Cowboy Bebop: Why I believe Spike doesn’t die at the end

I wrote this pretty early on and since then I’ve got like ten other things to add to this. Reading this back, compared to what my views are now, the explanations below seem a bit simplistic but I guess that’s because it was a starting point which has been built on since. I will update this….some….day….very soon.

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I’ve never quite believed that Spike dies at the end of the series. It is left open to interpretation and even Watanabe never committed to it either way. In an interview, he stated that he himself was not sure if Spike is dead or alive and wanted fans to draw their own interpretations. Then in another interview with Red Carpet News TV he mentions that fans who saw the scene and thought he was sleeping were probably right…”Just sleeping” he repeated in English after the translator finishes translating what he has said. The first time I saw RFB 2 as a kid, I was broken-hearted by the last scene. I desperately wanted to believe he survived or at-least wanted to know conclusively either way. But back then I got distracted by other stuff…cause I was a kid. But this time around I wanted to try and know for sure. I do feel that the last couple of episodes are set up in such a way that if you watch them in a flow, without looking deep, you get one story while the moment you look deeper, you can actually get something indicating toward the exact opposite as well.

Ok, so the most commonly quoted and obvious factor supporting Spike’s survival post the big battle in RFB 2, for anyone familiar with the anime, would be that he has experienced injuries which are way worse than what he receives at the Syndicate HQ and survived many times before. In fact, this is a recurring theme in the series and something they really go out of their way to establish. The counter argument to this is that he kept coming back only because the idea of Julia gave him a reason to live. But I do believe that, by the time the Real Folk Blues rolls around, he seems a bit distant and jaded with his idea of her and of his past in general. 

Even when he receives news she is in danger, he ensures Jet is ok and the Bebop will be safe before going in search of her. It seems like he wants to deal with his past and put it behind him rather than return to it or throw his life away over it. If Julia follows him in this well and good but he knows what he needs to do. He returns to his past with reluctance and due to a sense of accountability but it’s something he wanted to be free of for a while so clearly its loss doesn’t have as strong a hold on him anymore. The scene with the eggs in the previous episode establishes that he is as impacted as Jet by the apparent “breaking up” of their new crew and this new life has come to hold meaning for him. The contrast between Spike’s heavy past and the relatively lighter present, where he seems to feel more at home, is one of those factors which make the story of Bebop so compelling after all.

What is also used to support the idea of Spike losing his will to survive because Julia is dead, is the story of the two cats which he tells Jet. This story prima facie seems to indicate that once the white cat (presumably Julia) is dead, the tiger-striped cat (presumably Spike) will not come back to life again the way he had so many times before. But, when you look deeper, the story doesn’t really support his death in the near future. He mentions meeting the female cat after he becomes a stray while Julia was someone he met before he became “free” and hence she does not fit that description. In fact, he lost her when he became a “stray.” The idea of a long togetherness and the white cat dying of old age indicates at a much more wholesome relationship than what he had with Julia, which involved a three year game of chase ending in a few moments of strained togetherness and her sudden death.  

Spike also says himself that he hates the story and cats and then laughs it off. To me, this seems more a way of acknowledging and then negating/dispelling a fear which by now is there in most of the audience’s minds (especially if this is not their first time watching the show and they are yet to decide whether he is dead or not at the end)…the thought that he will lose his will to survive against insane odds, now that Julia is gone. The story, taken at basic face value in that moment, exacerbates this fear for the audience and confirms that he will indeed die for good this time. But nothing is as straightforward here anyway. He then goes on to state that he hates that story, hates the idea and then laughs at it…to me, this feels like he fears the story fits him to an extent but he wants to reject that fate. Something in him is leaning strongly toward survival rather than death, surprising even him.

It seems like he acknowledges that this story loosely applies to him, drawing out the fear which is building in our minds and Jet’s, and then plays it off as something he does not consider a good way to go about things. He is very much planning on coming back this time as well if he can. He tells Faye as well that he is not going there to die but to see if he is truly alive. This is the fight which he actually may not come back from but, if he does, he knows for sure he is alive this time around. 

