I can remember the exact moment I realized that Cowboy Bebop was different from other shows. Not just other shows, other anime. Period. It was while watching “Ganymede Elegy.” Halfway through the episode, Jet Black is sitting at the bar his former lover owns. He speaks his piece, telling her humbly what it did to him when she left.
“For some reason, I didn’t feel sad or broken up—it just didn’t seem real. But slowly I realized that it was real; that you were gone. And little by little I felt something inside of me go numb. After six months I made a kind of bet with myself; a pledge, that I would leave this planet and start a new life if you didn’t return by the time the watch stopped. I didn’t come here to blame you, I…I just wanted to know why. Why you disappeared like that.”
He sets his drink down. Inside his empty glass, the ice cubes melt, shift, and come to a new resting place. This is how it is with grief.
Shucks howdy, it’s time to break out your Piyokos and watch another episode of Cowboy Bebop! Today we’re watching session number nine (number nine...number nine...number nine...), “Jamming With Edward,” one of the many episodes titled after a Rolling Stones property. (Jamming With Edward! is a six-song EP featuring three members of the Stones plus Ry Cooder and Nicky Hopkins, comprised of songs written during the Let It Bleed era and produced by longtime Stones collaborator Glyn Johns.) With this episode, the final crew member of the Bebop hops aboard: ace hacker and goggle-phile Edward Wong Hau Pepulu Tivrusky IV.
Howdy, folks! How y’all doin’? I’m blogging the Blog of Shame today after far too long spent away. While I was away, my site got hacked, I had a job interview, participated in a media foresight excercise, recorded two podcasts, and celebrated Independence Day by finishing my re-writes—though not necessarily in that order. But now I’m back from outer space and it’s high time I wrote about the next session of Cowboy Bebop, “Waltz for Venus.”
Hi, there! I apologize for the tardiness of this post. I’ve been busy with those pesky re-writes, and writing a call for papers on Avatar: The Last Airbender. In between, though, I managed to re-watch episode 7, “Heavy Metal Queen.”
I can summarize this episode for you fairly quickly: the Bebop crew loses a bounty, meets a kick-ass trucker, trashes some ships, and almost gets blown up. Oh, and there’s a cat.
Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith...
In many ways, Cowboy Bebop is a story about the hold the past has on all of us, and the way we sometimes remain frozen in our moment of greatest trauma. “Sympathy for the Devil” announces this theme brilliantly. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past forty years, the episode takes its name from a Rolling Stones song told from Lucifer’s perspective as he recounts his experience of watching generations of humans around him fail and die. As we’ll see, this invocation is entirely appropriate.
“Ballad of Fallen Angels” marks the beginning of a plot arc that will span the entirety of Cowboy Bebop. It introduces the series’ major villain, and starts the slow dance of discovery regarding Spike Spiegel’s origins. It’s also a dizzyingly fast episode, with almost no preamble before the action starts.
It might sound strange to read the assault on and subsequent arrest, trial, and felony conviction of Peter Watts described as such. As I wrote in my letter to the governor:
On March 19, 2010, a jury of Port Huron residents convicted Canadian marine biologist and writer Peter Watts, Ph. D. for felony non-compliance when dealing with border guards at the Port Huron crossing. While leaving the United States on December 8, 2009, he was subject to an exit search. As a Canadian, he was unfamiliar with this process, and exited his vehicle to inquire about it. When he failed to re-enter the vehicle quickly enough, he was beaten, maced and arrested. But despite all that, despite the bruises (his face was purple) and the new roughness of his voice (the mace went down his nasal passages, scoring them like fresh meat) and the long wait for the jury to deliberate (“We’re running out of clean underwear,” Peter and Caitlin told me), the words “I love you,” have persisted on our lips and in our emails for the past five months. They were the only words that could possibly make the situation feel right.
Remember when I began this series of posts, and I told you that the last time I completed a full re-watch of Cowboy Bebop, it was at a friend’s place over the 2008 holiday season? Well, that friend was Peter Watts. And this episode was the one during which he sat up, turned to me, and said: “I really like this series. Why can’t we make stuff like this here?”
Cowboy Bebop might not strike anyone as holiday fare. There’s no singing. Nobody exchanges gifts. But this episode does feature a woman finding a place to rest after too long spent waiting and wandering. And on this show, that’s the closest anyone ever gets to a Christmas miracle.
