The Strange Origin of a Fan Favorite Anime Character

Have you ever asked other people what the best anime of all time is? If you have then the odds are you have heard the name of one particular series pop up repeatedly.

Yes, Cowboy Bebop is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest anime series by western fans. Despite not being so successful in its home country, the series found itself resonating with international audiences, which makes sense considering how much of a western influence the show has. It’s no secret that Cowboy Bebop is filled with inspiration from and references to media outside Japan, be it through its episodic structure, wide range of music and the way almost each episode homages a style of film not typically found in Japan, let alone in anime. However, one of the most apparent influences on the series comes in the form of its character designs.

Keen-eyed viewers can easily match up Bebop’s characters with their respective inspirations such as Radical Edward, who looks like a tribute to Swedish book character Pippi Longstocking.

There’s also the femme fatale Faye Valentine, who is an homage to Natalie Portman’s character Mathilda from the classic French crime thriller Leon: The Professional, which admittedly is more evident in her character than simply her design alone.

Even the main character Spike Spiegel directly parallels legendary Hong Kong martial artist Bruce Lee by echoing his philosophies and even using his signature martial art style known as Jeet Kune Do.

This still leaves one of the series main character unaccounted for, though. The owner of the Bebop ship himself, Jet Black.

Jet frankly does not seem to have a direct inspiration like his contemporaries. While his appearance does remind one of other old disgruntled mentor characters, none come to mind that can provide a clear parallel. However, an inspiration for Jet may have finally been found and probably in the last place you would expect inspiration from this anime to come from: another anime.

Meet Uchuu Enban Daisenso, or The Great Battle of the Flying Saucers as it’s known in English. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of it before there is a very good reason: it was only ever made into a single half hour TV episode. This 1975 mecha show was only meant to be a pilot, never to get its own series. Instead it acted as the prototype for a different mecha show. You probably haven’t heard of it.

That’s right, UFO Robot Grendizer. This obscure little anime episode nobody ever talks about was the springboard that launched one of the most famous mecha series from the creator of the super robot genre himself, Go Nagai. It’s a little weird to see something so well known be rooted in something so obscure, but here it is. Of course this still doesn’t explain the connection to Jet, so without further ado:

Looks a little familiar, huh?

This is General Bolachie, the antagonist of the series that never was. You may notice a few similarities, the high collar, bald head, oh, and there’s that extremely specific and distinct style of facial hair. Were these similarities intentional though, or were they purely coincidental?

Well most likely not. For one thing that beard is much too distinct to simply happen twice on accident and for another, Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe is more of a mecha fan than you might think. Before Bebop Watanabe’s first directorial role was for Macross Plus, a 1995 OVA sequel to the immensely popular Macross series. This was a big undertaking for Watanabe, one he probably would not have taken at that point in his career had he not been interested in the genre. Incidentally, this was also where he first collaborated with composer Yoko Kanno who also worked on Cowboy Bebop. This shows us a clear sign of Watanabe being into mecha and, although I wasn’t able to find any comments from him confirming it in interviews and the like, his future work for the Gundam franchise as well as the Escaflowne series give a pretty strong hint that he is an absolute mecha otaku.

So there you have it. The inspiration for one of anime’s most beloved characters has been found. Did you find it worth the wait? Did you even care at all? Let us know in the comments and look forward to more anime content on AniRoute.

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Will Bertazzo Lambert
Will Bertazzo Lambert has recently risen above doing nothing but watch anime all the time and has now taken up talking about it on the internet. He hopes you will listen too, since he intends to talk for a long, long time.