Goodnight Julia is the tune which Gren plays in Jupiter Jazz. This is also the same tune played on Vicious’ music box and the base tune for Space Lion. This article was the first I wrote on Bebop and my perspective on Julia has grown quite a bit since but it’s still an interesting one going back.
Julia as a character always fascinated me because we know so little about her and I started my exploration with her for this reason, trying to understand her better as a character. These are my views and if you are a fan of the character, some of these may not seem very charitable toward her.
I’ve always felt that Spike starts off the anime with this pedestal on which he places Julia, harbouring a genuine belief that no woman can parallel her, that she is perfection incarnate. This seems to slowly change and evolve over the course of the series. This is, of course, my own opinion and everything in the series is so open to interpretation that nothing can be gospel truth anyway.
The whole Julia-Spike equation reminds me of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet barely knew each other and died for something which was not very substantial, thinking an immature infatuation was love. If they had stuck around and looked at it deeply, they would have seen it for what it was.
In Cowboy Bebop, as it is revealed in the penultimate episode, the love story of Spike and Julia does not seem as grounded in true love as we build it up in our minds till that point. We see in that episode that he asks her to leave with him but she is not sure. He insists so she takes the paper. They don’t seem like old lovers who have had this common wish. She doesn’t seem delighted and confident in the idea of a free life with him. Rather, they come across as people newly in love….which might be the case considering she was Vicious’s girl and they would probably not have gotten a lot of wholesome romantic time together…just sneaking around…which is not the grounds for a solid, healthy relationship. Yes she chooses to run away rather than killing Spike but honestly, even if she had killed him, with a guy like Vicious around was she ever going to really be free? She had cheated on him….to me he did not come across as a man who was about to let that go anytime soon, no matter who she killed for him. Running away would have been her only option either way once he had found out about the affair.
Also, while running away to avoid killing Spike seems like a noble and innocent enough act, it also shows a lack of trust in him, in his ability to carry out what he has planned since clearly he would have factored this eventuality as well. It feels like she doesn’t know him in his entirety and perhaps underestimates him. We who get to know him over several episodes realise that he is capable of a lot, including killing Vicious and single-handedly ripping apart the Syndicate she fears. She doesn’t seem to have that belief, she doesn’t stick around to fight things out at his side and be free for real. She runs away from him as well as the danger of Vicious. To continue to stay out of touch means she never trusts him enough to come back. Vicious finds both of them separately when he needs to anyway.
When the Syndicate starts to hunt people down is when she finally seeks out Spike and proposes running away together. If that was an option, she could have exercised it before too rather than staying gone for three years and finding him only when she needed him. Spike is depicted as not seeming too gung-ho about her or this idea by that point, probably because he realizes this too. It seems to indicate that she is not in it 100% and only takes that road when left with no other option. While he keeps trying to find her, she works hard to stay hidden from him.
Spike was a gangster and she was likely the first woman he met who had strong dynamism of character to her and he fell in love with her without thinking of the consequences. He asks her to run away with him and shit hits the fan. He manages to strike out on his own and teams up with Jet. The entrance of characters like Katerina, Faye, Elektra, and presumably others as well, seems to change the way he views Julia and her actions over time.
In the last two episodes, he seems to go to Julia more out of a sense of obligation at having been the cause of her situation than anything. When Faye conveys her message to him he acts irritated and pretends he doesn’t understand it until she says Julia’s name at which point he can pretend no longer but responds rather coldly. There is not a trace of the anguish and eagerness to find her which he shows at the beginning of Jupiter Jazz when Ed finds Codename Julia on the web. Even when they meet finally, he acts distant and cold….skeptical even. When Julia proposes running away together, he does not react, and it is later revealed he has decided to stay and fight.
By the last few episodes, Spike’s motivations and priorities seem to have shifted toward Jet, the Bebop, and its crew. He cares for Julia but perhaps not with the same intensity. Watching it, I always feel we are shown that the reason he has decided to stay and fight is because the life of running away with her does not hold the same appeal to him as it did so long ago. He also knows that running away with her will not mean his crew will be out of danger. Vicious could still go after them in an act of revenge or to smoke him out.
I believe Spike goes out to the Syndicate’s headquarters to kill Vicious and ensure none of the members of his new life are threatened by him any longer. Their personal score is, of course, a motivator but I think this is there in the mix strongly as well, more so from what is displayed in the Toys in the Attic metaphor…which I’ll come to separately.
