Cowboy Bebop: Shifting the Lens on Spike’s Story

What is the ‘alternate take?’

Spike’s story within Cowboy Bebop is built a bit deceptively-it will seem one thing and then you dig deeper to realise there are multiple layers you had not even considered before. Things are shown pretty fleetingly but when you sit down and really think through the stuff that doesn’t add up, you can find it may logically point toward another interpretation of events than what you get in a cursory watch. Sometimes there are blink-and-miss scenes which change context of the narrative completely. We are not exactly told a story but rather shown it and it’s pretty much designed on Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory with high minimalism, where the most key incidents are not even shown or the thing which is most important in the story will be the most downplayed. Hemingway is also referenced in Cowboy Bebop’s last episode through his story ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’…which I take to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to how deceptive the events of the show are at that point when Spike’s arc is at its height.

Spike Spiegel

I keep reading/watching these takes on social media that Cowboy Bebop is a story of “nothing” but that’s its most surface-level self. Its creators were always very people-focused in all their works. Space, “coolness,” martial arts and spaceships are all motifs used to tell a story which is at the end of the day about people and their lives. Nobody is fighting aliens from outer space here but broken relationships, friendships, and circumstances which they found themselves in. If you see it as a story of “nothing” then you miss out what it actually is. At its core, its monomyth is very much a love story like it or not. You can’t separate it or underplay it. But the question is which is that love story truly? How does it shape the narrative? Is it the story of a stunted man who lives a pointless life with no emotional development and dies or is it the story of a man who has suffered a lot but finds healing and redemption, faces up to the past he was running away from and finds freedom at-last? I feel it’s the latter. And I also feel it is very intentionally constructed to look like the former. The series is created by a director who will rarely ever give a straight answer on it so to me it seems fitting. It’s my view of course and no one has to agree to it.

My alternate take on Cowboy Bebop is basically that the intention was for the viewer to eventually figure out a story-within-a-story for…at-least for the monomyth of Spike. And the character of Julia, more a plot-shaping device than a real character, is the key to this charade. There is a lot more to the show than just Spike’s story but his arc is the heart of it. I feel that the whole tale of Julia heroically running away to protect Spike is a false trail constructed by the creators to confuse the story, contradicting what they actually show. It’s all very clever mind play. Is Julia really the woman we create in our minds basis the few romantic-looking clues we are given or is she something else if we break it down logically?

We are shown what Spike “feels” for Julia in literally just two episodes-a very tiny aged-memory sequence at the end of Ballad of Fallen Angels but mostly it’s truly depicted in the first part of Jupiter Jazz. Everything else we construct ourselves basis that one tiny tidbit. But what about the sequences in the second part of that same arc? Spike’s flashback recalling Vicious warning him about Julia? Why do we ignore that? There are many things in the show which don’t really add up to the idea of Julia being this all-encompassing love which causes him to throw away everything at the end but this “veil of Julia” situation covers our entire calculation of the series downplaying sequences which are showing a lot more happening for him outside of just that one equation.

When Spike meets her at the end in the graveyard and the sequence in Annie’s shop, he is shown being very cold to her versus how he behaves toward others during those same episodes. His behaviour on the topic of Julia in Jupiter Jazz and in the finale are shown very differently. He’s dying to find her in JJ but bides his time in the finale, even pretending to not understand Faye when she relays her message.

Julia herself seems very keen on him not arming himself during the sequence in Annie’s shop, asking why he needs weapons if they will just run away. Don’t you need more weapons if you’re running away from a deadly Syndicate trying to kill you? There are a ridiculous amount of coincidences in both the finale and in Jupiter Jazz, which suddenly become not coincidental at-all if you plug in the perspective of Julia still being affiliated with Vicious. I mean how much Deus ex Machina can a story get away with really? I’ve covered this in my analysis of the finale.

I feel the story of her running away is actually intended as a cover she builds to get herself out of a Catch-22 situation, caught between two dangerous men. Spike is seen aware of the story of her running away to a protect him the entire time-it’s not new information revealed to him in the finale. During his flashbacks, he thinks back to Vicious’ gun to her head, her tearing up his letter etc.

But it’s pretty ridiculous if you think about it-she could not have killed him when Vicious asks her to do so, not really. I mean isn’t that kind of contradictory to what Vicious himself keeps harping “I’m the only one who can kill you.” Spike is not easy to kill and Julia is not depicted as a fighter of his caliber in the rooftop sequence in the finale so she does not seem like a real threat to him, not after he had already faced an ambush alone and faked his own death. Even if she had succeeded in killing him somehow, she would not be free. Vicious was not the kind of guy to let betrayal go. Him saying he will kill Spike with Julia’s hands is more him toying with her and planning to kill both…just think a moment on exactly how sadistic Vicious is shown. Would he really have said “Oh hey! You killed the guy! Now I totally trust you and you can be free.” I feel this story was kept so flimsy intentionally for the viewer to see through it if we think more on it. When we see Julia in the finale, she is living a very stable, even flashy life which does not align with anyone on the run.

So, I feel that instead of running away, the story actually indicates that she stays connected to Vicious, going underground and acting as his wild card in his ambition to take over the Syndicate. Spike’s decision to run away was shown as one-sided and she did not seem very onboard with it. In the sequence where he asks her to leave with him, they feel like recent lovers and not people who have had a common desire to run away together for a while. The story tells us Spike is a damaged and broken man within the Syndicate much before he gets together with Julia. His fake eye represents and was a fallout of whatever trauma caused him to begin viewing his life as a dream and both he and Julia speak of feeling like watching a dream during his flashback in Jupiter Jazz. He continues to be that way, unhealed, even after that relationship, putting himself through danger and not caring about his life for most of the series. I feel they were two very different people brought together by dire circumstances for a moment in time which benefited neither. That’s why I feel “feeling the fear of death for the first time” and wanting to live which he talks about in the CB movie to Elektra is not connected to some healing which happens for him in the Syndicate past due to Julia but a more recent shift in him. It’s covered here.

Julia’s relationship with Vicious was an abusive one so either Stockholm Syndrome, fear of him, or maybe even love for him keeps her where she is. She’s not the “mwahaha!” evil villain but in the flashbacks, she is a scared and diffident woman for whom breaking away may not be possible simply because of who she is. I mean what’s more realistic? This diffident woman lacking combat instincts to the point that she actually stands up straight in the middle of a gun fight managing to fend off the entire Syndicate for three years or her giving in to her emotional captor and getting used by him in his plans? I’m all for women’s agency but seriously?

I feel Spike realises her affiliation during the events of Jupiter Jazz or gets an understanding then which he builds on later (again the gaps and omissions of Hemingway’s Iceberg style of writing) and that’s why he’s belligerent toward her at the end. He’s not the kind of character who would do that unless he had good reason to. He only shows reaction when she is shot and that has always looked to me more like a reaction to the death of a long-term friend, even if estranged, than someone you love deeply. There are also quite a few parallels to the deaths of both Vicious and Julia, most notable being Spike looking up at the sky after each death. The show also gives Julia a coward’s death, shot through the back, barely there before she is killed. She doesn’t get the slightly more heroic death Annie has received just a little while earlier.

I feel Julia asking to meet him at the end is her trying to lure him out and covertly lead him to his death since, after killing Mao and the Van, Spike is pretty much the only one standing in the way of Vicious’ plans considering he still has loyalists within the Syndicate. He is not very easy for Vicious to kill and hence using Julia, attacking his comrades etc. helps lure him out. I even feel Spike’s exit from the Syndicate was not just him having a sudden awakening but something engineered by Vicious since he did not run away from Mao, a capo who was pure evil, but rather a mentor who loved him like a son and who was anyway taking things in a benevolent direction.

Even the way she finally gets him out through Faye. The anime guides say she knew about Faye through Shin but how was Shin able to not just track down Spike and his companions but also Julia who was on the run so hard even Vicious and Spike couldn’t track her apparently? She just happens to find Faye on that particular day just like she just happens to find Gren earlier? Why do the Syndicate ships follow Faye back to the Bebop right after meeting Julia even though they lost the tail long back? I have seen other stuff written by Nobumoto. She’s not such a bad writer. She wrote both parts of Real Folk Blues and Jupiter Jazz herself.

Why were Vicious’ people attacking Julia at the end then? If she is his wild card, there is so much going on at the end that he would not be able to go back and tell them she’s working for him so they will assume she’s a woman on the run from him and attack her just as they attack Spike. Vicious being the kind of guy he is, her life would probably not matter a whole lot to him.

I also believe there is character development for Spike in the series, again fairly surreptitiously, where the Bebop crew come to mean something to him and he moves from being in a state of indifference toward his life to having a life-wish by the end, which is also referenced to in the movie during his conversation with Elektra. That’s not him talking about the past. That’s him talking about the fear of death he feels for the first time during the events of the movie and admits to Laughing Bull in the earlier sequence after Vincent shoots him.

All the subtle equation with Faye (I did not particularly like her for a while when I first watched the show…largely because I did not understand her character…and I’m not saying this because I “ship” Spike and Faye…because I’m not 12….this just developed), both of them being built as very similar individuals by the show, their arc of saving each others’ lives/taking care of each other, being the only ones to get an understanding on the pasts and true stories of the other, is actually the “romantic” track within Cowboy Bebop which is also Spike’s movement from not caring if he lives or dies to having a reason to live by the end. I used to see it as just a friends equation but all his talk of the “woman” in his life toward the second half got me down to the romantic angle. It is a juxtaposition of immature, half-baked, destructive feelings from an equation born out of bad circumstances of the Syndicate with Julia against genuine commitment, love, and care which he comes to find in her. It’s covered in detail in the analysis on these two characters. There’s a lot there.

Like I said, his story is told like the Iceberg Theory and there are multiple incidents with him and Faye through the series which seem like something is going on but are then underplayed. In this kind of writing, the thing which is most underplayed usually is the thing which is most significant and that’s been the basis of this particular exploration. If you trace out these seemingly innocuous instances through the series, a pattern does emerge.

This equation is not perfect because both characters are badly damaged emotionally and unable to express themselves and we don’t exactly get a happily ever after at the end. But I do feel his “healing” happens through his general association with people who truly care about him versus whatever he had before. These new connections are also emotionally stunted, dysfunctional, fleeting, and he is unable to value them initially but they are important. Their resolution also seems partial, with an implied “to be continued.” For instance, Ed leaving with the captions of “someday, somewhere” seems to me more like the creative team saying goodbye to her than the actual crew. The kid can find them any day she wants to even if she has left. She is not required to stay on at the Bebop, she has her own journey, but that does not mean the people on it are no longer important to her.

Spike’s “death” at the end was never about his injuries anyway but the will to live on and that’s why I believe he does not die at the end. There’s really no reason for him to. All the things supporting his “death” like the star going out, the doves, the dual meanings of death in the show, reference to the “True Samurai,” the general motif of stars/west etc. all have second layers to them in culture, philosophy, and spirituality which negate the idea (I’m gonna publish that one pretty soon…I promise). I hear people talking about him achieving “Nirvana” at the end and becoming truly free indicated by the star going out but this is my perspective on that basis what Eastern philosophies actually mean when they speak of these concepts. Nirvana doesn’t come that easily. He is far from being free of his karmic debt at the end to just achieve Nirvana. He has just faced up to his past but there are too many unfinished threads remaining for him to just be free of it all. One phase of his life is over because he has finally faced up to his past but there is a lot more left for him to do. Death in the show does not mean death of the body. Looking at the kind of philosophy incorporated in the show and the movie otherwise I don’t think its creators were unfamiliar with these ideas. He speaks of his leaving the Syndicate as dying too. The cat story was never about Julia (as per me) so that doesn’t point toward death either. Vicious is as much of a Samurai as I am Madonna. He shows zero traits of Bushido-just having a Katana doesn’t make you a samurai. So he’s not the “true Samurai” who can kills Spike either.

