Given landing the job as reviewer for Anime UK News is what really gave me the push into reviewing things, it only made sense for Review #1,000 to be an anime review. I didn’t have the time to review a whole series (nor would I want to condense a whole series into a single review) so I decided to review my favourite singular episode, and when I made that decision there was only one thing that leapt to mind… Cowboy Bebop’s fifth episode, “Ballad of Fallen Angels” is not only brilliantly written, acted (in both languages) and scored, but it also stands entirely alone, which is handy for reviewing purposes! So let’s celebrate 1,000 reviews with style!
Jet and Spike find a new 28 million Woolong bounty is placed on Mao Yenrai, the head of the Red Dragon crime syndicate, and it soon becomes clear that not only is this case personal to Spike, but that it’s a trap. His past catching up to him, Spike leaves to confront the man only known as “Vicious”.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Vicious acts… nasty.
Beyond knowing that Spike and Jet are two bounty hunters in space and are travelling with a con-woman named Faye Valentine, this episode is helpfully standalone. It opens with two rival mafia gangs signing a peace accord, with Mao Yenrai in particular breathing a sigh of relief that he can finally get a good night’s sleep… then the car with the rival gang in it explodes and he is grabbed, soon coming face-to-face with Vicious, a member of his own Red Dragon syndicate who is pulling a coo as he believes there shouldn’t be an end to the bloodshed (which given his name shouldn’t come as a surprise…) Mao claims that this wouldn’t happen “if Spike were still here” and then gets his throat slit. After four episodes of fun space bounty-ing, this was quite the tonal shift!
A bounty for Mai Yenrei goes live and Spike immediately knows it’s a trap, and that his old mentor has been killed. In fact, he probably knows who did it, but at this point Spike’s past is a complete mystery as Jet questions him about it and he waves it off. Faye sees the large bounty and decides to do some digging of her own, but only succeeds at sharing an opera box with Mao’s corpse, and then getting kidnapped. Spike meets up with an old friend before heading back to the Bebop (their ship, I should probably mention that to the uninitiated) to get weaponed up. A plea for help message is sent by Faye, who is now tied up in a church, and once again Jet says it’s a trap, and once again Spike acknowledges this and goes by himself anyway.
Spike acts…. like he’s nearly dead.
This is where the episode becomes something else. Spike arrives at the church as a beautiful song simple titled “Rain” begins to play and striking imagery bombards you at every turn. Spike and Vicious have a bit of a chat before Spike shoots the person holding Faye hostage and soon a very violent shootout happens, with our anti-hero bounty hunter taking out a good number of Vicious’ men before getting wounded. He makes it up to a stunning stain glass window and has a final showdown with his old “friend”, who is convinced Spike is just like him, a killer, but Spike claims to have “bled all that blood away”. Vicious barks back “then why are you still alive?!” before tossing him through the stain glass, turning around and seeing a grenade bounce on the floor. Another beautiful song plays titled “Green Bird” as Spike slowly falls to the ground, seeing flashes of his life as part of the Red Dragon Syndicate and of a blonde haired lady as the church above his explodes. He soon wakes up back in the Bebop, Faye having managed to guilt trip Jet into picking him up. Spike remarks that Faye, who was humming a song at the same time Spike was reminiscing about the blonde haired woman doing the same, tells her she’s “off key”, leading to a comedic end of Faye hitting Spike with a pillow and storming off.
A great 20-odd minutes, plus a whole story’s worth of new information told through dialogue and a few brief flashes of flashback, rather than a whole episode set in the past. Can’t praise “Ballad of Fallen Angels” storytelling enough!
Faye making a run for it but taking time to admire the architecture.
I mean, given I’m rating it as quite possibly the best single episode of anime I’ve watched, and one of the best single episodes of anything frankly, there isn’t anything to put in this section! Still, good excuse for another screenshot anyway!
I mean if you HAVE to have a fight to the death, at least it’s a nice view…
A great mix of drama and humour, an amazing one-off soundtrack and some stunning visuals, plus a great effort from both the Japanese and English voice cast. Ballad of Fallen Angels still holds up as a fantastic piece of TV, managing to do in 20 minutes what many TV shows fail to do in 22 45-minute episode seasons. For review #1,000 it’s the easiest five I’ve ever given out.