How Cowboy Bebop Does Horror Well

Cowboy Bebop – a perennial anime classic which manages to span many moods, including horror.

I’ve said before anime doesn’t do a lot of horror and one of those reasons is because other genres of anime do it better. Cowboy Bebop nails this, particularly with Toys in the Attic but also with Black Dog Serenade.

One of the great things about a quintessential horror scene (although not always necessarily true, depending on the type of horror at play) is the sense of foreboding and the fear of the unknown that comes with it. Toys in the Attic really nails this with how the black blob is misidentified as a rat and a leak, before finally being identified as something from the old fridge. This also causes the horror to wrap right back into humour from the unexpected nature of the Bebop crew’s enemy.

To deviate for a bit and explain what I meant by “depending on the type of horror at play”, body horror is not likely to play on the sense of foreboding, but it can play on the fear of the unknown – for instance, if someone is transforming into something inhuman (such as a werewolf), their loss of humanity and what they might do when not under the control of a rational human thought process might be the unknowns at stake.

Cold openings are extremely commonplace in Cowboy Bebop, but Black Dog Serenade‘s is pretty creepy because of the amount of gore on show. This, coupled with the unsettling actions of Udai just after said cold open, are enough to play on that sense of foreboding mentioned earlier give people the shivers, especially given this aired late at night, as most anime do. In this case, it’s not the fear of the unknown that’s scary, it’s the fear of what we know Udai is capable of.

The anime’s occasional monochrome noir-style look, used most notably during Spike’s flashbacks bookending the series and Black Dog Serenade, also adds to the horror vibe while feeding into the melancholy of other genres – tragedy for the former, film noir for the latter. The even-more-washed-out-look-than-usual plays on the sense of foreboding, because where there is a normal amount of colour, everything’s fine. Thus, playing into one of the extremes of colour – garish neons or absences of colour – suggest something’s amiss.

Much has been written about Cowboy Bebop, but I don’t remember anyone writing about it from this angle before (from where I’m writing this piece at the end of June 2022 – happy Halloween from here in the past, by the way). Tackling Cowboy Bebop in writing is pretty daunting for that very reason and that might have been one of the reasons why I never decided to borrow the discs my library had, even though they’d been sitting on the shelf for years. My anime club even showed Asteroid Blues twice between 2017 and 2022 (which is more than most, although it was once with sub, once with English dub), which should’ve also been another nudge in that direction…

Unfortunately, bingeing most of the series (I binged episodes 11 – 26 in one day) means I probably missed talking more in-depth about this topic. So what did I miss?


5 thoughts on “How Cowboy Bebop Does Horror Well

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  1. It’s been ages since I’ve watched Cowboy Bebop, so I’m really interested in re-watching it now with the idea of a horror lenses in place. Great post!


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