Goodnight Julia

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.

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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. 

Goodnight Julia
Cowboy Bebop

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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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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