The Real Folk Blues Part 1: Cowboy Bebop Alternate Take


This deals with The Real Folk Blues Part 1. The ‘Alternate Take’ is basically a reanalysis of Spike’s story and for more context on it, please click here
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In an interview, Dai Sato says that Shinichiro Watanabe feels people will eventually understand his works when they revisit them 10-20 years down the line. Coming back after 15 years, I am people. Relooking at Bebop from the lens of Julia as an antagonist. This is a two-part thing. You can read the second part here. If you’re a fan of Julia give this a skip please.

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In Real Folk Blues, what never made sense to me is the scene where we first see Julia in the present-day narrative. We see her coming home to what seems like a stable residence, on Mars of all places, the home of the Red Dragon Syndicate. There is an answering machine…though that could be a wireless thing, but the atmosphere intended to be created in this scene seems to be of a stable life. She does not look like a hunted woman in any manner. This is deliberately shown to us versus showing something more conducive to a person on the run. We can always assume this is a hotel room, though nothing indicates that, but why on Mars?

In the scene, she receives a message from Shin informing her the elders will be on the move and it is not safe where she is as well so she needs to hurry. The official subtitle scripts mention that this message is from Shin, her ‘informant.’ Shin seems to be aware Vicious will attack and the Van will capture him, unleashing a death warrant against anyone related to him.

We next see Vicious attempt the coup and fail but he seems to be already aware that this plan will fail, hinting that he will strike further. In retrospect, Vicious seems to have had the entire coup planned out well already. He seems to know the Van are aware of his plan and allows them to capture him, getting them to lower their guard to where they believe he is at their mercy, before killing them. From the scene where he kills the Van we also get to see that he has a healthy number of supporters within the Syndicate already, but there are still some members working in a more neutral capacity, their loyalties with the Syndicate overall.

We next see Spike and Jet get attacked in a bar and Shin comes to cover Spike. It seems that this attack is done by the Van but we do get to know later when Shin returns to the Syndicate that Vicious was aware of the attack and specifically asks about Spike indicating that the attack likely involved his supporters, people already briefed on what they needed to do. It would also explain how the Syndicate overall, which had not been able to track down Spike till now, manages to locate him so quickly.

Shin is a part of the attack and relays a message to Spike that Vicious’ coup has failed, Julia is in danger, and “they” are in Tharsis, not specifying who but let’s assume he means Julia as well as the Van, the collective whole. But we see Spike’s reaction at Julia’s name as one of skepticism/suspicion rather than concern and, as he is walking away with Jet, he is not shown as anguished but rather angry. It seems almost like he wonders for a moment ‘Why is Julia in danger?’ since by now he seems to know, based on whatever happens during Jupiter Jazz, that she has been with Vicious all along. So perhaps he reaches a realization that they are planning to use his past connection with her against him as bait, under the impression that he still loves her, and it causes him to get angry.

He takes Jet to the doctor and is fidgety, keeping a lookout. Jet is concerned about him going off and getting himself involved. We see Spike flash back to when he asked Julia to come with him. She tells him he will be killed but he informs he will let them think he is dead and will be waiting at the graveyard. She tells him she can’t come with him but he is confident.

We next see Julia driving along thinking back to Vicious telling her he will kill Spike with her hands. We see her tearing up the letter given by Spike. The next scene is Vicious imprisoned by the Van and we cut to Faye, who is at the airport. When she leaves, she gets a call from Spike asking her to come to Tharsis and then Julia shows up, chased by goons behind her. Faye covers Julia, shooting the people chasing her and jumps into her car. They speak and Julia mentions she is looking for a bounty hunter. For some reason, she also seems aware that Faye knows Spike and asks the other woman to relay a message to him to meet her in the graveyard. Faye is baffled at how Julia knows she is associated with Spike.

Now, here we can assume that Julia is aware about Faye through her informant Shin but this seems rather strange. The anime guide explains her being in touch with Shin as him having reached out to her after getting angry over Lin’s death but how was Shin able to arbitrarily locate her when neither Vicious nor Spike could do so for three years?

The first scene, where Shin is mentioned as Julia’s informant, seems deceptive because Shin would be a pretty pathetic informant. Shin is a Spike loyalist, as we eventually find out, Vicious knows this and does not trust him at all, something we are also deliberately shown later. This is set up during Jupiter Jazz through Vicious’ distrustful attitude toward his brother Lin. Hence, he is not likely to be privy to Vicious’ internal plans enough to keep Julia one step ahead. In the first scene, Shin is informing her of the progress of the Van’s plan but when Vicious executes his second step plan and kills the Van, we are shown that Shin is baffled. So clearly, not the guy who has any clue about the inner workings of Vicious and his people.

