Director Shinichiro Watanabe is undeniably one of the most celebrated names working in the anime industry today. With his first original work Cowboy Bebop having become an undisputed classic since its release in 1998 – not least due to it being a major steppingstone in the popularization of anime in the west – he has since gained cult status and seen widespread acclaim among fans and critics alike. While Watanabe at this point has a number of works under his belt, all of which have been met with mainly positive response, there are three particular ones that stick out; the aforementioned Cowboy Bebop, its 2004 follow-up Samurai Champloo, and the 2014 series Space Dandy.
What makes this trio of shows worth distinguishing from the rest of Watanabe’s catalogue are a number of uniquely shared attributes; they are all original productions with an episodic format, they all have around the same main staff members behind them, and they all center around a traveling group of social outcasts with a daily struggle of getting food on the table. But what they more than anything else have in common is a major emphasis on blending. Blending genres, blending styles, blending cultures; mixture is undeniably a main concept that runs throughout this entire episodic trilogy. Above all else, these shows are melting pots of different ideas and outputs, jam-packed with references and influences from movies, TV-shows, music and cultures from all over the world. They are shows where the power of creativity is at the very forefront, where stylistic expressions of all kinds are allowed to come forth and get together. This is what particularly makes these shows special, and where one of their absolute major strengths lie. Of course, including a significant stylistic variety in your work as well as being influenced by and referencing to other preexisting media is far from any unusual occurrence, but what’s so striking about Watanabe’s episodic trilogy is to the large degree that this is employed, almost as if it was the main focus when creating the shows. Indeed, not only is this mishmashing a prominent main aspect here, but it even serves an important purpose in relation to each series’ respective central themes.
What I’d like to do for this upcoming three-parter is to chronologically go through each one of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo and Space Dandy and examine how they utilize this blending concept; what main elements it consists of in each show, to what capacity it is present in their various aspects, and how it relates to their inherent themes and messages. So let us explore Shinichiro Watanabe’s episodic trilogy, and discover the capability and power of creative diversity!