Cowboy Bebop is officially 20 years old! It’s a huge milestone and Bebop’s popularity is still as strong as ever. The question was, how do we celebrate? There were already a number of standard and exclusive releases out there (we all own them, too), and we wanted to create a commemorative set which celebrates such an important occasion.
As fans of the show who also get to work on the show, we wanted to create something momentous and include new things for fellow fans which, honestly, have been on our Bebop wish list for years. So earlier this month, we launched a campaign to create three different concepts for a 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition for this series. Here’s a look at the campaign and how these concepts came to be.
We came up with three concepts at different ranges and, honestly, felt very strongly about all three. For example, the figures in the Bebop Crew were so important because several of those characters have never had higher-end figures, and certainly nothing with five figures all packaged together. And, the iconic soundtrack has never been created on vinyl in the Japanese or North American market.
Each set features unique versions of the vinyl soundtrack, a 200-page art book, and lithographs. And each was designed to be its own standalone, edition, and offer something unique for both every day and hardcore Bebop fans.
The announcement of these sets has come with lots of great comments and questions. We’re listening, and thought we could shed some light on how these commemorative sets were developed, and hopefully answer your questions along the way.
Let’s talk about the vinyl.
The vinyl release may be the most noteworthy element of the sets and is something we have been pursuing to release for the last five years. When we first acquired the rights to release Cowboy Bebop in 2013, we really wanted to see this happen with a special edition. Our office is full of Cowboy Bebop fanatics and vinyl is not just something we’ve had fans ask for, but something we felt would be really cool and wanted to see come to fruition ourselves!
When we released Bebop 2014, unfortunately, we were not able to get the vinyl soundtrack rights. If you really want to talk insider baseball, there was no Japanese release of the main soundtrack on vinyl nor any plans to create one, even on the high-end Japanese limited edition. The pitch to create a Western release with such a great exclusive (and at prices that are typically lower than in Japan) was pretty tough. Essentially, Japanese rightsholders have to be cognizant of the fans in their market — and rightly so.
Instead, our 2014 release held on to that inspiration and included a stylistic nod to our desire for a vinyl. We saw a large number of fans state that they wished we had included the vinyl, which was honestly pretty great motivation to see if we could make it happen with a different approach!
So we jumped in and pitched the idea to our Japanese partners! It was really exciting to find they were more open to the idea this time around. While there were still some restrictions in place (this vinyl is still not available in Japan), it seemed like our high-end collector’s concepts made a big difference!
This is a double-LP of the original Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, titled “Cowboy Bebop” and originally released on CD in 1998. This release represents the first time EVER that any of the original Bebop soundtracks will be released on vinyl, not just in North America but in the entire world—yes, even Japan. Special thanks to FlyingDog for graciously granting us permission to release this in North America first, and we’d like to make a particular shout-out to our friends at Sunrise for making this possible (on top of creating this momentous show, of course!).
The soundtrack totals a bit over 53 minutes on 150-gram vinyl. The audio is mastered in Japan through arrangements with Flying Dog but will be pressed stateside by Erika Records, a professional California-based plant that has pressed records for a huge roster of top-name musicians including Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, KISS, Bon Jovi, and many more.
The vinyl will be housed in a jacket, shrinkwrapped and packed in protective bubble wrap.
This is a large 12”x12″ textbook-sized tome, and the inside contents are significantly more substantial than previously-released Cowboy Bebop artbooks in North America, with illustrations and design sheets that have never been seen before in this territory.
The best new bonus in this book, however, is for the most hardcore Cowboy Bebop fans with a passion for the anime production process and behind-the-scenes content. This book includes newly-translated essays originally written by Dai Sato, a name familiar to anyone who follows Japanese anime production staff and the ins-and-outs of the industry at large. Sato-san is a key staff member and scriptwriter for Cowboy Bebop, as well as the acclaimed screenwriter on such titles as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Samurai Champloo, Eureka Seven, Eden of the East, and Space Dandy. Each episode or story arc has its own separate essay, and the sum text of these writings totals over 8,000 words. Although written in a fun, conversational style, the essays reveal a lot of the creative intent behind the production while urging the readers to look out for and consider key points in the storytelling, art, and music. Expect to use these essays as a companion piece, to develop a much better sense of the series on a repeat viewing.
Note that the artbooks are the same for all three sets; the only change between the three sets is the cover.
