Cowboy Bebop: All 26 Sessions Ranked
Hi amigos, all three hundred thousand bounty hunters in the star system! No matter what happens to Shinichirō Watanabe’s masterful space western in the future, the original Cowboy Bebop animated series will forever be the definitive way to experience Spike and the Bebop crew’s original story of self-conflict and progression. With the complete television series now available on Netflix and Hulu, there is no better time to watch the bounty hunter group’s concise legacy of serialized adventures now more than ever. This is our ranking of all 26 episodes — or rather sessions of Cowboy Bebop from least greatest to the absolute best.
26. “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui”
On its own, “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” is a generic adventure tale driven by a McGuffin. For a Cowboy Bebop session though, it never progresses the main characters forward, further dives into the show’s many enigmas, or builds upon the overarching syndicate story in any meaningful way. “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” feels like the opposite of “Gateway Shuffle”; an episode that came too late into the show’s run. Unlike every other episode of Cowboy Bebop, this session does not have any original concepts or mysterious aspects to become invested in outside of Jet’s relationship with Pao Meifa’s father. “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” just comes off as something that feels as if it is trying to expand Jet’s background when the character had already received plenty of notable back-to-back episodes beforehand.
25. “Wild Horses”
Whatever happens, happens. While it is interesting that Spike’s ship the Swordfish does fittingly have a background connected to his past, the narrative of “Wild Horses” is one of the Bebop crew’s few adventures that never add to the show’s story or real world building. With two separate events tied to each other taking place on the ground and space, “Wild Horses” is an episode that is just not all that engaging due to the amount of runtime each plot has to be fleshed out. Doohan, Miles, and the Space Pirates all feel a bit generic in comparison to just about every other minor character Cowboy Bebop has introduced. Rather than focusing on the mentorship between Spike and his old master, the session ends up placing all its cards on the vehicles being its drive.
24. “Gateway Shuffle”
Hot off the heels of “Honky Tonk Women” and the establishment of Faye Valentine, session four of Cowboy Bebop provides an intriguing scenario, but many of its driving elements feel as if they came too soon. The largest problem with “Gateway Shuffle” is consequently how it acts as a follow-up to Faye Valentine’s first confrontation with Spike and Jet. Taking a stab at eco-terrorism with the mustache-twirly Twinkle Maria Murdoch and the Space Warriors, the episode bounces between ideas and a handful of newcomers as it yearns to unite the main three characters for their first bounty. “Gateway Shuffle” is monkey business in comparison to almost all of its predecessors and successors. If it were not for the great chemistries of the cast, beautiful space action sequences, and memorable character designs, the fourth session would definitely be mildly entertaining yet frustrating at best.
23. “My Funny Valentine”
Based on what “Gateway Shuffle” had to say, Faye Valentine’s past carried only mystery as the young addicted gambler seemed disconnected from a life she could not remember. The reasoning for this though was that Faye had been cryogenically years ago to save her life from an accident she cannot recall. “My Funny Valentine” may have a payoff that is not as strong as other episodes focused on Faye’s lost lifetime, but it does manage to rake in a lot of interest for the character. Its overabundance of comparisons to “Sleeping Beauty” can be distracting yet the references do help push the overarching theme of desperation to find answers forward. The addition of Ein and Faye’s relationship is also just something to smile at — you can always tell a dog how you feel about life until you realize someone is in the next room over.
22. “Honky Tonk Women”
Staying on the subject of Faye Valentine, while the first two sessions of Cowboy Bebop were sprinkled with bursts of action, philosophy, and drama “Honky Tonk Women” takes a step back in terms of pacing to elevate its bounty hunter newcomer. Episode three marks the introduction of Cowboy Bebop fan-favorite Faye Valentine, a fugitive who is drowning in debt and of course suspiciously only throws breadcrumbs to the audience about herself. Session three flaunts the quiet and precise attitude of its predecessors as it excellently builds upon a massive space casino scam dedicated to unlocking the ultimate workaround. “Honky Tonk Women” pulls from the noir and western genres to create one scummy casino.
21. “Stray Dog Strut”
With the introduction of Ein, Cowboy Bebop found a fascinating way of establishing one big unsolvable mystery behind the show’s cutest team addition. “Stray Dog Strut” is not bursting with depth, yet it intricately continues to build off where Spike Spiegel’s adventures started in “Asteroid Blues” with a thrilling chase. Like its first two human bounty hunters, there was certainly more than meets the eye to Abdul Hakim’s stolen welsh corgi being branded as a “data dog”. While perhaps it’s not the grand follow-up to the premiere most viewers would expect to watch, “Stray Dog Strut” still runs gracefully with its best boy. Also, how could you not laugh at the banter between the scientists and the Big Shot television program? Seems that way.