This is how I interpret this scene. Due to Julia’s association with Spike, Shin believes he is in touch with someone who is on Spike’s side but in truth Julia is Vicious’ wild card. He is her informant unwittingly and she was the one who got in touch with him, not the other way around, to use him for luring out Spike. When we see him at the bar, he acts on her behest, informing Spike that Julia is in danger, something likely to lure the Spike who was in love with her out immediately, but that doesn’t happen. Spike gets away and Shin likely relays the same thing back to Julia. When this plan fails, she targets Faye next.

Why is Julia shown aware of everything Vicious knows? Vicious seems to be the only one aware of Faye’s connection to Spike and I really doubt he or his loyalists would have the kind of heart to heart where they pass Shin information about Spike’s companions. We can then assume Shin finds it all out on his own which seems very impressive but really counter-intuitive since it seemed to have taken Vicious three years to track down Spike. So Shin doing it in just a few days/weeks/months is quite the feat. Spike seems to have all but forgotten about Shin when he comes face to face with him so clearly he had not gotten in touch either.

Now, contrast everything we have seen about Julia so far to Spike who is also a guy on the run and likely was a much more prominent member of the Syndicate than Julia, since we have been shown Mao felt he was the only one who could stop Vicious. (I assume Julia was prominent since Shin addresses her with the honorific ‘Sama’ which equates to a very senior person. This could also be coming from her association with Vicious or Spike, who are both addressed with this honorific. Like a Lord’s wife would be addressed with the honorific ‘Sama’ as well in feudal Japan.) Anyway, Spike has no clue about the developments in the Syndicate. A guy like that is likely to be much more adept at staying hidden from the Syndicate as well but he spends his life living on an old fishing trawler in outer space where he can stay hidden.

Spike is assumed dead for a while so it makes sense for him to stay out of touch with everyone from the Syndicate but, even after Vicious gets to know he is alive, we do not see Spike re-initiate the contact with anyone except Annie, likely because it would be a loose end through which he can be traced easily. Why is Julia, supposedly on the run alone, keeping a thread like this alive then? Why is she shown living specifically on Mars, right under the Dragon’s nose?

So either we assume that Spike is dumb as all hell (which we know he is not) and could be living a lot better, or that the Syndicate are simultaneously very good and bad at finding people at will…just depends on their mood I guess.

When we finally do see Julia on screen, she seems “badass” and all but are we really shown a woman skilled enough to have managed to fend off someone like Vicious and the entire Syndicate for three years? Not really. She does not appear anywhere near as adept in combat as Spike is in the rooftop scene and, when she is driving around in her convertible chased by the Syndicate folk, doesn’t come close to being equipped for that situation as much as Faye is depicted to be. I always get the sense of a babe lost in the woods there and for the rest of the two episodes as well. Then how has she survived so long? In the flashbacks also, she does not come across as someone very powerful or self-equipped.

There is also the fact that this moment is when she finally chooses to seek out Spike despite seemingly having a staggering amount of information on him already. We can assume she was looking for him in the three years they were apart as well but, if she had the option to be in touch with people like Shin within the Syndicate, she could have taken their help to seek him out earlier as well. Or, if she is truly as skilled as a person would need to be to be able to evade the Syndicate and Vicious for so long while driving a bright red car and living on freaking Mars, she would have to be resourceful enough to be able to locate Spike sooner. But she doesn’t till the exact moment of execution for Vicious’ plan. I mean…the writing can’t be that bad can it?

So then, let’s take a step back and consider an alternate retelling of events than what we commonly believe (and which we are still dissecting years later), filling in some blanks. Three years before the story starts, Vicious tells Julia she must pick between killing Spike or being killed along with him. She cares for Spike but maybe got swept up in the thrill of a secret romance. She realises she neither wants to leave the Syndicate nor wants to antagonise Vicious. Their relationship is doomed and has no real future. Maybe she’s not even sure if Spike is someone she sees a life with. I also feel her association with Vicious keeps her captive, maybe she cares for him more than we are led to believe. So, she tears up the letter not to run away but to go underground.