“Gateway Shuffle” begins with Faye Valentine stranded in her zipcraft. She tries thumbing a ride, but gets left in the lurch. Cut to an orbiter off Ganymede. Inside a very fancy restaurant where the table takes your order through an intelligent surface, Spike and Jet are surveying their latest quarry. “The house special is Ganymede sea rat,” Jet says. He then explains that although the sea rats taste “totally disgusting,” and were only eaten by early space colonists in the days before the hyperspace gates stabilized, they’re now consumed for status as the result of a flashy ad campaign. Wisely, Spike orders the lobster miso stew.
Meanwhile, at another table, a severe-looking woman surrounded by men in identical t-shirts is eating a vegetarian meal. The men worry about an ampoule they lost. She implies that someone should take responsibility for what happened. “M...Mother,” one says. “You, Harrison,” Mother says, and forks her cucumber with more force than strictly necessary. She seems displeased but languid until she hears Spike and Jet’s bounty yell out an order for sea rat stew.
Sometimes, people who don’t watch good anime very often complain that the female characters aren’t strong enough, or that they’re forced into proscribed gender roles, or that they’re no more than eye-candy. *
Meet Faye Valentine.
The third episode in the series, “Honky Tonk Women” introduces a major character in a deceptively simple way. The camera pans down toward a crowded back alley. A woman in matching yellow vinyl shorts and halter vest makes her way into an old-fashioned tobacconist’s. The camera lingers on her long legs, her silk stockings, the way she crosses her arms while she inspects the merchandise. She buys a cigar, gets it lit by the owner. He tries to flirt with her, until she rests a machine gun on the counter. She pivots toward the door and points it in the direction of the men waiting for her outside. “You know the first rule of combat?” She spits out her cigar. “Shoot them before they shoot you.”
There are a lot of artificial binaries that divide human beings: male/female; old/young; red/blue. Most labels are inherently meaningless social constructs whose only value is created through consensual hallucination and cultural role-play. Most, that is, except “dog person” and “cat person.”
Spike Spiegel is not a dog person.
Stray Dog Strut is the second episode in the series, and it subscribes to Geoffrey Rush’s maxim from Shakespeare in Love about what makes a successful story: “Comedy, and a bit with a dog.” That’s essentially all there is to the episode: a smartass bounty hunter, a skulking thug, a hopeless sap, a crazy cat turtle lady, two lab flunkies and a Welsh corgi genetically engineered to be cleverer than all of them combined.
Hi. I’m Madeline Ashby. After seeing so many re-watch posts, I asked Pablo if he would be interested in re-watch posts for quality anime titles, too. He responded enthusiastically, and here we are. Although posting here is new for me, writing about anime isn’t. I blogged for Frames Per Second, I’ve published a peer-reviewed article on anime, I’ve written for Mechademia and I’ve been a panelist at SF Signal, Anticipation, and elsewhere. I even wrote a Master’s thesis on anime, although I’m now a student in the Strategic Foresight and Innovation Program at the Ontario College of Art and Design. If you’re still curious, you can read some of my stories or follow me on Twitter.
“When I first heard that music, it was like someone put a gun to my head. I had to sit down. I had to watch.”
This is what a television producer told me, once, when we were talking about Cowboy Bebop. Director Shinichiro Watanabe’s 1998 masterpiece, about four bounty hunters and a dog shooting their way across the solar system in 2071, tends to elicit similar reactions in people. The last time I watched the series in full was during a holiday marathon two years ago. Early in the series my friend turned to me, his face framed in the eerie glow of frozen animation, and said: “This is a great series! Why can’t we make stuff like this here?”
Indeed. Bebop has what most live-action SF television from English-speaking countries does not: a definite end date, a genuinely compelling story, great production value, interesting speculations on technology and a merciful lack of deus ex machina. It’s a series set in the future, not about the future, and is thus liberated from making any sweeping statements regarding the future. Perhaps for that reason, the world of Cowboy Bebop is neither a sun-dappled utopia nor an unforgiving dystopia. We watch it from the point of view of bounty hunters, so we see the dirty cops and the crime syndicate lowlifes and the mom’s basement-terrorists with delusions of grandeur, but 2071 remains a recognizable iteration of our current world. Ganymede fishing trawlers can be converted to achieve escape velocity, bounties on cross-colony fugitives can be paid from ATM’s, hyperspace toll gates are vulnerable to bugs in proprietary software and need regular firmware upgrades. Its most optimistic prediction is also its most accurate: every colony from Io to Titan is full of signage in Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish. There are brown people, black people and pale people with dreds, turbans and mohawks. Watanabe’s future is off-planet, and everybody’s there.
All these elements shall become clearer as the re-watch progresses. For now, let’s concentrate on the first episode: “Asteroid Blues.” (You can watch here, if you don’t already own the DVD’s.)