Generally, I created this blog as a way to share my thoughts on various entertainment-related topics, review films, etc. But once in a while I remember something I just want to gush about, and this is one of those.
I didn’t hop on the Cowboy Bebop hype train back when it was on Toonami during my high school years, though I was aware of the name from pop culture osmosis and ads on TV. My first actual exposure to the franchise came some time after, and it wasn’t of any of the original show. Instead, a close friend and I went out to the local Blockbuster (remember those?) and grabbed a few anime titles (like Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell) to binge on. One of those was the Cowboy Bebop movie, originally known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door in Japan.
I had zero knowledge of the series, its characters, or the story going in. Yet within five minutes, I had learned everything I needed to know about the main characters and the overall premise, thanks to an often-used but overlooked technique – the cold open.
The cold open, also prominently known as a “teaser,” is commonly defined as a short (usually one to five minutes in length) “mini-act” that usually takes place before the opening credits of a TV series or movie. Saturday Night Live and the James Bond films are both franchises that are famous for their cold opens. While a cold open, especially in television, is often used to set up the overall plot, it can also be only tangentially connected or even entirely unrelated to the main story. These kinds of cold opens can depict a “day in the life” of the series characters, but the purpose remains the same – introducing a new audience to the main players and the antics these characters often engage in.
The cold open for the Cowboy Bebop movie, depicting the two main characters (the series follows four characters, but Spike and Jet are the only two who are present throughout the whole show so we’ll consider them ‘main’ characters for this example) taking care of a routine job. Given that said job is bounty hunting, the cold open depicts an exciting sequence as they interrupt a convenience store robbery that culminates in a tense stand-off. Despite the minimal time available, we answer important questions such as:
- Who are these characters?
- What is this series about?
- What do they do?
- What are their personalities?
The sequence has no connection to the main plot of the film, but is followed up on in a conversation between Spike and Jet that ties the events of the cold open with the rest of the movie.
It’s been said by no shortage of screenwriting gurus that the first 10 minutes or act of a story are probably the most important, as you need to hook an audience in right away. A cold open is a simple way to do it, and Cowboy Bebop’s remains one of my personal favorites.