20. “Jamming with Edward”
“Jamming with Edward” adds the final member of the Bebop crew to the cast with a story inspired by concepts spearheaded in sci-fi films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. The young Radical Edward finally completes Spike’s trinity of what he hates most on Jet’s fishing freighter as she snarkily finds a way of slipping into her dream team. The name “Radical” is more than exemplified as Ed showcases how a skinny kid in outer space can be more than just someone who can fit into tight spots like in other media; instead what Cowboy Bebop viewers get is a mad computer hacker who can cause more chaos than the others. Outsmarted by an artificial intelligence controlling a space satellite, the Bebop crew is forced to give into Ed’s demands when they cannot find a way to conquer their nonhuman bounty.
19. “Heavy Metal Queen”
Interstellar space truckers and cowboy bounty hunters is an odd combination that ultimately ended up being one of Cowboy Bebop’s most unexpected original concepts fans enjoyed. “Heavy Metal Queen” is exactly what you would expect from a session concentrated on 80s truckers stuck on the empty plains of what lies beyond the roads. Victoria Terpsichore [V.T.] stands out from many of the show’s minor one-shot characters who have helped assist Spike, Jet, and Faye because of her complicated relationship with her profession and bounty hunters. The episode might be keen on telling a story about bounty hunters finding explosive crates, yet the heart of “Heavy Metal Queen” is its theme of accepting what you once loved and accepting it again.
18. “Sympathy for The Devil”
In life, we will always learn to accept that not every mystery can be solved. Not everything is what it may seem. “Sympathy for The Devil” entices viewers with the mere idea that it does not provide them with answers to every motivation its villain has. As its title suggests, viewers will sympathize with Wen, a young boy trapped in time, when they get to see how the invention of the creation of the hypergate space project destroyed his reality. The innocent child who outlived every last one of his family members and friends was buried by the passing of time and the mistakes of others. “Sympathy for The Devil” does contain contradictions in its writing, yet so does our lifetimes. Wen’s end only feels fitting as Spike is able to give the devil running from death the earned taste of defeat.
17. “Bohemian Rhapsody”
In chess and life, every piece and every move matters. In a game that has been enacted fifty years after its inception, “Bohemian Rhapsody” welcomes itself to Cowboy Bebop’s run of sessions as one with an extraordinarily distinct type of bounty compared to what the cast have chased before. Spike and the others have stopped villainous plans created before their time being bounty hunters, but never one whose leader was out of the loop. “Bohemian Rhapsody” fulfills its opening sentiment of life being a complicated game as pawns, kings, and knights all receive different consequences for their actions. The only issue with “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that not every cast member is able to make moves as characters such as Faye and even Ed are not seen enough.
16. “Cowboy Funk”
“Cowboy Funk” is the ironic comedy take on Cowboy Bebop that slams its usual absurd antics with a comical rivalry. Deep down though, it is a session that is focused on the problems of capitalism without concrete philosophy. When a man dressed as a bear named the Teddy Bomber attempts to explode various skyscrapers to send a message, Spike finds his bounty interrupted by a literal space cowboy. As ludicrous as his appearance may seem with his revolvers in holsters and a horse by his side, Andy is a well-executed interruption to Spike’s routine as the character actually helps prove the bomber’s point. While the episode is more focused on its comedy rather than its theme, Spike is given a chance to prove his humble and old-fashioned bounty hunter skills.
15. “Black Dog Serenade”
He has always been the veteran fighter of the group and “Black Dog Serenade finally gives him a chance to reflect on his long-buried years. Jet Black’s ISSP backstory shrouded by a classic detective noir tone is a match made in heaven Cowboy Bebop fans would not have expected. “Black Dog Serenade” may not be as strong as “Ganymede Elegy” in terms of storytelling, yet it is another fantastic addition to Jet’s solo adventures that helps further humanize the retired officer and his slow drift from wanting to live the life of law enforcement. Between Fad and Udai, Jet’s retirement origin that explains how he undeservingly got his metal hand from his partners and enemies offers plenty of mesmerizing new characters to get lost in.
14. “Ganymede Elegy”
Audiences were bound to discover what exactly Jet Black’s motives were to go from ISSP officer to inter-galactic bounty hunter. “Ganymede Elegy” answers many fan questions about the metal arm ex-cop while providing a story that is notably grounded and relatable to anyone who has been part of a profession that affected their love life. Jet’s reasoning for leaving Ganymede may sound generic on the surface, but the scenario is well fleshed out and so is his one-time appearing ex-girlfriend Alisa. Before this session, Jet had been referred to multiple times as “the Black Dog”. “Ganymede Elegy” may not give viewers everything they want to know about Jet, but it does greatly explain how the character’s reasonable morals and ethics came to be.
