Cowboy Bebop: The White Cat and the Tiger-striped Cat

This is a part of my “Alternate Take” on Bebop, basically a relook at the same series but from a different perspective. You can click here for background on that. This is a four-part series on the relationship of Spike and Faye across the entire series. The others can be accessed below:

Author’s Note: Very often, as I keep writing these pieces, I ask myself why on earth am I doing this. I am not getting anything out of it. When I wander around the internet, everyone is saying the show is something else….and I have also believed it to be something else for all these years. Why am I then spending so much time and effort doing all this? I do have a day job and a day life. I honestly have no answer other than the fact that I feel like I have to. The posts do get quite a few visits and I have heard back from people saying this makes sense to them so I guess there are others out there who want to read this. So it seems this is for you as well as for me. This is for AldreanTreuPeri, who has pretty much been a very consistent presence and sounding board throughout this writing and I feel that without her I might have just flaked long ago on getting anything done. 

________________________________________________________________

I’ve been musing on what exactly happened with Bebop that, despite so much content pointing otherwise, people ended up with Julia as the prime love interest for Spike. The answer I finally arrived at was that Julia was deliberately built in the image of the “typical love interest” character trope with Faye intentionally designed as the exact opposite to maybe drive home a point. Keiko Nobumoto as a writer has built in very strong messages around women in her works and what she has done with the love interests in Bebop seems no different.

Faye Valentine as a love interest was a feminist statement way ahead of its time (and maybe still ahead of this time). I have written about Nobumoto-san in a bit more detail here in case you would like some context. If you are reading this and happen to be someone who thinks “feminism” is just a way to terrorise men and for women to take over the world then the rest of this post will anyway not make sense and will likely make for an uncomfortable read so suggest you give it a pass.

For me, one of the key themes in Bebop which, in line with her writing of female characters in other works, is a satire on how women are viewed by society. She created two characters, one appearing as the typical demure and “respectable” woman and the other an archetype of the “cheap and easy” woman and then flipped the tables on both. Appearances and narrow mindsets can be deceiving, seems to be the message. She created a protagonist who seemed indifferent to and capable of seeing past these, even if the viewer is not initially. The story is intensely human, intensely subtle, and very, very beautiful.

Perhaps this is why the commonly believed version of the story has always felt too simplistic, too base, too…”macho” and incomplete to me. When Spike talks about his “other half” it is very easy for us to imagine the uber-feminine Julia as the counterpart to this man who oozes “masculinity” and charm. That’s what wives are “supposed” to look like, dressed in aprons, smiling, and singing for you. The image of Faye Valentine is not a ready fit and most people still struggle with the idea because that is simply not how they view women. How can a woman who dresses in tiny bits of clothing, who is assertive and difficult, who is very flawed in ways real women usually are, be anyone’s “other half,” much less that of a guy they look up to? The idea here was not to shame anyone for being feminine or glorify the opposite, but call out the general societal tendency to put labels, boxes, and irrational expectations on women.

And that’s what I wanted to touch upon before proceeding any further. In Bebop, neither Spike nor Jet are ever, at any single point in the entire series, seen commenting on Faye’s body, calling her out on the way she dresses, leering after her, or “slut-shaming” her. Other men are seen doing these kind of things but they are always treated by the series with ridicule and contempt, never respect. The crew call each other out on their idiosyncrasies and bad behaviour but never do anything uncomfortable. Faye never feels the need to “use her body” with the boys, something she has had to build her entire personality around because of how the men in the rest of the world are. She is just one of the crew as far as they are concerned.

Ed, a thirteen year old girl, is completely safe around both of these men. Jet, an ex-cop and a very “typically masculine” character does all the domestic work without every making a big deal out of it. When Spike flashes back on Julia he thinks back on both her in the “homely” attire, which she happened to be wearing during those memories, and also her “Syndicate” avatar in the black leather. Spike understands mid-way through the series that Julia made a different choice and chooses to accept that choice and move on. He does not take it on his ego and hunt her down to make her pay. It is only when she has to play against him in the end at Vicious’ behest that he gets back involved with her but never vengefully. He cradles her head and reassures her life is just a bad dream when hers is slipping away from her.

He gets irritated by Faye’s behaviour and bickers with her but begins watching out for her from fairly early on. When she needs emotional support while facing up to Whitney, he hangs around to be there for her but does not make a big deal out of it. Through these characters, Bebop tries to show us how men should be toward the women in their lives. Neither of the men are perfect but they try in the ways they each can. And that is why, for Spike, how Faye chooses to dress is depicted to not matter since he loves her regardless. That is her choice and irrelevant. He falls in love with the woman, not with what she wears or how she possesses flaws every human being will have. And that is why it is important to understand that his feelings for her begin before he gets to know about her past. They are not strong and he does not act on them because there is already someone else in his life, even if currently absent and ambiguous. He does not fall for Faye only after learning about her past, indicating that she was sweet and homely once. That just happens to be the point where he is no longer emotionally encumbered and committed to Julia, and can allow himself to get invested with her.

So how does Spike end up here? Hopelessly smitten, aware of it, and filled with a life-wish for the first time ever? The movie is set right after Session 22, so this goes back to the episodes post Jupiter Jazz. We know he liked Faye on some level already and then the realisation about Julia strikes, allowing him to let go of things finally, or at least begin to. Spike probably takes an emotional breather, needs some time to reset.

