Thursday, November 19, 2009

Creative Curveballs: Cowboy Bebop: You're gonna carry that weight

(This is the first installment of Creative Curveballs, a series that will examine and applaud works of fiction that depict the unexpectedness of reality. As stated last post, this will be spoiler-ridden. Also, it assumes the reader knows the piece in question to avoid too much explanation. You have been warned. If you don't know the piece in question, though, the following may still be worth your time. Maybe.)

The crew of the Bebop, from left to right: Jet, Spike, Faye, Ed, and Ein

Cowboy Bebop was a classic sci-fi anime of the 1990s. The show, despite being Japanese, had a western flavour to it: the episodes were, for the most part, self-contained like in North American animation, and the music was rife with blues and jazz (specifically, the titular "bebop"). As such, Cowboy Bebop's fandom tends to encapsulate not only die-hard anime fans, but people who usually don't like the genre.

It was with this knowledge that I wanted expose my younger brother to the show. He is very much aware of my love for anime (and, more cringingly, my love for cheesy J-Pop), but he has never been too interested by it. However, we usually have very similar tastes on a number of other things, and I was curious to see if Bebop would jive with him. After much delay, I finally got him to sit down and watch the 26 episode series and the movie that followed. The results were what I had hoped: he had enjoyed it.

Something interesting came up, though, while we discussed the show's end -- or more specifically, Spike's final decision to take on his former crime syndicate after the death of Julia. My brother was disappointed by Spike's last actions. He noticed that throughout the series, Spike was very focused on the present (despite his occasional run-ins with his former life), and would even dissuade others from living in the past (Faye in particular). Thus, Spike's choice to knowingly end it all in a battle with his past was something that seemed beneath him. Spike knew better.

The reason I bring all of this up is to illustrate that Cowboy Bebop is a show that depicts the unexpectedness of reality. The show throws a curveball, and asks the audience to deal with it.

Now, I agree with my brother. By all intents and purposes, Spike should have realized that his actions would prove nothing, and they would most definitely not bring Julia back. He ignored his own advice, and death was his repercussion. It was his punishment for being out of character. But was he really?

We learn from Spike's final exchange with Faye (taking place just before he goes to fight the syndicate for the last time) that he lost an eye in the past and that he now has a robotic replacement (something which the show had hinted at previously). Spike claimed that, after the operation, one eye always saw the past with the other seeing the present. He was thus unsure if he was really alive, or if reality was a dream passing before him (this, in my interpretation, makes the assumption that Spike was unsure he survived "faking" his death when he left the syndicate years ago). This information, metaphorical or not, changed the idea of who Spike was. In an instant, his laid-back attitude was altered from being merely how he was to a possible coping mehcanism for his "dream-state".

Spike's eye disparity is only rarely made visible. During this scene is one of those times.

Faye herself was taken off guard by the revelation:

"Don't tell me things like that... You never told me anything about yourself! Don't tell me stuff like that now!"

She even goes as far as to tell Spike of her own run-ins with her past, which she had, until recently, no recollection of:

"My... memory came back. But... nothing good came out of it. There was no place for me to return to..."

It wasn't long before she got straight to the point:

"Are you telling me you're going to just throw your life away!?"

In turn, Spike responded:

"I'm not going there to die. I'm going there to see if I really am alive."

I include the above excerpts because I think they hone in exactly at my point. In the exchange, Faye embodies the mindset of the viewer, one which cannot accept the incongruity of Spike's choice with the way he had been presented up to this point. The audience may now know Spike's reasons, but it still does not seem to fit. The audience, sitting upon the expectation of knowing the ins and outs of things as they occur, is thrown, just as they would be in real life. Human beings rarely know all sides of an event, let alone what someone's true person and motives are. Cowboy Bebop recognizes this, and decides to use its main character as the vehicle for this aspect of reality.

Now, to be fair, the series does hint at Spike's deeper bonds with his past throughout the series -- especially when he encounters the syndicate -- but he still tended to look forward rather than back. The point still remains that his death was wholly avoidable, and as such Cowboy Bebop is a great tragedy. Sure, the series is on the whole an action-comedy, but there is always that twinge of sorrow, culminated in the last two episodes. And it was real in a way many works of fiction aren't. We did not wholly expect or agree with Spike's decision, but he went through with it anyway. He was not forced to do what he did, he chose it. And that's the most real thing of all, in a sense. Humanity will never act in pure logic all the time. Like it or not, it is an important aspect of life, one that should not be excluded from fiction.

(Some blog-notes: being inspired by a certain Chocolate Hammer, I'm going to be a bit more lax with this blog in terms of content. If I feel like writing, I will write here, regardless of whether I have an "essay" or not. I've been neglecting this thing for too long. As such, my next two installments of Creative Curveballs may be interrupted by other posts, but I see that as a good thing. In short, I will still write "essays", but I will also just write if I feel like writing. That is all.)


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