13. “Brain Scratch”
Perhaps Cowboy Bebop’s one attempt to tackle digitalized followings and cults is a postmodern gem audiences are yet to appreciate. “Brain Scratch” delves into the idea that media convergence and the digital age present a serious number of dangers; a topic that is more relevant than ever. When SCRATCH, the migrate to electronics movement, gains a serious following across the solar system, the ISSP and bounty hunters are sent chasing nonexistent threat Dr. Londes for the safety of those being absorbed by the technology. “Brain Scratch” is a complicated and comprehensive look at how technology can affect us. Even though its focus is directly tied to television and virtual reality video games, its narrative and subjects apply to all forms of modern communication today — especially the internet.
12. “Toys in the Attic”
Being Cowboy Bebop’s singular bottle episode, “Toys in the Attic” is a classic tied to the show’s iconic fishing freighter and idea of memory. When a mysterious creature begins poisoning the Bebop crew before their next landing, the remaining members take it upon themselves to find the source of the problem before they see their possible demise. The entire build-up of the episode is nothing short of fantastic as nuggets of detail slowly lead into a long-forgotten mistake made by Spike. The fridge scene that concludes the session is flat-out hysterical and a fantastic payoff to what is Cowboy Bebop’s strange Alien-inspired episode — the fact that Spike had hidden food in a secret fridge from the others for the sake of wanting it for himself is so in character yet absurd.
11. “Speak Like a Child”
You do not always need to see the past from a present perspective to understand its modern implications. “Speak Like a Child” is a special episode of Cowboy Bebop that manages to flesh out Faye’s past better than any other session. The idea that her childhood memory is being locked behind a Betamax tape — a device that Jet and Spike do not understand because of how old it is — just gives more weight to Faye’s actuality. Faye is a relic of her time; a girl that woke up lost in the future and unable to continue finding a new path in life despite being given her ultimate wish. While she may have extended her lifespan beyond her initial expectancy, Faye’s usage of cryogenic freezing to cure her injuries only resulted in a greater pain. “Speak Like a Child” reminds us all that there will always be a poetic beauty to looking back on life.
10. “Jupiter Jazz (Part 1)”
Finally getting back to where “Ballad of Fallen Angels” broke the ice, “Jupiter Jazz (Part 1)” delicately introduces the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate with the unveiling of its leading elders and Vicious’ return. Despite being the build-up episode to a more exciting back half, Jupiter Jazz’s first session is almost on par with its closing counterpart. Being paraded by a mysterious vibe that is complemented with jazz and noir, there is so much to love within the complicated emotions each character is being put through. They may be traveling on entirely different paths with unique aspirations, but Spike and Faye excellently manage to contrast each other during episode twelve thanks to how they both tie into the overarching narrative. Their ties to Gren and the Syndicate constantly add to the episode’s evolving drama.
9. “Jupiter Jazz (Part 2)”
Just when Part 1 barreled into the audience with a ton of revelations, “Jupiter Jazz (Part 2)” continues Gren’s mission to see Vicious dead while wonderfully bridging the gap between Spike and the Crime Syndicate swordsman’s history. The second half of this story arc is packed to the brim with shocking scenes and fascinating characterization moments that enhance Cowboy Bebop’s world-building. Not only does Gren have a fascinating backstory in “Jupiter Jazz (Part 2)”, but his retelling of past events effectively showcases Vicious’ dark motives and Julia’s story. While the information may be scarce, audiences are able to understand how Vicious grew to be a cold-blooded bitter soldier that always had a larger plan while his lover never trusted him.
8. “Mushroom Samba”
Who would have thought that the offshoot Ed and Ein solo adventure would be one of Cowboy Bebop’s best sessions? The craziness was expected from the story’s premise alone, but “Mushroom Samba” goes ten steps above the Watanabe’s typical insanity for something beautifully goofy and comical; the episode’s spearheading child innocence is simply brilliant. The idea that the bounty hunter crew has to rely on their child and dog to find food while they repair their ship was a hilarious catastrophe waiting to happen. Between the mushroom hunting music lyrics and the high reactions of the entire cast, “Mushroom Samba” absolutely kills it in humor and charm as Ed and Ein take the spotlight for an unexpected escapade across the desert to find sustenance.
7. “Waltz for Venus”
When a triple roundup of hijackers turns into a greater bounty hunting scheme on Venus, leave it to Spike Speigel to become the unexpected mentor of the Bebop group. “Waltz for Venus” is an elegant and heartfelt session that widely develops Spike as a moral hero thanks to the companionship he carries with the money-troubled Rocco Bonnaro. Rocco’s situation to sell illegal plants for his blind sister suffering from Venus Sickness is given weight because of how Spike deals with his new student’s troubles. While their histories may greatly differ, the two share a connection through their risky aspirations. Like many of the show’s other known one-shot characters, Rocco’s death is immense despite his short screen time. With Watanabe’s heart-wrenching direction, it is easy to feel the episode’s emotional pain as the succeeding student is killed before seeing his own dream completed.