I believe Spike’s motivation for attacking the Syndicate at the end is because Vicious has succeeded in becoming very powerful by then and if he does not stop the man now, he will definitely come after Spike and the others in his life. We have been shown Vicious targeting them to reach Spike already. Have covered that and Vicious’ general Syndicate takeover arc/motivations in this analysis of Ballad of Fallen Angels. Spike’s motivation then is not revenge at-all, though it’s the conclusion we usually draw but to protect people he got into the mess and finally face up to the past/unresolved Karma from his Syndicate days which he has been running away from (tying into the theme of the show being his Karma as stated by Watanabe). This is also shown to us in advance through the metaphorical episode Toys in the Attic.

There is also a “veil” of Julia which is built up basis the few and deceptive clues we are given about her and her false positioning as Spike’s prime priority which completely confuses the narrative and builds his character up as an emotionally-stunted man, causing us to actually ignore the true story which is being shown to us. The moment you take that aside, you get clarity into his true relationships with and importance of the new people in his life.

I genuinely believe that the intention of the creators was never to downplay the importance of our main characters, the Bebop crew themselves, within the narrative or to Spike either. Jet is a huge influence in his life, someone he moves from rebelling against like a teenager to respecting like a mentor and father by the end, prioritising him when things start to go bad. Faye is a companion whom he gets an insight into which no one else does and who also gets to understand both aspects of him. A lot happens between those two characters on subtle levels to just brush the equation off as nothing. I also don’t think the show glorifies emotionally unhealthy behaviour but rather satirises and critiques it. There is a lot of poignance, intelligence, and beauty in how it is written and developed and you really cannot take it at just face value. You need to look deeper, question and doubt what you are told till you find a narrative which actually adds up. This is not a story which you can interpret just with cold logic-you need a mix of both logic and emotions to understand it fully.

I did not pull anything out of thin air but just analysed the narrative and what is depicted on screen. I used to believe the popular ‘canon’ version for years too though was never completely satisfied with it, found it too simplistic, and when I looked at it this way, I found sense in it. It’s not as nihilistic as the usual version but is still quite complex in a very different way. This article is a summary of my insights based on multiple analyses (key ones related to Spike’s story linked below) built from the sequences of the show itself and actual ideas from the philosophy and cultural references within it. It just requires dissection and rethinking because it can actually be quite deceptive. This is what I believe in but I’m not saying anyone else has to.

The Essays which make up this Analysis

There are three essays which trace out critical episodes dealing with Spike’s past. These can be supplemented with the analysis on Ballad of Fallen Angels, though that is neutral and can exist outside of the ‘alternate take’ as well.

This is not a “shipping” war, just an analysis

Since some random person on the internet, who apparently worships the character of Julia, took this piece of work as a source of personal offence and an excuse to be rude to me, another random stranger on the internet, I thought let me clarify the intent here. The opinion of someone like that means little to me but it did reflect a mirror to me on how this work can be perceived so here goes. 

My intention behind writing this was not to get into some sort of “shipping” war over why one fictional woman is better for a fictional man over another. If you are like me and have no clue what the term “shipping” means, since I heard it for the first time like a month ago too, it is the act of rooting for a fictional romance. I can understand why me writing essays proving one character is an antagonist and then spending four long posts on tracing the romance of two other people would seem like I’m trying to enter a “shipping” war but no. That’s not it. Trust me, if I had to get into a “shipping” war, I’d fight to death over why Spike should’ve married Jet cause that’s such a wholesome equation, but anyway… 

Literary analysis is a thing. I did not start off with the intent of writing these essays-I wrote speculations and other stuff which gave me an idea that the story may be different from how I have always perceived it and then this happened as an exploration. I’m noting down two key points below on why this analysis got structured the way it did. 

  1. I did not start off trying to prove Jules was an antagonist. Spiko definitely seems really off and rude toward her at the end so I was trying to reason out why and initially figured maybe his view of her evolved post seeing other people’s relationships/behaviour. But then there were so many coincidences in the finale that those, coupled with his coldness, gave a reflection that something deeper may be wrong. Then I went back and re-analyzed Jupiter Jazz and that threw up more alternate interpretations. 
  2. I had no intention to trace out any romances but Spaiku is still going on about some lady at the end even as he shows up to meet Julia looking like he wants to shoot her. So I thought let me revisit all that UST (Unresolved Sexual Tension) we are shown between him and Faye. I found patterns so I wrote them down and holy crap there is so much. 

To me, all the characters in the series were very important and great in their execution. I love what we are told and what is left out because that leaves scope for individuals to fill in aspects to the characters which are meaningful to them and therefore connect to the story more personally. The scarcity in presence of certain characters defines the story as much as the constant presence of others. It’s a monomyth but covered up by a meandering melange of equally-important stories. My purpose was just to spend some time with it and explore it further. I wrote these and then moved on to writing about the characters/philosophy/spirituality etc.

I like this particular version because it makes sense to me and is a more positive take on the series. I’m not floating pamphlets on social media trying to convince anyone to this view and don’t plan to do that ever. I wrote this independently and not to try and disprove anyone else’s views cause I don’t got time for all that. Believe what you want to, what makes sense to you. Try to be respectful of divergent views if you can. If you can’t…well, you do you boo. 

How we got here…

The reason behind exploring the possibility of Julia as an antagonist in Cowboy Bebop was all the different plot points and seeming loopholes in the story which have not made sense/added up over the years. Don’t get me wrong-I’m not saying the show is not perfection as it is but, I’ve known this story for the better part of two decades now and there were always things which I questioned, where 2+2 does not equal 4…or even anything in the general dynasty of 4. Yes, there is artistic liberty and suspension of disbelief (fall from a 4-5 story window and survive? Duh! suspension of disbelief!) but for something written and created by extremely brilliant people, I feel it can’t all be randomly disconnected and highly coincidental material either, especially during critical, serious episodes.

Cowboy Bebop
Spike Julia
Spike's story

“The best things a writer can do is to not write something the viewers will expect.” This is a line from Mish Mash Blues, the “extra” episode of Cowboy Bebop which you can watch here. So, with Cowboy Bebop I’ve learned by now that you need to look deeper, and question what your first perception of something is.

The whole idea of ‘color association’ which I’ve covered here and the depiction of the color red in the context of Spike’s past, including Julia, got me started down this path. It’s like saying the same color which belongs to the Red Dragon Syndicate and Red Eye, a chief motif representing evil in the story, is still coloring her as well…though, of course, it could just be due to all the love. On the topic of colors, it is also interesting that toward the end of the series, the director wanted both Julia and Vicious drawn in similar shades of dark colors, using a lot of black. It’s mentioned in Toshihiro Kawamoto’s commentary in the artbook ‘The Wind.’ I’ve also seen people draw a parallel between the red umbrella carried by Julia, Shinu (Samurai Champloo) and Scarlett (Space Dandy) but all three are unfulfilled romances….and Shinichiro Watanabe did not direct Space Dandy directly so not sure how involved he was in the umbrella motif there. He has multiple other works which feature love tracks but no umbrellas.

There is also the reference to Pierrot Le Fou in the show which is again covered in detail here. It’s a French New Wave film, a genre of cinema Watanabe has mentioned in interviews was one of the influences behind Bebop, and he has directly paid homage to this film through an episode title. In the French film, Marianne, the woman our protagonist Pierrot falls for and is seen in love with the entire film, turns out to actually be working with another man, presumably her real lover, at the end. She works with him to betray Pierrot, who then kills both. Both Marianne and Julia are associated with the color red. Julia is also apparently named after a song about Yoko Ono…which seems a weird association to give a protagonist. The end card of the last episode ‘You’re gonna carry that weight’ is also a Beatles reference to a song often considered connected to Ono and the general breakup of the Beatles. You can read more about the other Easter eggs in Cowboy Bebop linking Julia to Ono here.

All of this could be random associations too, of course, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt it was worth exploring if the creators had maybe intended Julia as an antagonist and the narrative got misunderstood over time, or they intentionally left it ambiguous for people to figure out some day. They never spoke much on the story or clarified anything, remaining largely media-shy or giving only very ambiguous snippets of information in interviews.

A Ridiculous amount of coincidences

There are quite a few things which we are supposed to assume as “coincidences” in the serious episodes dealing with Spike’s past that don’t really add up. But we are too distracted by the sweeping, tragic romance of Spike Spiegel and the elusive Julia to focus much there. Logical discrepancies are swept under the carpet as just divine hand or fate in the lives of two lovers. But, the romance doesn’t answer questions like why is he pretty much apathetic, detached, and downright rude to Julia when he finally meets her? How does Julia run completely accidentally into Faye at the very time that Vicious starts his coup and she needs to reach Spike? How does she even know who Faye is? If Shin is her ‘informant’ who told her Spike is a Bounty Hunter now and Faye is one of his companions, then how did he locate her when Vicious could not? If Vicious does not trust Shin then how did Shin get this information in the first place to be able to inform Julia? Why do the Syndicate ships follow Faye back to the Bebop right after her meeting with Julia? How does everybody run into Gren? etc. There are some vague, loose explanations offered in the anime guides but those books are just all over the place so I am very skeptical of what they say. And honestly, I’d be ok with accepting all that divine intervention too if just tweaking perspectives on Julia did not mean the events fall into place a lot better.

What’s up with Spike at the end?

For a man who grew so anguished at the mere mention of Julia’s name in Jupiter Jazz, who dreams of her while waking up in Ballad of Fallen Angels and gets annoyed to find Faye humming instead of her, Spike’s reaction shown when he finally gets to meet her makes no sense. Yes it could be that he knows their situation is bleak, maybe he is a little angry with her by then but honestly some tenderness, some affection, something is bound to come through if you love that person. It is not shown though, not even after she offers her explanation of why she didn’t meet him in the graveyard three years ago. Also, from the fact that we see pieces of this explanation like the gun to her forehead, her tearing up his letter etc. in his flashbacks, we can assume he was already aware of this.

This is an animated show, not a live action thing where wrong acting by an individual can give things a completely different meaning. We are deliberately shown Spike’s anguished reaction to Julia’s name earlier to establish what that looks like and then not shown the same thing again when the most pressing time for it comes. Jet was shown zipping around in his Zipcraft during Real Folk Blues to visit Laughing Bull so he could’ve survived on his own or Spike could’ve stowed him and the Bebop at some safe location and set off to find Julia the same way he did in Jupiter Jazz but nope. Doesn’t happen. He starts to head toward Tharsis but taking his sweet time, in no seeming hurry to leave, leaving the Bebop only after both Jet and Faye are accounted for. When he meets Julia, he is pretty cold to her. During the sequences in Annie’s shop he pretty much ignores Julia while still showing warmth toward the dead Annie. Who is the “woman” he talks about with Jet then? Well, I got a theory on that too…a detailed one, based on a breakdown of events spanning the entire series. You can read that here.

