Coyote Ragtime Show Vol. 1

Though the show is now quite old by anime industry standards, Cowboy Bebop still casts a very long shadow over the sci-fi world. In fact, if one looks at efforts like Samurai Shamploo, you can see its effects on other genres as well. Everybody would like to capture the combination of beautiful graphics, likable characters that exude coolness, and fully engaging plots loaded with action and adventure. Most attempts miss the mark; lacking in some area, they overcompensate by wowing the audience with great graphics, gore, or plot twists. Going into Coyote Ragtime Show, I expected "hanger-on syndrome." Instead, I was excited by a show filled with Gonzo's best eye candy, a 5.1 soundtrack to die for, excitement in every episode, and complex characters that aren't easy to pigeonhole. Is it Cowboy Bebop redux? Nope...I doubt any show will truly compare to that seminal title. That said, it's an action-packed entrée that gets better with each bite that leaves you craving volume 2.

Is Mister a hero or villain? Mister -- the only name that sticks due to all of his aliases -- is responsible for all sorts of theft throughout the galaxy. Imprisoned for a year in a maximum security facility in the middle of nowhere, the universe has had peace from his exploits. Just days before his scheduled release, Mister's friends execute a prison break. Not only is that odd, but the Twelve Sisters, a nefarious crime syndicate led by the vicious Marciano, stage a spectacular simultaneous assault on the penitentiary in order to capture Mister for their own purposes. Escaping from their clutches, Mister heads to the bar he established years before to pick up Franca, a young girl who he took under his wing years before. The twosome and their compatriots wind their way on a treasure hunt with a deadline...Franca's father left a fortune on the planet of Graceland, scheduled for photonic annihilation in a matter of days. Whether or not they can elude the Twelve Sisters and find the treasure before Graceland goes the way of Elvis is another matter entirely. And with Inspector Angelica and her goofy assistant Chelsea Moore attempting to track them down for the galactic government, it isn't going to be easy!

Coyote Ragtime Show Vol. 1 looks and sounds completely awesome. I listened to the show in Japanese since 5.1 anime soundtracks are pretty rare...and this is one to turn up just to let the subwoofer rumble and soak it all in. Explosions, space battles, and dialogue all sounded wonderful without unnecessary isolation. It's a surround track done right. (I sampled the dub, and though it was fine, a couple of the characters were annoying in the English version. After loving a few of ADV's recent dubs, I was a little disappointed.) The visuals are sumptuous, and while it's clear that the show is enhanced via computer, the blending looks wonderful. If you're tired of CGI looking like CGI in your anime, you'll appreciate how everything looks here.

If there's a bone to pick with Coyote Ragtime Show, it's that the plot is pure B-grade and the characters a little too easy to stereotype. Mister is the rogue with a heart of gold; Angelica is the "smart woman with glasses" who will inevitably wind up helping him; Chelsea is the goofball who comes in handy in a pinch. An intergalactic treasure hunt isn't exactly a unique storyline, either. There are also a few missteps along the way; when Swamp, a rascal turned preacher, does a musical number with a backup choir, it's more embarrassing than inspiring.

All of these problems can be easily overlooked in the sheer magnetism of the show. For one, the stereotypes aren't rigid. For example, when they lose one of their own, the Twelve Sisters actually show a bit of remorse. Mister is far more warmhearted than he appears at first, and certainly a deeper individual than we are initially led to expect. And when it comes to the scenarios, almost all of them include multiple different factions going at each other, adding to the complexity. In some ways, it echoes Lupin III revisioned as a more serious sci-fi adventure, with Mister taking the gentleman thief's position and Angelica in the Zenigata role.

What impressed me about Coyote Ragtime Show is that despite a strong linear story, the show packs in a lot of action without ever being repetitive. When the story needs to backtrack and give us the story of Franca's father, it does so with a smart flashback device that allows the audience in on the story without the characters having to repeat to each other what they already know. Each episode builds on the last; while I thought the first episode was reasonably good, I was sold by the end of the fourth. This is one show where I don't think seeing the first episode on ADV's website will give you the full flavor of the series. The first episode is told from a different point of view and serves to set up the scenario, and while it's action-packed (even a little overly violent in comparison the rest), it's in the second episode we get the feel of where we're heading. By the time the credits rolled at the end of the disc, I was disappointed I didn't have more to watch.

If you haven't guessed already, for me Coyote Ragtime Show is a strong recommendation, at least for the first volume. I'm giving it an A- because of the few issues I mentioned, but don't let that stop you from picking it up. This is quality stuff, and even if you don't find the plot and characters as interesting as I did, your TV and surround sound system will thank you. Who knew that eye and ear candy could have this much meat too?

Coyote Ragtime Show Vol. 1 -- violence (some a bit graphic), language -- A-