IKKiCON is an annual anime and pop culture convention that puts community first by holding more open and relaxed panels with invited guests. This year, the guest list included the legendary Beau Billingslea. Having acted in live action movies, fans at the anime convention will know him as a voice in some of anime’s cornerstone content including Outlaw Stars, Naruto, Cyborg 009, Cowboy Bebop, Hunter x Hunter, and more.
While attending the convention, Billingslea was a part of multiple panels and although the Cowboy Bebop celebration panel was great, my heart was filled with fangirl excitement all throughout his Q&A session in which he covered many of his iconic roles, told stories of his experiences working on the set of Star Trek: Into Darkness, and celebrated the fans he met, and his love for his Cowboy Bebop family.
If you were an anime fan in the early 2000s, you know who Billingslea is. In many ways, his voice is one of the hallmarks of the Toonami generation, a fact noted by of the members of the audience during a panel while discussing the importance of the power of the narrator in Outlaw Star. In “A Boy Has the Right to Dream,” Billingslea provided one of the most powerful monologues in anime, as the narrator introducing every show, Billingslea’s voice is iconic for many older anime fans. The inclusion of his Outlaw Star narration in one of the most iconic Toonami promo solidified his place in our cultural memory.
That being said, aside from his long live-action acting career, it is perhaps his portrayal of the character of Jet Black in Cowboy Bebop that had anime fans in the audience fangirling/boying beyond belief. If you aren’t familiar, Cowboy Bebop is routinely ranked among the top anime series ever and with their 20th anniversary, the timeless series is still hard show to top. As a show, it blended genre, music, and archetypes to emerge with a science fiction, space western, heist anime that’s original soundtrack is unmatched, specifically the opening song TANK!.
Although everyone has their favorite, at the heart of the show is Jet, Billingslea’s character. The surrogate father of the crew, Jet is a former cop whose moral compass guides the show and grounds the ship of bounty hunters. The found family dynamic of the Bebop crew is beautiful and as Billingslea answered questions about the show, it was real between the cast.
When one fan asked about how the voice actors interacted with each other while recording, Billingslea explained that they recorded separately. While he went into the specifics of voice acting, like the need to be a “bobble-body,” keeping your head straight towards the mic while moving your body like the character, it was what he left on the scripts that struck me as perfect. Although the voice actors recorded separately, they would often use the same paper to read lines, leaving things in the margins for the next person to see.
In one instance, he recalled coming into a recording after Steve Blum, the voice of Spike Spiegel, and being greeted with a lovely message in the margins: “Jet sucks.” Billingslea explained how common this was and then told us his response in the margins for the Blum to see when entered the booth next: “Spike sucks! And the Bebop is my ship!” True to their characters, as one of the first stories of the real-life Bebop crew, it was clear why the anime remains one of the only series that American fans unanimously agree is better in the English dub.
The joy that Billingslea has when speaking about his Cowboy Bebop days was heartwarming and as a devoted fan of the show myself, it made my heart and love of the show grow even more. As Billingslea explained how one of his favorite moments of the show came from the episode “Mushroom Samba” where the famous “shit-take mushrooms” line was improvised. When the audience laughed, drowning out the loud bass that came in from the room next door, you knew the love of Billingslea from us in the audience was reciprocated by Jet himself.
The atmosphere of the room was my favorite of the entire convention and that was due in large part to the genuine connection that Billingslea formed from his table on the stage to the people asking questions. Perhaps the most touching moment was when he began talking about how his heart is always open to receive and cherish love from fans of Cowboy Bebop, explaining that he didn’t know that the show would be the cultural touchstone for many anime fans.
He recounted a story of one of the few times he was on a panel with the rest of the Bebop cast, where an audience answer spoke open and vulnerable, letting them all know that the show saved their life. Billingslea then explained that it was those moments, the moments where he hears how he’s affected people for the better that made his acting career extraordinary.
Finally, with the Cowboy Bebop live action announced for Netflix and set to begin production this year, he was asked who his fan cast for the roles of Jet, Spike, Faye, and Ed would be. To which he responded “Me, Steve Blum, Wendee Lee (Faye Valentine), and Melissa Fahn (Ed Wong).” Or in other words, the original English voice cast of the series.
Although the panel structure was the same as the one previously written about, the lack of AV support and loud conjoining room were less of an issue during this panel. However, next year I hope that such a powerful experience doesn’t have to compete with a roaring bass in a room next door.
Are looking to watch some of Billingslea’s more recent anime voice work? Check out Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World, previously recommended on one of our community podcasts, Did You Have To?, currently streaming on CrunchyRoll. You can also check out Last Hope, a Netflix Original anime series that came out last year.