Going back to their motif of “entwined journeys,” from ‘My Funny Valentine’ the second half of the show builds Spike as the one to get a peek into Faye’s past and secrets. By accident, he ends up hearing her real story, waking up after 50 years to a new world and no memory, saddled with debt, and scammed by someone she liked. Bebop has this habit of covering up extremely poignant moments with humour and so he is shown saying idiotic things like her story needs editing and Whitney is probably crying in the afterlife, rather than sympathising with her.

But honestly, if it was really too long and he didn’t care at-all, he actually didn’t need to stay stuck in the bathroom eavesdropping till she finished it. When he is speaking to Elektra in the movie, she speaks of her love for Vincent stemming from a place of empathy, knowing no one ever loved him, and I feel Spike’s movement from passive attraction to love begins from a similar space.

The story he hears causes him to feel pain on her behalf. While he is brushing it all under calling her out on not paying Whitney’s debt and the story being yet another fake past, when she tells him this is her actual story, we are shown a certain expression on his face, again like he feels pain or concern over what she has gone through. He belongs to a troubled and difficult background himself so it would not be a stretch of the imagination for him to comprehend what it takes to go from a woman who trusted the first guy she met to someone who trusts no one. This is where his emotional wheels begin to move I believe, since he gets to see behind her tough exterior for the first time to understand who she really is

As the episode progresses and Faye runs away with Whitney to try and get some answers, Spike ends up going after her. Whitney is Jet’s bounty and the episode again goes out of its way to establish this is a small fry Spike would never be interested in. Even if Faye ran away with him, Jet could have very well gone after her but Spike makes it a point to, resulting in what can only be described as a lovers’ quarrel executed through a dog fight.

He knows she is hurting, lost, and confused. She is alone and feels she has no one at her back. He perhaps also begins guessing now at exactly how vulnerable and untethered she is. I get the sense from that scene that he goes out to make sure she is ok, especially because he knows how difficult it is to confront your past. He distracts her, engages her, does not let her fall prey to something irrational. There is also a chance Whitney could harm her, distraught as she is at the moment, and I feel Spike wants to ensure he is in the vicinity to prevent that from happening. The pattern continues with him making it to the police station, waiting for her outside, albeit under the guise of cashing in the bounty. He makes sure she is ok and not going through all of this alone. She is sad about not knowing her past but he gently points out she has a future and that’s what’s important. It’s very uncharacteristic of his interactions with her, much more caring, and tender.

The next couple of episodes deal with other subjects but Mushroom Samba is significant in what both Spike and Faye experience while high. He sees an unending staircase and she sees herself drowning in water way over her head. Jet simply gets to talking with his plants but nothing to do with insurmountable circumstances. The episode draws another parallel between the journey and current situation of these two characters.

‘Speak like a Child’ shows things no one is expecting. It’s a beautifully over-the-top episode with the Bebop boys risking hell and high water (quite literally) to watch one tape which has nothing to do with either one of them. Spike launches into his “doing things for no reason” mode, the one he takes up when pretending to do something weird with the actual intention of helping Faye. This time he does so by acting like he has no brain cells left alive. Just as Jet is talking of returning the tape, he opens the parcel so he can’t.

From the moment they walk into the pawn shop, Spike starts doing things which will irritate the owner and will get them thrown out so the sale of the tape will not go through. He finally succeeds when the tape player begins eating the tape and he smashes it to pieces, kicking it unnecessarily hard till it breaks and getting them chucked out from the shop. A man so skilled in Jeet Kune Do would know when to stop kicking. Over here, I also wonder what Jet knows about Faye’s past (he was an ex-cop and could have found details about her cryo situation) since he walks the unnecessary extra miles with Spike to get the Beta player. Of course they get the wrong one and of course, once the correct one finally arrives, Spike immediately proceeds to open it up before Jet can return it.

We know what the last few scenes of the episode are like and the series deliberately cuts to Spike as the younger version of Faye is wondering if there is a wonderful person next to her.

I feel the theme of Spike understanding Faye’s overwhelming circumstances comes to a head here as he sees the young girl she once was on screen. Again the reactions shown on both his and Jet’s faces speak volumes. It would break anyone’s heart but I feel the protective streak Spike has anyway been harbouring for her so far reaches a critical point post this.

The episode Wild Horses sets up a hilarious reminder of how similar Spike and Faye are as individuals when they both cannot comprehend the computer jargon and then decide to shoot both purple penguin delivery trucks, unanimously agreeing it is a good idea without even considering that both might be real. Spike also comments how he is not one for delicate operations, reminder of similar statements Faye has made earlier in the series.

The truth is both of them are actually very similar. Spike’s ‘whatever happens, happens’ philosophy is mentioned by Faye as a life philosophy as well in Mish Mash Blues, though using different words to describe the same idea. Both characters are tough as nails and have managed to survive in impossible circumstances. Both are emotionally stunted due to their trauma but also capable of intense emotion and care. The similarity in their approach to death, courage etc. are all already established.

Faye is the very embodiment of the survival spirit. The circumstances she was set up with three years ago, she should not have been alive now. I feel that is what begins to awaken the will to keep living in Spike somewhere around this point. He has seen what she was like in her earlier life and the contrast is stark. He’s been wrapped up in his misery but then sees someone who has had it equally bad, if not worse, but hasn’t given up. Likely a sense of bonding and affinity emerges from the realisation.

