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. 

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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.

Cowboy Bebop: Pretty with a Pistol

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 Spiegel and Faye Valentine across the entire series. The others can be accessed below:

Author’s Note: Ok I have seen enough Bebop in the last month that you could wake me up in the middle of the night and play any episode on mute from any point and I’ll recite everything. Have watched it in both English and Japanese because hello! English dub writers changing the meaning of critical sentences. So yeah, I can recite the dub AND the sub…it’s going on my resume as most useless life skill whether anyone wants to see it there or not…ok? I’ve also listened to the OST while writing so many times YouTube is showing me ads in Japanese now.

Also kind of happy to see the response to this. I never set out with any agenda…this sort of evolved. Thought I’ll get a lot of hate for breaking ‘canon’ but thanks to everyone who has read and commented/written in etc. It’s really cool to get to have these conversations.

Thanks to the brilliant Iffah for helping me with a very critical piece of the puzzle here i.e. the connection between the two sequences in the movie, so this one is for you. 🙂

On a side note, just wondering what Watanabe’s plan was about this piece if the studio had really been adamant on making him do a film about Ein on vacation. Although he did mention the movie was on his mind even while creating the series so maybe he would’ve snuck these parts into the Ein movie somehow.would be one bizarre pet flick…

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Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine
Cowboy Bebop

Before I get into this, a friend and I were discussing the other day if we feel these two characters are genuinely good for each other (because that’s what we talk about ok? We have no lives-don’t judge). I told him I didn’t write them so I don’t know! I’m kidding of course. Actually, I feel it’s subjective to how you choose to look at it. Yes they are both flawed in their own ways but what the narrative tells us of their impact on each other is important and that’s something this piece will touch upon a bit. A relationship is good for you if it makes you a better version of yourself, helps you grow in a positive way so that’s kind of my litmus test. The series actually does run a very subtle narrative on the nature of Spike’s relationship with Julia, something which was more a destructive moment in time between two very different people born from their common dire circumstances, and its difference from his equation with Faye, more of a slow burn which develops between very similar individuals. He leaves the Syndicate still very much a broken man and heals over the course of the series, culminating in what I’ll be covering here. Have explored that in more detail here. It also gives us a fair bit of understanding on how Spike approaches relationships in general and the path he seems to choose for his equation with Faye. This piece is going to go into those things so you can be the judge here yourself.

I guess a good way of understanding the second half of Spike and Faye’s story is working backwards from the moment we are shown him finally admitting to what he feels for her on screen.There are two sequences within the film which need to be connected to get this picture and it’s very easy to misunderstand them. The first sequence is when Spike is injured by Vincent at the monorail and wakes up to find Laughing Bull. Both his flashbacks and the words Bull says here are very significant in quite a few different ways. I’ll cover the others separately but in this particular context, the first thing which is key is the fact that this is Spike’s third ‘coming to consciousness’ sequence in the series (man sure gets beat up a lot) and the first time that we don’t see anything from his Syndicate past. Yes, the movie was built as a standalone sequence so one can argue they wanted to keep the flashback limited to images from the present but there are plenty of references to other running themes and the conversation he has with Elektra in prison doesn’t have its full context within the movie regardless of how you look at it so it doesn’t feel like that’s the reason.

The lack of the past in this sequence indicates to me that he has let go of it and is living in the present now. While the series keeps confusing us toward the end by showing everyone asking Spike to let go of his past, he’s actually not acting out of a hang-up on the past at that time anyway. He really has no choice at that point. Even if he has let go of it, Vicious will not let up on him and will continues to try and hurt others to get to him (at-least the attack on Spike and Jet at the beginning was done conclusively by Vicious though I feel he was behind the other attack too and the information about the Van hunting Spike was a plant similar to how he planted the information about Mao’s box in the opera earlier-you can go read that here if you want to). At some point or the other, it was going to catch up to him and he would have to go deal with it. That was his past Karma (Watanabe’s term, not mine) which he could not run away from ever.

Anyway, so Spike is living in the present now. There was no imagery of Julia, no longing montages, nothing. He just sees sequences from the present day largely (and one mysterious one of Jet which I definitely want to cover separately). The second key aspect here is what he says to Bull when asked what he saw while being close to death.

Spike speaks about feeling fear for the first time in his life, fear of death. We have seen him before being indifferent to death again and again, putting his life in danger. So this is something very new and very uncharacteristic of him. Bull tells him he did not die since it was not his time to die, thus confirming that they are speaking of the present event only.

As the movie progresses, he gets incarcerated alongside Elektra and they discuss Vincent. Spike asks Elektra if she loves Vincent and she describes what she feels, asking if he has felt it too. 

Spike replies in the affirmative and proceeds with narrating to her about his shift from being indifferent to death to being afraid of it for the first time due to a “special” woman he met. This is made intentionally confusing by making him begin the dialogue by talking about how years ago, when he was much younger, he was not afraid of anything and indifferent to death, making it seem like he’s talking about his Syndicate past and meeting the “woman” there. But, unless you have been sleeping the past 22 episodes, he’s pretty much been the same way even up until this point.

One can argue he lost this “fear of death” after being tragically separated from Julia but in the scene with Bull he just admitted to feeling that fear for the first time like two days ago.

There is a lot of poignance and vulnerability in this moment, one of those very rare sequences within Bebop when the absurdity and deflections are given a pause and we see what is actually going on within a character. The slumped posture in this scene hints at resignation to the realisation, admitting to something he has probably been resisting for sometime or does not know how to deal with. It seems almost as if he is talking to himself as much as he is to Elektra. It’s also a well-formed understanding-he has done the introspection and has become aware of his own shift in feelings to know exactly who is the cause of this change in him. 

Spike tells her she is the first person he can talk to like this. I’ve seen this assumed that Spike has some sort of romantic interest in Elektra because of this statement but actually he is saying this because she is the first person he has been able to admit this to. They’ve just met so clearly she is not the woman he is talking abut here either. And if he is so smitten by someone already, would be super weird to tell this to Elektra and then come on to her too. All the interest he shows for Elektra, telling Jet she is beautiful, asking her casually on a date, is again more deflection as he is struggling to come to terms with his own feelings. Most of the characters in this movie are symbolic including Elektra so Spike’s interactions with her need to be interpreted from that mindset.

It’s generally easy to assume he is talking about Julia here since that’s our default association every time Spike gets emotive (call back to the ‘veil’ of Julia thing) but that cannot be. The entire series we have seen him indifferent to death and danger till, by his own admission earlier, he has felt this fear for the first time now. So being with Julia never stopped him from feeling like his life did not matter. 

Nothing related to Julia has happened in a while and the last time he thought of her on-screen, we saw him reminded of her own hints at deception and a warning he received about her from Vicious of all people (like how messed up do you have to be to make Vicious wary of you…Live Action I do see your point though you butchered it still). Therefore, strange for him to end up in this psychological space now, completely out of the blue. Safe to assume then that he is speaking about someone else here. He is also responding here to a question about a “brand new feeling”…which can of course be him recalling something new he felt a few years ago but the use of this kind of term here seems interesting.  

Now, what he is saying is not a small thing, but a life altering change. The way he speaks in this sequence indicates a one-track commitment, a headspace which does not leave room for anyone else as a romantic interest.

It feels like Julia has disappeared mostly, or even completely, from his mind and heart, replaced by whoever he is speaking of. There is not even a mention of her in this conversation. There is no struggle to manage the feelings he has for two women at-once. In fact, the impact of this new woman in his life seems deep and nourishing enough to have wiped out everything negative from the past. It was this sequence which caused me to go back and revisit the entire narrative to try and figure out where exactly we are shown anything supporting that he gives up on the idea of Julia completely, and that turned out to be Jupiter Jazz.

This further affirmed the idea that the realisation he has in Callisto leads him to an understanding of either Julia still being affiliated to Vicious or not being up to anything good at-least, since Spike is not depicted as the kind of character to abandon a woman who loved him and was on the run to protect him just because he found someone else, not in the callous and cold way he is shown to in the finale. If he still believed there was some hope left with Julia, he would be conflicted while speaking about his feelings to Elektra, the way he stays in the first half of the series. But at this point, his focus seems to have shifted completely to this new individual. 

For someone like Spike, what he says to Elektra is a very major admission. This is an entire paradigm shift in who he is as a person. His words are indicative that there is a woman who has naturally changed him in a way no one else has been able to before. The change has happened just by knowing her, not through some effort put in by her. Whatever resonance he has found in her has healed him. 

It’s a change for the better since he has never been careful with his own life before her. We hear Spike talk about this impactful woman once more in the finale and it is again along similar lines, said in a very similar manner-without ever naming who it is. He speaks about finding a part of himself he had lost somewhere along the way. In that moment, Jet is asking him to give up his death wish and Spike is actually responding by saying it’s already gone since someone has made him find the desire to live which he had lost along the way. He’s telling Jet the same thing he tells Faye later-that he is not going there to die. Jet doesn’t get it, of course, and figures he is talking about Julia, that he needs to go die for her.

There is only one woman who has been a consistent presence in his life post-Julia, someone he anyway had unsolicited feelings for which he kept ignoring, someone he has lately been receiving a lot of insight into, and spending a lot of time with (unless he fell in love with VT or something…I dunno). The CB movie actually builds in a lot of subtle aspects with regard to Spike and Faye’s confused-but-definitely-there mutual feelings at this point. Sample the below…what’s with the awkwardness there?

I always assumed the song ‘Pretty with a Pistol’ was about Julia till I saw the movie and was surprised to find it runs for Faye. It basically talks about two people “wandering worlds,” apart but “joined at the heart.” Faye continues to believe Julia is a part of Spike’s life till the very end of the series and it contributes to her sense of ‘not belonging’ on the Bebop in a big way. No one else makes her feel unwelcome there, not really, but what she perceives to be a “filled position” in his life makes her feel unwanted. Without this sort of intensely difficult feeling driving her, she could have been more rational in her approach to finding her childhood home and her advise to Edward.