Talking about the below still of Spike and Julia in the graveyard, which was released separately but is aligned to the timeline of their meeting in the anime, the illustrator wanted to draw Spike with a lot of emotion befitting his reunion with his lost beloved but the Director asked him to not do so and draw him in the stoic manner he is shown.

The Real Folk Blues Part 1
cowboy bebop

They are back to back, him with a rose in hand and her with a gun. Does this really give the sense of two people in love? Since the Director of this series is also someone who did not bother to inform his team they were creating a show with the sole purpose of selling Bandai toys to the point that Bandai pulled their funding because it was so different from what they wanted, one has to wonder what else he did not tell them…perhaps the true intent behind the scene? Or maybe Kawamoto knew perfectly well what he was doing (likelier option) and just gave vague commentary exactly like literally everyone else on the creative team.

There is also the fact that our boy has three flashbacks in the entire narrative when he is coming back to consciousness, two during the series and one during the film. Julia is a part of both flashbacks in the series but is mysteriously missing from the one in the movie, which occurs later in the timeline. In fact, the earlier flashbacks are all about his past while this one is only images from the present. Where did she go?

What’s up with Julia at the end?

I’ve covered it in more detail in the analysis of The Real Folk Blues linked below but how is the lady living in a home in Tharsis of all places and driving a bright red convertible if she is on the run from the Syndicate? When they are fighting in Annie’s shop, she actually stands up on the rooftop in the middle of a gunfight and is dazed pretty easily. I’m no trained fighter but even I know that’s a dumb idea. She is not depicted as someone strong in combat instinct/skills…how would she stay ahead of the entire Syndicate for three years then? Also, why does she not want Spike to carry any weapons even if they are running away? Do they not need protection? Why is she shown insisting he stay sparsely armed?

Sketchiness of the Anime Guides

I know that the anime guides do not support any of this but honestly the anime guide really don’t do a whole lot. I wrote a short about this on Tumblr and might do a longer take here (will check on if copyright laws allow it here.) Reading them is like watching the show again, giving vague narrations which just describe exactly what is happening on the screen. They are also factually incorrect and downright absurd in multiple places. The only additional information in them are the characters’ stats like height and birthday and other random information of the kind. So we can send them cards and knit them sweaters I guess. Also, the English translations of the guides seems to have not been done very accurately or perhaps the base material itself got things wrong.

The guides were not written with direct involvement from the creative team of the show either and were written at the Publisher’s end based on interviews and production material. When you read them, the guides answer zero questions and actually almost consistently keep speculating key plot points themselves, thus not giving me much confidence on their content.

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The Real Folk Blues Part 2 : Cowboy Bebop Alternate Take


This deals with The Real Folk Blues Part 2.
The ‘Alternate Take’ is basically a reanalysis of Spike’s story and for more context on it, please click here.

In an interview, Dai Sato says that Shinichiro Watanabe feels people will eventually understand his works when they revisit them 10-20 years down the line. Coming back after 15 years, I am people. Relooking at Bebop from the lens of Julia as an antagonist. This is the second part of a two-part post. You can read the first part here. If you’re a fan of Julia give this a skip please.

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Spike goes to meet Julia in the graveyard. We see him pick up a conveniently-placed red rose, identical to what he dropped when he left his previous life and Julia supposedly ran away. He is not dressed in his trench coat getup which he gets into every time he goes back to his past signifying that he goes to her as the Spike he is now and not the one she knew long ago. He has changed.

It’s also symbolic that he is not shown giving the rose to Julia but holds on to it. She has a gun pointed at him while he’s only holding a rose, open and vulnerable. It’s symbolic of their relationship.

At this point, I feel Spike meets her because she is a stray bullet and can be dangerous. He needs to see where all of it is going, what the plan is. With him out in the open he knows the attention is on him now, away from his friends. Isn’t it strange that the moment Spike leaves the Bebop and goes to meet Julia, the attacks on the mothership cease? Faye and Jet are never bothered again by anyone? Almost as if Vicious is aware Spike is no longer on the ship? I mean, just saying.

Julia says the line about rain and he replies sarcastically to her. She gives her explanation on why she disappeared and he responds asking why she chose to become hunted. Julia does not respond back saying it’s because she loved him but asks him why he loved her. Looking at it now, this seems less a confession of love on her part than expressing the weight of his loving her. The whole scene always struck me as….off…but I get it now. It’s almost like she is simultaneously guilty and burdened by his love which forced her hand at betraying him and working against him. We know they were friends once, we have the art from Spike’s past which shows him, Julia, and Vicious in amicable scenarios. This scene sounds to me intended less as her saying ‘I chose to become hunted because I loved you like you loved me’ and more her subconsciously saying ‘Why did you love me? If you had not, none of this would have happened.’

She comes to embrace Spike and asks him to run away with her. We are specifically shown that he does not do anything to embrace her back, console her, or show any kind of affection. Think back again to him in Jupiter Jazz (I know I sound like a broken record but just do it dude), his eagerness to find her, fighting with Jet over her. If he was to be having the same reunion back in Jupiter Jazz, would this have been his reaction? He would have probably interacted with her in a manner similar to the flashback interaction shown of him with her, where he asks her to come away and have a life with him, one where he is affectionate, trusting toward her. In JJ also we see him still retaining that trust and belief in her which seems absent by the time this interaction is taking place. We cut to Spike’s eyes which are cold and passive.

The Real Folk Blues Part 2
cowboy bebop

One can argue that he is passive because of the circumstances with the Syndicate during their meeting, because he anticipates the end is near for them, but if you meet someone you have cherished for so long, even at a time like this, someone you believe to be pure and good, you will at least do something to comfort them, show them some affection. It is, of course, fairly common for people to shut down emotionally during situations of extreme stress or trauma but we have not been shown Spike as someone who becomes overwhelmed by dangerous situations. That meeting in the graveyard does not look like a man reuniting with the woman he loves. Something looks changed-the trust seems missing. This also goes back to what I mentioned in the first part around the Director asking the standalone art corresponding to this scene to be shown a certain way.

We next get a scene where Shin has made his way back to the Syndicate to find the Van dead and Vicious asks him about Spike. He informs Spike got away.

Vicious then asks him where Julia is and Shin says he does not know. Vicious seems to speak in a manner which seems more casual than the way he asks about Spike. I always get a sense from that scene of Vicious speaking as if asking about someone who is currently a presence rather than a woman who has been absent for three years. Not saying Shin is in cahoots with him but it feels more like Vicious not really bothering too hard with the act anymore since he has already reached the top.

We cut to Spike and Julia driving to Annie’s…again, all passive Spike-resigned, cold, and calculated. He asks her to wait outside and goes into Annie’s shop, where we are shown him exhibiting emotion for the first time in a while. We see him worried for Annie, trying to stem the flow of blood. Julia comes in and Annie is happy to see them united but Spike does not even bother to acknowledge Julia’s presence much. Annie dies and he goes to collect ammunition.

Julia is shown asking him why he is taking up ammunition if he will be running away with her. She seems a bit too fixated on getting him to run away with her and doesn’t seem too keen on him arming himself. Again such a weird thing to show her saying. Even if they’re running away, they would still need to defend themselves. She should want to stock up on more arms, not be stopping him from arming himself. Heck, if I was her I’d tell him to take all the guns, locate a frigging tank if he could, and recruit some Ninja bodyguards while he was at it. They’re up against the entire effing Syndicate now for God’s sake and her combat skills are shitty as hell. If she was genuine at this point, what was she planning to do if they came after her? Drive badly at them till they went away?

The only way she would not want him armed at this point would be if she wanted him to be easier to handle, less dangerous, till she was able to deliver him where she was supposed to.

I’ve mentioned in earlier pieces as well how odd and tone deaf Julia’s request to run away seems at this point, especially when she knows Spike has comrades. It is extremely odd of her to seek Spike out at a time like this, without a word exchanged in three years, to send the message through Faye, someone she is not supposed to even be aware of.

It’s like she doesn’t even realize she is revealing her hand too much.

We see a consistent strain through the show of Vicious and his people underestimating Spike, or being unable to predict his actions and motivations, ever since Ballad of Fallen Angels. They kidnap Faye with the intention of luring him out when in fact he has no reason to give a damn about her at this point. He barely knows her, doesn’t like her much, and couldn’t care less if she dies. He comes to the church because he chooses to. Once he is there, Vicious’ henchman is again shown to misread him, asking him to lower his gun or they will shoot her, to which he responds by calmly shooting the man who is holding her instead.

Vicious, for all his calm composure and ruthlessness, is still shown an inferior man to Spike from the perspective of the series and the values it holds. The philosophy of Bebop, and especially for Spike, is routed in Taoism, Jeet Kune Do, Buddhism, and Bushido-the code of the Samurai. Vicious and his men cannot predict Spike’s actions because they do not operate from these spaces. He acts in the moment, he is empty of false ego, and he is honorable.

The series even mocks Vicious through the screenshot of Spike walking by the screen playing an old samurai movie with the words “Only a true samurai can kill him like that.” This is generally taken to mean that only Vicious can kill him since he wields a Katana. But Samurai are not made simply by the use of a Katana. Vicious is not a Samurai, he is a Ronin. The most important tenet of Bushido is loyalty to the Daimyo or overlord. Spike, for all his leaving the Syndicate, continues to stay loyal to his Daimyo Mao while Vicious betrays and kills him.

There is a deception here, a duality, because one becomes a Ronin when one becomes masterless through death of a Daimyo or desertion. So by that logic, Spike is a Ronin because he leaves the Syndicate while Vicious stays on. However, in fact, Spike is the true Samurai because his loyalty to Mao continues. He even calls out Vicious on his lack of loyalty and betrayal of someone, presumably Mao, who saved him.

Of course, we can’t consider Spike’s character depicted as completely flawless here either but that’s a conversation for another day. Overall, the series mocks Vicious as a posturing megalomaniac. He is skilled with the Katana but he is not a true Samurai, not by a long shot. Below are the 8 tenets of Bushido, of which except for courage I really don’t see him embodying any others.

  • Rectitude or Justice
  • Courage
  • Benevolence or Mercy
  • Politeness
  • Honesty and Sincerity
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Character and Self-Control

Anyway, long story short, Vicious misreads Spike because he operates from a very different place than Spike. He continues to believe Spike is exactly like him, the same blood runs through them etc. but they are not the same. Maybe he wants them to be and that’s where his envy and hatred of his former friend comes from.

This translates to flawed planning when it comes to Spike, flawed on both his part and, by default, translating to Julia’s actions as well. Julia assumes he is still in love with her and will come with her when she asks but he is smarter than that. He is detached from things and objective enough to be able to see the patterns and understand what is going on. Perhaps her plan is to lure him under the guise of running away with her, something she and Vicious are both aware he wanted dearly, and lead him to Vicious. She seems to get confused when she sees him not playing along, trying to enforce her loyalty to him further by saying she will be with him till the end.

I always find it strange that it is shown the Syndicate attacks Annie’s shop a second time. They have just been there a little while ago and have killed Annie. Of course, it could be that they left someone to stand watch at Annie’s and they called for backups when they see Spike at the shop but it could also be done as a result of some alert sent through Julia. Of course, the question would be of why Julia is attacked as well. First off, during the fight we see her take the lead and largely stay out of the way of fire. When she is finally shot, it is by mistake and through stray a bullet aimed at Spike, not intentionally. Also, since she is a wild card for Vicious, all his people would not be aware of her role here. He’s just taken over…would be kind of difficult to do that sort of communication lickety split without panicking gangsters already at edge due to all the events happening currently. Even when he shows up at the shop later, the guy who hands him Julia’s coat speaks as if she is a target and not an ally.