This also goes back to the idea of seeing a woman who was “truly alive” which I spoke about in the last piece. He loved Julia who, despite all her strength, could not find the courage to break away and walk the line with him. She stayed shackled to what she had always known and abandoned him when he needed her most. Then he sees Faye who found herself in a situation she knew nothing about but was courageous enough to adapt and keep going. She is shoulder to shoulder with him, never giving in.

It likely also comes both from knowing how incredibly difficult things have been for her but she has kept going and from realising she has no one else but the people on the Bebop to take care of her. I feel he begins feeling the fear of death because if he dies he does not know if she will be well and cared for or not. Even though they are not in a relationship and multiple factors may be preventing him from taking that step with her yet, perhaps he realises eventually that he wants to live so he can be there for her.

That’s also reflected in what we see him do during Pierrot Le Fou. After Spike has received a solid beating up and is lying mummified on the Bebop couch, Faye makes fun of his recklessness and leaves an orange peal on his head, feigning indifference.

However, we see her moments later smoking with a mix of worry and anger on her face. The moment she sees Pierrot’s mail addressed to Spike, she gets panicked and asks Ed to hide it, knowing he will go.

He sees it though and realises if Pierrot can mail Ed then he can definitely trace the people in his life and likely hurt them while trying to get to Spike. So he has to go and face up to Pierrot. But I feel at this point Spike’s feelings are intense enough to want to know if Faye feels something for him as well. Perhaps, seeing her so concerned about hiding the mail from him, he senses that she might but doesn’t know for sure.

So he asks her in the most juvenile and adolescent way possible, asking if she will come rescue him. Faye is not amused but then she does come. She’s not much use to the fight and ends up being shot down almost immediately but it tells him for the first time that she cares for him as well and how much. This romance in his life is very different from whatever he may have had earlier since it is very much reciprocal, authentic, and really quite innocent on both ends. But he has not experienced such reciprocation before.

When she shows up he likely realises how idiotic he was in riling her up to this level of concern, thus explaining his reaction at seeing her there (again the Bebop theme of covering up a poignant moment with an opposite reaction). He said what he did just to see her reaction, not expecting her to actually act on it, believing his own feelings to be one-sided. Since she acts indifferent to him, he probably feels she does not like him that way or, even if she does, her feelings don’t go deep. But the fact that she comes in the face of sure death tells him finally that what he feels is equally reciprocated, even if she hides it. Faye risking her life to try and save his, regardless of how futilely, is the ultimate test of commitment. It’s part of the progression which leads him to refer to her as his “other half” later, since he knows he is as important to her as she is to him, even though they never actually reach a point to be able to admit it openly to each other.

Unfortunately, during the entire time Spike is falling for her, Faye continues to care for him but the perception built in her mind of Julia’s presence in his life keeps her guarded. We see that in the finale as well, the intense, suppressed emotions she is carrying around after meeting Julia. It continues till the very end of the series and he never does get a chance to tell her how he feels about her. It causes her to stay away from him, keeps fuelling her sense of not belonging on the Bebop, and he doesn’t quite know why since he is unaware she knows about Julia’s existence.

Boogie Woogie Feng Shui has some hilarious sequences of “dumbass guiding dumbass” as Spike and Faye conjecture at Jet’s relationship with Meifa, get kicked out by Jet for smoking, and then he declares themselves fairies as they defend the ship together.

Cowboy Funk is a love letter to fragile masculinity and Faye takes Spike’s case with the comparisons of his personality to Andy. The events of the movie happen right after this one but we don’t see Spike too overtly bothered by Faye spending time with Andy. He has not made any kind of commitment or confession to her so what can he really expect? I always feel his reaction to the can of stew had more to do with Faye returning from Andy’s place in the morning than his hatred for Andy itself. Anyway, the episode is an allegory so we can’t exactly take it at face value.

The events of the movie happen, which I have already covered earlier, and we see Faye kidnapped by Vincent. Despite the threat of death, she refuses to be an accomplice to someone like him. Even without the definitive jail scene between Spike and Elektra in the film, the story of Spike and Faye is traceable, but that piece was deliberately woven in later to go back and enunciate what is shown in the series. It shows the point where Spike finally accepts for sure how important this woman is to him. He already knows he is important to her as well. It ties in very well with what happens during the next chronological episode.

The next episode is Brain Scratch, the last one before everything goes to hell. We see Faye try one last desperate bounty at SCRATCH. Here again Spike does his world-famous deflective act. He reaches where Faye is and, the moment Jet informs the implications of the software used by SCRATCH, he switches off his communicator and goes in just as the other man is telling him they need to plan things out. He has seen her faint on screen earlier and knows there isn’t much time left to save her.

He finds Faye and Londes is dealt with by Ed, post which he just sits around till she wakes up. Spike’s presence being completely useless in saving Faye here is very similar to her presence being unhelpful in saving him from Mad Pierrot. But the idea is, it’s the intent and motive which counts and, in similar circumstances, they act identically toward each other. Even when they are not equipped to deal with the situation at hand, they cannot just abandon the other in the face of danger and would rather join in and try to help as opposed to doing nothing or running away.

