References and Influences: Mish Mash of Cowboy Bebop

This explores some of the possible references and inspirations of the series and characters. Will do a second part focusing on some other influences and homages from cinema.


We know about the ‘manifesto’ of Cowboy Bebop. It features heavily during Tank! in the lines appearing in the background and smaller clippings of it are also strewn around in the stills bracketing advertisement breaks. The manifesto spells out the intention of the showmakers to define a new genre called ‘Space Jazz’ through this show. They intended to move away from the concept of classic programming and do something new which blended different things together and flowed freely like jazz does.

The idea was similar to riffing in jazz, which involves building on an existing melody. The form of jazz called Bebop, after which Jet’s ship is named, was largely developed through riffing on the compositions of swing music till something new was created. Incidentally, the Bebop instrumental ensemble also features five players and the Bebop has five crew members (I’m counting Ein ok?). The show is built on a similar concept-taking themes from different areas of media and culture and building on them to create something new.

Lines of the ‘Manifesto’ in the background

As a result, when you watch the show, there are so many influences and inspirations strewn across the screen, reflecting the varied tastes of the Director Shinichiro Watanabe (SW) and other key contributors, like the screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto (you can thank her for Ein whose character was apparently an insistence of hers due to her love for Corgis), Toshihiro Kawamoto etc. One area which was a big inspiration for SW was cinema of the 50s and 60s, especially French New Wave and it is woven into the story and visuals quite deeply. Honestly, there are so many references and homages in Bebop that I don’t think anyone can pin them all down in one place because you’ll identify what you know but it’s interesting everytime you find a new one.

Bebop is a melting pot of influences. The environment of Spike’s current life seems mostly jazz and western (both American contemporary and old wild west) with characters who flow with those themes largely. There are other environments, like the Middle East, also thrown in occasionally to add new flavor. But when it comes to the story of Spike’s past, specifically his association with Julia, everything is French New Wave Cinema and Noir.

The Syndicate part of his life again goes into the oriental space with influences from the Yakuza, Samurai, Kung-fu movies, and Chinese symbolism. The specific choice of Red Dragons as the name of Spike’s former Syndicate is an ode to ‘Enter the Dragon,’ the most popular film by Bruce Lee. Vicious’ stoicism and indifference to death have resonance to Bushido (though he is obviously missing on the ethics and righteousness part of things) and he fights with the weapon and style of a Samurai. The Syndicate itself is reminiscent of any one of the many Chinese or Japanese crime organizations. Fighting styles and choreography have a wide range, obviously featuring Jeet Kune Do heavily, but also with sequences reminiscent of John Woo films. Things like church shootouts, shooting with two guns, white doves etc. are all Woo. There are also some storylines from iconic Woo films which are paid an homage in the show. I sometimes wonder if ‘Woolong’ is a mix of ‘Woo’ and ‘Oolong’…if you know more on this, do let me know.

Doves in a John Woo film

Similarly, the characters themselves seem adapted from different places. Faye is usually considered a callback to Fujiko Mine from Lupin in her conniving, overt sexuality, and running away with everyone’s money. Her memory situation may have a very loose recall to Rachael from Blade Runner (another work cited by Watanabe as an influence) and the whole cryo thing can be a slight nod to Scotty/Khan from Star Trek given the serial code on her cryo pod references the Enterprise. Her name also makes me wonder if there is any connection to the character of Faye from ‘Chungking Express.’ The movie was released on 14th July, 1994 and anime Faye’s birthday is 14th August, 1994. The sequel to Chungking Express is also called ‘Fallen Angels.’ Makes you wonder…but I think it’s likely just a coincidence. The ‘Fallen Angels’ in the episode title is a reference to the song by Aerosmith, who are also referenced in the title of ‘Toys in the Attic’ named after another of their songs. Her name translated literally means ‘Fairy’ which is also referenced in Jupiter Jazz.

To me, she also seems inspired by the American noir film Gilda which has the running theme of casinos and a flirtatious femme fatale who starts off seeming superficial and is at odds with the righteous ‘hero’ but turns out to be quite the good girl who is true to him. Just something about the similarities between these two images makes me really believe in that homage, at-least in this shot within CB (the one on the left is a very iconic one of Gilda). Considering Watanabe’s love for Noir, it doesn’t seem too far a stretch.

Gilda on the left, Faye on the right

Anyway, Spike is styled after Yusaku Matsuda but also has resonance with Lupin III, Bruce Lee, and some subtle nods to Humphrey Bogart. Jet may largely be an ode to Rick Deckard from Blade Runner…the common themes of ex-cop plus bounty hunting (in the original novel, Rick is a bounty hunter-in the movie, they use different terminology). Julia seems named after the Beatles song of the same name but also looks to me loosely adapted from the character of Camille played by Birgitte Bardot in the French film Le Mepris, a woman caught between two men. Camille is also blonde, and is dressed in black in the inciting incident of the film. She has on a black hairband similar to the black sunglasses on Julia’s head in the “first look” scene from Spike’s flashback and, travels in a red convertible, accompanying a man who is not her husband, which kicks off the whole mess in their mutual lives. There’s another red convertible which I want to talk about too but that will need to wait for now.