On his end, he is taking time to come to terms with his feelings. He also talks about the woman “going away” to Elektra, which can both be referring to the fact that Faye has currently gone off on her own and also, more significantly, to her emotional withdrawal from him post what she thinks she learns in Jupiter Jazz. We do not see her do anything to get his attention again in the second half of the series. But we do see him try to bridge that gap in subtle ways like asking if she will come rescue him, being there for her in important times, reaching out to call her back to the ship in the finale (it seems as much about Jet as about her coming back where she is safe and accounted for) etc.

He seems to give her the time and space she needs to figure out her past while also trying to figure out how to close that chasm, the reason for which he is not aware of since he doesn’t know she has heard about Julia. There is also the impending sense of his past which he knows will catch up with him sooner or later. He has seen Faye already be targeted by Vicious once and making any kind of move to formalize a relationship with her would put her in certain danger. In the finale, we see Vicious stop bothering the Bebop crew once Spike leaves the ship but the knowledge of someone he is romantically involved with would change things. Vicious might just kill her only to spite him. In Ballad of Fallen Angels, Vicious does kidnap Faye thinking she is important to Spike. Spike deliberately eliminates this idea by shooting the man who has a gun to her head so they feel she is of no consequence to him and if he killed her in the process it would not matter when in truth he was sure of making the shot without hurting her since he does the same thing in the movie too during the scene in the convenience store, both hostages remaining unhurt. In the rest of the church fight, we don’t see anyone paying attention to her and she walks out unopposed versus having been their prime hostage just moments before. Could be any number of things. Go ask Spike.

Anyway, there are a few other random hints thrown into the movie. As Faye gets annoyed at the guys making fun of her drawing of Vincent, deciding to go after him on her own, there’s a “blink and you miss it” scene where Spike is depicted stepping ahead as if to go after her before he seems to catch himself. This is animation and drawing each shot takes effort so this was something put in with additional work, not a wrong step taken by an actor. Then he proceeds to pull the same thing he did in ‘Jamming with Edward’ i.e. deciding to get involved in something he had previously shown no interest in because Faye is intent on it and he realises now how dangerous the case really is. Of course, he deflects it off saying it’s just because he doesn’t want to eat out of styrofoam anymore. Poor Jet is justifiably baffled again.

As he is wandering the streets of Morocco, the background track is Diggin’ which you can just hear for yourself, especially the last few lines. When you’re listening to it, do remember who ‘Lady Luck’ is already established as in the show (it’s Faye!)…she’s also the only cowgirl we know (unless he is in love with Coffy..again, I dunno). It really makes the whole thing rather adorable. The song seems to be about his internal monologue, wondering what is going on inside his own head, if he is just horny, lonely, or Lady Luck is actually smiling on him…which does eventually resolve into the realisation about fear and its significance later in the jail scene.

Coming to the comparison which all of this runs on Spike’s experience with love (there could have been more girls before Julia too ya know) till now versus what he comes to find in Faye, the crux of it is unfulfilling or even corrosive connections versus a wholesome one. While he is with Julia he makes the decision to leave on his own, not inspired by her. She is incompatible to this desire of his, even if we disregard the aspects around her continued affiliation with Vicious etc. Whatever he had with her never healed him, never made him value his own life but we can get deceived on that if we watch the movie prima facie.

When Faye is kidnapped by Vincent, we see her resist him even at the cost of death. The indifference to death is a commonality already built for both Spike and Faye. Her outright rejection of Vincent’s offer of being the only two who survive is significant because this quality mirrors both Spike’s courage to leave the Syndicate even at the risk of death, and his rejection of the status he had in that world for a different life which he believes in more. It’s something at complete odds with Julia, who could not resist Vicious under similar circumstances and gave in. Faye would rather die than give in to a man like Vincent, who is essentially almost the same person as Vicious. If it came to that, she would likely rather die at Spike’s side than abandon him in the face of coercion from someone like Vincent/Vicious. She does exactly that in the finale as well, nearly getting killed in the process of fighting alongside him. She was also kidnapped by Vicious once, but it again did not seem to phase her much (remember the sequence where we are shown her reading her death sentence like a dinner menu?).

When Spike speaks to Jet about seeing a woman who was truly ‘alive’ for the first time, he is likely talking about Faye’s survival spirit, the courage to keep going even in the face of impossible circumstances. That is what he has learned about her-she should have been dead on the day she was abandoned by Whitney since she had zero skills needed to survive in this new world but somehow she has managed to do it incredibly well. He recognises and admires that. It inspires him to value his own life more so he can be there for her, be good enough for her in this respect.

Being ‘alive’ also means to not fear death which again he knows she doesn’t. At the end, when Spike tells Faye he is going to see if he is truly alive, I always feel he is talking about checking whether he has the courage and the merit to survive the impossible task he has to do now-it’s the only course left for him at this point, to not just destroy Vicious but also scare the Syndicate into submission so they never come after him or anyone close to him again. Vicious keeps telling him he is the only one who can keep Spike alive and the only one who can kill him. So he goes to check if this is true or not, to see if he has been alive all along just because Vicious chose not to kill him or if it has been on his own merit. Vicious is eventually proven wrong since Spike does manage to kill him.

A wholesome relationship is not composed of two perfect people. It’s composed of flawed individuals who connect at their broken parts in a compatible way, people who are able to reciprocate to each other in the way desired by their partner. For Spike, the sense I get from the narrative is that he views Faye as the half he had longed for because he has seen she is the woman who will stand by him even in the face of sure death. He doesn’t want her to, of course, but he sees his own courage mirrored in her and knows he can count on her, something he did not receive before then but longed to have. Through his concern and commitment toward Julia in the first half of the series, he is shown as someone who gives a lot to a relationship, even if it is misguided. With Faye, he is shown doing all sorts of disguised actions to help her or save her even if it involves risking himself. From where he is shown ending up with his feelings by the end of the series, I get the understanding he is depicted to have realised she will reciprocate to him in the same manner (their love language is facing down crazy psychopaths for each other basically, ok?).

He is also shown trying to encourage her to move past her hang-ups and, even if she does not realise it, he does quite a bit for her in his own way (we likely know most of this already but I will still cover it in the next one). So in my view, that’s quite a wholesome relationship. Anyway they are fictional characters…and even if they were not, there are likely to be quite a few fuck ups along the way but I really doubt it would be anything as major as leaving the other person in the lurch.

So how does Spike end up here? The movie is set right after Session 22, so this progression goes back to the episodes post Jupiter Jazz. I had initially thought I would be able to cover this and all that in one post but looks like it will become too long so will do another one going through the episodes from Jupiter Jazz, how they tie in with the movie and then to the finale. If you are still reading, congratulations. If I’ve lost you, I really don’t blame you.

For more Cowboy 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.

Cowboy Bebop: Misty Blue

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 x Faye across the entire series. The others can be accessed below:

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Spike x Faye

Jupiter Jazz is a very pivotal episode for the series in many ways but especially so in the context of these two characters. It starts off with Faye running away from the ship. We do understand eventually she has run away in a large way because of Spike. She really has no reason to have an issue with Jet or Ed at this point and the way she runs away is fairly childish, clearly calling attention to the act of leaving itself (she leaves a letter, empties out the safe when she could’ve just taken a bit since Jet was clearly not keeping tab, and why suck out the coolant?). Plus, she takes his shearling jacket with her. Her motives here are complex but we are explained later that the general situation of being around people she’s beginning to get attached to triggers her fear of abandonment and she runs before they can leave her. This is the first episode which gives us an actual insight into what is going on within Faye, things which are brushed away under humour up to this point.

I feel Toys in the Attic was likely placed anachronistically just before this episode, since it’s a lighter one, to buffer and create a contrast with the dramatic events of Jupiter Jazz (will refer to it as JJ now), and to foreshadow the ‘pivot’ in JJ which results in the events of Real Folk Blues (RFB) being about Spike protecting his crew and not the revenge story we normally believe.

But Jupiter Jazz maybe continues from Ganymede Elegy where Spike has insulted Faye by telling her not all women are like her. We may understand that remark hurts her more than we are shown her displaying at the time since she follows it up with the sunbathing sequence mentioned earlier.

No one really shows their real emotions out here anyway-we find out later through something else that they were actually impacted by a particular moment which they laughed off or ignored otherwise (e.g. Spike making fun of Faye’s story in My Funny Valentine but we realise later he does understand its implications and it’s bothered him). In the Japanese version, the dialogue in Ganymede Elegy goes a bit differently than the English one. It is right after this sequence that she decides to sunbathe on the deck grumbling about men, perhaps to just spite or entice him, but he flies off ignoring her.

Or maybe just the general being around people who begin to feel like home overwhelms her emotionally and makes her lash out by running away, to subconsciously test if they truly care, if they will come after her or not. This kind of behaviour is very characteristic of people who have faced trauma or grown up with it.

At the beginning of Jupiter Jazz, Spike reads Faye’s message in a monotone. On the face of it he seems to assume it just an act and is skeptical. He might be concerned about her or baffled at why she has suddenly left but, in classic Spike fashion, expresses nothing but joy.

We as the audience are used to being guided in our perception of a particular situation based on how our protagonists treat it. Therefore, when Spike brushes it away as ‘good riddance’ and just an act on her part, we may also initially write it off on the same tone of humour, especially since we have seen Faye largely only in comedic contexts so far. It’s only when Jet points out she has run away in a sector which is dangerous that we understand the implications of the situation. It’s only when we see her sitting in the bar truly broken over something, when we see her try to launch into self-destructive behaviour by trying to pick a fight with dangerous people, and hear her conversation with Gren at his home, that we realise something deeper is up with her. Something has seriously gone wrong to make her run away and it’s not an act.

