, not a genre”.

(Gurren-Lagann fans never go on to watch robot anime, for some reason...)

Is it long before fans start to complain that “there's nothing out there like Madoka anymore”? It's been over a year since Madoka started to air in Japan... so let's give it six months. Speaking of which, just where is the string of derivative, dark magical girl anime I expected to see immediately after Madoka?

For the record, if someone talks to me about Cowboy Bebop and asks what their next anime should be, I usually tell them to watch Baccano.