Macross Plus: The Masterpiece Almost-fake Macross

So I love Macross as a whole but when I compare Macross Plus with the overall Macross Franchise, it is both very much Macross and very much not Macross at the same time. It’s got the basics but it executes them in a very different way and I feel this is because of the involvement of Keiko Nobumoto and Shinichiro Watanabe who brought in a very different style of storytelling, while still sticking to the base motifs of Macross, that was also seen later in Cowboy Bebop and some of Watanabe’s other works.

I can’t comment much on the newer Macross stuff simply because I haven’t seen a lot of it but legacy Macross is what I fell in love with…like everything up to Macross 7 so I am comparing this to that plus some reading I did on the newer instalments. Macross Zero recently caught my attention and seemed very promising so that’s a pending watch.

Why I love the Macross Franchise

It’s really quite simple-the storytelling is great considering the context. It manages to touch upon deep themes, has a strong focus on human relationships, and doesn’t take itself all that seriously. Sample the below for instance-one of my favourite sequences in the entire franchise. These are two Zentradi, a race which segregates males and females, displaying a kiss to their hostages ironically in order to make fun of human “culture.” It goes on a while and Lap’Lamiz, the lady involved, is clearly annoyed when it ends commenting on how the “culture” was just getting good. This is during a pretty serious sequence in the show by the way. Doesn’t take its own super-scary villains seriously. Total goofball moment.

Macross will generally involve long multi-episodic storylines which may get extended into OVAs with generally some sort of ongoing conflict with aliens or some external enemy, a love triangle of some sort, and the use of music as a weapon, sometimes to evoke the humanity in the opponent, other times to use as a force or energy of some sort. It’s been a while since I watched Macross in full and I do have real life commitments which don’t leave me time to revisit things like this as often as I would like to so I am writing about everything beyond Plus from memory. If I make any factual errors or deviations, please feel free to highlight.

Why I call Macross Plus the “masterpiece but almost-fake Macross”

Like I mentioned at the beginning, it takes the same raw materials but executes them very differently and in very signature Watanabe/Nobumoto styles.

A Story of the Human Experience / Absence of External Villains

Watanabe/Nobumoto stories generally tend to be ones of human conflict rather than a “them versus us” scenario. Spike Spiegel is ultimately struggling against the fallouts of the relationship with his best friend gone wrong. The Bebop crew may go up against a cult in one session or try to catch a drug peddler but they will ultimately end up being stories of people and their lives. Despite being set in space, Bebop does not have space invaders or alien armies. Similarly, Jin, Foo, and Mugen in Samurai Champloo do not have some ultimate “dark lord” they are fighting but their own pasts and, despite the theme of samurai, the show is more about their own emotional journey and learnings. I could go on.

The Macross franchise always involves external villains, largely space alien warriors, but Macross Plus has a very obvious lack of anything of the sort. In fact, peace with the villains who were being fought in its predecessor is actually called out in it and one of our protagonists is part-Zentradi thus eliminating even the legacy motif of villains and telling a story from a fresh slate. Macross Plus is simply a story of the emotional journeys of its main characters dealing with their own pasts and their mutual relationships gone wrong even as they go about their everyday lives which also happen to feature transforming fighter crafts.

There is something of a villain in the form of Sharon Apple but she is again very much not an external villain. Just like the cult leader Londes in Bebop’s episode of ‘Brain Scratch’ who is just a manifestation of the dreams-gone-wrong of a hacker in a coma or the satellite MPU in ‘Jamming with Edward’ which begins to draw patterns on earth because it got lonely, Sharon spiralling out of controls is also a manifestation of human actions and emotions gone wrong. She is not someone who comes in from outside and attacks our heroes but a fallout of Myung’s devastated state of mind caused by the conflicts in her relationships with two men who meant a lot to her.

There are many other very poignant themes also touched on like the fallouts of misplace egos, consent, man-machine interface etc. which again make Macross Plus much more of a “human experience” story than other parts of the franchise.

The Love Triangle

In typical Macross the love triangle will run alongside the overall story but in Macross Plus it is very much the story. Like I mentioned above, since it is more focused on the interpersonal journeys of its protagonists everything in it ties back to it. Isamu and Guld’s conflict is driven very much by one incident involving the same woman and that is called out again and again as they get into unnecessary fights when their focus should be on the crafts they are test pilots for.