She makes a bargain with Vicious when he tells her to kill Spike, knowing full well that he is not likely to allow her to live post the deed either, to allow her continued existence and association/relationship with Vicious but overtly under the status of a fugitive so she is not targeted by those who were close to Spike or by Spike himself, on the off-chance that he should turn out to be alive. She knows Spike is about to fake his death so he will be out of the equation soon. Maybe she lets Vicious believe Spike is really dead or maybe she informs him of Spike’s plan but does not know the specifics of it so they are not able to stop it from happening….or something else along similar lines.

Vicious seems incapable of love but perhaps she does have some sort of hold on him or they have a good working equation and he feels she can be useful to him in his plans as a secret wild card. He lets her live. Events happen as we see them happen and Spike fakes his death to enter a new life, believing Julia loved him but not knowing what happened to her. Basis the trigger he seems to lift during the flashbacks and which is something he uses again at the Red Dragon building at the end as well, I assume he fakes his death by letting everyone think he blew up in an explosion. So Julia lays low, working covertly with Vicious as he begins acting on his ambition to take over the Syndicate. She does it for survival or love or both. At one point, Vicious finds out Spike is alive or finally manages to track him down and eliminates Mao as he begins his plans to take over. Mao was taking the Syndicate in a more benevolent direction so Vicious would have felt the need to do that. Spike is the only one who is still a challenge to him now apart from the Van.

Anyway, cut to the present. Julia is shown to us driving a bright red convertible. What kind of person on the run would be shown owning such a car? Or would own a car at all? Faye and Spike are both on the run and they are shown with an entirely different category of vehicles which allow for quick getaways to obscure parts of the solar system. A car doesn’t allow that. It is a grounded vehicle, good for local commute…unless we assume she hot-wired it or something but it doesn’t seem so. It’s a very flashy car.

We also see that, unlike Shin’s belief on her location, Julia is likely not in Tharsis or travels out of it to wherever Faye is. We know from the exchange between Spike and Faye earlier that Faye is not currently in Tharsis so it is very strange for Julia to show up all the way in another part of the planet, exactly where Faye is. We can always assume Faye is in Tharsis and Spike just doesn’t know but how did Julia end up exactly where she did? Again, we can assume she was heading to the airport but her knowledge about Faye and her connection to Spike still keeps me suspicious. Or we can believe the anime guide and think it’s all one big coincidence in which case I’d rather watch Crayon Shin-Chan please. Especially given the fact that Faye is followed by Syndicate ships back to the Bebop right after her meeting with Julia, conveniently being found after having eliminated Julia’s trail already even as Julia herself, in her flashy red car, is not followed by anyone at-all.

Spike is a thorn in Vicious’ side since, apart from the Van, he seems to be the only one who can be a real threat to Vicious’ power and leadership of the Syndicate. Vicious sees him as a rival and we are also shown that there are loyalists to him within the Syndicate (e.g. Lin and Shin), who are waiting for him to come back and can upset things for Vicious. So, the next step after taking over is to draw him out and kill him, making Vicious’ supremacy complete. He fails at the bar so now he is counting on drawing Spike out. The first attempt at this is the message delivered through Shin, presumably at Julia’s request, and the second option is taking the fight to Spike using Faye. Perhaps Vicious knows about the whole Bebop crew but Faye is out on her own so easier to trace.

Julia is heading to find Faye (I’m assuming) but, on the way, she is accosted by Syndicate goons acting on the Van’s orders and that’s how she arrives at her meeting with Faye. Since Julia is Vicious’ wild card, she could actually also be attacked by his own loyalists as well since they would not know she is associated with him. I always find it too big a coincidence that Julia ends up exactly where Faye is on that very day.

The Julia/Faye scenario occurs. Julia is shown guarded, calculated while Faye is open to her. Faye becomes guarded only after Julia mentions she is looking for a bounty hunter. Faye is justifiably baffled when she gets to know Julia knows her and her association with Spike. None of this comes across as accidental to me each time I watch that sequence now. It seems constructed to arise suspicion in the audience at some point.

Anyway, Julia gives her message to Faye and she gets back to the Bebop to convey it. And lo and behold! She is followed by a gaggle of mobster ships smack on her heels who attack the Bebop. If the Bebop crew were so easily traceable Spike would not have stayed hidden three years and Faye would have debt collectors knocking down her door every morning along with the newspaper. There is a reason why they are living on the fringes of society.