6. “Hard Luck Woman”
Radical Ed’s placement on the Bebop crew came to an end early as she and Faye fully embraced their past for the first time in years. Cowboy Bebop has always carefully paid attention to the fine line between holding together the past and future. “Hard Luck Woman” is a depressing endeavor into how our heroes can not always get what they want as they learn nothing is forever. The entire episode can be perfectly summed up at the moment where Spike and Jet silently shovel down the hard-boiled eggs that were cooked for the entire team. As the original two Bebop crew members swallow their pride and show no emotion going through their missing members’ plates, the audience will be whimpering watching Ed and Ein walk away. See you someday again space cowgirl (and corgi).
5. “The Real Folk Blues (Part 1)”
Considering this session takes on the role of being the build-up to the final confrontation between Spike and the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate’s new leader, “The Real Folk Blues (Part One)” perfectly utilizes everything “Ballad of Fallen Angels” and “Jupiter Jazz” previously set in stone for Cowboy Bebop’s leading bounty hunter. It is the ultimate calling for one revelation audiences have yearned to see since the show’s sixth episode. Viewers are finally given a chance to explore who Spike’s lover is in the flesh and what exactly happened on the day of the church shooting “Asteroid Blues” opened to. Julia’s actual screentime may be quite short, but her presence is never wasted as Cowboy Bebop’s penultimate episode fires off all cylinders for one thrilling pre-conclusion.
4. “Pierrot le Fou”
Cowboy Bebop has always gently approached the psychological trauma of its characters, but nothing will ever compare to the horrific and bitter backstory of insane serial killer Mad Pierrot. Sickening, cruel, and cunning, “Pierrot le Fou” is a session that shines above the show’s other stories thanks to its vicious tone and eerily conflicting atmosphere. With a story that turns the tables on Spike, “Pierrot le Fou” is constantly diving into horrific territories the show never explored in such dark light. For a series that has remained rather grounded in characterization and legitimate motives, the presence of a super-soldier murder clown who hangs out in Disney-esque theme parks getting kicks out of killing oddly fits right in with the other threats.
3. “Asteroid Blues”
For a pilot episode, Cowboy Bebop’s premiere is a sure-fire knockout from Shinichirō Watanabe; an instant masterpiece of its time and a standard for the modern era of both Japanese animation and space westerns on television. Set in 2071, “Asteroid Blues” lays the groundwork for Cowboy Bebop’s premise of bounty hunters working around the endless void surrounding us all. It admirably only needs its visuals to tell a perfect story as its script and story beats simply imply just how relatable and heart-wrenching its characters’ backgrounds are. All of Cowboy Bebop’s long-standing praise can arguably be justified in the premiere session alone — and seriously, who will ever forget seeing that opening “Tank!” theme for the first time? Spike Spiegel’s encounter with small fry Asimov Solensan and his wife Katerina is unforgettable.
2. “The Real Folk Blues (Part 2)”
Anchored to the past and never able to embrace the future, the second half of “The Real Folk Blues” is a bittersweet conclusion to Cowboy Bebop’s acclaimed run. It may not close the door on every question viewers have in regards to Spike and Vicious’ history, yet it provides an immensely satisfying ending to their long-running battle as the two make one last epic final stand. “The Real Folk Blues” is a philosophical endeavor into Watanabe’s dystopia; a final poetic bow as the cast turns to what lies ahead. The ambiguous note Spike’s fate ends on will only leave fans in a debate that perhaps reflects many of the show’s arguments on looking at life itself. It’s a good thing Cowboy Bebop: The Movie released afterward because it was better to end Spike Spiegel’s story on a happy note rather than what many fans perceive as his demise.
1. “Ballad of Fallen Angels”
Cowboy Bebop’s silence always speaks volumes, but “Ballad of Fallen Angels” echoes with immense impact. For a show that serializes itself and does not return to many of its characters, it was more than obvious that Spike’s old enemy Vicious was bound to make a comeback in the future. The episode ridiculously sets up the stakes between the two quickly as it constantly pokes upon Spike’s past and his internal conflicts with history. Was Vicious his friend? Was Spike’s wedding shot up? How did the two fallout? Were they originally partners? “Ballad of Fallen Angels” is Cowboy Bebop at its finest; silent, slick, mysterious, tense, and intriguing all at the same time. It culminates into a masterful barrage of questions that will keep any viewer’s attention razor-tight on piecing together the intricate narrative it present.
From the gorgeous artwork and sound design to the brilliant climax and placement of flashbacks, it is impossible not to become absorbed in “Ballad of Fallen Angels” imagery and context.