Whatever reason leads Julia to continue to work with Vicious, whether a sense of self-preservation or love for him, she would remain dispensable for him. Even if she dies in this mission, he is not likely to be too bothered given the kind of person he is. I feel their relationship is one of Stockholm Syndrome and she is a woman unable to break away from the abusive equation with him.

Anyway, back to the scene in Annie’s shop. I find the contrasts we are shown here rather telling. Julia says she will stay with Spike, will be with him till the end and the only reaction he has is to pause in loading a bullet. The pause also feels skeptical. Emotionally jacked up as you may be, hearing your beloved say something like that would cause you to at least give her a smile or a word of assurance. Spike has been ignoring her the entire time she has been speaking and his reaction to this is to take a pause in loading his gun and then continue on. To me, that scene oozes unvoiced skepticism and contempt on his part. It’s offset in the every next shot as he moves to the window and apologizes to Annie’s dead form with a subtle tenderness, saying that he is about to create a scene. Not speaking to Julia looks like a deliberate choice. We have never before seen him to be an abusive man, as the way his ignoring her in that moment indicates. It’s abuse through lack of words.

Spike is a dangerous man and, misread him as they do, they are still aware he is better dealt with care. We may have a question of why Julia doesn’t just shoot him while she has him around but we do know by this point he is not that easy to kill. In the shootout that ensues, it is also established that his combat skills are far superior to hers. Anyway, they are attacked and Julia makes her way up, followed by Spike. She shoots the Syndicate man pointing the gun at them…for a plan with so much at stake, this would be plain and simple collateral damage.

They move across to the terrace and then we get to the scene where Julia is shot. Julia is not given a heroic death by the show. It’s not the kind of death we are used to seeing for key characters…the kind of dramatic one we see for Vicious or, if you believe he is dead at the end, for Spike himself. She is getting up, trying to get her bearing, and is shot through the back by a random henchman. I always find it interesting that the series chooses to give her the death of a coward, of a dispensable individual. She does not die to save Spike, is not killed by anyone of significance. There is no blaze of glory for her, just a quick, single shot to the back. Annie’s death of just a few moments prior, dying because she did not betray Spike, is a much more honorable one juxtaposed against Julia’s. Incidentally, Julia’s death is the same death as that of Vicious-a single, quick, fatal gunshot with the only difference being that Vicious is shot through the front.

If we continue by this version of interpretation, this can indicate that he is shot through the front because he is overt about his antagonism toward Spike while she is shot through the back because her story is entirely one of betrayal and deceit. Spike’s reaction to both deaths is identical, looking up at the sky.

This is the first time we see any emotion from Spike toward Julia since the start of the episode. While it is easy to assume this is his reaction to seeing his one true love lost, this would be his reaction to her death under any circumstances. They were friends once, he cared for her for a long time. Even if she has betrayed him, all of that history matters and seeing her die would not be easy for him. Till now, we have seen Julia through Spike’s left eye during the flashbacks but as we flash into it we see it empty. This is the eye that sees his past. To me, this seems symbolic of his being free of his past now. She is gone-there is nothing he can do for a dead woman. He is free of her.

She says her dying words “It is all a dream.” and he agrees with her that it is a bad dream. This woman has had a long association with him, they had happier times as friends and lovers once. They must have shared a philosophy, an ethos. Her death was not planned, not built up, just a sudden hit. It’s a difficult parting for both regardless of whatever happened between them but it feels like the parting of friends, not lovers. We see Spike mourning her. A lot of people have died because of him by now and Julia dying is the final trigger for him because even if she chose a different path from him, she was someone who mattered to him and he had an active role in setting her on the path which eventually led to her death.

In this context, the next sequence we see is of Vicious in Annie’s shop and someone shows him Julia’s coat with her passport still inside it. They don’t seem aware she is dead. Vicious then speaks of a beast who has lost his place in the world, who has nowhere to go, and will come. This is an odd thing to say considering he does not know Julia is dead. All he knows is she is with Spike, presumably informed by the ambush party before they showed up at the shop.

The first time I saw this, I assumed it to mean that Vicious is saying Spike has lost Julia so now he will come but it doesn’t make sense to me now when I spend two minutes thinking on it. There is no blood on the coat and no Julia-shaped chalk outline on the roof. Everyone who ambushed Spike and Julia was likely killed before she died. If there was someone left who saw her die, they would have informed Vicious and his men who show up at the shop but they seem unaware she is dead, stating instead that her passport is in her coat so they are not likely to get far. Therefore, I now feel Vicious is talking more about Spike’s general place in the world, implying that Julia has been successful in taking Spike away from the life he has been living for the last few years, his “place” in the world, believing he has agreed to run away with her. So, he will come to Vicious. Either she will lead him there or he will come to protect the new future he feels he has with her.

There is a brief shot of rose petals sweeping away with the wind which always seem to me indicative of the end of a fickle love, closure of Spike’s association with the rose he dropped so long ago.

Spike shows up at the Bebop to meet Jet once more. He tells him the story of the cats and I’ve mentioned in this essay, why this story potentially signifies his negating the idea that he will die now just because Julia has passed away. Julia is another of the many masters who possessed him before he became free, one he could not break away from in the same way he could not break away from Vicious, Mao, and the rest of the Syndicate drama.

At this point, to both Spike and the audience, the Bebop is an oasis. With all the raw emotions of what is going on in his life, this place has not changed. It’s still a home where he is welcomed and cared for. We wish for him to just stay here and go on with his life the way he has been but that’s not possible. The water is over his head and conclusion of the journey to the “west” which he started in the earlier episode is inevitable (Tharsis is adapted from Tarshish, which is a city in the Bible located at the western-most extremity of the known world). Incidentally, Tharsis and Alba are all actual locations on Mars mapped by scientists. Tharsis is a giant volcano.

Tarshish also has an association with the story of Jonah in the Bible, who escapes toward it, disobeying the order of God and ends up being swallowed by a whale on the way as a punishment. He survives, but the association in his case was also of confronting one’s fate or pre-ordained path….though this can be coincidental as well.

The story which Jet tells him earlier on the bridge is a loose, somewhat distorted version of the short story “The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro” by Ernst Hemingway. In that, the protagonist Harry is dying of gangrene and his partner Helen tries to get him to hold on to life. The sequence with the plane happens in his dream. He dreams a plane has come to pick him up to save him and it takes him toward Kilimanjaro. In truth, he is unconscious and has become unresponsive. The plane and Kilimanjaro are all happening to him in his dying dream.

As Spike heads out, he is confronted by Faye. The exchange between them is somewhat reminiscent of the one between Harry and Helen where she desperately and futilely tries to get him to cling on to life. But Spike is not Harry (Harry in the story is really not a very likeable guy). He has not given up on life-he is just indifferent to death because, once again, Bushido. A Samurai is expected to live life as if already dead so he does not fear death.

Spike has to do what he has to do and that’s about it. He offers Faye the best explanation he can in that moment but actually nothing he could say at that time would really make much of a difference. He is depicted as the kind of individual who is not very expressive and even Watanabe has mentioned this. When he wants to show emotion, he will do the exact opposite of it. That’s why I believe the reason why he is shown to not look back at her as she shoots her gun behind him is because he cannot afford to. He has no option to stay and turning back would just elongate the parting for both of them. It might even weaken his own resolve to go.

So he leaves and we see him flashing back to his past. This scene is often interpreted as him being alone with the memory of Julia, the Bebop crew no longer a priority for him any longer compared to his grief and love for Julia, who has passed. Now, first of all, he flashes back to both Julia and Vicious in happier times. Times when they were his friends. He flashes back to both, not just one. He does not flash back to Annie or to Mao, people who were also important to him, a part of his past, and who were true to him to the very end. He is not remembering his past as a whole. He is thinking specifically to the two people who meant a lot to him, both of whom betrayed him. He has lost one of them already today and the other he is heading off to kill. Yes, he is alone in that moment but it is with that memory of betrayal and loss, and not with the memory of those who cared for him. Anyone who believes Spike is intended to be a character who does not care for people or his companions needs to watch the show again. The scenes are also interspersed with images of Faye and Jet dealing with his going in their own ways.

I find it very strange when I read in places that this flashback indicates the Bebop crew could never take the place of Julia. This version only makes sense if we view Spike as a toxic, ungrateful character but he is not that. He embodies Bushido, he is loyal. We don’t see him brush away Mao’s affection to him even after he has left the Syndicate. He honors Mao’s memory when the time comes, even knowing he is already dead. Similarly, he knows the value of Jet’s friendship, of Faye’s care for him, and he comes back to honor both. Albeit, he meets Jet and his meeting with Faye seems to happen more by accident but I feel he may have sought her out before he left if she had not confronted him in the hallway.

After Julia’s death, he could have gone straight to the Syndicate and shot the whole place down. He had ammo at Annie’s shop already and we don’t see him loading up on it at the Bebop. There is no reason for him to come back to the ship at this point except for the people there. He doesn’t know if he will survive or not so he comes back to visit them one last time. It’s similar to him honoring Annie dying for him by apologizing to her before making a mess of her shop.

He doesn’t honor Julia similarly, dismissing her as a dead woman he can do nothing for. He does not honor Vicious, telling him simply that Julia is dead so let’s just end this. The manner of him mentioning Julia at this point to Vicious is especially critical for me. If she was still the pure love, the other half, in his mind then he has no reason to mention her to Vicious in this manner. If that was true, Vicious was the antagonist in their story, and Spike is here to avenge her death by killing him. But he does not speak of her in a manner of possession or accusation, as if saying ‘I lost her because of you.’ He says “Julia is dead. Let’s end it all” as a matter of fact, like saying…one player of this game is already down. It’s just you and me now. Let’s end it, the jig is up. And no, I am not going by the tone of Steve Blum’s voice here. I’ve seen it both in English and in Japanese. It’s the words themselves, not how they are said.

After he kills Vicious, we see Julia’s death again through his right eye which sees the present. Her death is his present now. Closure from his association with her, with the Syndicate, and with Vicious. He is finally free. The lyrics of the song Blue which plays after he falls down indicate that he is now unencumbered to live free. If we believe he died then that’s the blue of freedom in death (though I still don’t think he did).

If we look at the associations in Spike’s life, there are two trifectas. Syndicate trifecta-him, Vicious, and Julia and post-Syndicate trifecta-him, Jet and Faye. Faye and Jet are the polar opposites of Julia and Vicious. Faye backs him up and is side by side with him versus Julia who could not stand her ground for him. Jet forgives him again and again and takes him back in while Vicious made a huge deal out of one transgression and refused to let it go.

The end card of “You’re gonna carry that weight” is a line from a Beatles song, which they recorded while they were going through conflicts and was one of the last songs before they broke up as a group. It has multiple interpretations but one is that each of the members of the group will carry the weight of their association with each other after they leave, that the sum is much more than the parts. The Bebop friendships are still very much intact for Spike. This end card seems a hark back to the Syndicate trio. Each of them carried their past association to each other with them, its burden weighing them down, and eventually resulting in this end. Yes, of course, it’s intended for the audience as well since we do end up carrying the series with us long after it ends.