There is also the added layer of their own former friendship with each other that often trumps even whatever they may feel for Myung. The end of the series with Guld’s realisation and the boys patching up is actually the major conflict-resolution post which everything else falls in place as well. Even the scenarios of AI going wrong are built into the love triangle with Sharon’s spiral mirroring Myung’s own suppressed feelings for Isamu. I’m not saying that the love triangle is everything (I mean Marge did solid work to fuck up things too) but it is way more centre-stage here than it would be in other instalments of the franchise. It is also very reminiscent of the later love triangle of Spike-Vicious-Julia from Cowboy Bebop which essentially drove that story but I’ll write more on that when I compare the two series.

The Power of Music

This is again a very key Macross motif where music may be presented as this ultimate weapon capable of magically disarming scary villains. Going again with the subtle and much more mature style of storytelling signature to Watanabe/Nobumoto, the role of music here changes completely. Music becomes a symbol for Myung’s loss of her own self since she gives up singing after what happens with Guld and Isamu. This in turn causes music to become a weapon but not for eliminating villains but rather a weapon against humanity with Sharon spiralling out of control. It is finally restored to its original Macross motif as a defender of humanity when Myung sings ‘Voices’ to Isamu causing him to snap out of the trance Sharon has placed her in.

Ultimately, this entire arc seems to me a representation of a very key theme in Macross Plus which is man-machine interface regarding which the general stance of the series seems to be that technology replacing humans completely is a dangerous path to take. Human involvement needs to be balanced with technological advancement so we are not reduced to mere toys in the hands of a machine incapable of judging right from wrong or replicating human actions and emotions without the sentient capacity to actually understand them. The same music in Sharon’s hands becomes a weapon as she thinks she is acting out of love for Isamu, an emotion she cannot really understand as a machine, while coming from Myung it is a healer since it comes from a space of true love for Isamu which she as a human is actually capable of feeling.

Other articles in the series

Ballad of Fallen Angels – A Deep Dive

As far as Bebop episodes, especially episodes dealing with Spike’s past go, Ballad of Fallen Angels is fairly straightforward, which makes me very nervous usually. Because the moment something is too straightforward, you know there is a layer under it.

The episode starts off with Mao trying to broker a deal with the White Tigers, which results in the death of both the White Tiger envoy and Mao himself.

We see Vicious on-screen for the first time and the episode really changes up the game with what Mao says while dying. We’ve seen Spike as just this easygoing goofball kind of character so far. You’d think he’s been bounty hunting all his life or was waiting tables before then or something. Definitely not the heir-equivalent to a major crime syndicate. It’s one of those moments where Bebop plays around with contrasts so well to heighten the drama and impact of a moment.

You see this obviously-powerful man (Mao) and this embodiment of evil (Vicious) and the powerful man mentions that the same guy who was running around in a towel getting bitten by a Welsh Corgi, is the only one who could have stopped Mr. Walking Evil. Makes him that much more intriguing, mysterious, and cool. The next time you see Spike, you can’t help but wonder, “Who really is this guy?” Of all the moments in Bebop which I wish I could go back and experience for the first time all over again, this one is indisputably at the very top of the list. The reveal of Spike as Crown-Prince-in-exile is handled with beautiful subtlety and classic Bebop minimalism.

We cut to the Bebop next, which is docked in a harbour. Mao’s bounty is flashed on the screen but Jet has misgivings on going after it while Spike plays it out casually to be a good bounty which they should pursue.

Jet senses something is up and asks what he is hiding but Spike just asks him what happened to his arm. The scene basically establishes that, like classic non-communicative, baggage-heavy characters, neither of the two know much about each other’s pasts after three years of partnership, even though there is quite a bit to tell. So we as the audience are not missing much by being utterly clueless.

Faye shows up on the scene and we see Jet giving her a hard time, making her feel like an outsider. She shrugs it off in classic Faye fashion and gets interested in Mao’s bounty.

