Anime Showdown pits two anime together with similar tropes until only one is left.
Genre can blur lines across a multitude of tropes, breathing new life into tried and true formulas creating a variety of sub-genres. Space westerns are one such sub-genre as they take many of the themes of westerns and blends it with science fiction. While the classic neo-noir anime Cowboy Bebop has firmly been categorized as a “space western”, the recent Netflix show Cannon Busters has been put into the fantasy camp. It is clear to see, however, the space western attributes of the tale which has caused many comparisons between the two over the last few weeks.
Cowboy Bebop is a 26-episode anime that has been heralded as one of the greats. First broadcasted in the late 90s, the story of the rag tag bounty hunting crew in the year 2071 has remained a commercial success in both Japan and international anime scenes. Following the adventures of Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Edward Wong, and Ein (spoiler: he’s a corgi) brings an immense amount of nostalgia that is orchestrated by a killer soundtrack.
Cannon Busters is a 12-episode anime that recently premiered on Netflix and was adapted from a comic by LeSean Thomas, a black creator. The anime certainly feels like it is from the late 90s, a truly brilliant era for anime, but the comic which it is adapted from is from 2005. With an equally great soundtrack as Bebop, the anime follows a feminine android named S.A.M who is in search of her royal friend. She is accompanied by Casey, a mechanic android, and Philly the Kid, an outlaw and wanted criminal.
With two casts of eclectic personalities, both shows truly shine with their characters. Most notably are the lead males – Spike and Philly. They have both been compared amongst fans and the similarities are there. However when we get into the depth and backstories of these characters, Spike truly comes out on top simply because we get to know him better. Cannon Busters suffers from the short seasons that plague television and anime these days. Philly truly is interesting – he wants revenge so badly he sold his soul for immortality – but clearly there is more to this story that just one season will not allow for satisfaction.
Spike, on the other hand, develops so nicely over the course of the anime. We truly get to know him and his motivations. Being a former criminal of the Red Dragon Syndicate, we see Spike’s rivalry with the antagonist, Vicious, unfold and, ultimately, end. It is done beautifully in magnificent episodes instead of a quick flashback as Philly’s story is told. We never question that Cowboy Bebop is Spike’s story. However, Philly never seems to be the main character as his desires are shelved mostly to help S.A.M.
Speaking of S.A.M, she shares a similar trait to Bebop‘s leading lady, Faye, in the fact that both have amnesia albeit S.A.M’s only seems to be about the fact that she is a cannon buster. Again, her story is rushed the same as Philly. We just get to know Faye as well as the other Bebop crew a lot better.
Winner: Cowboy Bebop
The Bebop ship is owned by Jet Black and is a converted interplanetary fishing trawler. It is much loved by it’s crew and is a spaceship therefore it has traveled to many places around the solar system.
Bessie is considered a main character in Busters. Although the Bebop is a titular ship with a multitude of meanings thematically to the show, Bessie certainly has a lot of character to her. She’s a large, pink convertible car that can transform into a giant robot when placed in Raging Bull mode. We have seen her in battle which squarely places her in the winning seat of this round.
Winner: Cannon Busters
In Cowboy Bebop, the crew faces a multitude of enemies and foes. None, however, have as much personal stake in this story as Spike’s former friend, Vicious. The two fell out over Julia, Vicious’ girlfriend who started a relationship with Spike as well. This makes his motivations crystal clear although it can be argued that he does not develop as a character through the show. Even still, his unwavering commitment to wanting Spike dead delivers us some memorable speeches and haunting scenes that stick with the viewers.
Cannon Busters has a really colorful cast of antagonists who seem interesting…but are not given much of a story to hold onto. It is one of the downfalls of Busters, stories that are not fully realized with forgettable background characters – so many that are nameless. The royal bloodline seems oppressive to the point that we do not want to care about the naive prince. Even Philly is against them! S.A.M is overly optimistic so she can seem unreliable when it comes to us truly feeling that the antagonists in the series truly are “bad”.
Winner: Cowboy Bebop
While both shows share so many similarities, Cowboy Bebop benefits from being a longer anime with developed characters and story lines. Even the stand along episodes push the characters along forward and creates memorable moments. It is a testament of how the anime has stood the test of time. What the anime excels in is definitely what lacks when it comes to Cannon Busters which was not aided at all by it’s short season and shoddy plot development. Not enough time was spent with such a large cast of characters. While they all looked so great and the diversity is much needed in this entertainment medium, it is difficult to discern who is actually important and why viewers should care. The series’ ending sets it up for a sequel, but that does not help the missteps the anime has already taken.