Jupiter Jazz as an episode shows us multiple aspects of Faye which we have not seen before then. We have never seen her actively go out and seek danger without a bounty involved, never seen her spar with anyone, not really. She has come across as someone very self-serving and focused on preservation of herself. But in this, we get to see her empty and untethered, nursing a callous disregard for her own well-being, a deathwish almost, which is a complete contrast to this image.

This is the first episode in which we see the true Faye, divested of the forced desire for money, more pensive, intelligent, vulnerable, and expressive than she has been before. We also begin to understand that maybe the person we have seen so far is just one aspect of her.

The sequence between Faye and Gren at his home is the first time we see the extent of pain Faye truly is in. Though we still don’t know her full story, we do get to see how much she represses her own emotions. She can’t even voice the true reasons for why she has run away to Gren since her emotional aspect is so damaged by her horrible experiences.

She expresses indifference toward dying and tells him she doesn’t need any comrades. She mentions bitterly how she ends up worrying about things she doesn’t need to worry about. There is only one individual we have been shown causing her worry so far but she doesn’t say it directly obviously, talking instead about how men end up fighting over her which is the exact opposite of what is happening. She finds herself needing the attention of a particular man but it is not forthcoming and it hurts her to the extent of abandoning everything and coming to a place where she may just end up dead.

And that’s why I feel we are to understand it is Spike’s remark or something similar which triggers her. Spike is clueless to the fact that she woke up to this world as a naive young girl but has had to build herself up to the way she is. He reacts out of his own space of emotional conflict, hitting out at her. She is likely already nursing insecurities about not being good enough for anyone (recall her bit in Mish Mash Blues where she talks about her clothing and personality driving all the good men away) and a stray, callous remark made by him without knowing her background, one making her seem inferior to other women and coming from someone she seems to have developed feelings for, hurts her more than she can handle. Faye suppresses her feelings since they would make her weak while she needs to survive, building up the exterior of a tough and difficult woman, but at the end of the day that’s not who she really is.

Of course, we understand later how this additional pain, added to everything else already in her kitty, would be the breaking point for her. Being alone she did not have to feel this way so she chooses to run away from the situation but with the secret hope that she would be pursued. As she talks about it being better to feel alone by yourself than in a group, there is a deliberate shot panning up to Spike’s hanging jacket which she has also stolen leaving him with the puffy coat. We have seen this jacket in the ending credits before and it is symbolic of her to take that as she runs away. We have seen her with other coats and clothing before so it’s not like this was all she had. We can’t help who we fall for and for Faye, she does not see a way out of the situation other than to avoid it completely.

Spike x Faye
Cowboy Bebop

Her running away is also about her larger insecurity of being abandoned to some extent, something which both Jet and Gren seem to understand but to which Spike remains or acts clueless. His priority right now is Julia.

When Jet comes to find Faye and takes her back home we do get a sense of how much she needed that. Thanks Aldrean for pointing out that, when Jet does show up she says “Oh, it’s you” almost as if she was expecting someone else. She doesn’t resist or anything, just gets towed back to the ship by him like a sleepy child. Faye’s running away was act of childish rebellion and trying to attract attention but she likely receives the attention from the wrong individual, disappointing her.

Spike here is a contrast to both Jet and Gren-his skeptical and apathetic reaction is an imbalance (maybe all that hair is cutting off circulation to his brain?). He is completely out of touch with his emotions and intuition which causes him to be out of touch with those of others as well. He pretends to not understand the implications of Faye running away and remains or acts clueless to her feelings toward him in general. He also suppresses the feelings emerging in him toward her (she tags in at the end of his flashback). Both Spike and Faye are very similar in this context, both out of touch with their emotions, repressing them to another level due to their circumstances. Both have had rough lives, been let down by people they counted on, and have been damaged in similar ways. Essentially, both are partial individuals looking for someone to allow them be whole, a partner who allows psychological safety and reciprocity, but neither has found it yet.

Jupiter Jazz again reinforces the theme of entwined paths which was built through the Aces in Ballad of Fallen Angels. Faye ends up in a place where she is in Julia’s footsteps without even knowing it, similar to her humming earlier. She becomes involved in a part of Spike’s life without meaning to. This is driven deliberately through the scene where she spots Vicious in Gren’s old photograph and immediately recognises his voice on the answering machine. As a viewer, you are reminded how close a brush she has had with his past.

In the context of Spike in this episode, he is frantically searching for what he thinks is a person who will make him feel whole again but he ends up finding only a cold trail with a false lead. He is not emotionally sound, missing the person he believes loved him but whom he has not seen in three years and does not know if he ever will see again. I feel a very critical pivot happens for Spike during this arc which makes him begin to doubt the reality of his romance. Through his interactions with Vicious and Gren, getting to know that Julia was the common thread in all of this, he seems to reach an understanding that he was set up. Whatever he knows of his relationship with her was a lie and she is still involved with Vicious. I’ve talked about that in detail here so if you wish to, you can just pop over there and read it.

If this pivot were not to have happened at this point then our hero basically ends up looking like a royal fuckboy later on, playing on the emotions of two women, which is not how his character is built in the series. That’s not the message the show gives us at any point. Men who behave badly toward women are ridiculed in the narrative largely or are antagonists.

The muted pivot of these two episodes finally begins to allow Spike to move beyond the fidelity (emotional at-least) he has been holding out for someone who is not even there in his life anymore and likely was a figment of his imagination. The person he held in his mind was a perception built through a lover’s eyes but in truth she has been someone quite different all along and he can’t go back to that ever again. I feel he lets go of her completely here and she is no longer a priority for him from here on out. That’s why he meets her so coldly in the finale and is depicted as pointedly distant while displaying emotion toward everyone else.

We are also given a clue here that Faye holds more importance for Spike at this point than he is letting on through the tagging of her memory in his flashback as he comes back to consciousness. It’s from the exact same point where she was last equated to Julia for him. It feels like a foreshadowing of what is to come, another key factor in the “pivot” since as he opens his eye from this flashback, the camera pans to his right eye, representative of the present. In the next chronological flashback he is seen to have (the CB movie), there are no images from his past, nothing of Julia. He begins the episode pretending like he’s happy she has left and does not care what happens to her but that reaction is again similar to him forcefully suppressing feelings he views as “wrong” at that point in time, the same way he does at the end of Ballad of Fallen Angels.

Also significant is the post-credits sequence at the end of the first part of Jupiter Jazz which has just Faye and Spike talking about men and women. She mentions ‘women are hiding more vital secrets than men’ foreshadowing the theme of deception which comes up in the next episode. Spike also talks about liking women who are not usually feminine but show that side of themselves sometimes.

He quickly follows it up with telling her he is not talking about her but that’s Spike being contradictory/deflective again since Jupiter Jazz is the first time that we see the softer, more vulnerable side of Faye. This part is again often interpreted to be about Julia which I don’t for the life of me understand the logic behind since Julia is shown as classically “feminine” consistently in most of Spike’s flashbacks and when she does make an appearance we see a slightly tougher side of her but even then she is mostly stereotypically feminine in her appearance and behaviour. In Jamming with Edward, Spike is specifically shown calling Faye a tomboy (in the sub version-in the dub this is changed to “women with attitudes” for some reason, screwing up the context completely) while listing out the three things he supposedly “hates.” These two episodes are very significant for the equation of Spike and Faye and hence it seems they are shown to be having this dialogue here. It is even accentuated by Ed and Jet wondering if he could be talking about them, as if bringing attention to the fact that ‘Really? If it’s not her then who else could you be talking about?’ The episodes also have a theme of masculinity and femininity which ties in somewhat with these two.

We don’t see Spike jump into acting on any feelings for Faye immediately though and I don’t think they go very deep at this point either since he does not know Faye yet in the way he is about to get to know her. Similar to how she has ended up being the only one in his life who knows both sides of him, the narrative proceeds from here on to put him in the exact same space for her.

Something interesting happens in Jupiter Jazz, I feel. As Spike becomes more free to allow himself to feel something for someone new, and we do see him begin acting on this slowly, Faye builds an understanding that there is someone existing in his life romantically and actually withdraws from the situation. They move in opposite directions. At the end of the episode we see her asking Jet about Julia and then later musing over the name back on the ship as well (The “anything but blue” line in the English dub here is an anomaly since in the sub she simply tells Ed she is not being cute). It feels like she understands now that the reason for Spike’s emotional unavailability has been a lover he has unfinished business with and steps out of the situation herself, suppressing what she feels for him. We are no longer shown any sequences equating to her looking out the window with concern, running away leaving trails for him to chase, or taunting him through sexual tension.

What also happens now is that the same deflection which both Spike and Faye practice toward each other is what the show practices toward the viewer. The progression of their story is buried down in clues and fleeting sequences which you really have to hunker down and pay attention to in order to catch what’s going on. If you miss the pivot in Spike’s understanding of and feelings toward Julia during Jupiter Jazz, you end up following a false trail for the rest of the narrative and it gives everything a completely different meaning. Understanding the love story of Spike and Faye is not just about fluff or “shipping” one love interest over another. It’s extremely critical to understanding what happens in the rest of the show and correctly understanding the character development of Spike himself, the lessons in the series, and its resolution.

Comprehending the fact that from this point on Spike proceeds to fall in love with Faye to the point that by the end of the series he describes her as “his other half” and the “piece” of him he had lost somewhere (and I’ll point out what supports this, am not just conjecturing it because I like the idea or some such) is understanding the narrative rightly from here on out. It means comprehending the meaning and motivations behind what he says and does in the finale, why he goes to confront Vicious at-all even after Julia is dead. It redefines his entire relationship with Jet and the meaning his life on the Bebop holds for him.

Without this understanding, our image of Spike as a character gets flawed drastically. We come to view him as self-centered, a prisoner to his past, a thankless man to whom the people in his life mean little compared to one illusory woman he loved, a man who cannot discern what is good for him, someone with a death wish just waiting to die.

