Cowboy Bebop (Soundtrack) – Review

Album Title:Cowboy Bebop
Anime Title:Cowboy Bebop
Artist:Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts
Catalog Number:VICL-60201
Release Type:Soundtrack
Release Date:May 21, 1998
Purchase at:CDJapan

Review: Yoko Kanno almost needs no introduction, as her name is synonymous with quality soundtracks in the anime community and around the world. Many anime that have featured her compositions have gone on to become classics, which include series like the music to Escaflowne and several iterations of Macross and Ghost in the Shell: SAC. For many, though, Kanno’s efforts on Cowboy Bebop are what put her on the map. This brings me to the album at hand, the eponymous Cowboy Bebop, one of no fewer than ten discs of OST releases under the Cowboy Bebop name released since 1998. It’s difficult to recall an anime soundtrack that has had as much widespread appeal as that of Cowboy Bebop, garnering fans that have never even seen the series and inciting high school jazz bands the world over to perform horrible covers. Though the album has hints of material being written under a time limit and a budget, I stand firm that the good parts of the disc are enthralling enough to recommend the album to anyone who is a fan of jazz or just tired of the same old pop idol drivel in anime these days.

At the forefront of this release is the bold, in-your-face big band sound, exemplified in the opening track “Tank!,” which arguably has become as well-known as the series itself. “Tank!” is likely one of the most exciting, energizing songs ever set to animation, and it makes for an excellent opener; the song is sheer ecstasy from beginning to end. When the thumping (and now iconic) acoustic bass line comes in after the screaming opening, your face will explode. Hopefully, you have several extra faces handy, because when the main theme comes in after the recitative, your face will explode. Again. Your face will explode when the band drops out for the sax break, again after the sax solo is over, again in the screamer section when the lead trumpet hits a stratospheric G#, and again after the second sax break, during the final chord. If you’ve only ever heard the 1½ minute TV edit of this particular tune, I would almost say the disc itself is worth it for the full-length hi-fi version of this one song. Almost.

Though not quite as impressive as “Tank!,” “Rush” is still a highlight of the album and is appropriately exciting for a song that was primarily used to underscore chase scenes. The melody flies at a breakneck pace and has some superb call and response components in the traditional big band style. The excellent trombone solo is of note, as are harmonized sax solis that feature very sophisticated parallel 10th harmonizations in the lead alto and tenor.

Also used in chase scenes is the explosive “Bad Dog No Biscuits,” which will come and go like a tornado in your ear canal, leaving you little time to ponder anything else aside from figuring out what the heck just happened. The song is a maelstrom of sound; it nears unintelligible cacophony at certain instances, and what sweet racket it is. With much of the insanity coming from the wailing (and exceedingly difficult) harmonic subtones in the saxes, the song is as much a showcase of skill and instrumental control from all members as it is a convenient sonic device to clear your sinuses.

“Too Good, Too Bad” is a pleasing little number that features a solo by the band’s baritone sax (a rarity) and is overall a decent listen (with a serious similarity to the jazz standard “Chameleon”). In the same vein, “Car 24” is likely the disc’s only true toe-tapper and is a feel-good romp with some very nice scoring that features what sounds like a bass clarinet.

Aside from these tracks, though, I wish Kanno had stuck more consistently with the superb 17-piece big band they assembled for these sessions. While no song outright disappoints, it can’t be said that every song brims with the same quality found in the above tracks. Admittedly, many of these songs were written to be quiet mood-setters and not exciting foreground barn burners, but I maintain that any well-written background music can function just as well for outright listening pleasure. The vocal-based “Rain” starts promisingly but never quite goes anywhere, while “Felt Tip Pen” and “Waltz for Zizi” are solo guitar numbers that are very good in their own right but are a bit too repetitive for repeated listening. “Spokey Dokey” and “Digging my Potato” are there to please the solo harmonica crowd, which… oh, wait, there is no solo harmonica crowd. In all seriousness, I don’t think that quiet mood-setting harmonica numbers like those two have any place in an album dubbed as official-sounding as “COWBOY BEBOP.” “Cosmos” and “Space Lion” are bastardized (and in the latter’s case, literally Africanized) versions of the far superior “The Farewell Blues” and “Goodnight Julia,” respectively, which are included in subsequent album releases.

