Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, April 27, 2014

1,2,3, Lets Jam AKA Time to Talk on Cowboy Bebop

This has been a long time coming but it's time.

As a metatextual comment on Lupin the 3rd, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is stellar, brilliant, genius. As a sexy, quasi-serious contemporary revival, not so much. It's more concerned about analyzing itself and the nature of its characters than just being itself and those characters.

But then I got to thinking. You know I already have my sexy serious contemporary revival of Lupin the 3rd.

And it's called Cowboy Bebop.

While I like Lupin the 3rd, I love Cowboy Bebop. It was the anime that made me start taking the medium of anime, no animation seriously. I think part of what made me expend so much brain power while watching The Woman Called Fujiko Mine,  was the subconscious understanding that since Lupin the 3rd the is spiritual parent of Cowboy Bebop, Fujiko Mine could also be read as commenting on it.

But right now after my depressing "mind control rape of Fujiko/Fujiko the Pediphile Rapist" dissonance revelations. I need my sexy serious contemporary revival of Lupin the 3rd. (I ain't letting anybody take that away from me. Hell no! Cold dead hands and a magnum.)

Let's Jam!

"I Think You Do Better As A Thief Bounty Boy," The Children of Lupin
I just want make it clear the tonally and visually Cowboy Bebop owes a lot to Lupin. Most people know that but in light of Fujiko Mine I want to talk about it a little.

Spike Spiegel's caracter model is a literal cross between Lupin and Yusaku Matsuda. And that guy deserves more than I can give him by plagiarizing Wikipedia. So moving on.

Also Feye Valentine's is basically a modern Fujiko. Except while she and Spike do have sexual tension their character dynamic is closer Mr. and Mrs. Smith's dynamic after the big fight when they are not so secretly trying to kill each other.

Eh they aren't that bad. But neither of them is trying to woo the other the way they would if this were an actual Lupin joint.

If anything their relationship is about slowly revealing thier complexities to one another where non-romantically they care about each other's well being making it a much more serious statement about human relationships, than "Fujicakes".

And Jet seems like a melding of both Goemon and Jigen depending on the context of the scene.

Lights, Cameras, and Music 
Cowboy Bebop is a very cinematic show. While I want to talk about the influence Lupin had on it you can't ignore that this thing is wearing film and music references on its sleeves.

To create that cool noir feel the show uses and embraces Yoko Kanno's soundtrack, which is some of the best music I have ever heard in my life.  My first experience with blues wasn't John Lee Hooker, or Mississippi Fred, or Muddy Waters, or Howling Wolf or Led Belly, or Lightning Hopkins, or B.B. King, or Little Walter, or Sister Rosseta Tharpe or Big Mama Thornton.

It was "Spookey Donkey" in those magical first scenes, whispering in my ear thoughts of home, not my home, but the idea of home. Not prestine, not perfect, but this is where I sleep. This is where I breath. This is my space. This is my spirit. This is me. Home is a very important concept to me and this moment, in this show, in this this song was when what it means to me was crystallized. When an idea that is so difficult to put into words was communicated to me without them.

Lady has soul.

And just in case the music didn't speak for itself, which is impossible, every episode title is a music reference.

The blazing question every fan of the show has to ask themsevlves eventually is would the show still hold up without it.  Hidunno. To me the music and the show are too married for that question to matter.  You can't take one without the other.

But back to the visuals the show seems animated to be like a movie, animated mostly to allow greater visual freedom when the setting and cinematography demands it, it is (mostly, the faces are expressive and have their moments.) devoid the "cartoonyness" I had seen up until that point in animation.

Character Independent of Story
One of the reasons why I stalled on discussing one of my favorite shows is that Bebop is very episodic (as was Lupin). I mostly like to tackle media from a writer's perspective talking about overarching themes, motifs, character developments. You get the drift.

But in shows like this that's hard. Yes there is an over arching plot, and yes characters do move a bit. But from episode to episode that's not the point.  The point is just to experience these people.

Will they sometimes open up to you and talk about their past. In due time sure, but in the moment, when money is on the line who has the time.  And that's what makes the character development meaningful.

Towards the end of the show almost everybody gets a back story episode. But these characters are not their back stories. Sure that's a part of who they are but that's not all of who they are. They (oh my god Ur-Fujiko) exist independently of all of that.

And that creates a really great contrasts because each character also gets their own introduction episode to establish not their story, but their character. Not what they are, but who they are.

By the time we do learn their back stories these guys are already fully realized characters. It's even that way when it comes to their arcs. These aren't guys being pushed around by a story but the other way around.

You Can't Run Forever
If I did say there was one over arching theme though it would be how the past affects us.  All of our main cast are desperately trying to operate independently of their back stories. For the most part they do, but every few episodes...

And that really to me seems to be the point of the last few episodes. It's the point where all of those pasts force the characters to stop living in the moment, and do so in a way where the status quo can't be returned to.  Where they and the audience can't pretend this is a normal walk in the beach.

While there is an ensemble cast Spike is the main character and the big back story that the series concerns itself with. The other characters get a back story episode or two  but  the arc of the series, the development and movement is about getting him to stop living in the moment and confront his past. So now I guess I do have to start talking plot and setting and all that good stuff.

Cowboy Bebop is a science fiction show, but it feels closer to old-school noir or even a 70's neo-noir. Spike left a crime syndicate and has been running ever since. Its hinted that he was pretty high up the ladder, the young heir to the throne so to speak.

The plot as we know it takes place three years later. Spike's on the run living a different life and in a way is a different man. We don't see much of that old Spike, a few flashbacks here and there, but despite our expectations almost every one of his old crime buddies is glad to see him.

Bad things have been happening since he left and whenever they see him its a relief.  Even if it means going to war they're willing to fight for him because to them its better than the alternative. Vicious, Spikes old buddy who's been murdering his way up the ladder and sabotaging all attempts peace in the underground.

But almost every time Spike leaves the world that's a "bad dream that (he) never wakes up from."

He runs back to the series status quo. Back to the Bebop, back to his home, until finally he can't.

Spike has already lived his story, and what we the audience are watching is the epilogue as he struggles to find meaning in it.  The calm cool suave Spike is the spike who doesn't care about that meaning, the Spike who doesn't care for narrative, the reliance on which always seems to bite him in the ass. Screw that. Who he is doesn't depend on the plot. He's bigger, stronger than that.

But that's not the only Spike we see.  And if you've seen the show you know what happens to that other Spike.

See you Space Cowboy.

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