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.
On the surface, “Ganymede Elegy” is a very simple story. A man makes his first trip home in years, meets the woman who broke his heart, and finally lets her go. Described so briefly, it’s almost uplifting. The final line of the episode, “After all, time never stands still,” reminds us that time is a blessing. It rolls on and carries our troubles with it, making them seem smaller as the distance between that moment and this one grows. It’s deeply symbolic when Jet throws his broken pocket watch (again, another wheel) into the canal and lets it float away. He’s learned his lesson. He can walk away.
But within the larger arc of the series, “Ganymede Elegy” emphasizes the strengths of Jet Black as a character. In it, we learn that on Ganymede, Jet’s old ISSP cronies called him “The Black Dog,” because once he bit he would never let go. Naturally, the episode requires him to do exactly that: let go, move on, make peace. In essence, “Ganymede Elegy” is about how Jet Black can do all the things that Spike Spiegel is incapable of doing.
The episode foreshadows this act of letting go when we watch Ed catch a pretty specimen of the Ganymede sea. She ponders its elegant frills and delicate colours for a moment before the creature uses its arms to detach itself from her lure. One of the things my husband and I love about the Cowboy Bebop is that each time we re-watch the episodes, we notice something new. This time, watching Ed wait for a bite, catch her prey, and frown as it escapes her, my husband caught his breath. “I never saw that, before,” he said. “It’s exactly what happens later, with Elisa and the boat.”
I had never noticed it before, either. Nevertheless, the scene with Ed and the Ganymede starfish does mirror Jet’s pursuit of Elisa and her new boyfriend (and fugitive bounty) Rhint, down to the way his Hammerhead deploys grappling hooks into their little speedboat and tries to reel it in before ripping out the transmission. But unlike Ed’s elusive catch, Rhint stays “on the line,” at least figuratively. Jet makes the collar. Elisa begs him not to, and Rhint tries to run away, but in the end he winds up in the ISSP cruiser and Jet heads back to the Bebop.
Another thing that struck me as I watched the episode this time was the relative lack of melodrama in this part of Jet’s backstory. (How he lost his arm is another matter.) In comparison to Spike and Faye’s romantic backstories, Jet’s is almost too mundane. But for me, that’s exactly why it works. Jet was happy with Elisa, but she lost respect for herself in the relationship. This was probably because Jet is just so capable, and because he doesn’t really need any one person so much as he needs to save people. Then she left (to later hook up with some panicky hoodlum who desperately needed her). It ripped Jet up inside, and he wondered why it happened, but he didn’t break. Eventually, he’s able to move on. This series of events unfolds all the time in real life, and including it helps Cowboy Bebop feel human despite its alien setting. It’s in part the delicate balance between the known and the unknown that makes the series work.
In the background of this story, we see a lot of little details that indicate what life is like on the Bebop during the crew’s off-hours. Spike, dressed as Shaggy from the original Scooby-Doo, washes the Swordfish II and does some minor repairs. Faye engages in another kind of grooming: she covers herself in oil and suns herself. (When Ed asks about her beauty regiment, Faye confesses that it is an ultimately futile and useless pursuit. I’ve always loved that moment between the grown woman and the little girl.) For her part, Ed seems content to go fishing and occasionally take Ein out for tea.
Ed mentions doing this in the first half of the episode, after the crew turns in their latest bounty on Ganymede. Whatever else Ed may have done to help catch the guy, she’s certainly done her best to freak him out: she gets the drop on him in his makeshift brig and proceeds to bite him. (I can only imagine how this went over at central holding.) At this point, I think it safe to say that among the many artistic influences upon Ed as a character, we can count the feral child from The Road Warrior. You know, the kid with the killer boomerang and no pants? That’s Radical Edward’s distant relative.
Her appearance at the police station did make us wonder, though: does Ed get a cut of the bounty? Granted, her hacking skills are so good that she could probably finagle some sort of Superman III scam in no time, so maybe money isn’t a problem. But if this were true, the starvation that occurs in later episodes wouldn’t make too much sense. Our best guess was that Edward does get a cut, if only because Jet is a decent enough guy to set up a savings account for her. (In a pinch, it could also serve as a tax shelter!) Perhaps her tea budget comes from this. Or perhaps Jet just doles out paper woolongs when she asks.
It’s amazing how much time I spend considering details like this. I hope I’m not alone. I’m not alone, right?
Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer and a student of the Strategic Foresight & Innovation program at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Her next story will be out soon. She’ll tell you when.