We see him get a deep understanding into the horrible life circumstances of Faye but feel he doesn’t care because he is so hung up on his past that these things hold little meaning. His requesting Faye for reassurance that she cares for him as he is forced to set out on a potentially suicidal mission in Pierrot Le Fou appears to us as him just playing around with her feelings while being firmly ensconced in the love for another woman. The value of his life on the Bebop and Jet’s importance to him reduces since we feel he disrespects and brushes off Jet’s good advice to let go of the past, that he does not see his new life and people as a reason worthy of going on once his presumed lover is dead. We assume he is a man not in control of his emotions, lacking in emotional resilience, a dark character and a weak man, thirsty for revenge.

In truth, he is a man who lets go of his past quite practically once he realises he does not owe fealty where he thought he did, who is sensitive to the plight of others, especially Faye, a guy who values the people in his life, and who is in love by the end with a woman who makes him want to go on living (again, not pulling this out of thin air). He moves from living like his life does not matter to actually having a reason to live for by the end.

And we cannot be blamed for making this mistake either because we were intended to make this mistake. It’s a mistake which both Faye and Jet make as well and their perspectives are used to misguide us too.

What this confusion ends up meaning is that where we are supposed to let go of Julia, we don’t, and carry on with an all-encompassing, illusive veil of her hanging over us till the very end, a character we have never actually seen except through Spike’s memories which were a lover’s fond memories, likely to glorify her more than anything else. We have seen her twice in his memories and then we see her again at the end. When our hero lets go of her, we don’t, so in our minds she becomes the defining factor for the rest of the episodes, the woman he loves so much that nothing shakes his resolve toward her. Everything is about her to the extent that all else we see on screen is meaningless.

We do exactly what Faye does-assume Julia’s continued presence and influence in Spike’s life and build a fantasy in our heads. It’s the reason why Faye ends up misunderstanding his actions and motivations completely from here on out. And so do we, even though there is an undercurrent of something deeper happening, but not easy to grasp because you are following the wrong narrative than the one needed to understand it. We believe that he fights a war for Julia, casts aside friends who risk their lives for him just to get revenge for her. She is everything. So we try to build an image of someone deserving of this dramatic and extraordinary commitment, a woman so remarkable that someone like Spike does all this for her. Someone who is infinitely more important to him than the characters we have spent 24 episodes with him building our investment in. But it’s a false trail and that’s why we end up an emotional mess at the end.

We imagine Julia as a character much larger than life and put that illusion on her even when she finally does appear on screen. In truth, the character we see on screen is not a very remarkable woman compared to the kind of women we have already been seeing. She truly is an ordinary woman. Faye describes her correctly when she says this but then she adds in things which she believes to be true but are actually attributable to her own obsessive thinking trying to figure out what kind of woman someone like Spike would love, again a strain of thinking which the audience have also been doing along with her.

When she says Julia is the kind of ordinary woman you can’t leave alone, Faye is unconsciously voicing out the fact that she herself can’t leave alone the idea of trying to figure out what appeal a woman so ordinary holds for a man like Spike. Ever had that moment where your friend introduces you to their significant other and you think “Why are they with this person? What do they see in them?” Then you assume maybe they have some outstanding qualities you are missing.

Faye calls Julia ‘an angel from hell or a devil from paradise’ after having spent only a few minutes with her, which is again very odd. You cannot judge someone so well this quickly. In truth, Faye is describing herself and superimposing that image on Julia. This again further confuses the audience because yes, makes sense-Spike would definitely love a woman who fits that description but we really don’t see Julia do anything angelic or devilish in the brief interaction we have with her and neither does Faye.

What happens with Faye here is in line with what the viewer does as well when building their image of Julia. The only direct point of comparison between Julia and Faye that we ever get in the series is Spike’s description of Julia as ‘his woman’ and of Faye as ‘the other woman’ in Jupiter Jazz. He never speaks of the two women in the same sentence ever again. But he is our protagonist and his opinion is key so our mind begins building from this particular point of reference. Actually, even when he juxtaposes both of them this way, we have already been shown Faye holds greater significance for him than he is letting on.

So we design who Julia is based on the belief that she is “Spike’s woman” and Faye is the “other woman,” our premise being that Spike continues to reject Faye for Julia throughout the narrative. It causes us to infer that no matter how amazing, Faye must still be an inferior woman to Julia. We don’t really see it happening and have no proof of it but the idea builds up in our head. Is it the way she dresses? Is it her brash nature? Because the Julia we have seen in Spike’s memories is sweet and homely while Faye is shown gambling, eating the others’ food, lying etc. Of course they don’t compare. We underplay the good we see of Faye which is actually a lot more than these ‘low points’ for her character and compare her at her worst to the best memories of Julia from Spike’s limited collection. So we think Julia must be a lot more than Faye is in every aspect when, in truth, she really is not. Spike himself is deeply flawed and has his own ridiculous character qualities.

The episodes of Bebop fall into two categories-comic and serious, with little to no overlap. In the comic episodes we see all our characters have very weird quirks and flaws. In the humorous episodes, Faye gambles and does some very unlady-like things but we also see Spike being an obnoxious ass. In the serious episodes, they are both very different, far more remarkable creatures. We see Julia only in the serious episodes. So while we are building our biased temple to the imagined figment of Julia, it is very easy to compare ‘comic episode ‘Faye to ‘serious episode’ Spike and the ‘serious episode-only’ Julia, thus branding her inferior both as a woman and as a love interest (Shinumaru (sorry I realised later this was asked by Oscar)-I hope this answers your question).

For instance, the Julia we meet is not very skilled in combat but since we are anyway filling in the blanks flatteringly based on an understanding that she is ultimate, our mind fills in that she is actually really skilled and we just happened to not see it in the few shots we got of her, even though this is depicted consistently in two sequences. Her skill and ability to handle herself in the rooftop sequence where she finally dies placed against how Spike handles the fight or against any sequence in the show where Faye and Spike team up on a mission does not really compare. When Faye meets her as well, the two women are juxtaposed against Faye’s far superior skill and instinct in dealing with the situation, her humility in telling Julia right back that she saved her life as well when Faye had been in no danger in the first place. She could have stayed a bystander. But to our mind, Faye remains inferior on some level despite all this, despite knowing that Julia is from a Syndicate background while Faye has learned all she has in only three years.

It’s only once you realise that you as a viewer are continuing with the myth of this woman whom the protagonist has long since let go of that the pieces actually begin to make sense. But since the show has built up Julia’s myth to us as Spike’s lost love very perceptibly while downplaying when he begins to move away from that love, we continue to carry the torch.

In fact, it tells us more about who the true Julia is supposed to be that we are shown Spike is able to put two and two together and reach a very conclusive decision about her by the point we reach the culminating episodes of the series. He is anguished for her initially but does realise he has been deceived and lied to and moves on. The fact that he is able to do this tells us what he had with her was most likely a fling. He felt responsible while he believed she was on the run to protect him but once he knows that is not true, he is able to put the lingering ghost to rest and move on.

Jupiter Jazz has a theme of loving the wrong person and how devastating that can be, the loss of one’s own identity due to the betrayal of someone you trusted. It’s also about holding on to the past and how destructive that can be. Vicious had been leaving Gren alone but he goes to seek him out, losing his life in the process. At the end of the episode, Gren chooses to return back to his past Titan while Spike begins to let go of his. What we see him confronting at the end are lingering ghosts who refuse to let go of him, not something which holds meaning for him any longer.

For more Cowboy 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:

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Spike and Faye: Strangers in the Night

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:

Named this after one of my favourite songs. Just felt oddly fitting for this one. If you want to have a juvenile argument about your favourite “ship” please give me a pass. I really don’t care who dates whom or who ends up with whom in a work of fiction. This is just an analysis.

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How you feel Bebop ends has a lot to do with your understanding or preference regarding the relationships in the show, both romantic and otherwise. Despite all the guns and spaceships it is, at the end of the day, a love story, and the tale of a ‘found family.’ Spike surviving at the end is not about his injuries-he’s survived way worse. The theme of the show is his karma and at that point he has faced up to it and resolved it. The question is whether he has the will left to continue from there or not.

I’ve honestly been fairly neutral on the topic of romantic relationships in the show over the years-for me gawking at the philosophy, political statements, satires, visuals, and way-ahead-of-its-time themes held more interest. It was a “cool” show…too cool for that sappy crap or whatever.

But this time around the relationships just naturally sucked me in. I realized I can’t escape delving deep into them because they are key to comprehending Spike’s character and, through him, the overall narrative. It’s everyone’s story but it IS primarily his story. Just focusing on the “cool” without any of the poignance or sentiments means getting only a partial picture. I can write about the hundred political statements and satires of the show without much effort-that’s the kind of thing I normally do. That’s also mostly what the commentaries floating around on the show talk about anyway so I won’t be doing anything new.

But this part took a lot of effort out of me. I wanted to understand what’s actually going on with these characters, what makes sense to me as an individual, not just rehash the different versions which keep floating around in cyberspace. I have never met anyone who has seen the show and told me they get it completely because there are so many parts to it which just stick out, like debris which doesn’t fit in with what is going on at the moment. I realise now, after years of the story marinating in my head, weeks of contemplation, re-watches, and writing that perhaps you need to approach it with a balance of logic and emotion to get a full picture. If you focus on just the “cool” you’ll see only disjointed parts.

I’ve mentioned before too that Bebop is similar to a Noh play. Unlike drama in the Western world where everything is told to the audience clearly, Noh players tell their tale through subtle actions and visual representations. The plays are short with limited dialogue and themes are evoked which will be already familiar to the audience to help them understand the narrative. Bebop similarly shows us different stories but the underlying, growing narrative is not told blatantly. It flows in hints and glimpses into the characters’ lives and often leaves it to us to build two and two together. Fleeting shots, individual dialogues which flash by quickly, are critical to the story. Just like in Noh, if you don’t know what a particular mask represents you won’t know what is going on, Bebop has references scattered in left, right, and centre which you need to know to be able to get the full picture. It evokes familiar images from the world we know to tell the tale of a world unknown to us.