Each of the main characters in Bebop has the arc of confronting their past, resolving it, and coming back. Jet leaves to meet Alisa, carrying the broken pocket watch with him. He meets her, realizes that’s over, and chucks the watch in the river before returning to the present. Faye gets her memory back and goes in search of her home only to find it gone and finally puts it behind her, coming back to the ship with the realization that this is where she belongs. Ed has gone away on Faye’s misguided advice but may eventually realize that the father who keeps forgetting about her because he is so engrossed in pointless work does not compare to the surrogate father she has in Jet, who notices her absence, worries about her well-being and could make her way back soon (she has no trouble finding them). Similarly, Spike who has finally confronted his past head-on may eventually heal and come back to the ship as well.

All of this is linked somewhat to the scene with Alfred’s mother at the start of The Real Folk Blues. Each of the Bebop characters have their moments of feeling like they are not cared for by the others. Faye runs away thinking no one gives a damn about her but they do. She sends Ed away thinking she does not belong on the Bebop either but we see Spike keeping a tab of each of their disappearances, Jet worrying about their food, and eventually see the boys end up “eating their feelings” when they feel they have been abandoned.

In Jupiter Jazz, we see Faye feel she is unwanted but Jet is worried for her safety in a dangerous area and goes to find her, towing her back like a sleepy child. In the first part of The Real Folk Blues, we see Spike reach out to her to come take care of Jet like one would to an errant family member who is going through a mood but he seems concerned for her safety as well. We see her put her currently ongoing issues aside to come back and relay Julia’s message to Spike and defend the ship with him. Spike starts off believing Julia and his past are where he truly belongs but over time we see him develop real bonds with his comrades. Jet believes he is taking care of strays who don’t care for him and come and go as they please but Spike prioritizes him over everything else when shit truly hits the fan. Faye acts like she doesn’t give a damn about Spike but when he is leaving we see her give him a bitter fight and then break down crying. I do feel there is more to their equation though and wrote a magnum opus on that as well, which is here.

The scene with Alfred and his mother is about someone choosing to feel unloved, building a prison of their own mind where they feel uncared for, only to realize there is someone (or people) who truly care for them. It’s about people who have nothing much to give still coming together to be there for each other. Alfred’s mother is old and not a provider. He has just lost his job and is not much in terms of provider himself at the moment. But he wants to live with her and figure things out. The ragtag bunch onboard the Bebop don’t have much but they give what they can and take care of each other with whatever little they have.

It also translates to Julia and Vicious as a contrast, I believe. To the very bitter end, Spike thinks back to his friendship with Vicious, to the time he first saw Julia. Vicious had only to come out of the prison of his own mind, his ego, to get his friend back again. He was cared for but he chose not to see it. Julia was loved dearly by Spike but the prison of her own fear kept her from giving in to that love completely and having something beautiful with him. It’s a factor of their backgrounds and environments I guess which did not allow these choices.

So yeah I guess that’s the interpretation of the show which resulted from looking through the lens of Julia as an antagonist honestly it makes a lot more sense to me now than what I’ve known so far. It may make sense to you, or may seem like utter horsecrap. Either way is fine. At the end of the day it’s about what works for you. Any work of art is enjoyable by our own consumption of it and to each their own.

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The Real Folk Blues Part 1: Cowboy Bebop Alternate Take


This deals with The Real Folk Blues Part 1. The ‘Alternate Take’ is basically a reanalysis of Spike’s story and for more context on it, please click here
.

In an interview, Dai Sato says that Shinichiro Watanabe feels people will eventually understand his works when they revisit them 10-20 years down the line. Coming back after 15 years, I am people. Relooking at Bebop from the lens of Julia as an antagonist. This is a two-part thing. You can read the second part here. If you’re a fan of Julia give this a skip please.

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In Real Folk Blues, what never made sense to me is the scene where we first see Julia in the present-day narrative. We see her coming home to what seems like a stable residence, on Mars of all places, the home of the Red Dragon Syndicate. There is an answering machine…though that could be a wireless thing, but the atmosphere intended to be created in this scene seems to be of a stable life. She does not look like a hunted woman in any manner. This is deliberately shown to us versus showing something more conducive to a person on the run. We can always assume this is a hotel room, though nothing indicates that, but why on Mars?

In the scene, she receives a message from Shin informing her the elders will be on the move and it is not safe where she is as well so she needs to hurry. The official subtitle scripts mention that this message is from Shin, her ‘informant.’ Shin seems to be aware Vicious will attack and the Van will capture him, unleashing a death warrant against anyone related to him.

We next see Vicious attempt the coup and fail but he seems to be already aware that this plan will fail, hinting that he will strike further. In retrospect, Vicious seems to have had the entire coup planned out well already. He seems to know the Van are aware of his plan and allows them to capture him, getting them to lower their guard to where they believe he is at their mercy, before killing them. From the scene where he kills the Van we also get to see that he has a healthy number of supporters within the Syndicate already, but there are still some members working in a more neutral capacity, their loyalties with the Syndicate overall.

We next see Spike and Jet get attacked in a bar and Shin comes to cover Spike. It seems that this attack is done by the Van but we do get to know later when Shin returns to the Syndicate that Vicious was aware of the attack and specifically asks about Spike indicating that the attack likely involved his supporters, people already briefed on what they needed to do. It would also explain how the Syndicate overall, which had not been able to track down Spike till now, manages to locate him so quickly.

Shin is a part of the attack and relays a message to Spike that Vicious’ coup has failed, Julia is in danger, and “they” are in Tharsis, not specifying who but let’s assume he means Julia as well as the Van, the collective whole. But we see Spike’s reaction at Julia’s name as one of skepticism/suspicion rather than concern and, as he is walking away with Jet, he is not shown as anguished but rather angry. It seems almost like he wonders for a moment ‘Why is Julia in danger?’ since by now he seems to know, based on whatever happens during Jupiter Jazz, that she has been with Vicious all along. So perhaps he reaches a realization that they are planning to use his past connection with her against him as bait, under the impression that he still loves her, and it causes him to get angry.

He takes Jet to the doctor and is fidgety, keeping a lookout. Jet is concerned about him going off and getting himself involved. We see Spike flash back to when he asked Julia to come with him. She tells him he will be killed but he informs he will let them think he is dead and will be waiting at the graveyard. She tells him she can’t come with him but he is confident.

We next see Julia driving along thinking back to Vicious telling her he will kill Spike with her hands. We see her tearing up the letter given by Spike. The next scene is Vicious imprisoned by the Van and we cut to Faye, who is at the airport. When she leaves, she gets a call from Spike asking her to come to Tharsis and then Julia shows up, chased by goons behind her. Faye covers Julia, shooting the people chasing her and jumps into her car. They speak and Julia mentions she is looking for a bounty hunter. For some reason, she also seems aware that Faye knows Spike and asks the other woman to relay a message to him to meet her in the graveyard. Faye is baffled at how Julia knows she is associated with Spike.

Now, here we can assume that Julia is aware about Faye through her informant Shin but this seems rather strange. The anime guide explains her being in touch with Shin as him having reached out to her after getting angry over Lin’s death but how was Shin able to arbitrarily locate her when neither Vicious nor Spike could do so for three years?

The first scene, where Shin is mentioned as Julia’s informant, seems deceptive because Shin would be a pretty pathetic informant. Shin is a Spike loyalist, as we eventually find out, Vicious knows this and does not trust him at all, something we are also deliberately shown later. This is set up during Jupiter Jazz through Vicious’ distrustful attitude toward his brother Lin. Hence, he is not likely to be privy to Vicious’ internal plans enough to keep Julia one step ahead. In the first scene, Shin is informing her of the progress of the Van’s plan but when Vicious executes his second step plan and kills the Van, we are shown that Shin is baffled. So clearly, not the guy who has any clue about the inner workings of Vicious and his people.

This is how I interpret this scene. Due to Julia’s association with Spike, Shin believes he is in touch with someone who is on Spike’s side but in truth Julia is Vicious’ wild card. He is her informant unwittingly and she was the one who got in touch with him, not the other way around, to use him for luring out Spike. When we see him at the bar, he acts on her behest, informing Spike that Julia is in danger, something likely to lure the Spike who was in love with her out immediately, but that doesn’t happen. Spike gets away and Shin likely relays the same thing back to Julia. When this plan fails, she targets Faye next.

Why is Julia shown aware of everything Vicious knows? Vicious seems to be the only one aware of Faye’s connection to Spike and I really doubt he or his loyalists would have the kind of heart to heart where they pass Shin information about Spike’s companions. We can then assume Shin finds it all out on his own which seems very impressive but really counter-intuitive since it seemed to have taken Vicious three years to track down Spike. So Shin doing it in just a few days/weeks/months is quite the feat. Spike seems to have all but forgotten about Shin when he comes face to face with him so clearly he had not gotten in touch either.

Now, contrast everything we have seen about Julia so far to Spike who is also a guy on the run and likely was a much more prominent member of the Syndicate than Julia, since we have been shown Mao felt he was the only one who could stop Vicious. (I assume Julia was prominent since Shin addresses her with the honorific ‘Sama’ which equates to a very senior person. This could also be coming from her association with Vicious or Spike, who are both addressed with this honorific. Like a Lord’s wife would be addressed with the honorific ‘Sama’ as well in feudal Japan.) Anyway, Spike has no clue about the developments in the Syndicate. A guy like that is likely to be much more adept at staying hidden from the Syndicate as well but he spends his life living on an old fishing trawler in outer space where he can stay hidden.

Spike is assumed dead for a while so it makes sense for him to stay out of touch with everyone from the Syndicate but, even after Vicious gets to know he is alive, we do not see Spike re-initiate the contact with anyone except Annie, likely because it would be a loose end through which he can be traced easily. Why is Julia, supposedly on the run alone, keeping a thread like this alive then? Why is she shown living specifically on Mars, right under the Dragon’s nose?

So either we assume that Spike is dumb as all hell (which we know he is not) and could be living a lot better, or that the Syndicate are simultaneously very good and bad at finding people at will…just depends on their mood I guess.

When we finally do see Julia on screen, she seems “badass” and all but are we really shown a woman skilled enough to have managed to fend off someone like Vicious and the entire Syndicate for three years? Not really. She does not appear anywhere near as adept in combat as Spike is in the rooftop scene and, when she is driving around in her convertible chased by the Syndicate folk, doesn’t come close to being equipped for that situation as much as Faye is depicted to be. I always get the sense of a babe lost in the woods there and for the rest of the two episodes as well. Then how has she survived so long? In the flashbacks also, she does not come across as someone very powerful or self-equipped.

There is also the fact that this moment is when she finally chooses to seek out Spike despite seemingly having a staggering amount of information on him already. We can assume she was looking for him in the three years they were apart as well but, if she had the option to be in touch with people like Shin within the Syndicate, she could have taken their help to seek him out earlier as well. Or, if she is truly as skilled as a person would need to be to be able to evade the Syndicate and Vicious for so long while driving a bright red car and living on freaking Mars, she would have to be resourceful enough to be able to locate Spike sooner. But she doesn’t till the exact moment of execution for Vicious’ plan. I mean…the writing can’t be that bad can it?