To me, this idea of checking if he is “alive” comes from Vicious’ dialogue “I am the only one who can keep you alive and I am the only one who can kill you.” Spike has always lived in the shadow of the Syndicate and his life was not his own at that time. It could be taken at any moment if he stepped out of line…he wasn’t truly ‘alive.’ When he gets out, Vicious still claims he is alive because Vicious has chosen to keep him alive. His life is therefore not his own still if that is true. By Vicious’ logic, Spike is living on borrowed time because Vicious has chosen not to end him yet. This means that he is already a dead man on death row with the date of execution pending basis the executioner’s discretion. For him to go to the Syndicate, face Vicious at the peak of his power, give him the full opportunity to finally kill him, actually kill him, and still survive would mean that he truly is alive and has been all along since he left the Syndicate. It means he has not survived on Vicious’ terms…the ability to kill Vicious was in him all along and the life he lived after leaving the Syndicate was his own, on his own terms, not something given through cruel mercy. It means he has not been a dead man with a death sentence because he has been strong enough to kill his would-be executioner at the peak of his power all along. He is free, ‘alive’ and has been all along, on his own terms. In fact, with this perspective, Vicious becomes the dead man since he has been alive only because Spike has let him live.

Another key aspect which is mentioned in this context usually  is what Laughing Bull says about Spike’s star in the last episode. When Gren dies, his star “falls” quite perceptibly. It seems to be his spaceship plummeting through the sky but appears to us as a shooting star. When Laughing Bull is talking to Jet, he says that once a person dies their star falls. He says that “His star is about to fall” but doesn’t specify whose it is. Considering the level of layering and metaphors which exist in the show, LB saying it right out that Spike is about to die seems fairly counter-intuitive and way too simple. 

We are also shown with the example of the Van that mystic predictions in this universe have their limitations. They are told by their astrologer that Vicious will attack on the red moon but the astrologer is not able to predict that he will also recover from the setback of being discovered and will kill them all.

In Spike’s case, as Blue is playing at the end of Session 26 and the screen pans up during the credits, we do see a star eventually but it doesn’t fall. It twinkles and fades. It is not clear whose star it is or why it fades instead of falling. For all we know, it could be Vicious’s star. We see several stars brighter than the others in the sky but only one of them fades. There is one just a little below and to the left of the one that fades which is also equally prominent but doesn’t get disturbed. The indication here could be that of the two men, Vicious’ star has faded.

Even if we are to assume this is Spike’s star, the fact that it does not fall indicates, to me, that whatever has happened to Spike involves anything but dying. The fading of the star may also mean renewal-an end to his old life and the beginning of a new one. Maybe this star fades and is renewed again in a fresh avatar. With Vicious, the Van, and Julia dying, he is pretty much free of all of that and may actually get to start a new life for real without being constantly hunted…a life in which he  can even meet the female white cat (or may already have met her), have a long wholesome life together, and die of old age. A free life, purged finally of all the burden he has carried for so long. So his star fades off from the sky and perhaps reappears as the star of a new life and self.  

It could also be that the star we see is not even a star since in Gren’s case his “star” was his ship. 

There is also the presence of doves. Doves during a character’s death or during action sequences are a classic John Woo device. We generally see an analogy that the presence of doves at Julia’s death and during the last scene indicate Spike died as well but actually both spots had people die so they don’t necessarily have to be for Spike. For Woo these represent the soul of an individual. When asked to explain about it he has said “Also, these guys have done some bad things in their lives but their souls got saved in the end, which I also wanted to express through this image.”

Another reason why I believe he is still alive is the Toys in the Attic metaphor…which is covered in detail in another post. In that episode, the crew members are impacted by the metamorphosed lobster, and we feel like they are all toast but they don’t actually die. 

There is also the parallel of the ‘Bang’ which resonates back to ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ In that case, he has just killed Wen and in this case he has just killed Vicious. Wen was immortal and could not be killed unless the ‘stone’ was used. Vicious seemed immortal, untouchable, and could only be killed by Spike. I have come across this argument that Spike is dying in that moment and hence says the second ‘Bang’ because he finally understands what Wen meant by being at peace when dying. While this is very poetic, I actually feel it means the exact opposite. In the scene from SFTD, Spike has killed someone who could not be killed but did not understand what he meant by the peace of dying since Spike is a perennial survivor. He comes close to death again and again but does not die. I feel the second ‘Bang’ indicates that he has once again killed someone who could not be killed and still does not understand what Wen meant because somehow he has managed to survive again. It also ties into the end card of ‘You’re gonna carry that weight.’

An alternate interpretation could be that he believes he is dying, feels light now because all that he has been carrying is gone. He doesn’t know if he will make it or not so he assumes he won’t. But the metaphorical death of his past also means the death of his past self. Wen felt light because he was finally free of his prison of immortality and Spike feels light because he is free of his past now. So he does finally understand and hence the ‘Bang.’