I feel the female characters shown during the show are intended to be shown playing a role in changing Spike’s perception of his situation with Julia. She chose to go into hiding by herself to keep from killing him and presumably to “keep him safe.” While this was noble, the fact was he was no safer without her than he would have been with her. When he meets Katerina, he sees her stand by Asimov to the bitter end. She runs away with him and not away from him. One can argue that Julia going into hiding elongates their lives by three years but if they were both so good at staying hidden separately, they could have managed it together as well. After all, she does decide to finally run away with him at the worst possible time. So, it was clearly an option but she chose not to exercise it.
Elektra represents a different kind of woman, one who stands up to kill her lover who is destroying the lives of others. This is again a foil to Julia who chooses to hide, is scared to run away in the first place, and, despite seemingly being from as strong a Syndicate background as Spike and Vicious, never does anything to try and stop or end Vicious. This is not necessarily a character flaw on her part since Vicious is fairly powerful, but it does present Spike with another kind of strong woman than the one he has built up in his head as the ultimate version.
The third major one, and perhaps the biggest influence, is Faye. In the entire series, Faye is the embodiment of survival. She should not be alive since she had a fatal accident 57 years ago but she is. Waking up with no memories, getting swindled and saddled with insurmountable debt, while having nothing to her name, she should not have survived a single day in this new world. But somehow she does.
When Spike initially meets her, he assumes her to be another hustler in the world like so many others he has met, probably a girl with a criminal family background or rough upbringing to whom all the gambling, bounty-hunting, and rough and tumble living came naturally. He pays her no more mind than getting irritated (justifiably) at her bizarre behaviour. In one of the episodes, he even tells her that not all women are like her, clearly comparing her prima facie persona to his perfect image of “his woman.” This attitude seems to persist somewhat till Jupiter Jazz and begins to change from ‘My Funny Valentine.’ It’s only when her past begins to surface and he ends up serendipitously being the one who has a ring-side seat to all of it, that he realizes she’s running on fumes. None of who she is or what she does has come naturally to her but is learned as a means of survival. She has nothing to her name, nothing to give, but still does what she can. She puts her life on the line quite a few times for him and the crew. In the Pierrot Le Fou episode, when he jokingly asks her if she will come to save him, she shows up. This was a situation she did not want him going into, and asked Ed to hide the invite initially because she knew it was suicidal to go, but she shows up anyway to try and help if she can. The depth of her loss and the fact that she has had to dig so much deeper than others to build a foundation for her tough exterior, seems to change the way he views her. In Jupiter Jazz, when his old memories flash before him, the last one tagged in is of her and no one else from his current life, further indicating that she is taking up a more significant place in his new life.
The sheer dynamism of Faye, the stark contrast between who she used to be, and who she is today, the story of her survival against all odds and the accidental discovery of her vulnerability under the tough exterior, all seem to drive home to him that there are other women equally, if not more, admirable than the one he has been worshipping for so long.
There is also a contrast in the way both women choose to handle the events of the finale. Faye sees a woman being pursued and doesn’t hesitate to help her, risking herself in the process, while Julia plays an identity game with her till the last minute, dismissing the woman who just saved her life as a mere messenger. Neither had any reason to trust the other but, given that Julia knew who Faye was, she could have shown more respect for her. Faye still delivers her message and even expresses admiration for Julia to Jet without a hint of envy or malice, just a hint of sadness. Faye returns to the Bebop and insists on going out to defend the ship though her craft is already damaged. She gets into the fight, her craft gets totaled but she takes on the Syndicate attack alongside Spike, even though she had a choice and Jet warned her against it, something Julia failed to do three years ago and fails to do even now until pushed to by his decision to stay. The request from Julia to run away together at a time like this when the human collateral damage would be quite significant seems a bit tone deaf as well. That’s where we see Spike taking a decision on his own for the path he will take, the same way she unilaterally did three years ago.
Julia represents his past, which is strongly seeped in the possibility of death, drama, and danger, while Faye (even platonically) represents a newer, lighter life, where surviving against all odds is utmost. Julia represents a part of his story where life costs nothing and can be thrown away over petty ego, a past which he has detached from by the end of the show but which won’t leave him alone. Faye, on the other hand, is representative of valuing life, a simpler way of going about things…more free-flowing and adapting, a way of life where you are allowed to mess up with the people around you and it won’t cost you your life.
In a nutshell, to me it felt that the examples of these women shatter the idealized image of Julia he has built in his mind as the epitome of woman. He still cares for her but seems disillusioned with the myth of her by the time the last two episodes roll around. His primary motivation toward storming the Syndicate, in my opinion, was to settle the score with Vicious but also to kill him so the safety of his new-found bizarre, ragtag “comrades” is ensured.
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