With finely crafted visuals, a slick soundtrack, and tireless devotion to style, Cowboy Bebop already has a lot going for it. That said, if not for its characters, the show would not be as remembered as it is today.
As alluded to in the first post in this series, in the pupil of my teenage eyes, the crew of the Bebop all shone brightly as super-cool adults. But now, with nearly 20 years of life under my belt since that initial viewing, rather than looking up to the crew of the Bebop, I find myself relating more with their struggles. They are more than just “super-cool adults” now–if anything, they are a bunch of broken-ass adults.
This of course makes them even more fascinating.
In this installment of Future Blues 2020, I will hold the magnifying glass up to Cowboy Bebop’s not-so-esteemed cast of characters, and try to nail down how I feel about them now. Being older than a majority of the cast now, my viewpoint on these characters has changed significantly. What hasn’t changed is that they remain an endearing bunch of misfits.
Before reading, if you by some chance have not seen Cowboy Bebop, I recommend you do so, otherwise you will stumble upon some key revelations in the show.
As a kid, Spike was the epitome of cool: he smoked, he shot people, he lazed around, and he did as he pleased. Don’t get me wrong, Spike is still really cool. But he’s also a big kid, with issues–namely with regards to his grudge with Vicious and his relationship with Julia. While seeing Spike shoot up the Red Dragons at the end of the show is still fucking badass, as a youngster I simply thought, “oh, he’s the hero, he has to do this.” As an adult one realizes how both stupid and deeply personal of a decision this is, making that final scene extremely conflicting and emotional.
Faye ultimately grows attached to the Bebop, and Ed noticeably becomes close with everyone during her stay. But from the very beginning, Spike never demonstrates a true attachment to his place in the crew. This is not to say that Spike is cold, but from his nonchalant behavior and tendency to go off on his own, it’s clear that he sees his time on the Bebop as transient. Meanwhile, his devotion to cleaning up his unfinished business is unwavering. But it is this bullheaded obsession with the past that ultimately makes Spike the flawed yet compelling lead that he is.
In the context of the age we’re living in now, Faye’s character and her entire situation hits me where it hurts. She is the ultimate “fake it until you make it” millennial, in the sense that she literally has to fake it–she has no memory of anything. She doesn’t know who she is, or what she should do. All she has are survival skills. If that’s not the perfect picture of the millennial struggle, I don’t know what is.
Another cool thing about Faye is that her story shows that we are not defined by who we were, but who we are now. When Faye eventually regains her memory, she finds that nothing is waiting for her in her past, and starts to see value in her time on the Bebop. In stark contrast to Spike, Faye demonstrates that there is value in who we are now, and what lies ahead.
Jet stands out because he’s the oldest, and has seen the most. As such, both his perspective and pride drives tense character dynamics between him and the younger members of the crew. Taking these dynamics and his past relationships into consideration, this time around Jet struck me as a big ol’ burnt-out ex-salaryman.
As a cop, Jet would have authority over someone as young as Spike. But since Jet effectively quit his “salaryman” life to go freelance, he treats Spike as an equal in some respects–especially when it comes to drowning their sorrows in alcohol or eating a bunch of hard boiled eggs. At the same time, when it comes to work, Jet tries to exercise (non-existent) authority because of his seniority. He has a similar dynamic with Faye, but due to some deep-seated oyaji sexism, he is noticeably more condescending to her. Meanwhile, his stubborn personality has clearly hurt him many times in the past, be it in relationships or with work. While he wants to seem as if he has everything under control, in reality he has very little control over anything. Needless to say, I’ve met a kachou or two like him in my exploits throughout corporate Japan–I get his struggle. It’s real.
For a character as colorful as Ed, she has very little screen time. I always forget that she comes in quite late into the show, and doesn’t play much of a role until the run of more conceptual and goofy episodes in the second half of the series. That said, she remains as quirky and delightful as ever. It’s also sweet how she develops a weird rapport with Faye as the only other female crew member, addressing her as “Faye-Faye” near the end.
Ed’s departure remains bittersweet, as it’s clear that behind her myriad of quirks, she had more attachment to the crew than she let on. Her ultimate decision to return to Earth and face the reality that she ran away from is a very difficult one, and extremely relatable. But that’s what she needs to do to grow. Ed’s gonna be alright.