The final one for me is the above screenshot. This is again one which is used to prop up the idea that Spike is dead because Vicious slices him with a Katana….which is the weapon of a Samurai. Now if I pick up a spatula that doesn’t automatically make me a chef. The line says “true Samurai” which means someone who embodies Bushido, the samurai code. One casual look at Vicious’ character will tell you he’s the opposite. Bushido runs on honor, compassion, righteousness, none of which are qualities he’s had even a remote brush with. Just because he is toting a Katana doesn’t mean he is a Samurai…forget a true one. And this is kind of a definitive clue in my mind that we are supposed to take away that Vicious indeed cannot kill Spike.

I feel there are enough of these little clues hidden in the last two episodes. It’s only when you look closely that you realize what they can possibly mean. It’s all open to interpretation and I know that the exact opposite of everything I have written up there will make perfect sense as well. Either way, this is the ending I choose to believe because the other one feels way too gut-wrenching to me and reminds me of simply too many other wasted lives I’ve known to be palatable. 

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Cowboy Bebop: Be Like Water

So I wrote this right after watching the Netflix version and I was pretty incensed because of the differences but over time my views have changed and I feel if some people are enjoying the Live Action as it is then they should. It’s a different flavour. Not my cup of tea at the moment but I don’t feel it’s anyone’s right to dictate it. Will rewrite this soon to make it a more neutral comparison than the rant it is right now. Adding this since I touch upon the LA at the end here.

I went back and re-watched Ballad of Fallen Angels and wanted to touch upon the episode structure of the anime. Very briefly because I don’t have time to write the damn book-length post I’d probably end up with if I went deep.

Spike’s form of martial arts is Jeet Kune Do, which also seems to be the guiding philosophy of how the original anime is created and structured. I am not saying this was necessarily intentional, but perhaps a guiding philosophy running in the creators’ minds coupled with the fact that Watanabe wanted each episode to feel like an individual movie, thus cramming complex stories into just 20 minutes. Either way, it’s an interesting parallel. Jeet Kune Do has no “binding system” but loose guidelines which form its basic concept. Similarly, the story is structured in individual episodes, which are again standalone stories by themselves, with the exception of the few which touch upon Spike’s past. This is similar to Jeet Kune Do’s philosophy of each movement during combat being like ‘filling a cup and emptying it.’ Two successive combat movements would be individual in their own right, adapting to the combat itself and not to a rule book, or dependent upon the previous move. 

Each episode of Bebop is like that. A cup filled at the beginning and emptied at the end with no baggage remaining, except what is absolutely necessary to carry the larger narrative forward. Each story is enough by itself and the crew reboots at the beginning of each episode as if the previous did not happen. There are no lingering discussions of the previous bounty or events which have already occurred on screen. We don’t see Faye moving her things to the ship or adjusting to life on it. She is just there from the next episode. Yes there are progressions to the story but those are exceptions and not the norm.

This also ties closely with the idea of ‘Being like Water.’ The story weaves through drastically different genres across episodes but adapts itself in each one to become that particular genre. It wastes no time to build up the genre but starts already deeply immersed within it and the characters are just dynamic and subtle enough to blend across them and each story feels lived-in. Because of this, when you hear the original OST, it does not fall into any particular genre uniformly even though the series title would make it natural to assume that the music would be all jazz….incidentally why the OST of the Netflix version struck me because it was mostly just jazz, indicating that they never managed this fluidity. We know that as well since they ran with the same story across ten hours, bloating it up unnecessarily. More on that later. When you hear the anime’s music it belongs to drastically different genres with jazz being but a part of it because it adapts to these differing episodes. 

And finally, there is the philosophy of discarding all which is superfluous. In Jeet Kune Do, there are no telegraphed movements , nothing which does not contribute immediately to the combat at hand. Bebop is an embodiment of this. There are no wasted frames, only as much is told to the viewer as they require to understand the story and keep up with it. There are no dramatic, detailed backstories, just glimpses. Everything you see is absolutely necessary to be seen and the story told within 20 minutes feels richer than a 3 hour movie because of this. It leaves as much to the imagination as it shows on the screen. 

I feel Netflix lost out on this while making their version. Instead of the string-of-experiences, monster-of-the-day feel of the original, this one tried to do too many things at-once. It tried to bring in monsters but they stayed on the screen too long, spoke too much, did too much. Spike’s past, which had appeared to us mostly as remembered snippets in the anime, now runs through several hours of the series.  

