Cowboy Bebop was perhaps the most influential project of my career – and will continue to be a part of my life forever. At conventions worldwide, it’s consistently the number one topic of conversation for me with thousands of fans. This year is extra special. We’re celebrating 20 years since it’s initial release! With the new Blu-Ray re-release of the series from Funimation, the Theatrical screening of the movie, and the announcement of an upcoming live-action series, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately. The #1 question is always some version of the same thing:
Why is it still going so strong, still gathering new fans, 20 years later?
I think it’s a testament to the genius of Watanabe-san and his hand picked crew of artists (this includes music, writers, production crew, etc) who helped him to realize his vision.
Cowboy Bebop is a masterpiece. Before we ever began our English adaptation - it was a masterpiece. The music is extraordinary, the cinematography and design is amazing, and the storytelling is fantastic. There’s never been anything like it before, or since.
For a lot of people, Cowboy Bebop is the only Anime experience they’ve had! In many cases, these are people who’d never otherwise give Anime a chance. It’s also been (and continues to be) a “gateway show” in that it encourages those new to the art form of Anime to open their mind to other shows from Japan. Because of it’s Western influences, Bebop inherently appeals to the American palate, but also whets the appetite for more of the unique style and flavor that is truly unique to Anime.
The second most popular thing I’m asked with regard to Cowboy Bebop?
What was it like to work on the show?
In the beginning it was the scariest thing I’d ever done. I was certain they’d cast the wrong guy and I had a ton of personal stuff to work through including feeling like I was gonna throw up or worse the first day of recording. I talk a lot about this with the students in my voiceover class. I didn’t feel worthy of the part. It was my first leading role. But I had the part, so I had to step up. Spike was the very antithesis of how I saw myself at the time. He was cool, elusive, confident, and he didn’t give a damn about anybody (at least on the outside). I had to learn really quickly how to really act. You have to remember, this was 20 years ago. Back then I was a guy mostly known for creature voices, monsters, screaming etc. I’d never been expected to invest myself that deeply into a character before. I learned some powerful (life and voiceover) lessons in the process that changed me on a cellular level and altered the course of my life. Spike had to sound authentic, and to get there, I had to find some of his qualities in myself. Some were not easy to admit I possessed. Others, I had to step into his shoes and experience fully. Sometimes it was wildly uncomfortable.
My dear friend Kevin Seymour, who tragically passed away in 2014 - cast the American actors for the English dub of the show, and most of us involved became lifelong friends. Kevin had an uncanny talent for bringing people together, though he himself was a shy and reclusive
genius. The main cast truly became that family you see on the screen, even though we never worked together in the same room when we recorded.
Every episode was different, and magical. Each one, a standalone piece of art. Voice director Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s passion for the project helped fuel all of us and gave us context for the eye and ear candy we never had the opportunity to fully understand or appreciate until it was mixed, done and released. Though she came to the project as an accomplished, well studied and brilliant actress, Bebop was her first directing job ever. Marc Handler’s extraordinary adaptation of the script not only translated the story for an American audience, he enhanced it and made the English version unique and absolutely relatable to an audience typically skeptical (sometimes to the point of violence) of ANY dubbed show from Japan. We were also given more time than usual to get things right. Not a lot more, but it wasn’t slammed through at hyperspeed to make release dates like most shows. A luxury in those days. As in most Anime dubbing, I recorded alone. We all did. We never received the scripts in advance and hadn’t seen the Japanese version prior to recording. Everything was a cold read. Mary Elizabeth was our lifeline, providing context and helped us to define and flesh out our characters in real time. I truly believe I learned how to act in the process of recording this show. Occasionally Mary would let us hear some of the music while recording, and that gift influenced all of our performances. Yoko Kanno (the composer’s) work has become legendary. I still listen to the soundtrack in my car often. She’s on my bucket list of heroes I’d love to meet someday.
I haven’t yet been able to meet Bebop’s creator, Shinichirō Watanabe either, but still hoping. I did get to meet Toshihiro Kawamoto, the character designer - a sweet and humble master of his craft and Raj Ramayya, the singer and writer of “Ask DNA,” and other Bebop tracks - who has become a good friend.
Cowboy Bebop changed my life - personally and professionally. It led to shows like Toonami, Megas XLR, even Avatar: Legend of Korra and my entire game career, and shaped everything to follow. It was my proving ground, it’s where I decided to fully commit to acting because it exemplified the true power of this medium... in how it can profoundly affect real people’s lives. I am continually humbled by fan’s stories of how this little show that we weren’t sure anyone would watch – helped (and continues to help!) people through some of the toughest times in their lives. I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.