So then, let’s take a step back and consider an alternate retelling of events than what we commonly believe (and which we are still dissecting years later), filling in some blanks. Three years before the story starts, Vicious tells Julia she must pick between killing Spike or being killed along with him. She cares for Spike but maybe got swept up in the thrill of a secret romance. She realises she neither wants to leave the Syndicate nor wants to antagonise Vicious. Their relationship is doomed and has no real future. Maybe she’s not even sure if Spike is someone she sees a life with. I also feel her association with Vicious keeps her captive, maybe she cares for him more than we are led to believe. So, she tears up the letter not to run away but to go underground.

She makes a bargain with Vicious when he tells her to kill Spike, knowing full well that he is not likely to allow her to live post the deed either, to allow her continued existence and association/relationship with Vicious but overtly under the status of a fugitive so she is not targeted by those who were close to Spike or by Spike himself, on the off-chance that he should turn out to be alive. She knows Spike is about to fake his death so he will be out of the equation soon. Maybe she lets Vicious believe Spike is really dead or maybe she informs him of Spike’s plan but does not know the specifics of it so they are not able to stop it from happening….or something else along similar lines.

Vicious seems incapable of love but perhaps she does have some sort of hold on him or they have a good working equation and he feels she can be useful to him in his plans as a secret wild card. He lets her live. Events happen as we see them happen and Spike fakes his death to enter a new life, believing Julia loved him but not knowing what happened to her. Basis the trigger he seems to lift during the flashbacks and which is something he uses again at the Red Dragon building at the end as well, I assume he fakes his death by letting everyone think he blew up in an explosion. So Julia lays low, working covertly with Vicious as he begins acting on his ambition to take over the Syndicate. She does it for survival or love or both. At one point, Vicious finds out Spike is alive or finally manages to track him down and eliminates Mao as he begins his plans to take over. Mao was taking the Syndicate in a more benevolent direction so Vicious would have felt the need to do that. Spike is the only one who is still a challenge to him now apart from the Van.

Anyway, cut to the present. Julia is shown to us driving a bright red convertible. What kind of person on the run would be shown owning such a car? Or would own a car at all? Faye and Spike are both on the run and they are shown with an entirely different category of vehicles which allow for quick getaways to obscure parts of the solar system. A car doesn’t allow that. It is a grounded vehicle, good for local commute…unless we assume she hot-wired it or something but it doesn’t seem so. It’s a very flashy car.

We also see that, unlike Shin’s belief on her location, Julia is likely not in Tharsis or travels out of it to wherever Faye is. We know from the exchange between Spike and Faye earlier that Faye is not currently in Tharsis so it is very strange for Julia to show up all the way in another part of the planet, exactly where Faye is. We can always assume Faye is in Tharsis and Spike just doesn’t know but how did Julia end up exactly where she did? Again, we can assume she was heading to the airport but her knowledge about Faye and her connection to Spike still keeps me suspicious. Or we can believe the anime guide and think it’s all one big coincidence in which case I’d rather watch Crayon Shin-Chan please. Especially given the fact that Faye is followed by Syndicate ships back to the Bebop right after her meeting with Julia, conveniently being found after having eliminated Julia’s trail already even as Julia herself, in her flashy red car, is not followed by anyone at-all.

Spike is a thorn in Vicious’ side since, apart from the Van, he seems to be the only one who can be a real threat to Vicious’ power and leadership of the Syndicate. Vicious sees him as a rival and we are also shown that there are loyalists to him within the Syndicate (e.g. Lin and Shin), who are waiting for him to come back and can upset things for Vicious. So, the next step after taking over is to draw him out and kill him, making Vicious’ supremacy complete. He fails at the bar so now he is counting on drawing Spike out. The first attempt at this is the message delivered through Shin, presumably at Julia’s request, and the second option is taking the fight to Spike using Faye. Perhaps Vicious knows about the whole Bebop crew but Faye is out on her own so easier to trace.

Julia is heading to find Faye (I’m assuming) but, on the way, she is accosted by Syndicate goons acting on the Van’s orders and that’s how she arrives at her meeting with Faye. Since Julia is Vicious’ wild card, she could actually also be attacked by his own loyalists as well since they would not know she is associated with him. I always find it too big a coincidence that Julia ends up exactly where Faye is on that very day.

The Julia/Faye scenario occurs. Julia is shown guarded, calculated while Faye is open to her. Faye becomes guarded only after Julia mentions she is looking for a bounty hunter. Faye is justifiably baffled when she gets to know Julia knows her and her association with Spike. None of this comes across as accidental to me each time I watch that sequence now. It seems constructed to arise suspicion in the audience at some point.

Anyway, Julia gives her message to Faye and she gets back to the Bebop to convey it. And lo and behold! She is followed by a gaggle of mobster ships smack on her heels who attack the Bebop. If the Bebop crew were so easily traceable Spike would not have stayed hidden three years and Faye would have debt collectors knocking down her door every morning along with the newspaper. There is a reason why they are living on the fringes of society.

This is extremely odd because Julia has just calmly driven Faye back to the airport indicating that they had lost the trail. How did the ships find her again? Is the Syndicate really so all-knowing or has the information been relayed to someone in Vicious’s immediate circle that Faye will now be making contact with Spike/heading back to wherever he is, thus revealing his location? That they should follow her in case they get lucky and she leads them back to him? Even if she had just given him a call, since the message relayed through Shin has failed, Julia may believe a message relayed through her is likely to have a better effect. The show gives us a clue to this as well when Spike tells Faye the ships may have followed her back.

Anyway, Faye conveys Julia’s message. Spike initially pretends he does not understand her but when she says Julia’s name he has to acknowledge it and seems surprised to hear the name from her. He was not present for Faye’s interactions with Gren during JJ nor was he there when Jet told Faye about Julia. These are not the kind of people who will sit down and gossip about each others’ love lives so Spike is not likely to be aware at this point that Faye knows there is a Julia in his life.

Compare his reaction at this point to the one he is shown to have during Jupiter Jazz at the mere mention of Julia’s name. He fought with Jet and took off like a comet, expressing that his number one priority was Julia over any of the Bebop crew members. But now we see him hear that she is under attack and being hunted but he is calm and unreactive. He simply tells Jet he is ready to take off. Granted they are in the middle of a pitched battle but there is simply no real reaction shown from Spike other than a shot when Faye actually says Julia’s name and he looks more angry than concerned. We don’t see any anguished shots of him worrying for Julia’s safety or thinking back to her. Heck, Faye seems way more concerned about Julia at this point than him. Why?

Even earlier, Jet is just shot in the leg and can survive on his own but we don’t see Spike running off to rescue Julia despite being informed by Shin already that she is in danger. Instead, he takes the entire Bebop and begins to move toward Tharsis. He could have simply returned Jet to the ship and then taken off in his zipcraft. Isn’t it kind of immature and inconsiderate to fly a wounded Jet along with him to the heart of the Syndicate? Literally anywhere else would be better for him. This part always stuck out to me and thinking on it I realized that Spike is aware that with events unfolding the way they are, he needs to destroy the Syndicate once and for all however he can. That decision is made for him the moment he hears the news, not when Julia dies. If he leaves the ship at this point, the people targeting him are aware of his affiliation with Jet and Faye. I feel Spike knows Vicious well enough to know he will not fail at a coup if he has started it. He would have enough aces up his sleeve to make it out.

Either way, if the people attacking him can find him, they can also figure out his association with Faye and Jet. Even if he leaves the ship, they have no way of knowing he has done so and his companions could still be attacked in an attempt to get to him, under the assumption he is still on the ship. So it is better if he is actually on board so he can fend off an attack if it happens. This is the reason why he begins to move the Bebop toward Tharsis and calls Faye asking her to meet him at Tharsis, to make sure she is accounted for and is with Jet when he finally leaves the Bebop and makes his presence known to whoever is in control of the Syndicate at that point.

When Faye gives him Julia’s message, he pretends he doesn’t get it and is not very keen on leaving till Jet asks him to go. I feel for Spike to receive that request out of the blue like that is very similar to seeing Mao’s bounty flash on the screen during Ballad of Fallen Angels. It’s an indicator to him that Vicious still is in control of the situation and hence his wild card is reaching out to him, unaware that he has caught on to the ruse. He knows he needs to go see what Julia is up to, to reveal himself, and draw the danger away from the Bebop. It’s interesting to me that the moment he leaves the ship and Julia becomes aware of his location, we are shown that the Bebop is not attacked again. Faye and Jet are pretty much left alone from this point on.

Read the second part here.

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More thoughts on Julia…

Once again, just because I write about a love interest in the story, does not mean I am “shipping” for or against any character. Julia is an extremely important part of the story and hence I am analysing her character. My perspective on her character has grown a lot since I wrote this but this was the second piece I ever wrote on Bebop.

So when I read or watch something which I love, I like to go deeper and explore the nuances of the story. The equation of Spike and Julia, with all its subtle depiction, is definitely one where interpretation is required. Also I know a lot of people get annoyed when you go against ‘canon’ even remotely but honestly, this show was so steeped in minimalism that canon could be a lot more than what met the eye or ears. Even the official anime guides are very vague and do not provide much information beyond what we already see on the screen. I’ll probably go into more detail on this at some point.

I write original stories and have found that often stories and characters evolve beyond their authors. Long after I have written something, I will keep finding new nuances in it so that’s why I don’t really prescribe to the idea of one interpretation being the ultimate for something. This particular piece is again just a series of more thoughts which built up post the ‘Goodnight Julia’ essay and I had to pen them down.

A little retrospective note. This piece was written before I got to my alternate take version of Bebop but funny how similar themes were emerging even here.

I was killed once before…by a woman.” – Spike Spiegel, Asteroid Blues

Ok. So Julia is a character we see very little of in the anime. We don’t know her backstory but we know that she is someone whose name gets a strong reaction out of Spike and she was also with Vicious at some point, likely before her relationship with Spike. I guess this lack of backstory makes it easier to love or hate her completely because you can come up with your own story for her to justify either view. Backstories are extremely important in the Bebop universe and they usually run on the concept of contrasts.

For example, Spike is an easy going bounty hunter but his past is deep and dark and steeped in the underworld. Faye is a conniving con artist with money problems who uses her sensuality to her advantage but her past is a shy, naive-seeming girl born in a wealthy family. Jet is again a bounty hunter but his past, diametrically opposite to Spike, was with the police force. Ed seems to us an orphan, neglected child at first but we find out later she has a loving father who just seems to forget about her a lot. Vicious is a cold-hearted gangster who seems pure evil but at one point in his life he was a soldier….albeit he seems pretty much consistently evil and unidimensional even then but, based on Vincent’s example, maybe the war changed him and he became who he is.

So then what is Julia’s backstory? Like I said, that one is left most open to interpretation and shown the least. We even get glimpses into Vicious’ past but not hers. Her only identity in the show is established from the time that she gets involved with Spike and we don’t even see her in anything other than flashbacks till the last two episodes.

The first perception we always get of Julia is a self-sacrificing woman who is deeply in love with Spike, separated from him, and grieving for him. She is positioned as his ultimate soulmate, the woman no one can compare to, the one he can’t live without, and whose death led him to storm the entire Syndicate and kill Vicious. Basically, perfection. She seems demure, mysterious, strong, guileless, and almost angelic or divine. That was the perception I came away with too the first time I watched the show as a teen over a decade ago but then I had a lot of questions about the character the more I thought about it. Somehow, the pieces of information I had about her did not quite fit into a cohesive picture, the most oddly-shaped one being the question ‘Why did she abandon Spike and just leave him to his fate?’ The second squiggly-shaped one was ‘Even if she did that, why did she never try to contact him again? She had a lot of information on him by the end.’ And that’s where I got a sense that maybe, like the other characters, what we initially perceive of Julia is not 100% what she is supposed to be. So then, by the Bebop pattern, her second layer or backstory would be the polar opposite of who she seems to be at first glance.