In the end, the inclusion of less-than-stellar filler content seems to be a marketing ploy rather than any lack of good material. I get the feeling the producers wanted to spread the good stuff out to sell as many CDs as possible, a common practice I consider despicable but acknowledge that it at least promotes future investments in superb OSTs. This may explain the baffling absences of the excellent closer “The Real Folk Blues” and the unadulterated version of the moving insert song “Goodnight Julia.”

If I were reviewing the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack as a whole, I can assure you that I would give it the highest rating available. It is unfortunate, then, that this particular selection of songs, while still respectable in every way, does not represent the best Cowboy Bebop has to offer. Rather, it comes off as an unlucky mix of the exquisite and the simply above average. While no single track outright offends, what is offensive is that the release schedule of such a superb, ground-breaking OST had to be broken up into bits that contains components that are, ultimately, simply passable.

Rating: Very Good


A huge jazz nerd and unabashed fan of alternative rock, I joined Anime Instrumentality in December 2010. I tend to get very passionate when it comes to music and try my best to understand how it works. An enormous fan of The Pillows, among my favorite anime composers include Ko Otani and Yoko Kanno. My tastes in anime vary wildly, but I try to be as thoughtful about my viewing as I am about my listening. I play the saxophone.

24 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop (Soundtrack) – Review

  • January 2, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Hey! Had loads of fun reading this and it did give me a good laugh. You may just get stoned by people who play the harmonica lol, cause if they don’t enjoy solo harmonica, I don’t know who would XD

  • January 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Hell yes, one of my favorite soundtracks. Tank!’s pretty much one of those legendary openings by now. Rush sounds like a less-refined version of N.Y. Rush, which feels more like easy listening, rather than a chase scene-esque piece. I love Bad Dog, No Biscuits – it has that mega high energy feeling that made me fall in love with jazz in the first place, and it’s these pieces that I really love in the soundtrack.
    I have to agree though, that I only truly enjoyed a third of the whole disc. And only a third of the second, and only a third of the third.
    And by the way – you ought to listen to the live version of Tank! from Souvenir of Tokyo. Unfortunately, the only copy I could find wasn’t exactly well-mastered or “hi-fi”, but the two (!!) sax solos by Honda Masato was mindblowing, phenomenal, cheesy (but man, who cares), and just absolutely spectacular.

  • January 2, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Solo harmonica fans are too busy baling hay and forging horseshoes to get angry at me so I think I’m pretty safe.
    “Tank!” never fails to impress me every time I hear it. As for “NY Rush,” I would make the argument that it’s actually less refined than “Rush.” In the former, it’s a much less formal jazz-club quintet sort of feel, where the trumpet and sax jump in and out of time as they feel like it and just do their own thing for the most part (reminds me of some of the earlier Charlie Parker/Gillespie “Groovin High” recordings). Because “Rush” is a big-band arrangement, the scoring is much tighter, and the chord spreads are a bit more complex, not to mention time is much more consistent. In any case, I was impressed with how well “Rush” worked in a quintet setting like “NY Rush,” and your argument does make sense. “Bad Dog No Biscuit” is one long crunch chord, haha.

    I’ve heard the live version and almost think I like it better than the studio version (except for the engrish). Honda’s solo sounds more confident and less gimmicky but still deliciously cheesy. I loved how they expanded the sax break at the end into a free-form solo and the altissimo A he hits at the end is absolutely phenomenal. The echo mic they put him on sounded cool, too.

  • January 3, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    HAHAHA Oh man that’s awesome! I felt like it was going to be Cowboy Bebop but I second guessed myself. Should have stuck with my gut feeling.

    Hey, great read I love it! I feel you when they decide to pan their good stuff across different albums, but that’s how the market goes. Also good ear on Car 24, that indeed must be a Bass Clarinet. I’m used to hearing that sound on foreboding pieces really, so listening to it in a chipper mood is pretty funny really.

    Actually I have a soundtrack to recommend: RahXephon OST 1 (Not 2nd). Has some pretty interesting stuff going on that soundtrack. Composer is Ichiko Hashimoto. One track that I get a kick out from there is: “avant, ren dez vous”. A wind of Ornette Coleman’s “Civilization Day” always breezes by when I hear that track.

