Listen while you read. It’ll be worth it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6zDfxZ4NcE
Cowboy Bebop is an anime that is comprised of primarily stand-alone episodes that follow the adventures of a group of bounty hunters. It is set circa 2071 where space travel is a norm and people might have a second home on Mars. The over-arching plot centers around the main character, a bounty hunter named Spike Spiegel– which means mirror in German, a crime boss named Vicious and the woman that they fight over, Julia.
Spike Spiegel: I’m not a criminal. Oh that makes me seem even more like a criminal, doesn’t it?
Spike is the surly, but well-intentioned protagonist. Over the course of the series, a brief 26 episodes, he gains and loses countless amounts of woolong (their currency), encounters an ex-cop turned bounty hunter, a woman with no past, a kid hacker and a genetically altered corgi. Spike is fairly ruthless when it comes to his bounties. He and his crew are well-known for accidentally getting their bounties killed before they can turn them in. The whole series is motivated by his crew’s need for money to continue running their ship, the Bebop.
Faye Valentine: Survival of the fittest is the law of nature. We decieve or we are decieved. Thus, we flourish or perish. Nothing good ever happened to me when I trusted others. That is the lesson.
Faye Valentine is the crew’s resident Femme Fatale. She gets her own plot line for a few episodes to explain her origins which up until that point are just as much of a mystery to her as they are to the audience. Throughout the series, she presents a sort of competition for Spike as far as talent as a bounty hunter goes. She is capable of charm that is difficult for most of the men in the series to resist, but can also switch it off in the blink of an eye if it isn’t working to her advantage. The sexually charged banter between her and Spike is laced throughout the series in a way that is fairly consistent with what we’ve seen in noir. Faye proves herself to be just as capable as any of the boys and frequently gets away with more than they do, much to Spike’s chagrin. She serves as a major vehicle of exposition as she joins the crew after the show’s opening.
Julia: It’s all a dream…
Another femme fatale in the series is Spike’s ex-lover, Julia. She causes more trouble throughout the series than any other character and she only actually appears in one episode. She is the reason that Spike fights and the reason he does not accept Faye’s advances. Before seeing the back story between Spike and Julia, one might be tempted to peg her as the naive, virginal character, but she is far from it. She is most often pictured in a black leather body suit, black trench coat and black sunglasses. She is a dangerous woman in her own right, though she puts far less effort into her sexuality than Faye.
Jet Black: Everything has a beginning and an end. Life is just a cycle of starts and stops. There are ends we don’t desire, but they’re inevitable, we have to face them. It’s what being human is all about.
Jet Black (what a name) is the owner of the Bebop and an ex-cop. He saw the office he worked for getting corrupt and so opted to deal out his own form of justice in the way of bounty hunting. Jet is the straight man in this crew of loose morals. He is not partial to the idea of harming innocents and would rather lose a bounty than hurt an innocent person, unlike most of his crew. Jet is the crew’s oldest member at age 36 and is the butt of a fair many jokes. He serves as a more minor vehicle for exposition than Faye, but still gets the occasional flashback starting with, “Remember the time you told me about…”
Ed: Smoke smoke, Faye Faye. Puff puff, Faye Faye.
If the show has a virginal, naive character it is Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky the 4th (a name she made up for herself). She is the crew’s resident hacker and is primarily there to provide comic relief along with her companion, Ein. She is the crew’s youngest member at the age of 13.
Vicious: Angels that are forced from heaven have to become demons. Isn’t that right, Spike?
The aptly named, Vicious, is the primary antagonist of the series and is always shown in darkness. He is the head of a crime syndicate that Jet fought against when he was a cop. He is also shown through flashbacks to be Spike’s old war buddy. He is also shown to be the man that Julia left Spike for. His rivalry with Spike is what drives him and he on many occasions makes it known that he will do whatever it takes to see Spike dead, even if it ends his own life. Vicious, like Julia, only appears in a couple of episodes even though he is one of the main driving forces behind the plot of whole series.
This show doesn’t just have noir characters. It is full of canted angle shots and gratuitous shadows. The canted angles and darkness are ever-present in Cowboy Bebop. They are something that the average audience member wouldn’t notice; I for one only noticed while rewatching sections of this show in preparation for this blog post. The cinematography was clearly influenced by noir and because the show is animated, they can create shadows and angles that they may not have been able to in a live action noir film.
Vicious: So you are finally awake. I told you before, Spike… that I am the only one who can kill you.
Spike: I’ll return those words back to you, Vicious.
Vicious: Either way, we were destined to end up like this.
The show’s ending sequence where Spike and Vicious show down after 26 episodes worth of cat and mouse is very reminiscent of the overall theme of most noir. There is no happy ending for this anime. Over the course of the final episodes, the crew disbands and Spike goes off to seek Vicious one last time, this time knowing exactly where to find him. By the time Spike reaches Vicious, he has lost humanity. Julia is dead, but the two men must still settle their debts. The audience looks on in horror as the two settle it the only way they know how as soldiers, crime bosses and bounty hunters: with death.
As is a staple of noir, there are truly no happy endings, but this show really goes out with a…