Hard Luck Woman is an episode which begin the culmination of the series. Faye leaves trying to find her past connections and Spike is seen keeping tab of her leaving each time but seems to sort of let her figure her things out. He doesn’t know what’s going on but we see her continuing to feel the sense of not belonging on the ship. During the episode, Faye’s memory comes back and she lapses into her old personality for some time. He sees the resulting reaction and is concerned but she leaves immediately after. I have mentioned earlier too that I feel, while she definitely wants to find her past, she also feels she does not belong on the ship because she thinks Spike has no room for her in his life. The episode culminates with both Jet and Spike feeling hurt and emotionally eating double their share of boiled eggs as both the girls seem to have left the ship.

This episode is also significant due to its musical motifs which I have covered here.

And that leads us to the finale. I won’t go into the events between Spike, Julia, Vicious etc. here because again already covered in detail here but let me touch upon some things not included there. The moment the attack happens on Jet and Spike, he knows Faye will be targeted since Vicious knows about her. When Faye is at the airport, the scene with Alfred and his mother happens. While yes that scene is reflective of the Bebop crew as a whole, it is specifically relevant for Spike and Faye at this point.

Faye is chasing her past, trying to find a place she belongs to because she feels unwanted and in the way, just like Alfred’s mom. When she speaks to Spike later as well, she makes a point of telling him she has a place to go to, even though she does not. She feels she does not matter to him when in truth, getting her to safety is likely his top priority at the moment. Just like when Alfred comes, we get to know that he has been looking all over for his mother, Spike calls Faye breaking his norm of letting her sort her things out to ask her to come back and meet him at Tharsis. He tells her he wants her to help Jet but that is not such a big requirement. Jet is just shot in the leg and can manage-we do see him take his zipcraft to go see Bull during the next episode. Spike tells Faye to stop wandering and come back to ensure she is safe and accounted for, so she is not targeted by his enemies, but she brushes him off feeling again like she is extra on the ship and he is just calling because he needs something. She reacts initially with a flash of emotion at seeing his face on the screen but then schools herself into acting difficult.

He is right though, since she is targeted by Julia and the Syndicate ships follow her back to the Bebop. During the interim, Jet asks Spike to turn back and let go of the past and Spike responds to him by talking of a woman. Jet feels right now that Spike is going out of some bloodlust or hang-up on his past but I’ve already covered why that’s not the case. What Spike is telling Jet is that he needs to do this for a woman but what Jet does not know, and what Spike glazes over, is that the woman is Faye and he needs to do this to ensure she is safe, so that the past can be laid to rest and he can have hope to move forward to a life with her which is not hunted. The language he uses here, speaking in pronouns and adverbs, is the same as what he uses in the Jail scene with Elektra. These two scenes are perhaps the most misunderstood scenes in CB ever.

Spike tells Jet he saw a woman who was “truly alive” for the first time and she was a part of him he had lost i.e. his wish to continue living. He begins speaking in the past tense since earlier in the episode Faye has informed him she is not coming back and she has a place to go to now. So he assumes she has left them for good. He still has to do what he has to do though, even if she decides to never comes back.

He is looking out of the window and moves from using the past tense to the present as he sees Faye’s ship appear on the horizon, continuing in the same flow to inform Jet “She’s back.” Jet gets confused and then thinks Spike is talking about two different women when in truth it is the same one. The English dub does a weird meandering dialogue here but the screenshots are how it goes in the sub. I’ve already covered what he means by ‘other half’ etc. in detail in the previous part so will not go into that again here. Spike knows by this point that he is loved in the same way that he loves because he has seen the test of her commitment and hence he refers to her as ‘his other half’ even if nothing is formalized between them.

He knows that, with everything that is happening, he has to ensure he closes the door on the Syndicate once and for all so he can move on with his life if he survives, a life he wants to live now. He also knows the people close to him will be targeted so he needs to ensure the threat is removed completely. Jet is assuming his intentions to be steeped in the past when in truth he is looking to the future.

For Faye, she has seen Julia and her feelings of inadequacy and alienation from Spike become higher, indicated by her not using his name to Jet once she is back. But she does relay the message, even though Spike seems indifferent at first and then angry at the mention of Julia’s name. There is a lot of conflicting emotion in Faye as she goes to him sitting at the workbench, hesitating if she should give the message or not.

This would not be easy for Faye since here is a man she loves but has been pretending not to and has been running away from believing he loves someone else. Then she comes face to face with that someone else and all the fear she had of being abandoned by him has become real. It’s a testament to her character though that, even at a moment like this, she chooses to do the right thing (or what seems right to her since she doesn’t have the background on Julia’s true intent). He would want to know so she is conveying the message regardless of how much it kills her. She even tries to convince him by trying to drive home the point that Julia is in danger. It’s an incredibly selfless act of love.

Spike on his part pretends to not understand the message. Julia is not relevant to him now, not a priority but rather the exact opposite. He knows she has been working against him. And he wants Faye to understand that. He gets who Faye is referring to the moment she begins speaking but continues to dismiss it till she uses Julia’s name. He looks angry then as if infuriated Julia would stoop as low as to try and use Faye to get to him.

He leaves and Faye requests Jet to let her out as well. They defend the ship together and then Spike goes off to deal with the situation. It’s interesting that she is shown taking all the damage here, leaving him unscathed enough to go off. Faye and Jet discuss Julia and Faye gives Jet her description, looking broken up about how amazing Julia seems to her. I’ve mentioned in the second part why this is because she is overthinking the situation in her head without understanding what is actually going on. Spike is trying to keep Julia within his line of sight, knowing she is working with Vicious and likely intends to lead Spike to him under the guise of running away.