Vicious and Julia
Vicious is a straight-up Bad Guy. While Spike was part of the Red Dragons because that was all he knew, it’s clear that Vicious knew what power smelled like, and pursued it. When actually trying to examine Vicious, I find that he is not especially interesting–but given his limited screen time, the peeks we get into him and his world provide just the right amount of intrigue and context to drive the central conflict between him and Spike.
Meanwhile, I was able to enjoy the soap-opera tragedy around Julia more during this re-visit to the series. It’s not clear what her exact motivations were for not meeting Spike in the graveyard three years prior to the events of the show, but it seems as if she did it to help Spike start fresh, which gives her a layer of poignant sadness that I can appreciate. At the same time, the manner in which she picks things back up with Spike is endearing as well. But again, much like Spike’s decision to take on the Red Dragons, it’s a deeply emotional and flawed decision that invites major consequences. Needless to say, this kind of bleak melodrama is my jam.
The Supporting Cast
I would be remiss not to mention the show’s ensemble of supporting characters, who all never fail to provide a unique stroke of color in the show’s already varied palette. Here are a handful of my favorites.
Antonio, Carlos and Jobim: The “three old men,” named after Brazilian Bossa Nova composer Antônio Carlos Jobim. Between their sordid stories, card games, and alcoholism, I love these motherfuckers. It was also a welcome bit of fanservice when they proved to be instrumental to the finale of the movie.
Laughing Bull: At the start, Bull seems as if he would simply be a one-off character. But through his multiple appearances, the strange way in which he is tied in with the main story and Spike’s destiny adds some spiritual spice to the show’s already eclectic flavor.
Bob: Jet’s old co-worker is kind of cool because he represents what Jet could have been: Still in the system, but playing dirty–the kind of guy that pushed Jet away from the force. However, the manner in which Jet still relies on Bob, and how they are still friends, is a good reflection on both of their characters. And similar to Bull, I appreciate how the staff wrote a side character like Bob to play an instrumental role in the finale of the show.
Punch and Judy: These guys are great–both their characters and their in-universe TV show. You know it’s some bleak dystopian future when there is a Japanese-style variety show about hunting down human beings, complete with the hosts cutely telling the audience to “be sure to bring ’em back alive!” I really appreciate how Bebop goes out of its way to give human touches to these otherwise one-note gag characters, with Judy freaking out on live TV when she finds out Big Shot is cancelled, and Punch meeting his mom at the airport after said cancellation.
Among Bebop’s cast of characters are a lot of interesting folks who only show up once–the following weirdos stuck out to me this time around.
Appledelhi and Macintire (Hard Luck Woman): This eccentric pair are a nice treat right at the very end of show. Appledelhi’s bizarre and knee-jerk personality offers deep insight to how Ed turned out the way she did, and I can never get enough of “it’s MACINTIRE!”
Cowboy Andy and Ted Bower AKA The Teddy Bomber (Cowboy Funk): Andy is a picture-perfect depiction of a delusional otaku with way too much money on his hands. His mindless devotion to his aesthetic is astounding, as is the expedience to which he switches gears to his next esoteric obsession. As for The Teddy Bomber, when it comes to bounties, this guy is my favorite. I love the deep philosophy behind his actions, and how it ultimately falls upon the deaf ears of Andy and Spike. This of course forces Ted to betray his principles and try to kill the two of them. What a fucker–I love him.
Dr. Bacchus (My Funny Valentine): This guy is great just for his weird one-liners that never quite hit the landing, and his serendipitous resemblance to fat-era Al Roker.
Everyone (Mushroom Samba): The whole cast of this episode is a treasure.
VT and Decker (Heavy Metal Queen): The no-nonsense attitude of VT really drives Heavy Metal Queen… as well as Decker’s strange resemblance to Woody Allen.
Julius (Jupiter Jazz): While perhaps somewhat problematic now, I still love the gag with Julius in Jupiter Jazz and… maybe the movie as well?
TV Personalities (Assorted Episodes): I love the random characters that show up in the in-universe TV shows, namely Mark Rather and the amazingly designed and named Yuuri Kellerman.
From the complex and nuanced writing that fills out the main cast to the pop-culture inspired side-characters, it goes without saying that Bebop’s characters are what gives the show a lot of its… character. And with years between viewings, I was able to appreciate them so much more.
I look forward to reuniting with this group of goofballs whenever that time comes.
To Be Continued