    Can’t wait for that next post 😉

  • January 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Indeed, I feel like this was a natural first review for me 🙂

    I’m glad you think the review read well, because I was a bit stifled by having to keep under a limit. I’m often excessively verbose :/

    As for my ear, it was much more difficult for me to crunch out those parallel 10ths in the sax solis. THAT took me forever. Not something I usually encounter, made worse by the fact I’m not exactly a professional pianist 😉

    I’ve actually never seen that series, despite me being a Bones fanboy. I’ll check it out.

    Here’s a hint at what’s coming next: A bored young man gains far too much power. Any guesses?

  • January 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    …Death Note? If my guess is correct, then I’m looking forward to it as Death Note had quite an excellent soundtrack (ominous Latin chanting in the background, anyone?).

    I’ve admittedly haven’t heard Tank! before as I’ve never watched Cowboy Bebop either, although I’ve heard people hail it and Baccano!’s opening “Gun’s and Roses” as the most jazzy and awesome openings of all time. Now I see why, and it is indeed epic.

  • January 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    I’ll tell you this much, Suzushina-san, you are either right, or correct ;). And you should definitely check out Cowboy Bebop!

  • January 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Hah, I’d have to say that Tank! really did remind me of Baccano’s OP. Admittedly, I haven’t looked at even the synopsis of Bebop until now, but it seems interesting how there’s not many (or perhaps not at all?) really ‘downbeat’ pieces added. You’d expect a lot more drama in a setting like that…

    …I should probably put Bebop on my list of things that I want to, but will never watch ;_;

  • January 4, 2011 at 2:13 am

    It’s kind of funny. Back when I watched Bebop, people were raving over how good the soundtrack was and how well Kanno delivered the goods here. After being blown away by the raucously awesome “Tank!,” I tuned in, hoping for more of the same, and instead got hit by the wall of tracks that didn’t have quite the pizazz. It was only when I got my hands on all three discs that I was able to rip the tracks and assemble a “Best of” disc to stick in my car that I was happier.

    It wasn’t until much much later that I began warming up to Kanno. Seeing that this was my first Kanno score, I really wasn’t quite sure what the big deal was all about since my opinion of her at that time was that she was a tad inconsistent.

    Now? Well, I know better now :p

  • January 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    To tell you the truth, I can’t really see how “Tank!” reminds you of “Guns and Roses,” as the two are thematically and tonally very different (the former is minor while the latter is major). Maybe it’s because they both have similar instrumentation, but that’s like saying “Down with the Sickness” sounds like “Hey Jude” because they both have guitars, drums, and bass. And if you’re an anime fan and haven’t seen this show, you’re like a guitar player that has never heard a Jimi Hendrix song.

  • January 9, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I actively love the Harmonica songs. They stood out to me while watching the show and were a pleasure for me to listen to on their own after I got my hands on the soundtrack. I guess I can see why not everyone would like it, but I thought they were very well done pieces quite worthy of the track space.

  • January 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I’m actually glad someone out there enjoys the harmonica songs. It’s just that I felt there were so many other songs that are much more representative of the series that could have taken their place.

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  • November 24, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Cowboy Bebop is actually my least favorite Yoko Kanno soundtrack I’ve come across sitting right next to darker than black.
    It’s mainly because jazz really just isn’t my thing no matter how great or catchy it is and the jumping between many different styles and genres throughout the 2nd and 3rd albums became a little too eclectic and jarring for my taste.
    I mainly prefer her orchestra tracks, like Escaflowne, Brain Powerd, Turn a gundam and Aquarion.
    Someone should do a review for one of those OSTs!

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  • July 23, 2013 at 5:37 am

    Very good? Are you kiddin’ me? It’s a Masterpiece! One of the Best Soundtracks of All Time! (Or maybe even Best of the Best). And it’s not exaggeration.

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  • April 5, 2016 at 4:31 am

    This site which I really like or liked in many sences is really compromised by such low valuation and rating of one of the greatest soundtracks ever made in history. You MUST correct it to Masterpiece, no other rating suits it. If not, and at the moment from january 2011 just all your ratings in all reviews looks pathetically and can’t be taken seriously after this one. You can lose some audience. Which is small and doesn’t getting bigger with years. It’s very critical. So, yeah, you should correct/fix it.

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