He comes back to the ship post Julia’s death, knowing he needs to go end things with Vicious once and for all now. Over here, he tells Jet the story of two cats, which is generally believed to be Spike conclusively telling Jet he is going to go die and not survive in the face of extreme injury the way he had before since Julia is dead and his will to survive is gone. But in truth, the situation is quite the opposite-he has recently acquired the will to live so it can’t indicate that.

There are two stories told during these episodes, the first is Jet paraphrasing the story of ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ by Ernest Hemingway which seems intentionally distorted. What Jet narrates of it is not how the story happens and the airplane is a dying dream of the main character Harry who has been thinking back to different events in his past till that point in the narrative. He was never headed to Kilimanjaro and gets injured in a hunting expedition. But in his dream, the plane he is on begins to move toward Kilimanjaro and then Harry knows that this is where he is now headed. The second story, however, is intentionally not distorted.

Just like Jet’s story is tweaked to align with what he needs to say in the current moment, Spike’s cat story could have also been tweaked to mention the tiger-striped cat meets his mate and then chooses freedom/becomes free, or this part could have been glossed over. It would fit his situation with Julia much better since he met her during his Syndicate days, not after becoming free. But this is not done. Spike specifically talks about meeting the cat after becoming free.

With the same deception where we are led into believing Vicious is the ‘true Samurai’ who can kill Spike till we go deep and understand what it actually means to be a true Samurai, we are misguided here and need to look deeper at the actual story to understand what Spike is trying to say here. This story is a children’s fairy tale called ‘A Cat Who Lived a Million Lives’ by Yoko Sano.

The story of the two cats begins only after the tiger-striped cat becomes free. The tiger-striped cat is loved very much by all its previous owners but they all end up killing him by mistake. They mourn him deeply when he dies but, at the end of the day, are all bad for him. On his part, he hates them all.

So he keeps coming back to life again and again, moving from one incompetent and incompatible owner to the next. One day he becomes free, and is his own cat, free to do as he pleases. He meets a lot of girl cats who want to be his wives and they throw themselves at him (not a fan of this element in the story but I didn’t write it) but there is one cat, a white female cat, who ignores him completely. He notices and goes to brag to her that he has lived a million lives, shows her his abilities but she remains unimpressed, simply commenting “Is that so?” Finally he stops this and just asks her if he can be with her and she says yes. They then spend their days happily together and have many kittens who grow up into fine stray cats. Eventually, the white cat gets old and dies. The tiger-striped cat cries a million times and then finally he stops crying. He lays down silent beside the white cat and dies too. He never comes back to life again since he does not need to. He has lived a fulfilled life with his beloved and joins her in death.

This story is very reminiscent of Spike’s own. He starts off not caring what happens to him, goes through near-death experiences again and again. He falls in love with someone but it is not enough to make him begin valuing his own life and he continues to be indifferent to danger and death, just like the cat in the story. And then he becomes free and meets someone who makes him want to live. The cat, earlier so impressed by his own feat at defeating death, finds joy in the mundane when it finally meets a mate who does not want anything from him, who complements him and helps him find stability and the will to live. This is not a story of a destructive romance with lives cut too short but of a beautiful equation between two people who are slow to find love and togetherness but when they do, it’s the real thing.

Spike meets Faye after he becomes free and she shows no interest in him. She has feelings for him but doesn’t display them just like he doesn’t really express to her what he may be feeling. They go through a whole subtle journey together, understanding each other and showing each other that they care, but it is all very muted. By the end of the story, he has realised his feelings for her, knows she cares deeply for him as well, and her presence in his life makes him want to live.

I always get the sense he starts this particular story out of the blue since he becomes aware she is listening to his conversation with Jet, standing outside in the passage. Him telling the story at this point perhaps comes closest to a confession of his feelings directly to her as we get on screen. He does confess them to both Elektra and Jet, though again so disguised that it is very easy to confuse them for his feelings for Julia.

There is also the line which he says to Jet while he is leaving. “I can’t do anything for a dead woman.” This is translated a bit differently in the dub but this is the translation in the subs. At this point, Jet has asked him why he is doing what he is doing and this explanation prima-facie does not answer Jet’s query at all unless we think deeper. Spike knows Jet is thinking of Julia and he says “I can’t do anything for a dead woman.” but leaves unsaid that he can do something to protect a live one, and is about to. Of course, he is doing it for Jet too but by now he knows his feelings for Faye.

During both the parting sequences with Faye and Jet and pretty much during the entire finale, Spike is intentionally ambiguous. His dialogue is designed to allow the viewer to draw the current interpretations we are drawing but is confusing enough prima facie to make them feel like there is no point in trying to stop him or save him so that they do not try to accompany him. Spike is going now to end things with Vicious once and for all and to protect his companions. Having them accompany him at this point would defeat the very purpose of what he is trying to do. That’s why he doesn’t give a straight answer to either Faye or Jet during the entire finale.

In the sequence which follows, as Faye confronts him, we don’t see him ignore her or act cold toward her like he did toward Julia or Vicious. When he looks at her as she points the gun at him, he seems sad. There is a lot of unspoken emotion there. She tells him he is hung up on the past, again assuming his intentions are to avenge Julia or to go fight Vicious out of a personal grudge. However, he proceeds to explain his eyes to her which seems a rather odd thing to do at a time like this.