Camille on the left, Julia on the right
The inciting incident of Le Mepris with the red convertible

Julia is the female version of the name Julius, which is the Roman name of Jupiter. In the episode Jupiter Jazz, Spike runs into a drag queen called Julius while looking for Julia. Julia, derived from Julius/Jupiter, who is the king of the Roman pantheon, means ‘Ruler of the Gods’ or ‘Supreme God.’ The same episode also references the meaning of Faye’s name. So, going by meanings of names, we have a Goddess and a Fairy. The episode also mentions Callisto, who was seduced by Zeus (the Greek version of Jupiter) and ended up being turned into a bear by his jealous wife Hera (Juno in Roman mythology). In both Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter/Zeus has a very strong association to adultery with an endless list of lovers and a jealous wife in Juno/Hera. I’m not saying all of this may necessarily have been intentional but funny how it fits in. ‘Jupiter Jazz’ is also a track by the Underground Resistance released in the early 90s.

Another interesting thing about Julia’s name is that it’s apparently based on the song ‘Julia’ by the Beatles which is addressed by John Lennon to his deceased mother Julia. But in the song he seems to be talking to his mother about Yoko Ono, since the term ‘ocean child’ is used, which is the English translation of Yoko’s name. The Beatles also released a song called “The Ballad of John and Yoko” which may have been the inspiration for/referenced in the title for Session 5 “Ballad of Fallen Angels.” This episode is also the first time we ever see Julia. Seemingly quite a few easter eggs in the show draw connections between Julia and Ono since the end card of the last episode reads “You’re gonna carry that weight” which is from another Beatles song ‘Carry That Weight’ recorded shortly before they disbanded. It is believed to be about the band breaking up and Ono is considered amongst one of the major catalysts for this break.

Julia and Valentine are also characters in the Shakespearean play ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and the character of Julia in the play also tears up a letter from her lover. However, there don’t seem to be any other parallels between the characters/story except that both are a hopeless mess of romantic cross-connections. Anyway, this may be a coincidental connection as well.

On the topic of Beatles, we see the band referenced multiple times through the show. Some of the songs in the series have titles adapted from Beatles numbers. For instance, ‘Don’t Bother None’ in CB is a homage to ‘Don’t Bother Me’ by the Beatles. ‘No Reply’ and ‘Rain’ are both CB songs and tracks by the Beatles. The bass riff in ‘Papa Plastic’ is very similar to the base riff in ‘Come Together’ by the Beatles. Similarly, there are multiple references to The Rolling Stones in both session titles and tracks. Tracks from other popular rock bands and Jazz artists are also referenced liberally e.g. “Stairway to Heaven” and “Speak Like a Child.”

In terms of the French influences, apart from the cinematic ones, the church in Ballad of Fallen Angels is believed to be inspired from Notre Dame in Paris (on the far left in the photo below)…though I feel it looks a lot more like the Chartres Cathedral (on the far right below), both in France. Churches are a recurring theme for Spike’s past, especially with Julia. As the show opens, we hear church bells and see him walking along a street which looks decidedly European and gothic. He reunites with Julia for the final time in a graveyard…presumably attached to a church. His battle with Vicious in ‘Ballad of Fallen Angels’ takes place in a cathedral.

Another reason why I believe the church is modeled after Chartres is due to the images shown within CB which are pretty similar to the ones within Chartres. Notre Dame has the Kings Statues but the Jamb Statues in Chartres are more reminiscent of the statues we see during the cathedral sequence in CB. Then there is also a snippet from the art book which has Chartres mentioned as one of the destinations in the background.

See the Chartres on the board?
Images from the cathedral in Battle of Fallen Angels (purple) compared to statues inside Chartres Cathedral

I also wonder if there is perhaps an homage to the opera Carmen here since the episode also features an opera house. Faye claims she is a Romani in just the previous episode and Carmen was one too. That can also be a nod to the Hunchback of Notre Dame which also features the Romani character of Esmerelda.

Similar to Faye’s claim being found fake, Esmerelda’s status as Romani is also revealed later to be false since she was abducted from her mother’s room by the Romani as a baby leaving behind Quasimodo. So, Esmerelda ends up being taken away from the stable home life she was supposed to lead to live a life of wandering. But I feel the Romani reference may be more Carmen, if it is a reference at all.

The last scene of the show, a monochrome still showing Spike lying with his eyes closed is a callback to the end of Ashita no Joe. Joe’s fate remains unclear as well with speculation on whether he died in that scene or not.

In the scene in Jupiter Jazz where Spike is talking about Vicious’ code, Mangan and Ura Dora are terms from Riichi Mahjong. Incidentally, ‘Red Dragon’ is one of the ‘Honor Tiles’ in the same game

The series also makes references to different locations like Tharsis and Alba on Mars, and Valhalla on Callisto which are all real locations on the planet/satellite. Interestingly enough, Blue Crow is not a location on Callisto.

Laughing Bull talks about the ‘Great Spirit’ or Wakan Tanka who is an actual deity of the Lakota Indians.

I also noticed that the Bebop has a number written next to its name 268170. When you add up the digits 2 and 6, and 1 and 7, they both come to 8. 888 is a significant number in Chinese numerology meaning triple fortune. This may just be a coincidence though…or someone decided to poke fun at the lack of fortune for the Bebop crew.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Will do a part two focusing more on the influences from the French New Wave cinematic movement, which Watanabe has mentioned was one of his influences while making CB (Pierrot Le Fou is a landmark film from this period).

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