I started this with Julia because she is the mystery woman, the one who needed a lot of thought. After writing multiple pieces from different perspectives, my belief regarding her now, polar opposite to the common belief, is that she was not a “heroine” of the story but was also not just a figment either. She was a very real character, again narrated through glimpses, but ultimately an antagonistic one. Not a posturing cartoon “villain” but a broken woman, one who simply loved the wrong man, struggled with very justified fears, and could not break out of her mental prison to pick a different life. She paid the ultimate price for her choice and is someone worthy of empathy, but definitely not the sweeping, reciprocated romance her relationship with Spike is made out to be. She remained a prisoner to Vicious till the end and Spike was a third party between their damaged, destructive equation, something he realizes and moves on from as well, sometime during the middle of the show. Post that, her existence in the narrative is a mere shadow, a lingering ghost awaiting closure, which is ironic because that is when we finally do see her. When she finally comes in front of the audience, her part in the story is already over.

The other key relationships in Spike’s life follow the themes of friendship and mentorship largely, and are as important to his eventual fate as the romantic ones. I’ve written on them in other places in more detail so won’t delve into them again here.

So what’s remaining? If Julia is out then is still there a romance in the show? Spike and Jet? Spike and Vicious? Not in this version unfortunately but somewhere in a parallel universe I’m sure. There’s beautiful scope for both.

The romance remaining is Spike and Faye, a relationship most people claim is just camaraderie, a sibling equation, or active derision. Faye’s the “easy girl,” the “slut,” not good enough, not wife material etc. The issue is, Bebop was not constructed with these narrow mindsets and neither is its protagonist reflected to be so basic in his fibre. Jackass though he may be at times, Spike is also shown as a deeply spiritual and philosophical individual, a soul more evolved than those around him-empathetic, sincere. He is a man of both discipline and passion and how he loves Faye (because yes the narrative supports this consistently if you just choose to look) is from the same space. It’s not as base or fickle as how she dresses or how she behaves in light of circumstances too big for one individual to handle. His love for her is despite all that and even because of it.

We interpret media as we are but at no point is the character of Spike intended as a “fuckboy,” someone who callously plays around with the feelings of others, or who takes relationships lightly. We can only understand his love story from a space of maturity and balance, the perspective of a man who has seen a lot in a very young life, who has lived more than others, made choices impossible for the best of the best to make, who is intuitive and sensitive and who is, despite his hundred faults, an extraordinary individual. It’s the sheer beauty and genius of this story that it is considered a tale of sweeping romance but the actual romance it depicts lies deeply guarded and disguised within it.

I am writing this after having done a very exhaustive analysis of the entire series many times over, considering as many alternatives as I could think of and discarding most of them, only sticking to that which I was dead sure is supported by the show. But as I said, it’s like Noh. You have to rely on your emotions and intuitions to interpret it. Not everything is spelled out in bold guiding letters like common media. I’ve written Noh plays before -you show only what you absolutely need to.

When asked about the equation between Spike and Faye, Watanabe has said the below. I had not really given this much thought the first time I read it a few years ago, assuming he meant Spike felt some physical attraction to Faye or some such.

DT: You said in your lecture that the characters you relate most to are Mugen and Spike. Care to explain? 
W: First, I’m often shooting people and slashing them up with a sword … It’s a joke. [Laughs] Spike and Mugen aren’t very straightforward in expressing themselves. For example, even if there’s a girl they like standing right in front of them, they don’t pursue her directly – in fact, they do the opposite, they ignore her almost. I think that part is kind of like me. If I was to sum it up, it’s kind of like being a little contradictory or rebellious.

DT: Are you talking about Spike’s relationship with Faye? 
W: Of course. Sometimes I’m asked the question, What does Spike think of Faye?’ I think that actually he likes her quite a bit. But he’s not a very straightforward person so he makes sure he doesn’t show it.

This time around though, this struck me as odd. I realised it goes against Spike’s character to “like” another woman while he is so completely smitten with the love of his life from start to finish. It goes against his honour code and discipline. So when exactly does this happen? The deep-dive into Julia answered part of that question and what I’m writing now answers the rest.

The last scene where Spike leaves to go confront Vicious and Faye tries to stop him happened to be something I saw completely out of context the first time, as a standalone thing because it was on TV and while flipping through channels it happened to catch my eye. I didn’t watch the rest of the episode, tuning out the moment Faye begins firing. I hadn’t seen the full show yet, had no clue what it was about, and just saw that bit. I watched it again when I saw the whole series but in that out-of-context viewing, the sequence struck me as something very deeply charged with unspoken emotions on both ends. It was very clear that while we see him turning his back on her as she shoots her gun, there is something deeper going on within him. When I watched the scene in a flow with the series though, somewhere that effect got muted, again swept up in the larger drama. The moment felt poignant, important, but ultimately insignificant compared to everything larger which I thought at the time was actually going on. But that initial impact still stayed with me and I wondered at it often.

The two women in Spike’s life are both named after songs. Julia is named after the Beatles song of the same name, considered a reference to Yoko Ono. I won’t go further into that since the other pieces on Julia cover these aspects in detail already but basically it’s not a very positive association. Music is critical in Bebop because a lot of it was created basis songs the creative team (especially Watanabe) listened to. There are multiple interviews with the team where this is mentioned.

Faye Valentine’s character was conceived from the song ‘My Funny Valentine’ and this is referenced in the episode of the same name where we begin to get to know her truly. The song talks about a comical lover who is ridiculous in every way but is good for the soul. “My funny Valentine, sweet comic valentine, You make me smile with my heart…Your looks are laughable, unphotographable…Yet you’re my favorite work of art….” “…Is your figure less than Greek? Is your mouth a little weak? When you open it to speak are you smart?…But don’t change a hair for me, not if you care for me. Stay, little Valentine stay…each day is Valentine’s day…” If you are one of those watchers of this show who likes the character of Faye, something in this song is likely to recall her. She doesn’t say the smartest of things, she doesn’t have a lot of finesse ,but we do get to know she has a good heart. Valentine is also an association with love in general.

The song is about a cherished lover who is a bit ditzy, a bit awkward, and ridiculous but who also makes you “smile with your heart.” Basically a wholesome love, someone whom you adore despite their broken parts, someone who makes you truly happy.

In Mish Mash Blues, Faye muses that her personality is likely to drive all the “good” men away. But she doesn’t believe in pretending to be something she is not, in saying things like she actually wants to be a homemaker even though she dresses the way she does etc. She mentions that the right man, unfortunate enough to end up with her, will accept her as she is. This is very reminiscent of the line “don’t change a hair for me” in the song ‘My Funny Valentine’ and always feels to me like a deliberate reference to Spike. Many shonen/seinen Anime tend to create a will they/won’t they situation around their main romantic leads and will rarely show anything clearly happening, just situations where feelings are hinted or things “almost happen” and Bebop is no different. If you watch it expecting the obvious depictions of romance characteristic of Hollywood films, you’ll miss out this entire arc.

The first time Spike meets Faye, we see him instantly and surprisingly openly enamoured by her. He definitely does not seem to have any intentions to act on it since we see him take his poker chip as a “memento” and walk away but he seems very attracted to her. It does feel a bit strange because, although we have seen him interact with only one other woman till now in the series, if you are coming back to rewatch the show you realise he is actually not shown behaving this way with anyone else ever again. Spike is emotionally unavailable and hung onto his “lost” lover at this point, but the episode goes out of the way to establish how fixated he gets on Faye when he first sees her. Part of it may be amusement at her cheating but not all the shots correspond to just this. The fourth image in the ones below always gives me a sense he sees something deeper in her, something sad or painful behind her external shell, and he is pondering it, trying to figure her out.

I was unsure initially if we are supposed to take this as a “love at first sight” thing or that lonely Spike just walks around like a creep playing Blackjack with women because that’s the max he can do.

Yeah…I’m gonna go with the creep option…Hehe

The story of Spike and Faye is told on a very subtle plane, depicted by the choices to show one thing versus another or to not show a particular thing except in the context of these two characters. For instance, if we were shown multiple sequences of Spike becoming enamoured by random women he keeps meeting, we as the audience would get used to it and take it as a part of who he is. But we are not shown that ever again except for this sequence. Even in the movie when he meets Elektra and jokes about going on a date with her, it’s casual and playful, we get a sense he is doing it just to goad her. We do not see him sitting staring dreamily at her.

So, once you are familiar with the series, this is a moment which does stick out as an anomaly. This is not characteristic of Spike at all. Something is happening here which does not happen as a norm in the series and perhaps we are to understand he himself is not aware of it. Of course, he doesn’t know Faye at all at this point, but the narrative does seem to want us to understand that something draws him to her during that first encounter. Faye is not particularly focused on him at this point, thinking simply that he is the target from the job she needs to run for Gordon. Based on the rest of the instances in their story I do feel retrospectively that, despite everything that happens from this point on, something in Spike never lets go of this initial feeling.

Of course, all hell breaks loose soon enough in characteristic Bebop fashion and, along with Jet, he ends up trying to cart Faye off to the police. As the episode progresses and she breaks out of the ship, his response to her is one of amusement and even a hint of admiration as she blows up Gordon’s ship and manages to escape. At the end of the episode, we see him smiling back in amusement at the memory of the strange cheating dealer he met. Of course, all of this part is kind of in alignment with the ‘Bounty of the Day’ format they follow but it goes a bit beyond.

