Cowboy Bebop Volume One is a manga by Yutaka Nanten and Hajime Yatate, with cooperation from Shinichiro Watanabe and Sunrise. This volume was released in North America by Tokyopop in 2002. Cowboy Bebop is rated “T” for teens 13 years of age and up; after reading this volume, I would personally say it’s more appropriate for older teens than younger teens.
Cowboy Bebop tells the story of four bounty hunters and their data dog, and the adventures they have aboard their ship, the Bebop. Spike Spiegel is a former member of the Red Dragon Syndicate, Jet Black is a former cop, Faye Valentine is a beautiful bounty hunter who spent 54 years in suspended animation, and Ed is a female computer hacker. This motley crew sometimes works together, while other times battling each other for their bounties.
The Cowboy Bebop manga is not a manga re-telling of the anime series; instead, the manga is simply based on the series. Considering that the anime series had a very definite ending, I’m having a hard time figuring out where exactly in the timeline these new stories could go. I ultimately have to view the Cowboy Bebop manga in one of two ways. The first way is to look at it as stories that somehow fit into the timeline before the end of the anime series, while the other is to look at these stories as a kind of “alternate timeline” in comparison to the anime. However, one thing that is the same between the two mediums is the fact that both the episode titles in the anime and the chapter titles in the manga utilize music references.
There are four new stories presented in the first volume of the Cowboy Bebop manga. The first sees Spike, Jet and Faye ending up in the same place while following their respective bounties without knowing that they weren’t the only ones trying to get a bounty. However, misadventures ensue when an even bigger bounty just happens to arrive, and the three battle against each other to try to get the new bounty.
The next story in this volume is also the longest one. The crew of the Bebop tracks down a bounty they’ve been looking for; unfortunately, he’s already in prison for a shoplifting charge. They get the idea to have Spike get himself arrested and to end up in the same prison as the bounty, in an effort to break him out and get the money. But Spike ends up getting more than he bargained for.
The third story sees a man placing a bounty on himself, and sets up a game for bounty hunters to catch him. However, there’s a catch; the bounty hunter must be a female. If a male catches him, they won’t get the money. This particular story has a strong focus on Faye Valentine, since she’s the main female bounty hunter in the series. This story also makes a major reference to the song “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles.
The final story in this volume sees bounties being placed on Faye, Spike and Jet. It turns out to be a storyline that has an emphasis on Jet, because one of the major characters in the storyline is a former partner of Jet’s when he was a cop.
While I’m not sure where these stories would actually fit into the Cowboy Bebop timeline, I still found them to be an enjoyable read. I also thought that the feel and tone of these stories are rather similar in nature to the stories presented in the anime series.
The only real drawback for me is the art, simply because I was familiar with the anime series before reading this manga. While the characters look similar enough between the two different mediums, there was something about how they look in the manga that just doesn’t quite work for me; the worst offender is this regard is Spike Spiegel. While Jet and Ed are a little “off,” it’s not quite as noticeable as it is with Spike. Faye was definitely the closest in resemblance between the anime and the manga.
Overall, though, I think readers who are already familiar with the Cowboy Bebop anime series would get the most enjoyment out of this manga series. This is mainly due to the fact that there’s really no background information given; I assume that the creators of the manga assumed that readers would already be familiar with the anime series.