When you think of Cowboy Bebop, what immediately comes to mind? Perhaps it's the iconic soundtrack, the impressive animation for the time, or the famous tagline: "See you, space cowboy." However, among everything that makes it special, most fans would agree that Bebop's greatest strength is the characters themselves. Our dysfunctional crew of bounty hunters -- held together by Jet Black and his space ship, the Bebop -- was formed under unusual circumstances, but their found-family dynamic is utterly charming.
Though most viewers would agree that Spike is our protagonist, Jet plays an equally important role within the main cast as he maintains stability within the group that would otherwise be sorely lacking. A former cop turned bounty hunter, Jet has internalized a strict set of ideals while also contradicting everything he once stood for, and his backstory is fascinatingly tragic. Here's how Jet Black unintentionally built a bounty-hunting family on the Bebop.
In the early days of his career, Jet was an officer with the Inter-Solar System Police (ISSP) on his home satellite, Ganymede. Known as the "Black Dog" who bites onto criminals and never let's go, he joined ISSP primarily due to his strong sense of justice and worked to rid his hometown of crime and corruption. Jet was satisfied with his job and the life he led with his girlfriend, Alisa, but one day, she left him without a word. With only a pocket watch to remember her by, Jet poured himself into his work to ease the pain, deciding to fight corruption within ISSP.
One day, Jet and his partner were chasing a criminal named Udai, an assassin for the European syndicate. As the two officers separated to surround their target, Jet realized that he had entered a trap, but it was too late. He lost his arm as a result of the incident, only to discover that his partner had been the one to shoot him in Episode 16. Because Jet was too eager to expose the syndicate's ties with ISSP, Udai and Jet's partner conspired to incapacitate our hero at the scene, as his partner was actually on the mob's payroll.
Sick of life on Ganymede, Jet decided to leave his job and become a roaming bounty hunter. He later met Spike sometime after Spike's time with the Red Dragon Syndicate, and the two became partners and fast friends. Forced out of his job by mafia thugs, Jet began to work with Spike, someone who only knew life as a member of organized crime. The irony of the situation is palpable.
From here on out, Jet and Spike continually bring quote-unquote "strays" into the Bebop, including genius dog Ein in Episode 2, gambling femme-fatale Faye in Episode 3, and eccentric hacker Edward in Episode 9. Despite having lived radically different lives, these main characters are all lonely wanderers who are running from an unwanted past, Jet included. And although Spike says he can't stand "kids, animals and women with attitudes," the crew members grow to care about each other nonetheless.
In fact, these bonds between them are what make their parting all the more heart-wrenching. Several "if I don't come back" promises are made throughout the anime, but you can't help but be distraught at the tragic finality of Ed and Spike's departures. When Faye holds Spike at gunpoint and begs him to stay in Episode 26, her desperation is startling. Unknowingly, Jet Black facilitated the formation of this family, but by the series finale, sadly, it all unravels.