I saw Outlaw Star when it aired on Toonami back in 2001. I think I was attracted to it because it was a space based show that didn’t have Gundam in its name. What I found was an enjoyable space western that didn’t take itself too seriously. And once you accept that it’s not as good as Cowboy Bebop, you’ll enjoy it too.
Yes, that’s right, Outlaw Star is inferior to Cowboy Bebop. The shows are too similar for me to avoid comparing them. Both follow starship crews of mercenaries whose jobs never pan out, but Cowboy Bebop is more sophisticated. The depictions of love, loss, frustration, honor and corruption matter in a way that Outlaw Star’s depictions don’t. Cowboy Bebop is one of the most poignant anime series out there.
So it’s pretty clear that Outlaw Star isn’t in some way better than Cowboy Bebop. But that’s okay, just because Outlaw Star isn’t the best show ever, or even the best in its genre, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. Think of Outlaw Star as a YA (Young Adult) novel compared to Cowboy Bebop’s adult fiction. I don’t fault The Hunger Games for not being as meaningful as 1984, I just accept that they are different. Many adults enjoy The Hunger Games even though it won’t likely win the next Nobel Prize in literature.
Since Outlaw Star doesn’t try to be as deep or meaningful as Cowboy Bebop, it takes itself less seriously. We get to meet ridiculous characters like Aisha a cat warrior from Ctarl-Ctarl and Fred Lou a flamboyant financier who’s out to sleep with the main character, Gene Starwind. Instead of chasing the meaning of life Gene gets to pursue the Galactic Leyline, the galaxies ultimate treasure.
Along the way Gene gets to shoot his way through pirates, bounty hunters, dinosaurs (seriously) and assassins. And then there’s the humanoid dinosaur. It was a superfluous addition without any benefit to the plot, but why waste a perfectly good opportunity right? The show also treats you to at least one western style pistol fight or space dogfight per episode, with Gene invariably coming out on top. Plus there are spaceships with arms (grappler ships) and magic infused bullets (caster shells) thrown in, just for good measure.
Gene’s wild ride through the galaxy won’t culminate in a way that changes how you think about the world, but the show’s humor and gun battles keep it enjoyable. It makes sense that Cartoon Network thought it had broad enough appeal to serve as a gateway anime back in 2001. As long as you don’t dismiss it as an inferior Cowboy Bebop, you’ll likely enjoy it too.