Before being able to delve into her past, I wanted to build some understanding of who she was basis the information we are given of her. I always wonder what kind of woman would date a man like Vicious and there are pretty much only a few possible answers because, by any stretch of the imagination, that relationship would end up being unpleasant and most likely abusive…at least mentally, if not physically. That’s how the series depicts it too.

I read a head canon somewhere that maybe Julia met Vicious before he went off to war and he became convoluted on Titan but honestly, Vicious does not come across as the kind of man who was a saint prior to Titan either.

I also just want to say at the start that I don’t think she’s not “badass.” She appears in black leather jumpsuits as well as homely aprons so clearly there is more to her than meets the eye. She can shoot a gun and survive in a difficult world so clearly not a pansy. Everything I write about below is keeping this context in mind. But just because someone is “badass” doesn’t automatically mean they are a character to look up to.

The main characters of Bebop all belong together because they are, while ragtag and messed up, essentially good people at their core. Vicious does not fit into this description…but does Julia? I honestly don’t think so. I feel Julia was more self-serving and cunning than a casual watching of the show will leave us feeling.

So yeah, first option for Julia’s personality could be a woman seeking something from Vicious. This could be either power or protection or both. A woman who is willing to put up with the abuse he is designed to mete out in exchange for these. Like maybe someone thrown into a dangerous world by circumstances, who gets close to him to be able to survive.

The second option can be a woman who has some sort of psychological issues and hangups when it comes to relationships. Like maybe a martyr complex, the kind of woman who takes on bad partners as “projects” to try and rescue them from themselves or to change them into good human beings. Psychologists have cried themselves hoarse saying this is a bad idea and almost always ends badly for the “rescuer” but anyway. In this case, she could be anything…a gangster’s daughter, a Syndicate assassin with a heart of gold etc. etc.

When I look at these two options, they all make sense to me at first glance but then I want to look at her subsequent actions deeper to get more clues to her personality. Basis that first perception persona we have created in our heads, one would lean more toward the idea of either a woman seeking protection through her relationship with Vicious or an empath seeking to rescue people or even a mix of both. The “power-hungry” Julia is a narrative I will park for now since it seems out of place in this context, even though the Live Action does a hack job of showing just this. While writing this piece I did kind of start seeing where they were coming from but it is just so, so poorly executed that I don’t even consider it an adaption of Bebop. Anyway, ‘power-hungry’ Julia is not a version I am about to dismiss right off though. I would probably just tone it down about 1100 notches from what Netflix has shown.

So then let’s explore each of these and what they mean for her relationship with Vicious and then subsequently with Spike. If Julia is just an ultra-empath rescuer whose compass, when it comes to picking relationships, is badly broken, then her being with the narcissistic Vicious makes sense. It also makes sense for her to be led along into a doomed relationship with Spike out of an innate pattern of self-destruction and ill-guided emotional philanthropy. It means she is a broken woman and neither of these relationships are healthy for her or real. It indicates that she runs away because she does not have as much invested into her relationship with Spike as he does and is with him more as a result of her corrugated programming than true love or compatibility. She would still be a similar person if she was seeking protection through these relationships. They would still be as unreal to her and her investment would be just as little in them. The men would be in her life for a purpose and not because she loved them. Through either of these personalities, she would still not be able to reciprocate with true love. She might believe she is in love with these two men at the times when she is in relationships with them but the fact is one of them is pretty much unlovable and the other is completely opposite to him so there is no pattern here. Maybe she does love Spike out of the two but her running away from him hints at a shallow sort of love.

With these lenses, she seems to be a woman programmed to pick up toxic relationships, one who thrives on trauma bonds. I feel her equation with Vicious, if she is an empath, would be something very similar to what Gren had for him, admiring him at first and then realizing how evil he is. Vicious is a clever manipulator and she may have fallen into a Stockholm Syndrome of a relationship with him. Spike comes into her life and he is clearly a more dedicated partner who cares about her but she seems not programmed to deal with a relationship like that either. She wastes it. It’s also not a relationship which is good for either of them. It just exacerbates their cycle of mutual self-destruction.

The trauma bond situation for Julia holds true for both options of her personalities, whether as a seeker of protection from Vicious or as a “rescuer” empath. But, given her ‘perfection’ the empath theory seems more consistent.

But what kind of self-sacrificing empath would leave their partner to die and run away? Not likely.

Before we go any further, I want to digress for a while into what I think of Spike in this context. Spike in the Syndicate was clearly in with a not-so-great crowd and did not have the best character judgement either. Or rather, he was a fish out of water there and his options for company were limited. The Spike we see on screen is not a callous, evil hitman, and I would assume he never was. He doesn’t kill people just for the heck of it and doesn’t seem to get pleasure in taking life…he’s just sort of neutral about it and does it as per necessity but there is no bloodthirst in him. He probably grew up in the Syndicate world or got into it due to circumstances when fairly young and knew no other way of life, surviving, kind of going on autopilot with where his life took him. But he is also a deeply spiritual, philosophical, and disciplined man. He goes with the flow but is also capable of caring deeply and standing up for what is right even though he’s often packaged as an anti-hero in the narrative.

While Vicious would have grown powerful because he wants power, Spike is indicated to have grown in power naturally, through sheer merit, skill, and general likeability. We see loyal followers awaiting his return long after he has left the Syndicate. He is not depicted as the kind of man who would have sought the place he had in the Syndicate when he decided to leave but it probably still followed him.

How we perceive the world around us is based on who we are. I feel Syndicate Spike was probably no different. He might have seen people on the basis of who he was rather than who they were. He is not inherently evil so perhaps the pure evil in them was lost on him a bit…like he could see it but not relate to it. However, his choices of association at this time were limited to the people around him who were essentially people on the wrong side of the law. Their motivations for being there might have been very different from his. He happened to be there while they may have chosen to be there. He picks his friends and associations from them the best he can and clearly doesn’t always do a great job of it. I mean, he ends up best friends with Vicious of all things.

Is it then so implausible that the same autopilot which drove him to pick Vicious as a close friend guided him into picking Julia as a partner? Is it possible he sees her filled with inner beauty because he himself is and just imagines that she loves him back with the same intensity as he loves her? Does he miss out that she is perhaps not as pure-hearted or perfect as he thinks she is? Not as drastically evil as Vicious but maybe, while she is pleasant enough to be around, she is not the person he thinks she is at the end of the day? That she loves him for her own reasons and not with the complete, unconditional devotion he loves her with? That she is one of those people who has maybe chosen to be there unlike him? That she seems to love him but, if tested, will just abandon him? Anyone who has been in a relationship with a toxic partner can relate to this situation. We love them a lot more than they love us, we build them up to be a lot more in our heads than they truly are, we start seeing great care and consideration in the bare minimum. Those are also the relationships which are often the hardest to get over and leave us devastated in their wake as we yearn for that false image of a partner we were deluded by…a partner who was just too perfect but is still the one that got away and won’t come back.

And that brings me to the idea of a Julia motivated by power and self-interest. In Spike’s flashback during Jupiter Jazz, he hears Vicious’ voice telling him “Be careful when you’re with that woman” which is a rather ominous thing but seems out of place in the narrative of Julia as a self-sacrificing woman and is therefore usually just disregarded by viewers.

She’s definitely not “power hungry” in the caricaturized way Netflix has tried to show it. Nothing in Bebop is so over-the-top. The characters are human and the good and the bad are what make them who they are. If these happen to be Julia’s motivations, it doesn’t make her a “bad person.” It just makes her different from Spike and who he perceives her to be. It also justifies why he thinks she will act a certain way while she does something quite the opposite. However, what Vicious says seems to indicate he was aware of Spike’s relationship with her and was ok with it. But he had a reason to believe she was going to harm Spike sooner or later.

If I imagine it, I see her as being someone who was an established member of the Syndicate, perhaps someone who chose to be there by design. Perhaps she establishes herself from scratch through her own skill or is maybe born into that background and it comes naturally to her. She meets Vicious, a dangerous, powerful, up-and-coming member of the Syndicate and starts a relationship with him, perhaps motivated by a mix of attraction and the desire to cement herself further within the Syndicate. But Vicious is really not the ‘boyfriend’ type and the relationship turns abusive or they drift apart. Maybe he goes to war and comes back even more messed up than he was before. Neither of them is capable of true, pure, giving love, and likely love is never a part of their equation anyway. More like a relationship of convenience, collaboration and maybe even lust. Even if we assume she met Vicious before he joined the Syndicate, he is still the kind of man who would attract a woman looking for someone with power or the potential of power. In that case, she comes into the Syndicate with Vicious and that inserts her into this world. Either way, I feel she gravitates to Vicious due to their similarity in basic nature….self-serving and seeking power.

Now, at no point am I implying in all this that Julia seeks to be with either of these men as a complete parasite, just to build herself on their power. She does not seem like that kind of woman. But she probably gravitated toward them because they were powerful men in their own rights and she could not be with any other kind given who she herself is. To her, a relationship might also double up as an alliance. So, perhaps her relationship with Vicious is dying and Spike ends up on her doorstep. She is a beautiful, dangerous woman. She is also the kind of woman he is used to seeing in the world which he inhabits. Her kindness in taking care of him probably strikes a chord in him and they begin a secret relationship.

Spike falls for Julia and it changes him. I feel it is the act of loving itself which changes him and acts as catalyst for his realization that he is not where he belongs and wants to leave, rather than anything she does. He decides he wants to leave and assumes she wants the same thing but fails to understand that she may not completely be who he thinks she is. She is taken aback by this decision.

And that’s why I feel they end up on two different pages without quite realizing it. Julia is drawn to him because he is a powerful man, someone who is compatible with her life and status within the Syndicate. She is not necessarily “in love” with him, at-least not in the way he is in love with her. He is a more pure soul and he loves her with that programming. Loving her, loving someone, changes him, makes him come out of autopilot, makes him realize finally that the place he is in is not the place he belongs in. It’s not the place he wants to spend the rest of his life in. He would much rather have something more wholesome with the woman he loves. He doesn’t get it that the woman doesn’t want the same thing, not at what it would cost. She perhaps loves him in the same way she loved Vicious…transactionally.

Ever been in a relationship where you desperately want to build a certain kind of life with someone only to realize your partner wants something completely different? You see a happily ever after with them while they are just with you to kill time or till a better option appears. They care about you definitely but not in the same way you do. That’s Spike and Julia for me.

Maybe Vicious finds out about their affair or maybe they keep it a secret from everyone. Even if his relationship with Julia is over by this time, he would probably take it on his ego when he does eventually find out. They are aware of this but Spike’s status within the Syndicate probably protects them. Vicious is too calculated to make a move in the situation unless he sees it going his way either.