The scene right here is often cited as a classic instance of the “almost kiss” trope in anime, also used in the “cigarette kiss scene” between Rock and Revy from Black Lagoon below. If you trace the movements, Spike is drawn to actually lean in to be pretty much like 5 milimeters away from her face, which is a very weird way to show someone your eye.

In the sequence, she asks him a series of questions and he takes a beat before leaning in this way. It seems more like he tries to just explain everything through a kiss but when she moves away he feels this is perhaps not the best time and launches into a poetic roundabout explanation instead.

Faye is overriding her earlier misgivings of staying away from (what she believes to be) an emotionally unavailable man by confronting him this way and she gets agitated by his sharing new information with her now of all times. In truth, she knows quite a lot about him but thinking that he never thought her worthy of telling anything himself bothers her. It’s her fighting back against the sudden intimacy of the moment which seems overwhelming considering that, in her mind, he is going off to die.

He continues to talk about seeing the past from one eye and the present from the other making him feel like he was watching a dream, one which was now over.

He is smiling in this sequence, a very fond smile. This scene is not him making light of death. It’s him looking at someone he loves and smiling, telling her how she has snapped him out of his self-destructive mental state.

These lines are usually taken to mean that he is speaking of life being a dream which is now over, which does not really apply with the rest of the dialogue and explanation he is giving so let’s look at the whole dialogue sequence again. Firstly, he has spoken about his eyes. Whatever made him loose the eye was likely a trauma which also left him dissociated with reality, part of him stuck in the past trauma and the rest living in the present, causing him to doubt his own grasp of reality. This was already his state before he got together with Julia since during his flashback in Jupiter Jazz both of them are shown saying the same thing-feeling like they’re watching a dream.

In ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ when he is shown awakening from a dream of the surgery he had to replace his eye, he is visibly shaken. He seems unconscious during the shots of the surgery so whatever causes him to wake up sweating was likely also what caused him to be in that condition in the first place. The trauma likely caused him to develop a dissociation from reality in the form of Depersonalisation, a condition which causes someone to feel their own life is a dream which they are watching as a passive audience.

I’ve talked here about how the theme of dissociation runs across Bebop for different characters including Faye, Julia, and Vincent who have all suffered trauma which caused it. Watanabe has mentioned in an interview that what happens to Vincent in terms of loosing his grasp on reality is because of the traumatic events he suffers in the battlefield on Titan so not all of the references of dissociated states refer to philosophical aspects. The philosophical aspects of an illusory world and dreams as metaphors for life itself run as a theme also but what happens to the characters has a clinical side to it too.

Spike’s dissociation leaves him feeling like he was watching a dream which he could not wake up from, leading to his reckless behaviour and indifference toward his own life. He’s saying here that he’s snapped out of that state, tying back in directly with his dialogue to Elektra in the jail cell where he speaks of feeling fear of death for the first time, of meeting a woman who made him want to live. His life was not very real to him before that but this is the transformation which has happened in him.

He is saying here that what he came to feel for Faye, the healing which has happened because of her, caused him to snap out of his dissociation and the dream state got over before he knew it. This is again similar to him telling Jet earlier during the dialogue about the part of him he had lost that his death wish is gone since he has found a person who restored to him the part of him he had lost Since he is no longer dissociated, he is not living in the past and not looking to throw his life away.

He gives her that explanation and begins to leave, believing it’s the max he can do in this moment, but she’s not quite ready to let go yet. She tells him about recalling her memory, acknowledging for the first time something only he knows about her. This is again more acknowledgement of their deflection-they have been pretending they are casual acquaintances or virtual strangers when in truth they know each other very closely.

When you watch the scenes again from this perspective, the emotions on Spike’s face as Faye speaks to him become much more meaningful. This is the first time he learns from her that her memory has come back and can understand how traumatic and confusing it all must be for her.

He knows she needs reassurance at the moment, needs him to stay back with her but it’s impossible. He is not going with an intention to die but he also does not have any insurance that he will come back alive. There is also a very focused shot of her white boots as she speaks and it begs a wonder if this is supposed to be a nod to the “white cat” in his story earlier.

The shots in this sequence are drawn to show a lot of pain, guilt, and regret within Spike at her situation, one he cannot be there for her in right then. In the same way that he never told her much about himself, she never did either. They found out what they did about each other accidentally but now here she is telling him what is happening with her and how much she needs him there but he has no option to stay back.

This is also when Faye actually acknowledges in spoken words that he is important to her, not saying it directly but expressing how futile returning seems now if he is going away. She’s always pretended he’s just some idiot she has to put up with but her saying this now is as much a roundabout expression of endearment as his story about his eyes and snapping out from the dream.

She desperately asks him if he is going to throw his life away and he responds saying that he is not going there to die.

Spike never has any intention to get himself killed when he leaves to confront Vicious. Of course, he may just die but he’s told in the story of the cats that it will not be because the desire to live is gone in him. In the same way that Faye is alive because she has survived against all odds, he needs to go see if he can face and survive this. If he is alive on his own merit because he had the strength in him to kill Vicious all along or if his life is at Vicious’ mercy. It’s the only way for him to be free and live his own life.