Emotions which were depicted through silences, fleeting expressions, glimpsed memories, are now spoken about for several minutes. It all just feels too over-the-top. It might not, were the new series an adaptation of anything else, but the sheer contrast between the minimalism of the original to the almost maximalistic depictions of this version, is bound to leave one feeling a bit overwhelmed. 

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Cowboy Bebop: What’s up Sweet Cakes?

So I wrote this right after watching the Netflix version and I was pretty incensed because of the differences but over time my views have changed and I feel if some people are enjoying the Live Action as it is then they should. It’s a different flavour. Not my cup of tea at the moment but I don’t feel it’s anyone’s right to dictate it.

So I couldn’t watch much of the live action show when it came out because I had an eye injury. By the time I was able to actually watch it in pieces, it was a couple of weeks old already. Initially, there were some good reviews floating around pre-release but during my hiatus these were quickly overtaken by a deluge of horror and hate from loyal fans. When I finally watched it, I understood why. I didn’t read any reviews till I watched to stay objective but…the moment where Vicious breaks out Pierrot Le Fou from the lab and asks his help to kill Spike broke my will to watch further. All I could recall was anime Vicious telling Spike he was the only one who could kill him. I could go no further. I eventually did…in bits and pieces….and a LOT of fast-forwarding. The last two episodes I finished in a neat four minutes.
I don’t doubt that the intention of the makers was good but they definitely missed out on a lot of very crucial subtleties. Or rather, they missed out on understanding what made Bebop amazing. They made a good TV show definitely but, to me, it wasn’t Cowboy Bebop…perhaps a parallel story running in the same universe. 

Anyway, I got to know Yoko composed some new music for this one so went to go check that out on Spotify. It’s probably the only thing about this new show which I feel is still Bebop. I went through the tracks and then ended up looking up Butterfly from the original which am currently listening to….the contrast is quite stark. This new version’s OST consists of just a few jazz numbers, one waltz and a couple of other random tunes. They are still gorgeous but nowhere near as sophisticated as the anime OST where there is so much diversity it boggles your mind. 

The gap here is not at her end in any way. She is, of course, amazing and I am yet to find anything composed by her which I didn’t love the first time I heard it but it’s like….if I commission Da Vinci to paint me a fruit bowl that’s what he will give me…versus if I do something which capitalizes on his genius and utilize it more fully. The tracks here sound exactly like any of the numerous jazz/musical numbers from the original which play in the background of chase/fight scenes but I found nothing to even remotely compare to a “Words That We Couldn’t Say,” “Pretty with a Pistol,” “No Reply,” “Don’t Bother None”….and any of the other two dozen tracks which are just so good and tell half the story in their lyrics alone. 

One could argue that they did not need them because they had the originals but do I really feel that anyone built the narrative of the live action around its music? Not really. If the showrunners decided to rewrite the original, then why not come up with music which lines up with the new story and characters? Do I really resonate with ‘No Reply’ when I think about the narrative of the new Julia? Not really. I can but it would be forced. They did try to do something original with the song she sings in the bar but honestly, every single time she sang “Honnnee” I died a little on the inside with cringe…

If you have not heard the original OST and want to hear something really beautiful go hear ‘Elm.’ Also, “What’s up, sweet cakes?” is a lyric from another cool track ‘Ask DNA’….hear that too….hear it all!!

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Cowboy Bebop Live Action

So I wrote this right after watching the Netflix version and I was pretty incensed because of the differences but over time my views have changed and I feel if some people are enjoying the Live Action as it is then they should. It’s a different flavour. Not my cup of tea at the moment but I don’t feel it’s anyone’s right to dictate it. Will rewrite this soon to make it a more neutral comparison than the rant it is right now.

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Ok. Considering how deep a role music plays in the original anime, to the extent that the music was finalized even before the characters and story were fully conceptualized, I found it poetically just when I hear Steve Aoki’s remix of Tank! for the new live action….thing…which Netflix tried to create. What Aoki does to Tank! is exactly what Netflix did to Cowboy Bebop. I do believe that both had intentions to do justice to the original and try to create something good. But both tried to mash it up with something of their own with what I can’t help but feel was a bit of arrogance/over-confidence, without fully understanding what makes the real thing work. They kept just enough of the original for it to be recognizable and good, but the rest came out as the same run-of-the-mill insipid thing you’ve seen/heard so many times before. In Aoki’s case, it was generic EDM beats we’ve heard hundreds of times just slapped together with clippings of Tank! rather than blending something better where what you add still resonates to the original, and, in Netflix’s case, it was generic over-the-top American filmmaking slobbered thickly over the beautifully cut, not-a-single-shot-extra, subtle, and sublime melody which was the original anime. 