When Spike shares his intention to leave with Julia, she is concerned at the consequences but is in too deep with him by then to say no to him or is perhaps too scared. She does not seem too keen on the idea either. And then their plan is discovered by Vicious. In the insanely ritualistic and dark world they inhabit, even a plan to leave is a death sentence. With Spike renouncing the status and power afforded to him by his place in the Syndicate and becoming a hunted man, Julia knows she is toast. She put all her eggs in the wrong basket and now it’s too late.

Vicious gives her the choice of killing Spike or getting killed with him, probably intending to kill her right after either way. Julia knows this. She thinks it over, realizes she wants to do neither of these and just bolts leaving Spike to figure himself out.

She probably intends to lie low in the shadows till a development occurs which allows her to come out into the open again. Maybe the inevitable showdown between Spike and Vicious happens and one of them kills the other, or they mutually off each other, or she is able to join another Syndicate which allows her protection from the people hunting her. Three years go by and then the Red Dragons declare their fatwa on anyone associated with Vicious’ past and she realizes she has no option but to come out and seek Spike’s protection. So she calls him to the graveyard and proposes they run away together, something completely irrelevant in the current moment. To her, the fate of the Bebop crew (whom she is very much aware of) in the wake of this decision seems to matter little. Of course, by then he has figured things out and realized the truth of their relationship. Or maybe she never even ran away at-all, just went underground so it would seem that way and continued to be affiliated to Vicious.

There are some other aspects of Spike that I want to go into as well. Watanabe has mentioned in his interviews that Spike is very similar to him. He is not a straightforward guy and is not too honest about his own feelings. He is also depicted as secretly sensitive, which is why he feels the need to clamp down so hard on everything he feels and never show it. He’s fairly young and has seen a lot so this makes sense for his personality too.

He is also someone who is drawn to things which are not good for him. He is a chain smoker, gets a kick out of reckless situations which endanger his life etc. etc. and hence, to me, it feels like his entire relationship with Julia is just another link in this chain of self-destructive behavior. He subconsciously chose to be with the one woman who was definitely a one-way ticket to destruction and clung to her for dear life. I don’t feel the relationship is so much about who Julia is but rather the idea of her…the subconscious possibility she offers to him to endanger himself in a potentially fatal way. This can be a classic trait of individuals who have survived in difficult circumstances and have experienced intense trauma. Julia is to Spike what gambling is to Faye. A way of exacerbating troubles which were already unsurmountable to begin with. For Faye, paying off her debt is impossible enough without being made worse by her gambling. For Spike, being in the dangerous environment of the Syndicate was not enough but he wants to date Vicious’ girl too. Leaving the Syndicate was impossible enough but he wants to leave it with Julia in tow, making it that much more difficult.

He asks her to run away with him but she runs away by herself instead to apparently “save” him but that’s where I initially began to really question her character. She destroys the letter very poetically (and highly impractically but then we need that bit for dramatic effect and to tie in with the other scraps of things which fall during Spike’s story…shards of glass, Venus spores, snow on Callisto etc.) and disappears without bothering to warn him or trying to do anything to save him. She knows Vicious is aware of their plan and, presumably rendezvous point as well, but still just takes off on her own leaving him to deal with it all by himself. He of course walks into an ambush and fakes his own death but he could very well have died there as well. She could have tried to get a message across to him at the very least to warn and assure him but it seems like her need for self-preservation or to not be the culprit outweighed whether he lived or died. She may even have told herself she was doing it for him but that was not true.

I find the whole bit about Julia “sacrificing” herself to become hunted for Spike to be complete hokum. It makes no sense. If the scenario was set in a way where Vicious was pursuing only Julia and would not hurt Spike if she was not around, her actions make perfect sense. She becomes hunted to take the danger away from him and he’s safe and dandy. But given that Vicious’ primary target of kill WAS Spike, her actions feel like someone taking cover and abandoning the other to manage however best they can.

Prima facie, we always view Vicious as the villain in Spike and Julia’s romance, the reason why they cannot be together, but the fact is he was just a catalyst to its end. It’s the choice made by Julia to disappear leaving Spike behind which ends their romance and leaves him an anguished mess whenever she is mentioned. He is a star-crossed lover but she is not.

Because of this, I feel Spike’s quest to keep trying to find Julia is more out of a lack of closure than anything else. Of course, suppressing his own emotions, maybe he doesn’t quite realize that or doesn’t want to admit that he was not loved back as much as he loved. Or maybe he is aware of it but keeps it to himself. We anyway don’t see much of what is going on inside his head during the show. It’s all just implied. It is often assumed that he wants to find her and rebuild a life with her but the show never explicitly says this and I don’t feel it is that going by his reaction when he finally does meet her. It seems to me like he misses what he had with her, the way he felt, and wants answers to understand why that had to end.

From his perspective, he decides to leave the Syndicate and asks her to run away with him, something he believes she is the kind of woman to want as well…because he perceives her as a reflection of who he is rather than seeing her for who she is, leading him to continue feeling her loss. In truth, the process of falling in love with someone, of allowing himself to feel something for the first time, likely awakens a dormant side of him which he takes to be reflected in her. What he imagines her to be is not who she really is and that is why, while he is confident she will come with him, at the first sign of trouble, she leaves him and runs. Because he would never abandon her in that situation, he assumes she will show up for him too. It’s a testament to this one-sided commitment that he shows up at the graveyard a second time when she asks him to. The stoicism in him at this point is probably from the realization that she knew all along where he was, since she chose Faye to convey the message, and her meeting him this way is a brazen display that staying away from him was a choice she made…in a way treating him like a child who did not know what was good for him.

Anyway, she doesn’t show up on the day they are to run away, and he gets ambushed instead. A man is bound to wonder what the hell happened. He doesn’t have any way of talking to her to understand why she did what she did. He is bound to wonder if she even cared about him in the first place. Did she ever even love him or did she just leave so she could be safe while he died? So I feel he keeps trying to find her to get answers or closure.

It’s also interesting to me that when he sees Vicious on Titan, where he is expecting to find Julia, he asks him “Are you seeing Julia behind my back?” While this is meant to be a low blow to Vicious and probably something he may have said to Spike at one point, the choice of it is interesting. He could have said literally anything else but this is what pops in his mind. We as viewers often assume that Spike knows exactly what is going on but we do need to remember that while he was being ambushed by the Syndicate he did not exactly have time to have a heart to heart with Vicious to understand what was happening. He has had no contact with Julia or anyone else from his past post that either. So, for all he knows, she did not show up that day because she chose to be with Vicious or has surreptitiously been in contact with him since. He would not ask a question like that if he did not have a sense of betrayal within him or if their relationship had been a secure one. In this quip to Vicious his inner frustration reflects too. Julia is the girl he took from Vicious but now he himself doesn’t have any idea where she is and no way of getting to her.

The lines at the end of the movie “He was always alone, always by himself. Never anyone to share the game. He lived in another world. He was that kinda guy.” seem to resonate both for Vincent and also for Spike’s own final realization that during his Syndicate days he had been truly alone always as well, even when he thought he had someone he loved and who loved him. He loved her from another place than the one she loved him from, he was in ‘another world’ than the one she was in. I think the words are meant to refer to both Vincent as well as to who Spike ‘was.’ He is no longer alone but in his previous life, he realizes finally, that he always was. His ‘friendship’ with Vicious and his ‘relationship’ with Julia were both hollow caricatures he had convinced himself were real. Neither could match up to his capacity to care and love. He also did not belong in their world and hence chose to leave it.

I also don’t nix the possibility that she loved him but perhaps it was in a different way or to a lesser extent. Gren does mention that she talked a lot about him so maybe he was important to her but perhaps not in the same way as she was to him or with the same intensity. Bebop plays with the idea of contrasts deftly. People turn out to be the complete opposite of who they seem to be at first glance. Faye appears intensely mean and selfish when we meet her but we learn quickly it’s all an act. Everyone is charmed by Julia so we assume she is amazing beyond words but is she really? Is it substantiated by her actions? To me, everything she does seems motivated by a strain of self-interest, perhaps even unknown to her. Her assurance to Spike in the last episode that she will stay with him till the end sounds hollow given her earlier actions of abandoning him to die and even he doesn’t look very impressed by that promise.

And this is the reason why I cannot write off the idea of power-driven Julia completely. While definitely not in the over-the-top way the live action adaptation tried to depict it, I can very much see her being driven by her own motives which don’t always figure others into the plan. She drops Spike completely when she needs to and comes back to him when she chooses to. We do not see what she is up to in the time that she has disappeared but she seems to be doing ok when we do see her. The bright reds of her umbrella and the convertible do not hint at someone trying to lay low. When she feels the risk, she shows up again seeking Spike’s protection and wanting to run away. It makes me wonder if her talking about him to Gren is genuine nostalgia or a way of establishing Gren’s trust through depiction of her close association with someone Vicious would naturally hate.

Is she then perhaps neither the empath nor the woman seeking protection but, in fact, a manipulator? Perhaps not an intentional manipulator but one who is simply wired that way. Maybe she grew up in a world of crime just like him and insincere love is the only one she is capable of. I feel she is a bit of all three honestly.

I feel the death wish with which Syndicate Spike begins to date Julia has faded away by the time he meets her again three years later and and the certain destruction which Julia represents starts to seem like a burden. It’s not the best way for him to feel in that situation but considering the toxicity of the relationship, it makes sense. He became involved with her when he was someone else, motivated by something terrible in him, but who he is has changed since then. Their common past does not belong in the new life he lives in now and he does not know how to balance it all out. It’s also interesting that she has not evolved from that past and remains as incapable of giving back to him as she was before. She does not offer him much of an explanation or an apology when they meet. She never spends a moment acknowledging how he must have felt at her betrayal and immediately requests to run away together as if no time has passed and nothing has changed.

I think Spike feels guilt and accountability by this point at having dragged her into all of it with him but perhaps also realizes by then that she was not the right woman for him if he truly wanted to be free. Which I think he did. He just went about it in the worst possible way. From the moment she comes back into his life, we see him go into autopilot mode because he finally has to deal with the mess he created way back when. He also seems to realize the closure he had sought from her was not coming, it was something she was incapable of giving. She meets him without any of the anguish he has known for the years they were apart. She meets him with his own denied request, once again dictating the path for them, unable to sense what he needs from her in that moment or what he needed from her when last they were together. And that gives me a final validation to her personality type.

She is not on screen long enough for us to see too many dimensions of her character or her growth but somewhere we get a sense of who she is and can imagine it. We also get a sense that she does not change or grow much over the course of these three years either. Her choices are still the same, if in a different context.

Julia is depicted as the stereotypical female character-seemingly demure, emotionally suppressed, diffident, her personality dependent on the man she is with. I know we are supposed to think she is amazing and strong etc. etc. but somewhere I don’t see it. If I compare her to other female characters in the show who are remarkable as standalone, multi-faceted individuals in their own right, she doesn’t compare much. Even if I try to imagine away the events of The Real Folk Blues 2 post her reunion with Spike and see them restarting their relationship, somewhere I do not see it turning into something very wholesome. Going back to the pattern of contrasts I guess Julia’s is that she is set up to comes across as the “perfect” woman but when we look deeper we see an individual who is scared, self-serving, and incapable of selfless, unconditional love. Can I see her having a relationship with Spike again in the future were we to change the events of that episode and they were both to survive? Yes I can but it would probably end up being a very one-sided one for him where most of the emotional labor comes from his end and not hers. Perhaps only once he meets her again he realizes that she may have been his woman once but that woman belonged to a self he no longer was.

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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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