He walks away from Faye without looking back at her because what he is doing is incredibly hard already. What she shares about her memory coming back does make him take pause and the sheer pain of it is depicted clearly on his face. However, if he keeps turning back and engaging with her again and again he may lose the resolve to continue with what he has to do. This entire scene can only be understood through its unspoken nuances and poignance.

She empties her gun behind him and then breaks down crying, giving in to the feelings she has clearly kept tightly bottled away, finally. He hears the shots but keeps walking away. It’s a very sad moment because we know she feels abandoned, like she mattered nothing to Spike, when in truth she is extremely important to him. On his end, it’s a moment of helplessness and, repressed as he is, he is unable to handle it any differently, unable to figure out how to reassure her. Both are very damaged individuals and this stunted communication is the best they can do in the middle of a very desperate moment, but neither is indifferent to the other.

We know the rest and how it goes. You can believe what makes sense to you personally about whether Spike lives or dies but something the series has established again and again is that he does not die that easily. The injuries sustained by him at the Syndicate do not come close to many he has sustained in the past and lived. The question of whether he lived or died always rested in whether he had the will to live on or not, which he does. He has a reason to come back since someone he loves is depending on him.

In the song ‘See you space cowboy’ there are quite a few lines which are references to Faye. This song is often considered a parallel to ‘Adieu’ due to the use of the word ‘Fade’ and is usually believed as related to Julia since one version of it is playing in the background when we first see her on screen in present-day narrative. Actually ‘Adieu’ first comes up in Faye’s context during ‘Speak like a Child’ as an operatic bit sung in the opening sequence and is later shown in a different version when Julia first appears. The ‘fade’ bit may be a coincidence as well since we do need to understand the original team did not speak much English. ‘See you Space Cowboy’ is in Japanese though so the lyrics of that particular song become more significant over the English-only ‘Adieu.’ The tune for ‘Adieu’ has three versions, all of which are usually played in the context of Spike or Faye.

Adieu also comes on during RFB at the “beginning of the end” and the lyrics are more resonant to someone being left behind by a loved one which, was not the case with Julia, so I don’t think that song placed in this particular sequence refers to her. It seems to me more directly tied to the scene where Spike leaves with Faye left behind, like foreshadowing it since this is where it all starts. Anyway, below is how ‘See You Space Cowboy’ goes.

When everything is finished, Though my ears are still shut, you speak to me
Your words are being washed away, They can’t bring relief as they flow to tomorrow
In the night when even prayer has vanished, You go on towards what you believe
The teardrop-colored falling stars pass by, So that they can mock you

These lines are reminiscent of Faye trying to convince him to stay even as her words are “washed away” because he cannot heed them at the moment. We see her crying alone in the passage, interspersed with images of Spike flying away. In another piece, I’ve covered how the flashbacks he sees here are both Julia and Vicious, indicating he is thinking back to when he was on better terms with both, people he cared about but who ultimately betrayed him. It’s not him longing for the memory of Julia alone.

The scenes are also interspersed with the current two people in his life who care for him deeply, diametrically opposite to the other two.

There is nothing which can be done at the moment to ease Faye’s pain, to stop her tears and it’s like the stars are themselves mocking her hopeless situation.

Even when the dream hides in the darkness
I got a rainbow in my hands…

This is a hopeful line from Spike’s perspective. Everything is broken and devastated at the moment but he has one hope still remaining in her.

Crossing over inside your heart, a voice speaks, “You can erase even unchangeable things”
Praying before the truth in the morning, Love will once again return to this place

I always take this line to mean that perhaps something in Faye speaks up that she can change this hopeless situation and she leaves to try and save him in the end if she can-I really don’t see her giving up and not even trying, now of all times. This is also foreshadowed in Pierrot Le Fou where he asks her if she will come save him since this might be the one he does not come back from. What he is facing now is equally dire and there is really no reason why she would not make one last try. In the last sequences Spike is seen in the early hours of the morning descending the stairs post killing Vicious. If she does manage to salvage him, love can return for both of them.

Although mortal life will someday end,
This love can’t be erased
It is something that will live forever
Escaping from the darkness

When you pass phantoms frozen in time
Love is waiting over the rainbow
A thousand rays of light are waiting
You got a rainbow, Rainbow in your hands…

Frozen in time is again something related to Faye. As she lets go of the ghosts of her past frozen in time, which she has done now after realising she has nowhere else to go than where she currently is, there is love waiting for her. She has kept running away trying to find a past lost in time but she needs to see the love which is there for her now. This is very reminiscent of how Faye keeps departing during “Hard Luck Woman” thinking no one cares and her past holds a place for her while Spike is keeping a quiet tab on her exits.

The term rainbow is only referenced in Bebop one other time. It appears as part of the lyrics of ‘Call me’ but I don’t consider that a reference. However, there seems to be a hint retroactively inserted into the movie when, after all the drama is over, Faye asks Jet if he thinks there will be a rainbow now since it has rained.

I like to keep this as a headcanon rendition of the post-finale which was made for me as a very kind gift by the supremely talented Ambarden

For more Bebop Essays, please click here

This is a part of my “Alternate Take” on Bebop, basically a relook at the same series but from a different perspective. You can click here for background on that. This is a four-part series on the relationship of Spike and Faye across the entire series. The others can be accessed below:

Please Note: The content on this site is covered by Copyright and a Creative Commons license. Have a look at these in the sidebar and understand the terms. If you want to reuse anything fully or partially you need to take permission and give proper credit.