This is extremely odd because Julia has just calmly driven Faye back to the airport indicating that they had lost the trail. How did the ships find her again? Is the Syndicate really so all-knowing or has the information been relayed to someone in Vicious’s immediate circle that Faye will now be making contact with Spike/heading back to wherever he is, thus revealing his location? That they should follow her in case they get lucky and she leads them back to him? Even if she had just given him a call, since the message relayed through Shin has failed, Julia may believe a message relayed through her is likely to have a better effect. The show gives us a clue to this as well when Spike tells Faye the ships may have followed her back.

Anyway, Faye conveys Julia’s message. Spike initially pretends he does not understand her but when she says Julia’s name he has to acknowledge it and seems surprised to hear the name from her. He was not present for Faye’s interactions with Gren during JJ nor was he there when Jet told Faye about Julia. These are not the kind of people who will sit down and gossip about each others’ love lives so Spike is not likely to be aware at this point that Faye knows there is a Julia in his life.

Compare his reaction at this point to the one he is shown to have during Jupiter Jazz at the mere mention of Julia’s name. He fought with Jet and took off like a comet, expressing that his number one priority was Julia over any of the Bebop crew members. But now we see him hear that she is under attack and being hunted but he is calm and unreactive. He simply tells Jet he is ready to take off. Granted they are in the middle of a pitched battle but there is simply no real reaction shown from Spike other than a shot when Faye actually says Julia’s name and he looks more angry than concerned. We don’t see any anguished shots of him worrying for Julia’s safety or thinking back to her. Heck, Faye seems way more concerned about Julia at this point than him. Why?

Even earlier, Jet is just shot in the leg and can survive on his own but we don’t see Spike running off to rescue Julia despite being informed by Shin already that she is in danger. Instead, he takes the entire Bebop and begins to move toward Tharsis. He could have simply returned Jet to the ship and then taken off in his zipcraft. Isn’t it kind of immature and inconsiderate to fly a wounded Jet along with him to the heart of the Syndicate? Literally anywhere else would be better for him. This part always stuck out to me and thinking on it I realized that Spike is aware that with events unfolding the way they are, he needs to destroy the Syndicate once and for all however he can. That decision is made for him the moment he hears the news, not when Julia dies. If he leaves the ship at this point, the people targeting him are aware of his affiliation with Jet and Faye. I feel Spike knows Vicious well enough to know he will not fail at a coup if he has started it. He would have enough aces up his sleeve to make it out.

Either way, if the people attacking him can find him, they can also figure out his association with Faye and Jet. Even if he leaves the ship, they have no way of knowing he has done so and his companions could still be attacked in an attempt to get to him, under the assumption he is still on the ship. So it is better if he is actually on board so he can fend off an attack if it happens. This is the reason why he begins to move the Bebop toward Tharsis and calls Faye asking her to meet him at Tharsis, to make sure she is accounted for and is with Jet when he finally leaves the Bebop and makes his presence known to whoever is in control of the Syndicate at that point.

When Faye gives him Julia’s message, he pretends he doesn’t get it and is not very keen on leaving till Jet asks him to go. I feel for Spike to receive that request out of the blue like that is very similar to seeing Mao’s bounty flash on the screen during Ballad of Fallen Angels. It’s an indicator to him that Vicious still is in control of the situation and hence his wild card is reaching out to him, unaware that he has caught on to the ruse. He knows he needs to go see what Julia is up to, to reveal himself, and draw the danger away from the Bebop. It’s interesting to me that the moment he leaves the ship and Julia becomes aware of his location, we are shown that the Bebop is not attacked again. Faye and Jet are pretty much left alone from this point on.

Read the second part here.

For more Cowboy Bebop essays, please click here

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PlutoMango

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12 thoughts on “The Real Folk Blues Part 1: Cowboy Bebop Alternate Take”

    1. Hey there! Apologies I’ve been super behind on my notifications. Thanks! I’m kind of in the same boat. Like all these new ideas and perspectives are popping up and I’m like…huh? Who knows maybe in another 15 years we will end up on a completely different page but I’m liking these answers.

  1. Hi! This is an excellent analysis and I’m scrolling to the second part. had a question though. Maybe it’s answered in the second part don’t know.
    spike’s kind of shown super hung up on Julia in the series even at the end like he’s really sad talking to Jet and all…what’s that about? Like this is making perfect sense but I don’t get that part. Is he like still in love with her but he knows she is bad for him?

    1. Hey there! That’s a very interesting question and one which I banged my head against quite a LOT while writing all of this. No, the other part unfortunately does not answer this question but it is important toward understand the eventual answer. I’m working on something which will answer that bit. Keep an eye out for it in the next couple of days, if not today.

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