When Faye finally does move in with them we see Spike all manners of comically unhappy but he seems simply way too bothered about her moving in for us to buy the act completely. He is a “contradictory” character and if something does not get to him he will simply not respond to it. Throughout the series, the moment you see him going out of the way to do something which seems out of place at the moment, be rest assured it has something to do with Faye. In fact, the whole reputation his character has earned over time of being ‘reckless and endangering himself just for fun’ is in a large part because of things he does to protect Faye. I’ll draw out this pattern as we go.

However, whatever feelings are there in Spike at this point, he seems to not acknowledge them or be unaware of them. He already has an unresolved commitment from his past and his fealty is to the woman he feels is still holding a torch for him. The feelings also don’t run as deep right now as they eventually will. It will be a while still before he reaches the point of acknowledging them.

The next few episodes work to show two sides of Faye-the first as a contributing member of the ship, or “soldier Faye” as I like to call her, a sincere and capable individual, seeking out bounties along with Spike, and the second as an opportunistic, bitchy woman. But, we do see her earning her credibility with the boys and with the audience as well. She gets on the guys’ nerves and has a fairly antagonistic relationship with Ein due to her programming of needing to look out for herself but still becomes a staple part of the crew.

The first time when the ongoing connection between Spike and Faye is set up is during ‘Ballad of Fallen Angels.’ Through the course of the story, Faye ends up being the only one in the Bebop crew who gets directly embroiled in Spike’s past. She knows both sides of him, unlike anyone else on either ends. Through her own recklessness, she is kidnapped by Vicious in this episode and gets to see first-hand who Spike turns into when he meets his rival.

There is also a certain similarity established in this episode between how Faye and Spike approach the possibility of death. When Jet and Spike receive the call where she is a hostage and she needs to inform them she will be killed if they don’t rescue her, we don’t see her particularly fazed. She informs them this as if reading the dinner menu at a restaurant.

In the sequence during the church as well we don’t see her exhibiting any fear except for concern about what is happening to Spike, which is a natural reaction. She goes along with what is going on around her, runs out pretty practically without trying to get in the way of the fight, and calls Jet. It does help create a sense of uniqueness to her character. We already know she’s no stranger to being in tough spots but her coolness in handling all this chaos does make you start getting a sense there is more to her than strictly meets the eye. She complements Spike’s single-minded, dramatic passion and fury in the sequence with her comic indignation at being shot at in the literal middle of a raging gun fight and her rational response to the situation.

Toward the end of the episode, Spike wakes up from the dream of Julia humming while he lies injured, to find Faye doing exactly the same thing. He seems irritated at that and goes out of his way to insult her, contrasting to what we have just seen with Julia, where he had asked her to sing for him in the exact same situation.

Faye is not shown singing off-key in the sequence, not really. Spike seems to say it because the scene feels like his mind makes some sort of connection between the scenario he was dreaming of and the one he wakes up to and he is not ready to give her that place in his life yet. What happened with Julia left him badly hurt and seeing Faye in the exact same space puts him both on the defensive against being similarly hurt by her if he allows her a chance to get close to him or of ending up with her hurt and displaced due to association with him as he believes Julia to be at the moment.

We are given the sense that seeing her there strikes something in him so he goes out of his way to insult her. If a person is indifferent to another, they would not be bothered by such a situation and would likely just ignore it, but the narrative specifically built this sequence, to show a deflective action from him. Which means Faye holds some significance for him by this point even though all we have seen of her is an insufferable woman. So perhaps the creepy staring at the Blackjack table is not something he does with every pretty dealer. Perhaps we are to understand it is one of those things where you are drawn to someone but really can’t explain why.

There are sequences throughout the series which I like to refer to as “deflections” practiced by both Spike and Faye. They are shown again and again hiding the real intention behind an act by trying to club it under something else like anger, ridicule, a thirst for adventure, or something equally random. Jet does it on occasion too but with these two most interactions between them take place this way.

In the same episode, both Spike and Faye are seen picking up the same playing card through chance. Jet drops it in Faye’s case and she picks it up while in Spike’s case it lands on his head after she smacks him with a pillow. This card is the Ace of Spades, also known as the ‘Death Card’. I have read this being interpreted as death in Spike’s future, just as Faye has had a brush with death in the episode either at Vicious’ hands or because she witnessed dead Mao. I take it to be a bit more significant than that.

For starters, showing this is reminiscent of the fact that both have been “dealt a similar card” by fate since they each receive these cards by accident and not through any actions of their own. Both of them started a brand new life three years ago in circumstances completely unfamiliar to them and their journeys have converged now. Both have unresolved issues with their pasts and are also very similar as individuals.

It seems to also indicate that through “being dealt a similar hand” their lives will now be intertwined along a similar path, which we also see happening as both end up getting more involved in each other’s lives than anyone else, getting direct insight into aspects of the other individual unknown to anyone but them. I believe it also holds another meaning. In card readings, while the Ace of Spades is known as the Death Card, it does not interpret to the demise of whoever receives the reading. Rather, it points at the ending of something and a new beginning. So these two characters receiving the same card in the episode may also indicate that both are to put an end to their previous broken lives and baggage and find something new together and that’s the path the story seems to take too in my view.

So far in the narrative, the only one of the two whom we have seen giving any kind of special attention to the other, even if heavily disguised as something else, is Spike. However, we do see a change in that from the next episode. Perhaps fascinated by what she saw in the church or by just general laws of attraction, when Spike goes off to kill Wenn, we see the first traces of Faye developing a concern toward him. They insult each other as he is leaving but we see her in the next frame, watching him fly off through the Bebop’s window. True to character, she makes a comment about men being idiots but we know it’s her way of masking the fact that she is feeling concern for him, just deflection.

By episode seven things seem to have fallen into a rhythm as we see both work together to save VT, and their own collective lives. There’s a lot of beauty in the fact that this episode is about a married couple VT and Terpsichore and the series goes out of the way to show some fairly domestic sequences between Spike and Faye, her in a face mask, him doing laundry, bickering with each other like the proverbial “old married couple.” Subtle imagery and visual cues is how Bebop does a significant part of its storytelling so the intentional depiction of the tale of two young bounty hunters, skilled in deflection when it comes to the other, just getting to know each other and building a rhythm to their equation, juxtaposed against the nostalgia of Victoria holding on to the fond memory of her bounty hunter husband, deflecting her loss through claiming to hate all bounty hunters feels meaningful. Isn’t that exactly the kind of emotionally stunted thing you can imagine Spike or Faye doing?

It’s like the future and the past running in parallel with subtle recalls to Spike’s story of the two cats told later in the series which talks about the loss of a beloved partner post a long togetherness and commitment. It’s notable therefore that this episode also features Xeros the cat who takes an immediate liking to Spike.

The equation between Spike and Faye is developed in the manner of two extremely thick-headed children who are at each other’s throats the entire time. This is a personality aspect of Spike which is shown very unique to his equation with Faye. The show builds a marked contrast with who he is on the Bebop versus who he becomes when he goes to deal with his past. He is a more ridiculous version of himself here, more carefree. He is burdened, hunted, and pained when he deals with the past.

His equation with Faye is an extension of this comfort level. Neither is shown to pretend to be something they are not around the other, showing their most pathetic and juvenile sides, giving back as good as they get. We see Spike rely on Faye for backup, trusting her, even as she does the same, but they also insult each other and bicker like an old married couple. That easy camaraderie and the space to be yourself feels to me like the crux of their equation and what eventually endears her to Spike. She can hold her own against him and while backing him up.

Episode eight again sees Spike and Faye team up to successfully catch bounties for a change, entwined with Rocco’s story later. Both episodes have Faye commenting on how she is “not the delicate type” which Spike resonates later in Wild Horses as part of the motif of the show building their similarity with each other. In episode 8 we get to see how well she can handle herself even as a single player as she goes in search for her bounty, but eventually ends up being backup to Spike in a fight, along with Jet.

In episode 9, we see Spike smoothly take over Faye’s bounty mission when it gets too complicated (here’s that example of going out of the way to do something which seems out of place or contradictory to what he wanted to do initially). He wants to sit out that one but, when someone needs to fly to the satellite manually, we see him decide to step in, though she does end up having to back him up eventually when things don’t go as per plan. Jet has given up on the bounty hearing Ed’s complicated instructions and Spike is aware that Faye’s desperation will mean she won’t give up and will end up doing it herself. Both he and we have seen her put herself in dangerous circumstances before for bounties. It feels to me like another deflection, covering up his real motive to protect her by claiming he wants to do it for the adventure.

While prima-facie it is very easy to assume that seeking out dangerous situations is a pastime for Spike’s character, actually he goes out of the way to put himself in danger throughout the series only whenever it is truly needed to protect the people in his life. He is indifferent to death and does not fear it for most of the series but does not go out seeking danger actively just for the heck of it either, contrary to what is a popular belief about this character.

He goes after Vicious in the fifth session but mentions to Jet he does not want to but has to. Vicious is now aware Spike is alive and if he does not go meet him, he will kill Faye and likely come after Jet too. With Wen, Spike knows he has to go kill him since he needs to be stopped. He goes back to meet Pierrot because he catches on that Pierrot is a psychopath who will not stop seeking him. He goes to confront Vicious at the end because there was no way he could run or hide from him after he had taken over the Syndicate and had that much power behind him. In the context of Faye, he actually does this multiple times throughout the series. Him stepping in here to take over a dangerous stunt for something he was not even interested in is nothing other than trying to protect Faye. I don’t think he admits it to himself at this point of the show either.

Faye continues to remain insufferable in parts still, getting excited when Ed is ok letting go of her share of the bounty, and making fake promises to her. We do eventually realise during the series that it’s her misguided way of trying to stay ahead of the game. Similarly, I feel we are to understand Spike is aware of Faye as an individual more than he lets on. He sees the ridiculous aspects of her but also knows she has more to offer. In Toys in the Attic he shows awareness of her adeptness at cheating and preferred methods, something Jet is clueless on, leading to him ignoring Spike’s advice to not play against her. All her idiosyncracies are largely harmless and seem to amuse Spike, giving him fodder to poke fun at her. At this point, she is the funny, potential, but not-quite, valentine.

