[OWLS Blog Tour] How the Moral Ambiguity of the Bounty Hunter Disrupts the Hero Narrative of Mainstream Anime

Hey hey all you Heroes and Travelers out there today I’m bringing you all a very special post!! Back in December I mentioned that I’d joined OWLS: Otaku Warriors of Liberty and Self-Respect, a group of bloggers and vlogger that hope to spread a message of acceptance and understanding through thoughtful community activism!

owl

So, in order to spread our message of self acceptance and tolerance, we’ve decided to hold Monthly Blog Tours! During Blog Tours, we each write individual theme posts on our blogs that promote our group’s values, with a bit of an otaku twist and January’s Blog Tour topic is Disruptors!

What Does it Mean to Disrupt?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary there are three main definitions for disrupt

to disrupt  (v.)

  1. a: to break apart: rupture b: to throw into disorder
  2. to interrupt the normal course or unity of

Even when you scroll down to the auxiliary definitions there is a theme of negativity that prevails throughout. So the OWLS decided to put a positive spin on the word, by looking at disruptions not as a negative act, but as a means of civil disobedience and by looking at the motivations of the individuals involved rather than the act itself… We even came up with our own definition:

Disruptors: An individual or a group disturbing a system or social norms/conventions that they believe is destroying what is morally right.

Of course since we all consider ourselves otaku bloggers, we decided to explore disruptions through an anime lens. So far we’ve had posts from Katrina, Matt, Venus, Arria, LynLyn, and Crimson, with each blogger putting their own spin on the topic! And now it’s my turn…  In my Blog Tour post, we’re going to take a trip into space with the Spike, Faye and the rest of the Bebop crew as we explore disruptors in the critically acclaimed anime series, Cowboy Bebop!


In the year 2071, humanity has colonized several of the planets and moons of the solar system leaving the now uninhabitable surface of planet Earth behind. The Inter Solar System Police attempts to keep peace in the galaxy, aided in part by outlaw bounty hunters, referred to as “Cowboys”. The ragtag team aboard the spaceship Bebop are two such individuals.
Mellow and carefree Spike Spiegel is balanced by his boisterous, pragmatic partner Jet Black as the pair makes a living chasing bounties and collecting rewards. Thrown off course by the addition of new members that they meet in their travels—Ein, a genetically engineered, highly intelligent Welsh Corgi; femme fatale Faye Valentine, an enigmatic trickster with memory loss; and the strange computer whiz kid Edward Wong—the crew embarks on thrilling adventures that unravel each member’s dark and mysterious past little by little.
Well-balanced with high density action and light-hearted comedy, Cowboy Bebop is a space Western classic and an homage to the smooth and improvised music it is named after.

Synopsis (MAL)

How Cowboy Bebop Disrupted Anime Norms

Before I get into the in series acts of disruptions, I wanted to take a moment to discuss how as a series, Cowboy Bebop disrupted the status quo of anime with it’s fluid genre splicing narrative. While Cowboy Bebop is usually labeled as a space western or as an action series by most sources, the show doesn’t completely adhere to just one category, instead it blends elements from several genres concurrently for a wholly unique viewing experience. And it was this fluidity that garnered the series so much critical and commercial success over the years. But, while genre blending is common in anime, Cowboy Bebop revolutionized the practice, disrupting the status quo and creating what director Shinichiro Watanabi claimed to be a , “a new genre unto itself“!

a-new-genre

It was the first time a series tiptoed along genre lines, not just between episodes as some episodic series have been known to do, but within the episodes themselves, while still maintaining a cohesive narrative. It wasn’t just a niche anime series that would appeal to a small subset of the viewing audience, Cowboy Bebop was, and remains to this day, a show that broke the mold for mainstream success for an anime series!

Are Bounty Hunters Disruptors?

So, we’ve established that as a series, Cowboy Bebop transcends traditional anime devices with it’s genre fluid narrative. But, what about the characters within the series? Where do they fit in with the disruptor theme? Can they even be considered disruptors?

cowboy-bebop-character

Short answer: Yes. Bounty hunters by their very nature aren’t crusaders of justice, nor are they completely without morals, instead they toe a very thin line between the two moral centers. They are literally a disruptive force that is built into the  social framework of the series, whose necessity was borne out of society’s innate corruption. Bounty hunters aren’t beholden to the law or even basic human moral obligation. Instead they are driven by their desires, be they money, sex, or just a hot meal, the characters of Cowboy Bebop choose how they illicit change.

Bounty hunters or Cowboys as they are referred to in the series, don’t hunt down criminals for the sake of the greater good, they do it because it’s their job.  Sure there are times when Spike and the rest of the crew work in a way contrary to their own self interest, by helping out innocent bystanders or by giving up on a bounty altogether, but those instances are few and far between. Any effect that they have on others, be it positive or negative, is determined the individuals involved and not some higher authority figure.

anti-hero (n.)

a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.

And that’s because Spike and the gang aren’t heroes in the traditional sense, they are instead anti-heroes. Usually, characters are divided into one of two categories: either they’re a hero or they’re a villain, there just isn’t room in people’s minds for the middle ground. Typically we prefer to have things defined into simple concepts, black or white, good or evil. But, the show disrupts that notion by introducing not one four morally ambiguous characters.

There are no heroes in Cowboy Bebop and that directly contradicts the apparent need for a heroic figure in mainstream anime series. Some might argue that deep down the characters are in fact heroes, because despite being lawless vagabonds, Spike and the rest of the team act in favor of the greater good. But, by labeling as such, viewers miss the point, they aren’t supposed to conform to traditional hero ideology, instead they are meant to serve as a foil to the hero narrative.


see you space cowboy.png

Well guys, that’s all I have to say about disruptors in Cowboy Bebop and I really hope you all enjoyed reading my post!! This was a tough one to write, but I really hope that I was able to do justice to the topic and that I didn’t flub it up too much.

