I was first introduced to the world of Cowboy Bebop in middle school I believe. The first episode I’ve ever seen of the series was Session 19 Pierrot le Fou.
A shocking entrance into the world of Cowboy Bebop and perhaps depending on one’s view of the series it was either the perfect or worst way to be introduced to the world of Cowboy Bebop. That particular episode was mostly silent, more horror than action, cerebral and disturbing, yet distilled as a high adrenaline, high insanity episode that is expected of the series.
After watching Firefly on Netflix I found myself wanting to revisit the world of Bebop. I picked up the complete series on DVD and began watching from the first session all the way to the twenty sixth, something I haven’t done in a good 4 years. Lot of episodes I remember, more episodes I’ve forgotten. Moments I loved and moments completely new. Watching all 26 sessions over the span of three days was the perfect escape I needed. And now as all things loved reaches its natural conclusion, I’m going to try to explain to myself what it was exactly that made the past three days damn near perfect. Episode by episode and maybe even the movie which I saw on Netflix for the first time about 5 months ago. Also spoilers.
3. 2. 1. Let’s Jam.
If ever there were a more perfect introduction to a series, this is it. Quite frankly, going back to the first episode after already having a knowledge of the series makes the first episode the perfect capsule for the entirety of the Bebop universe. The creators from the get go definitely had the entire philosophy of their show mapped out before the end. First there’s the characterizations, the philosophy of Spike, of Jet, their relationship, the mysteries. Everything about them shown in this episode have the right amount of characterization to have you invested in these characters. There’s also the fight scenes and chases, both staples of the series, both choreographed to perfection from the start. Then there’s also the philosophy of the show itself. The rule of cool, the homage to Antonio Banderas, the Noir staples, all present, all blended.
There is an entire mythology around the Cowboy Bebop universe and yet because it's derived from modern (or at least 90's) trappings, nothing seems unfamiliar. At the same time it's original in concept rather than something as lazy as "Space Cola". There are Bounty Hunters in space, drugs called Red Eye, foreign planets that characters call home. An entirely new universe that feels foreign and familiar at the same time. Nothing needs to be explained in detail, everything is comfortably foreign. I believe that to be the true genius of the Bebop world.
Truly a series that would break genres right from the beginning and it would be known as Cowboy Bebop.
Stray Dog Strut
If the first episode was viewed by a newcomer the impression would probably be the same as the one we all had. A cool show with cool characters and lots of action. I wouldn’t be surprised if the director wanted each and every viewer of the new series to think that way. Then decided to show the remaining half of his genius, the parts where the show is not only an ultra cool sci-fi action anime, but a humorous slant on everyday life in space. A couple of bounty hunters are on the job. Their target? A dognapper. The drugs that made the user super crazy and super creepy in the previous episode? A super intelligent dog in this one.
There is no doubt that this episode has a different pace than the first but it sets up the audience for the unexpected. For every episode like Asteroid Blues the audience will have expect an episode like Mushroom Samba and on the extreme side Pierrot le Fou. The unpredictability of the series is what drew many to it in the first place and surprises are always something to expect with each episode of Bebop.
Honky Tonk Woman
Around the time I saw this episode all those years ago, Faye Valentine was the sexiest character in existence to my young television addled brain. More than that I could probably go on about how she is one of the more stronger female characters in entertainment, but anyone who has seen the show could probably make similar arguments and would lead this analysis into trodden territory. Because obviously a woman who is in charge of her sexuality, plays all the right hands, can pilot a star craft and shoot at people all while keeping up the femme fatale persona is a role model in some sense or another. Aside from that though there is a really cool outer space sequence which involves the trading of money and of course is action packed.
There is one thing I want to touch on before I finish with this episode and it’s an idea that I will be centering on throughout the rest of the series and it’s the idea of wandering. Space is large. More vast than the ocean and infinitely more lonely. Without a destination or goal one is just a drifter, something Faye calls Spike during the episode. A “Gorgio” without pride…maybe being an unproductive member of intergalactic society means death.
This episode has one of my favorite openings ever. We see Faye without fuel orbiting a planet waiting for a little help getting to her destination. The food wrappings and discard float around her as she again uses her sex appeal to try and fish some aid from fellow travelers to no luck. All the other space travelers are going fast; faster than Faye, faster than the Bebop. Those who pass by Faye have destinations and goals unlike our female protagonist and the lack of inertia from both her and the crew of the Bebop would lead to their reunion later on in the episode. Both have nowhere to go so why not drift together?
The episode scared me a bit with the eco-terrorist called “mama” by her followers. Her inability to accept any “monkey business” was a bit monstrous and the implications of her experiments were more than diturbing. Still her goal is like those of all eco-terrorists and she would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids and their dog. The episode ends with a nail bitingly tense race for survival on the edge of literal oblivion, the kind of action you’ll see that gets the blood pumping and perhaps acts as a catalyst for Spike to accept Faye into the crew after surviving an ordeal like that. On the list of things Spike hates the most, animals, children, and women with attitudes he’s now inhabiting with two of those.
We’ll have to wait for the other a bit.
Ballad of Fallen Angels
If you saw only the first two episodes of Cowboy Bebop and decided it wasn’t for you then you made a mistake. In fact, if you stopped anywhere before watching Session 5 Ballad of Fallen Angels then you stopped too soon.
Legendary, mind blowing, breath taking. Ask any fan which episode of Cowboy Bebop is their favorite and this is surely in the top 5.
Beginning with two criminal organizations ending the bloodshed between the two forces, the peace doesn’t last long with the appearance of a mysterious villain. What follows is a glimpse into the mysterious past of Spike Spiegel with its only purpose raising further questions. It unfurls to operatic heights of shootouts with gangs in a church reminiscent of Hong Kong action movies of John Woo (a personal favorite of mine actually). The wet dream of Quentin Tarantino on opium reaches penultimate heights in a beautiful end sequence.
And in the midst of all the violence are two quotes. “When Angels are forced out of Heaven they become devils.” and “I’m just watching a bad dream I never wake up from.”
There is a theme that I’ve been focusing on throughout my viewing of the series and it’s that without a sense of purpose in life, one is subject to a slow death. Finding a purpose in life is hard and maybe one can’t truly awaken until they find their calling. Perhaps the ennui of life is actually the feeling of death. Maybe all this talking means I shouldn’t be allowed a keyboard and access to the blogs.
If you enjoy anime but not fanatically, a passing curiosity with the Cowboy Bebop series then I suggest watching Session 5. The enclosed storyline of each episode in Bebop means you can jump into pretty much any episode in the series without prior viewing and Ballad of Fallen Angels may be just for you if you need a quick kick of some good action flick.
Well that’s the first 5 episodes of Cowboy Bebop. I don’t really know if I should continue or not but I do want some feedback for future references.