In Ganymede Elegy, he tells her she is wrong if she thinks all women are like her and there is a scene later in the episode with very subtle sexual tension as we see Faye sunbathing out on the deck, directly in line of sight of the swordfish which he has brought out. There is a pause for a bit and then the Swordfish flies right over her with a lot of force, ruffling her hair. Now, this would happen either way since she is lying directly in its flight path but the scene seems set up to hold subtle hints of a building tension and dynamic, the flying off being feigned disinterest on Spike’s part at this point. I also feel like this sequence is from a movie or something but can’t place it.

This sequence also has the motif of a caught fish escaping, shown through Ed, which is replicated later at the beginning of Speak Like a Child through Spike, when Faye loses at the races. That also reinforces the idea for me that this sequence is intended as her setting a bait to entice him which he does not take.

I don’t think there is a point where Spike is not attracted to Faye but he chooses to push that down because that’s how he is shown and since, during the first part of the show, he is still hung up on his lost love. At this point, the dynamic here is of confused attraction with one person being emotionally unavailable, leaving the other a bit baffled. For Spike, he does not know if his lost girlfriend is ever coming back to him and having a woman around whom he is attracted to might create a confusing situation. For Faye, unaware of his situation, and feeling something for this individual which seems unrequited, would be extremely confusing as well. She has had a difficult time of things since she woke up in her new life and something like this would not be easy to deal with for someone already in a lot of emotional pain (which we are yet unaware of as viewers at this point in the story).

I believe what we are told makes Faye begin to feel something for Spike is likely comfort, safety, and proximity since the change is depicted in the episode just after ‘Ballad of Fallen Angels.’ Whether he goes to rescue her or not is immaterial but the scene of her watching his departure in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ with highly suppressed and deflected concern is the first time we see any signs of emotions from her. So perhaps to her the act of him bothering to rescue her is a change in pace from what she is used to from men which flips some switch in her.

She is shown as a woman who has likely never had men in her life she could rely on, or who were not trying to take advantage of her. Her entire persona is built on not being able to trust and dressing to just disarm men. But here she is. We are shown consistently that she ends up spending more time with Spike than Jet as they work together on the field. They are also very similar individuals in multiple ways and we are shown that again and again as well (I’ll come to that). There is definitely an element of physical attraction but more than that I feel her feelings develop from the comfort of being able to rely on someone for a change, bickering with him, being able to act herself rather than some seductive persona to manipulate him, stability which she has never had before. And that’s probably what causes her emotional overload in Jupiter Jazz.

For more Cowboy 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:

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Cowboy Bebop: The Pivot of Jupiter Jazz

I’m using the original Japanese subs of Jupiter Jazz here since the dub seems to have made some changes which really give a very different meaning to the scenes. This is a part of the “Alternate Take” universe I ended up exploring.

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I always feel Bebop is a lot like a Japanese Noh play, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Unlike drama in the Western world where everything is told to the audience clearly, Noh players tell their tale through subtle actions and visual representations. The plays are short with limited dialogue and themes are evoked which will be already familiar to the audience to help them understand the narrative. Noh makes as much use of the audience’s imagination and their familiarity with the subject matter which is being evoked as it does of the players on the stage.

For instance, the only “set” ever used in Noh is a single tree in the background. The rest of the scenery you imagine basis what is happening on stage. The mask worn by a particular player tells as much about the scene as what they are doing or saying. The feelings and recalls of familiar aspects invoked in the audience are very important. Bebop similarly shows us stories but the narrative is not told blatantly. It flows in hints and glimpses into the characters’ lives and often leaves it to us to build two and two together. Fleeting shots, individual dialogues which flash by quickly, are critical to the story. It evokes familiar images from the world we know to tell the tale of a world unknown to us. We fill in a lot ourselves. However, being used to the more dramatic and blatant way of storytelling, expecting to be told what is happening rather than catching hints from fleeting shots, can sometimes mean we miss out on things which hold deeper meaning and are telling the story as much as what is being told to us up-front. The idea of this analysis is built on a similar principal.

I’ve re-watched Jupiter Jazz multiple times trying to understand what exactly pivots in those two episodes. In the context of his past, we see a very different Spike in this episode versus who we see during the two finale sessions and this contrast is very deliberately built by the series. In this, he is anguished as all hell to hear Julia’s name and we see him set out on a single-minded search for her the moment he hears ‘Code Name Julia’ which likely may hold some significance for him from their Syndicate days. He brushes Faye very deliberately off as not a priority, gets into a fight with Jet.

We have no further episodes pertaining to Julia or Vicious till we get to the finale and there he meets Julia like he would an old enemy, expressionless and cold, and continues to be that way till her death gets a reaction out of him. The only time we see him react to her truly is when she is shot, which is a natural reaction to have toward the death of someone you knew a long time and cared for deeply. Back on the ship he again talks about her to Jet in the same cold manner. Yes it could be that he is emotionally shut off due to the grief or overflow of emotion she triggers but it all seems oddly disconnected to me. The cold behaviour is shown to go on way too consistently, the facade never breaking, contrasting starkly with how he shows more warmth toward Annie during the same sequences. I’ve written a whole long analysis detailing why I started to feel Julia was actually intended as an antagonist in the series, which covers The Real Folk Blues and a few other aspects in detail but this one goes deep into just Jupiter Jazz.

The more I watch the episode, I feel we are given clues to put together an understanding that he reaches some sort of realization about Julia and Vicious. The intention of the episodes seems to be to build a doubt in the audience’s mind at the same time it begins to build in Spike’s mind. It’s not depicted with the typical widening of eyes and dropping of things we are used to seeing during epiphanies on screen but it’s there running through the sequences in a subtle manner. It’s just that we are not used to stories being told this way. We are used to being confided in, being shown what a character is feeling, rather than being given slight clues, being left to interpret flitting sequences. When asked what was the best part of the show, Yoko Kanno has mentioned its “gaps” and I feel that fits both in the context that you can fill these gaps as you please and you also need to look deeper to understand what is the sub-text hiding beneath gaps based on the information you are given.

His reaction in the finale episodes does not correlate directly to just a suspicion though. He is very definitively detached and cold toward Julia by then, and he is not the kind of character to be this way based on just a hunch. So, perhaps we are to assume that whatever he learns during this session is definitive enough or he receives some further understanding off-screen to confirm his doubts. I like to believe the idea of him reaching a definitive solution after getting more information off-screen since this also loosely ties in with Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory style of writing which Bebop can be seen to be influenced by which is based on omission.

Julia is named after the Beatles song of the same name, which is considered a reference to Yoko Ono. I found this choice of name and the parallel with the story of Bebop rather fascinating. Lennon’s obsession with Ono took him away from a lot of important things in his life and she is known to have been self-serving and destructive to him in that relationship. Vicious’ voice coming back during a flashback in Jupiter Jazz to warn Spike to be careful when he is with Julia seems oddly reminiscent of what is known to have happened within the Beatles themselves as the band was not comfortable or too trusting of Lennon’s relationship with Ono. In Lennon’s eyes Ono could do no wrong so he lost others close to him, unable to see her through their eyes, without the tint of hopeless love.

Similarly, Spike was distanced from the life he always knew post his association with Julia, something which she did not even follow him through in. Granted, leaving a crime Syndicate is not a bad thing but we do see later that he left people who genuinely cared about him and needed him behind as well. Annie and Mao’s deaths cement this fact-if he was around, they would not have died. I also find it odd that we are shown Mao had people looking out for Spike, not to pursue him in the same way as deserters are pursued, but because he cared for Spike. It was a very paternal and fond act. So what exactly are we to assume convinced Spike to just run away leaving a respected mentor behind with no one left to challenge Vicious? We never see him abandon people who are depending on him otherwise so I always wonder what we are to think created the communication gaps for him.

We do get to see a demo of this ourselves briefly though. In Jupiter Jazz, we see him get into a full-on fight with Jet, who is like a substitute Mao, for the first time, due to his obsession with Julia. They nearly end up parting ways as well till Spike sees reason and swallows his pride to come back. I also found it interesting to find out that, toward the end of the series, the director wanted both Julia and Vicious drawn with similar shades of dark colors, using a lot of black.

There is also the fact that there are three sequences of Spike “resurfacing to consciousness with flashbacks” throughout the series. The first is during Ballad of Fallen Angels, mostly wordless with ‘Green Bird’ playing across the sequences. The images are fairly benign, nostalgic, and sad. He wakes up on a fond memory of asking Julia to sing for him. The second happens during Jupiter Jazz immediately after Vicious has informed him he is aware Julia was in Blue Crow, which I’ll cover below, and the third happens during the movie which is supposed to be set between Episodes 22 and 23, where we no longer see Julia or anything from the Syndicate at-all. While we assume Spike is still stuck on his past by the end of the series, there was a deliberate absence of Julia nostalgia in his flashback here. Yes the events of the film don’t deal with her but an absence of the past here is significant.

Anyway, in the context of Spike in this episode, it starts off with him hearing ‘Code Name Julia’ which seems to hold meaning for him and we see him go batshit nuts.

Jet points out to him that it’s a common name for women, picking up that this name has some significance for him, but he doesn’t listen and gets into a fight with Jet to leave and find her. We could have been shown Spike’s departure in a more cordial manner and less dramatic context as well, but we are deliberately shown that this name has caused him to lose reason and abandon those closest to him to drive the contrast when the same does not happen at the end of the series.

I always get the feeling the whole phrase ‘Code Name Julia’ may have had significance for him, perhaps something we are to understand was used by Julia as a signature in the past. Since that’s just conjecture, let’s assume it’s because of just hearing the name Julia itself.