I saw Cowboy Bebop for the first time during my late teens and it was love at first sight. I’ve been deeply in love with it since and most likely will be forever, much like so many others who swear by its perfection. It’s like a perfectly put together dish where contradicting flavors come together to form something addictive. But it’s a limited edition taste, you get a very small portion, and the chef has decided he will simply not cook any more of it ever again. So what you have with you is what needs to last you a lifetime. 

Within this setup, when someone tells you they are going to make more of this dish, you are likely to get hopeful despite your best judgement based on previous revivals they have done *cough* Death Note *cough*. But then they make trailers which actually make you think they have tried to be respectful to the source material…and you allow yourself to hope a bit more. They show you shots built around the music you have cherished for decades, actors who look quite a bit like the ones you saw in animated form, and heck you start to even feel a bit excited. 

And then they release it. You watch the first episode and think…well, Asimov and Katerina are a bit awkward but ok…I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Then Faye Valentine drops in and spars with Spike at a level with him without being a martial arts pro like him, in painfully slow and scripted shots no less, and you are like….er….maybe they want to make her more badass….they just need some time to settle down into it….you watch Katerina die and you decide to give them some more time. 

But as it progresses you are left horrified at the sheer massacre which unfolds…of story, characters, dialogue….everything. It’s not a carefully constructed, painstakingly put together, limited edition, dish. It is a mass-produced canned good. 

I guess, for me, this disaster was foreshadowed when they released the names of the sessions in this version. That’s when I started to feel the familiar dread again…It was again serendipitous because the titles of the sessions in the original foreshadow the content. In this case, none of the titles I heard left me with a sense of foreshadowing or a feeling that…Ooh! I want to know what’s in that one. I still get that feeling every time I hear the title “Ballad of Fallen Angels” even though I have the episode pretty much memorized. Spike’s a fallen angel, an exalted member of the Syndicate now fallen from grace, and this episode it about him returning to that world for the first time that we see on screen and hence this title fits like a glove….and then he literally falls out of a window….of a church….churches and angels kinda form a packaged deal….do you see what I’m saying here? It all just ties in so beautifully and nostalgically that you hear the title and feel all the emotions of the episode. 

In this case though, the titles seemed forced, scripted, trying too hard to emulate the original and, for the most part, making zero sense. The names of the original sessions flow naturally. Many of them are names of very popular songs, others are just tiny bits of poetry and they fit. But these are like they tried to string things together to look cool but failed. Like they created a random name generator programmed to take the name of something to do with space and something to do with music and just smush it together.  “Venus Pop” sounds forced while “Waltz for Venus” makes sense since Venus is the planet of love, waltz is a romantic, elegant dance so yeah…do I really think Venus when I think of Pop? Not really…Pluto maybe. “Sad Clown A-Go-Go” is too descriptive when compared to a simple “Pierro Le Fou”…”Binary Two-Step” seems repetitive and has nothing to do with the content of the episode. 

And this is the other big problem with them. The episode titles do not tie into the content of the episodes at-all. Like with the example of ‘Ballad of Fallen Angels’….which is reduced to ‘Supernova Symphony’ in the Live Action….what on earth does a Supernova or Symphony have anything to do with what happens in it? Is somebody playing a symphony? Are we on a Supernova? Is somebody there about to have a moment of glory before turning into a dead star?..I guess if I really stretch it, I can tie it into their shoddy portrayal of Vicious and how he kind of collapses into a dead star post Lady Gaga “Julia” captures him….but I know they didn’t think that far. I can’t give them that kind of credit. ‘Honky Tonk Women’ sets the context for who Faye Valentine is. Stray Dog Strut foreshadows Ein, Jamming with Edward introduces Edward…Heavy Metal Queen….Ganymede Elegy….I could go on and on about how meaningful most of the titles are….but anyone with half a brain and a knowledge of the anime would get this. 

This version reminds me of the ‘Toys in the Attic’ session….like if someone left the original anime in an unused fridge and forgot about it for many years (which none of us did)….and it grew a lot of fungus and became a monster. This is what that would look like. Yep. 

I gave the whole show a session name…Space Disaster Kiki Challenge. If you will look closely at this, you will see that I got this from the same random name generator as the Netflix folk. The first part is a space thing….the second part is a music/dance thing. Only in my case, it actually foreshadows the content quite beautifully. 

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