Cowboy Bebop was produced partly because of the buzz around the Star Wars Prequels
“Within the world of Japanese animation, there are few individuals more prolific than Watanabe Shinichiro. This fact has become so prevalent in fact, that the term ‘anime’ has almost become synonymous with a majority of his series — many citing shows such as “Cowboy Bebop,” “Samurai Champloo,” and even his more recent “Space Dandy” as their introduction to the world of Japanese animation. […]
Sitting down with Watanabe, we spoke about his upbringings in the anime industry, as well as looked back at his long-history of creations and ideas. […]
OTAQUEST: Having done just that, you moved on to work on your very first project you could truly call your own — “Cowboy Bebop.” Can you tell us a little bit about the circumstances that lead to this moment?
Watanabe: Masahiko Minami, who is now the president of Studio Bones, was someone I had known for quite some time. He approached me to ask if I had any good ideas for a new project, and after about 2-3 days of deliberating, something I had thrown together over the course of an hour known only as “Bebop” surfaced. Usually, the things that are quickly slapped together become the big hits, rather than the ones you would painstakingly deliberate on.
Around the same time, there was a very real buzz on the streets in regards to a “Star Wars” revival which had everyone excited. This piqued the interest of Bandai’s toy division in producing something with spaceships as a central element — they thought both the series and affiliated merchandise would sell well. That’s why the offering of my “Bebop” project was taken.
OTAQUEST: At that time it almost felt like robots were a given within the sci-fi genre, but there were few works in the world of anime that delved into the realm of spacecrafts. Because of that, daring to switch was quite a large risk for them, wasn’t it?
Watanabe: It definitely was, and they weren’t very happy with the way we ended up portraying the world of “Cowboy Bebop” either. Around the time we were producing the fourth episode, they actually pulled their sponsorship because they didn’t think such a dark and subdued portrayal of spacecrafts would do any favors to their toy sales. We even considered canceling production after that whole drama, but Bandai’s main film production company Bandai Visual swooped-in to save the project. […]”
As an anime and manga fan, this got my attention. One of my first thoughts in response, though, was that Cowboy Bebop brings to mind “Han Solo, bounty hunters, and ‘the used future,'” somehow overemphasized parts of Star Wars to me… Still, Cowboy Bebop put its pieces together well enough it seems to me to stand quite above the movies and TV shows turned out in the late 1970s to cash in on the first Star Wars craze (including “Battle of the Planets” after new animation of space travel and an R2-D2 look-alike had been added to the pre-Star Wars anime series Gatchaman…)