Published by

PlutoMango

I am a mango who lives on Pluto. I like to write, you like to read. That makes us official best friends.

17 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop: The White Cat and the Tiger-striped Cat”

  1. Oh, what a heartfelt honor to have this particular section dedicated to me! Also I am soooo glad that you put Ambarden’s photo at the end – giving us the visual of what must have happened after the credits 🙂 Your analyses have been a comfort and a reassurance as well as a way for me to see the show in more depth and honestly have helped me realize the truth to things I’ve hinted at in fanfiction that have surprisingly strong support in the series itself. It’s like I saw what was there but couldn’t fully comprehend it myself until I also had your words interpreting what I had seen. This has been such a beautiful and joyful journey, touched with angst but comprised of so many levels of human emotion and experience. The team behind the show really did something magic with this one, but it takes truly interested folks who are incredibly engaged in understanding all the facets to actually get down to the heart of things we only got glimpses of. Thank you for putting your time and energy and thoughtfulness into these pieces 💖

    1. Hey! But did I dedicate just this piece or did I dedicate the whole thing? Seriously, you’ve been a super amazing sounding board throughout all this writing because at one point I was seriously doubting if I am just imagining things which are not there or overthinking it. Am glad that whatever evolved here ended up being something useful and meaningful. Thank you so much!!!!

  2. Dude you blow my mind!! Why has no one in over two decades gone and looked at that story in detail? INcluding me?Maybe they may have and taken out some other meaning. That is such a fantabulous connection…i’m a giant nerd so sorry. each time I have seen that episode i have become convinced he does die when he tells that story. I will start watching telling myself he lives and then he’ll get all ‘laughing cause you can’t cry’ with Jet after telling that story and I get this dread that no it’s actually over for him. But yeah if his reason for living is still around then why is he going to die? They’ll just mummify him again and he’ll be fine. Killer art at the end. Just thanks a lot for doing this! I feel so much better about the show now.

    1. I think people have read it and done some analyses but it won’t make sense in isolation so really can’t blame anyone. And the idea of Julia being a negative character just seems so outlandish when you watch the show initially that it won’t strike either. They’ve done a pretty good job of building an illusion which will completely mislead you in one direction and then the moment you look deeper you’ll realize it’s actually something quite the opposite. I find that to be masterful storytelling really. That’s why I keep saying this kind of thing is not about who you are “shipping” etc. This is about actually understanding what a piece of work is supposed to be. Depending on which lens you look at it, the characters themselves change, the story changes and the underlying lessons are transformed completely.

  3. The last scene and the lyrics!!!! Everybody always uses those two things to try and establish there was nothing happening….like he just walked away without a backward glance yada yada but it must be hard for him! You have done some awesome work with these writings. i have learned so much and so many things are making a lot more sense now….loved it all!!

    1. Thank you! It’s really great to hear that feedback and to know you got something out of it. That last scene used to always get me because I would feel like there is a lot going on but you are unable to follow all of it. You get the emotions but the extent of them don’t make sense, the words don’t make sense, not completely. Yeah, apparently they’re all quite meaningful.

  4. This give me such warm feeling to read. I been watching this show for a long time now. Beautiful story. Very nice.

    1. Hey Mariana! Thank you so much writing in! I love to hear back-it’s actually great to have feedback to know what I can do differently/better and what’s doing ok.

  5. Wow! Seriously wow. First of all thank you for writing this! In all the years I’ve been into CBBB and on the internet I’ve never found anything so detailed about Faye and Spike. I actually started compiling my own thoughts about them and the series whenever the pandemic started, and I had seen a bunch of the things you pointed out in your posts! I feel so much less crazy now honestly. If I ever get around to finishing what I started and posting it into the void, I’m going to reference and link your work here if that’s ok with you (I can come back and send you the link to my writing if you would like). I think if Spike were horribly in love with Julia and was only ever completely fine with dying the entire series then the narrative would be dreary, and not in a fun way. It would fall pretty flat imo. I don’t think that take fully considers what he says in the movie or pierrot le fou etc. I love the idea of these three emotionally repressed adults finding hope for a better future because of each other. I want more for Spike than chasing death because nothing makes him feel anything anymore, I want Faye to be secure in herself enough that she lets love in, and I want Jet and Ed to lean into that familial nurturing they deserve. Sorry I’m getting into a tangent here but I could talk about these guys forever. Your writing is inspiring me to write again, and renews my appreciation for certain parts of this show. You’ve given me as a shipper a lot of fodder lmao. Thank you so much!! I’m going to keep poking around your other articles. But maybe I’ll reread this a hundred times first lol

    1. Hey there! Thank you so much for taking out the time to let me know what you thought in so much detail. It’s always great to read perspectives.
      Completely agree. I always feel most of the audience absorb CB in one of two ways-those who will see the basic first-glance version and be content with it and others who will see something deeper and then actually have the passion to deep-dive into it. Both are valid ways of seeing the series but like you said the second one can be a lot of fun.
      There are a lot of essays on Bebop in the Reanalysing Bebop section of the site. Do have a look and let me know what you think. I do have one or two more to write about Spike and Faye specifically. Maybe just one long one so will add it when I come back to writing a bit more on Bebop in a few weeks.
      Please by all means feel free to reference and link wherever you like and I would be very excited to read what you write if you get around to publishing it. I hope you get the time and headspace to get it out. 🙂

Leave a Reply