We see Spike running around Callisto trying to look for Julia, which changes into looking for Vicious as he gets to know his rival will be here. The flashback sequence in Jupiter Jazz happens as a result of Spike’s interaction with Vicious. Spike shows up to mock Vicious asking if he is seeing Julia behind Spike’s back. This is kind of ridiculous on his part since it reflects his insecurity at not knowing where Julia is or what she is up to. He further goads Vicious telling him he feels sorry for her since her name is being used this way.

Vicious calls him out on having been the one leaving others out of the loop, which may refer back to Spike’s plan of leaving the Syndicate. They get ready to settle their old score but Lin intervenes and Vicious mentions to Spike that Julia was in that town.

Now this could definitely just be Vicious being a stalky creep but the way he says it here comes across as taunting. The whole sequence again gives me a very “Beatles and Yoko Ono” vibe. Spike’s reaction is anger, asking Lin to move out of the way so he can shoot Vicious, a reaction of ego. He has been asserting that Julia is his and taunting Vicious but the other man shares information about her Spike himself does not have. Lin shoots Spike with a tranquilizer and Vicious leaves, not too focused on killing Spike at the moment for some reason. It seems like he has other priorities.

Post this sequence, as Spike is coming back to consciousness in Episode 13, there are a couple of scenes in his flashback which seem additional to the “pure” love story we see during Session 5, first being the below said in Vicious’ voice:

The second is Julia’s voice saying ‘Women are all liars.’ There is another sequence earlier in the same flashback which shows a vial of Red-eye in Julia’s home indicating that Vicious, or even Julia herself, may have been a user.

It is re-established that Julia was someone Vicious also had at-least a physical relationship with at some point and we get to know for the first time about Spike’s eyes and their significance plus the fact that he asked Julia to leave with him but she did not show up.

What Julia informs him later in RFB 2 about being threatened by Vicious seems also to be something he is already aware of since he is shown recalling that bit as well.

The flashback of Vicious warning Spike to be careful when he is with Julia seems to indicate that his relationship with her may have already been over and he was aware of Spike dating her but he does not sound too bitter about it, more concerned for his friend.

The flashback in the finale showing Vicious threatening Julia for betraying him may have been referring to the potential plan of leaving the Syndicate rather than a betrayal in the context of a relationship. Perhaps she continued to be an operative for him.

Even in the sequence where he informs Spike that Julia was in town, he does it as a reaction to Spike going on and on with goading him, stating he is feeling sorry for having Julia’s name being used in a shady deal. Vicious seems to mock Spike that he is aware of Julia’s whereabouts and movements, unlike Spike himself.

It could, of course, mean that Julia is on the run out of love for Spike and Vicious is simply hunting her but that does not correlate to Spike suddenly recalling Vicious’ past warning at this point, or with her disappearance from Spike’s third flashback by the time we get to the film. I take that to mean Spike has some epiphany about her as a result of what happens in these episodes and perhaps gets to know something more off-screen. While we can speculate on what exactly this realisation is since we don’t have all the information for a firm answer, whatever it is seems definitive enough for him to end up this way when he is around her next.

versus how we see him react at the very sound of her name at the beginning of these episodes.

When he opens his eyes from this flashback, we are shown his right eye which sees the present, a further potential indicator of moving from the past to being in the present (the previous flashback in Ballad of Fallen Angels was all about his left eye which sees the past).

Considering what we get to know during the episode about the level of betrayal Vicious himself is capable of meting out, him warning Spike to be careful about someone seems doubly ominous. Spike recalling Julia’s words “women are all liars” at this point also seems significant, perhaps indicative that there is some doubt coming in his mind as well. We see him next cruising over the city figuring out the location for Vicious’ deal through his code.

This code ‘Mangan’ with ‘Ura Dora’ are terms from Riichi Mahjong or Japanese Mahjong. Mangan is a hand which has reached 2000 points and Ura Dora is something which a player who has called Riichi and won the game can do i.e. look underneath the Dora tiles which are otherwise not visible during the game. To understand this better, one can always go and learn Mahjong but basically I always feel this is a hint to the audience to look beyond the apparent, to dig a little deeper than the surface level of what is happening. The deal is taking place in Valhalla Basin, which is an actual crater on Callisto. Valhalla is the hall where dead warriors are taken to rest in Norse mythology, referring back to the theme of dying warriors set by Laughing Bull at the beginning of the episode and foreshadowing Gren’s death.

As the screen loads up, we see Spike flash back to Vicious’ words and he looks pensive again, like thinking over their meaning.

At this time, he receives a call from Jet informing him about Gren and the background to ‘Code Name Julia.’

Once again, we see Spike’s expression become pensive in the exact same way it does after recalling Vicious’ words

If you look at this again with the larger context, I always get the feeling he is beginning to think deeper on his situation. This sequence also drives me to once again believe that we are to understand ‘Code Name Julia’ is likely a signature Julia may have used in previous operations, leading its use by Gren specifically to hold more meaning for Spike. He seems to be pondering over the information he has received, maybe wondering why was Julia in a town where Vicious again happens to be making a deal with an escaped convict, who is likely to have known her while she was there too (Julius the drag queen had asked Spike to go meet Gren for information on Julia).

We see the sequence between Gren and Vicious next where both have come prepared to kill the other and we get to know that it was Julia who helped Gren locate the transmitter within the music box, helping him realise Vicious was the one who betrayed him. Vicious does not seem too phased by this, he just frowns briefly.

Earlier, I always assumed this action of Julia’s was to help Gren in understanding that he had been betrayed by Vicious, an act of helping and protecting him. But we see Gren living in the same situation even after the discovery of the transmitter within the music box meaning that there is either no legal recourse left for him to take to get himself acquitted of his charges now, he is too hurt to bother about that, or the music box being opened up has destroyed whatever evidence he had against Vicious.

This realisation also puts him on a self-destructive path of seeking answers and revenge from Vicious, ultimately leading to his death. The more I think about it now it feels to me like we can draw an inference that Julia shows up on Callisto intentionally, either to destroy the evidence which can possibly implicate Vicious for war crimes in the future, or to close some other loose end with Gren. Of course, it could just be that all of this happens coincidentally and she is actually trying to help Gren but that is again not aligned to the episode deliberately adding a note of deception to her character.

The use of ‘Code Name Julia’ by Gren seems intended as a reference back to the song from the music box and not the actual woman herself since Gren is not likely to be aware Vicious knows Julia has been to Callisto or to want to reveal his connection to her before the deal, believing her to be anti-Vicious.

The deal goes to hell, Lin dies, and a three-way dog fight ensues which results in part of Vicious’ ship getting blown but him escaping and Gren taking a mortal hit. As he lies dying, Spike finds him and Gren requests to be put on the path to Titan.

Spike knew Vicious well so he is bound to know Vicious also served in Titan. He can see how emotionally attached Gren is to the place as well and I feel we can understand he makes the past connection between Gren and Vicious.

As he puts Gren in the shuttle, the dying man finally speaks of having known Julia closely. She has told Gren about Spike’s multi-hued eyes.

Spike asks Gren what she was doing there and he informs Spike she would sit in his club and request the same tune each time. He speaks about her sad smile and we see the shot cut to Spike’s face which bears a sad and painful expression.

Perhaps Spike is familiar with a tune which is a favourite of Julia’s and holds significance to her relationship with Vicious since we have seen Vicious carry a music box earlier playing the tune Gren plays on his sax. Given the war happened a few years ago, this is likely to have been before Spike dated her.

The first few times I watched these episodes years ago as a teen, I always came back feeling wrenched at the idea of Julia wandering the world alone and running into Gren with whom she shares her sorrow and her love for Spike. Gren, who has also been hurt and betrayed by Vicious. I always assumed Vicious just happens to be there on Callisto because called by Gren and never really tried to make the connection between these events or their larger implication on the series. The sequences with Vicious warning Spike and Julia saying women are all liars never really registered, just felt like some fluff content from his past, the kind of dramatic things you say in shows about lovers and criminals.

But even as a kid I was always a bit confused by the fact that, while we are shown Spike has not informed Jet in three years about his connection with the Syndicate, we are shown that Julia opens up to Gren in just a few days about her connections to Vicious, the Syndicate, and Spike as well. If she is truly on the run all alone, her situation is way more desperate that Spike’s so this would be an extremely dangerous thing to do. When Faye meets Gren, she is shown as guarded, never revealing the names of her comrades or any specific details about them or herself despite the fact that at this point she is governed by a raging death wish.

This is not Sex in the City where you sit around and gossip about your love life to your gay bestie. If Julia was truly desperately on the run from Vicious and the Syndicate, she would not trust anyone with this information, least of all someone who knew Vicious before, not knowing how it could get back to the people she is running for her life from. Again conjecture only, but I feel this is the final bit of information which convinces Spike that all is not what it seems with Julia.

Perhaps he makes the connection between the man dying in his arms, his attachment to Titan where Vicious served, his admiration for Julia who has also met him, and has revealed intimate details about her life to Gren, details which could make being on the run very difficult for her. The topic of Spike had no reason to come up with Gren, even if he became her best friend during that one month, since that could really get her killed. And that’s why I feel we are to understand that a reason Julia could have mentioned Spike to Gren would have been to establish solidarity with him, to play on his emotions.

Gren does not seem like the smartest cookie in the box since he cannot figure out the transmitter situation or see Vicious for who he really is. Therefore, again conjecture, but it’s possible to feel Julia worked on the same aspect with him, playing on his emotional side, getting him to lower his guard and present herself as the grieving lover of Vicious’ rival to get him to share his own Vicious story with her, causing him to share about the music box with her. She requests the same tune as the music box from Gren to initiate the connect with him. Maybe we are to assume Spike reaches his definitive conclusions about her basis other information he gathers in the background of the series but I do feel all of this does not add up to him if memories of being warned about Julia begin to surface up in his recollections.

We see Spike tow Gren into space and then return to the Bebop, never looking for Julia again.

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