Each collector’s set includes five lithograph prints. Unlike a typical digital print, which recreates an image with dots of color, a lithograph is created via a specific printing process that uses wet inks and custom-prepared printing plates to reproduce the artwork. The result is a higher quality image. Gradients and large expanses of color come out smoother and richer, and the end result is coated to be much less susceptible to scuffs or marking imperfections, making a lithograph perfect for framed display for longevity.
Think of Cowboy Bebop and the first thing that runs in your head may be the first few bold bars of the iconic opening song, Tank!. The loud, vibrant visuals and soundtrack of the series were the inspiration for this set, with a starkly contrasting aesthetic and bold red vinyl records. To some extent, Tank! aligns more with the earlier stories in Bebop, of a ragtag group of bounty hunters wildly pursuing their next influx of cold, hard cash, so we wanted to convey these fun elements with focusing on this set’s key feature, the metal collector’s cases.
Metal collector’s cases
This set was created specifically for fans of collectible metal media cases, which have long been a darling for a specific segment of film and subculture collectors. Their durability and handsome profiles are a fan-favorite, and a way to add a premium feel to any media collection. The materials and process for these cases will be similar to the construction of the cases for our Akira collector’s case release.
The concept for this set was to focus on shelf display by creating a striking and conspicuous conversation piece. In looking at high-end collector markets and some of our own tendencies amongst collectibles fans in the office, one thing we noticed time and time again is that we often look to own high-end sets as a physical manifestation of our love for the show. The box is large not only to house everything together, but because we wanted to make an eye-catching set that invites your family and visitors to take notice, to ask about the series or delight in your shared interest in this classic together. In other words, maximizing shelf display is the main intent of this version. Elements of the set pay a subtle homage to the music of Cowboy Bebop, easily one of the most memorable elements of the show.
The cool blue clouds of color on the vinyl are, of course, a tribute to Blue, the hauntingly beautiful ending song to the final session of Cowboy Bebop (note the motif on the cover of the original CD release for Cowboy Bebop Blue). On a more surface level, viewers will, of course, be reminded to the other iconic ending song, The Real Folk Blues.
Although difficult to convey from the preview image, this is a beast of a box — over a foot wide and tall, with a substantial weight. The box has an octagonal footprint and metal clasps to give the sense of a guitar or instrument case, as a small nod to the prevailing music elements of the show. The hefty artbook and the housing for the discs all fit inside this box.
From the beginning, as we ideated different possibilities for a 20th anniversary Cowboy Bebop set, there was always a very strong desire to explore creating one ultimate collector’s edition that was truly an end-all-be-all product, something that no other release could ever top. We knew this would be a set not for the vast majority of Bebop fans or even the largest segment of collectors, but a hyper-specific type of collector with a profound drive to own the best possible piece of a show. While certainly most fans are perfectly content with a more standard edition—and we absolutely don’t believe that you need to own the ultimate edition of anything to “prove” you’re a “real fan”—the reservation campaign format gave us the opportunity to make sure we had an offering for this specific type of fan, to see if there is a critical mass of demand to actually create a set for their needs.
One desire off the top was to tap into the mindset of the collectibles buyer—if our primary “dream” was to create a set with the long-awaited vinyl, our secondary was to make a set of character figures for the entire Bebop crew, something that hasn’t been done before in high collectibles quality. We definitely felt it was necessary to go all out with four five figures instead of just one; Spike may be the “main character,” but Cowboy Bebop is absolutely an ensemble show. Here, you’ll also notice that the finishes on this set are highly refined with a theme reminiscent of high-end premium packaging—silver foil print on stately and more minimalist designs like you might see on the boxes for high-end electronics or wines.
The funky swirls of tie-dye color, of course, bring to mind the bold colors and jazzy aesthetic of the show or the opening song Tank!. These splatters are created through the process of mixing the different colored vinyl, and the result is that no two records look the same. The look is also inspired by the beautiful swirls and clouds of color in space—a planetary dust storm, a striking nebular patch of light—with a slight hint of the whirl of light from a hyperspace warp gate.
These figurine-bookends include figures of not just one, but four (five, counting Ein!) characters of the Bebop Crew. The poses are based on official Cowboy Bebop artwork that has never been created before as 3D figures; furthermore many of these characters have been unavailable as official high-end figures, meaning that this set is your first chance to get premium statues of the entire Bebop crew. These figures are also made of PVC, the material of choice for collectors of premium figures out of Japan, allowing for smooth skin and clothing textures, and vibrant color.