BEST. TITLES. EVER.
Cowboy Bebop’s titles are arguably the most perfectly designed series of images and sounds in title sequence history. While that proclamation is bold, the opening credits sequence of this landmark cartoon is absolutely dauntless.
The obvious throwbacks to the American 1960’s and 1970’s spy/cop serial aesthetics create an immediate characterization of the story. Silhouetting figures whose postures play out coolness, sex, and vigilantism against saturated primary backdrops, evoke the archetypes of the leading man, the Jezebel, and the life or death mission that makes you want to see James Bond “try and get outta this one.” The flashes of pure color lead you easily into the back-alley beat life of the lone detective, marching coolly toward his next shake down.
Of course the type, in step with its late 1990’s peers, was the subtle edginess of the distressed “wanted poster” setting. I hate to use the non-term “edginess”, but if you weren’t gluing together a ransom note for your nephew’s gutter punk album art, you were using Photoshop 7 to evoke wear and tear. The typography is the only aspect of Bebop’s titles that doesn’t seem to channel a very specific cue from the action entertainment standards. It works as decoration but it doesn’t work nearly as hard as the music does for your attention.
The mastermind behind all of Bebop’s score, Yoko Kanno, crafted “Tank!” an entrancing homage to the hard and fast big bands of jazz’s bebop legends. The track kidnaps your ears and overdrives them with a signature gritty palette. As thoroughly as Quentin Tarantino knows his Kung Fu film history, Yoko Kanno understands the spirit of the American jazz and blues movements. With the band she formed for the series, the Seatbelts, Kanno owns the American music experience as if she earned her chops playing with Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie. Any small familiarity with Bebop comes with the understanding that the music served as a lead character. Matched with the stunning retro visuals, the theme song for Cowboy Bebop had no competition.
These titles were engineered to place your brain exactly where it needed to be to soak up the rich world of Bebop. These 90 seconds don’t set a mood, they set the gold standard for title designers and directors. And they will for many years to come.
By Marc Hobelman