There are still two more Blog Tour stops left in January from Pink-chan of Pinky’s Palace and from Takuto of Takuto’s Anime Cafe, so definitely be on the look out for those posts in the coming days!! Also if you haven’t already, please subscribe to the Official OWLS Twitter account @OWLSbloggers, to stay up to date on all OWLS news and announcements!

If you are interested in becoming a member of the OWLS team, please feel free to fill out the contact form, HERE! So don’t be afraid to reach out to any of us on our blogs, on twitter, or at the contact page to learn more about us!! You just need an open mind and a willingness to have fun!!

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36 thoughts on “[OWLS Blog Tour] How the Moral Ambiguity of the Bounty Hunter Disrupts the Hero Narrative of Mainstream Anime

  1. Excellent post Naja! I totally agree about the cowboys. They are only doing their jobs and getting the bounties regardless to the person. I feel like Spike is an anti-hero too. He is only doing what he does and focuses on his goals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Matt, and I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my post!

      Yes, exactly! That’s why I like this show so much, the characters don’t start out trying to make the world a better place, it just kind of happens along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. I enjoyed your writing and I thought you did a perfect job on talking about disrupters. CowBoy Bebop isn’t a good vs evil story, it kind of talks about gray areas. I love it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you very much! What I like about your writing is that you are open for discussion and you are very kind. You are an amazing blogger. Peace be with you. 🙂

        Like

  2. Great post Naja!! I know you mentioned that it was going to be short compared to your other posts but still by all means it was an amazing post! ;D I really should watch this one! Maybe after gravitation I’ll start this one up! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really need to watch this anime.
    Great post! I prefer morally ambiguous characters over straight up heroes. The unique position occupied by bounty hunters between the two extremes of good and evil does sound like it’d make a compelling story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh most definitely! Cowboy Bebop is a classic and one of my favorite shows!! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for commenting😊

      Same! I love characters like the ones in this show, they’re just easier to relate to than the morally righteous characters of some other anime. Cowboy Bebop deals with some very complex themes and I don’t think I would have liked it as much of the characters had been written any other way!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You had me at Cowboy Bebop ❤ but for real I love how you brought up the idea of the anti-hero. It's very true, not to get all Harry Potter but as Sirius tells Harry people are not just split into the roles of good and evil. We're all tiptoeing between that line the best we can. Ultimately it is hoped that we try to stick more to the good side then the bad side but even judging that is a debate in itself. What do we determine to be good or evil? Are the bounty hunters the good guys?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOLOL Cowboy Bebop is my show!! Yeah I spent awhile trying to figure out exactly how I wanted to approach the topic, and then it just clicked 😀

      Gurl, I love me some HP! Yes! I remember that scene! You bring up some valid points, Kat! This is such a subjective topic, no one person can determine what is “good” and what is “evil”, we can set up guidelines, but ultimately that’s up to the individual to decide…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha I had to bring the HP 😂😂😂 I had this philosophy course in school and we discussed what is ethical and how everything is a balancing act. Like is it justified to have human experiments on 10 people without they’re knowledge and they do but you experiment has given you the ability to save mankind from an epidemic. Like what is the line? It was such a good course and you learn a lot about the people around you lol.

        Like

  5. Real talk: I wanted to be a bounty hunter / assassin when I was a kid. Good thing I didn’t watch Cowboy Bebop during these formative years or I might have actually started pursuing that, LOL

    Great post. I really liked how you talked about how not only the bounty hunters in the show (those lovable and rowdy rogues) were unconventional and better described as anti-heroic, but also how the show itself was a disruptor among other shows, too.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really? It definitely sounds like an cool career path and that one reality show mad it look awesome! Hmmm, Remy the Bounty Hunter… I like the sound of that!

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it!! I had a bit of trouble writing this at first, but I’m glad that the overall message came through in the end! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Naja! Before anything else, Watanabe is a genius! His anime are always so awesome. Ah, I’m feeling so nostalgic now that you reminded me of Cowboy Bebop again. I used to watch this as a kid. So awesome! You made a great point about how the anime as a whole has disrupted common anime genre divisions. A lot of anime throughout the years are also genre fluid, but I guess that Cowboy Bebop is one of the first to do this…if not the first one. I’m not 100% certain, though. And bounty hunters! There’s this prevalent idea that bounty hunters are this bad ass tough guys (and gals!) who swagger with guns drawn, catching those criminals for the money. For sure, like you said, they’re disruptors because they really don’t operate within the clear boundary of good and evil. I love this kind of moral ambiguity (in paper). Anyway, great post. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww thanks Arria, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it!

      OMG yes!! I love all of his works!! Yeah, I wanted to get at how ahead of it’s time the series was in terms of storytelling and character development, while still keeping in line with the prompt.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Looking back at this post, you’ve definitely picked a proper show to highlight for this theme. As you introduced it, Bebop itself is a groundbreaking show that traverses the unconventional to bring us a wicked tale of the blues. I also liked the way you kept them apart from justice-seeking heroes, you know, the typical ones. It’s their job. They need this to stay afloat (or stay drifting?). This does, however, lean them towards becoming contributors to the greater cause–eliminating criminals. Awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww thanks Takuto!! I wasn’t so sure at first, but Cowboy Bebop had some interesting disruptor moments.

      I agree they are more on the chaotic good side of things… maybe lol

      Thanks for reading and an even bigger thanks to you for leaving such a thoughtful comment!!

      Liked by 1 person

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