In the meantime, Spike decides to leave against Jet’s will while he is distracted with being an ass to Faye. Jet tries to stop him but he doesn’t listen. Something similar is repeated in Jupiter Jazz as well, with Spike leaving against Jet’s wishes. In the third set of episodes dealing with Spike’s past, however, this motif is completely removed with Spike acting more maturely, choosing to stick around even when he does not expressly need to.

After Spike leaves, Faye reads out that Mao is wanted for the murder of the White Tiger leader and there is a bounty on his head. While it is not explicitly stated yet, we are to understand Mao holds significance for Spike as well and seeing him on the screen sets him off.

Ballad of Fallen Angels gives us a lot of information which is very critical for completely understanding future episodes and I will discuss that at the end of this. But right now, we are being given quite a bit of information to understand the events of this episode itself. For starters, we are told through Jet’s reaction that the Syndicate is really something much more dangerous than the average bounty head the crew hunts. We’ve seen some scary-looking guy decapitate another in its context already. For Spike, the whole situation seems to be a code which only he knows and what goes on in his head is left to the viewer to figure out basis the cues given.

Ballad of Fallen Angels also sets a very clear expectation with the viewer that the story arc of Spike’s past is something they need to figure out themselves. Unlike the fairly straightforward stories we have seen so far, this episode is where the narrative starts to “abandon” the viewer to their own conclusions and interpretations. You are not told a story as much as “shown” a story from here on out whenever Spike’s past comes up. Spike doesn’t sit down and tell someone Vicious is his arch-rival or that he worked with the mafia or what role Julia played in his and Vicious’ lives. We figure it out on our own basis scenes and flashback…and are still figuring it out. This is very unlike the story of Faye’s past or Jet’s which are clearly narrated and explained so the viewer knows exactly what is going on.

One of the reasons behind this ambiguity may have been the fact that Watanabe wanted to make a follow-up movie or standalone story around Spike’s past in the Syndicate but then abandoned the idea later since people had already made their own versions of his past post the series’ release and he felt it would upset the viewers. Something similar is also the reason quoted by him for not making a follow-up to Bebop, mentioning in an interview that people are concerned he might do it. For a viewer who has already designed their perfect version of the ending, to get something official which contradicts it might ruin it for them. It’s actually rather nice of him.

Anyway, although he never made the story on the past, I don’t feel it would have had much significance on the events of the series itself unless they showed something definitive doing away with the ambiguity around Julia’s choices and her connection to Vicious and Spike…which, looking at the trend, they were unlikely to have done. Personally, I would rather have the movie they did create because it brings out both Spike’s past, builds on the present narrative of the series, and touches on the future as well (more on that in another piece).

Anyway, back from the meandering.

So, the next part is significant. Annoyed by Spike just taking off and Faye being obnoxious, Jet switches off the monitor and leaves. After he has gone, the video phone rings and someone, presumably an ISSP contact of Jet’s, flashes on with some ‘big information’ for Jet. Being the only one in the room, Faye becomes intrigued. We also see her pick up a card which has been dropped by Jet and it is the Ace of Spades. This is symbolic since Spike picks up the same card at the end of the episode and from this very moment forward, Faye gets pulled into his past and later on he gets pulled into hers…sort of like “being dealt the same hand.” It’s also generally known as the ‘Death Card’ and can either signify death or the end of a phase of life, depending upon which interpretation you want to go with.

We next see Faye arrive at the Opera House, where she has come following the tip from Jet’s informant. An attendant approaches her as soon as she enters and seems aware about Mao’s presence in the box Faye is headed toward. Faye hands him her keys and asks him to park Red Tail for her. As they speak, he acts shocked at the mention of Mao’s name but when she walks away, his expression changes.

In the meantime, Jet is researching Mao on what seems to be a hyped-up version of Google called Deep Space. He has to break through some encryption but eventually gets to know that Mao was trying to broker peace with the White Tigers and, it’s revealed later in the episode, also that Mao is already dead.

Also, if you ever feel the urge to look too deeply into the creators’ intent behind any originally-English content for the show (mostly song lyrics I guess), I invite you to look at the English used in the article about Mao. The team did not really read or have much command on English, just like most Japanese people.

We cut back to the Opera House and see the same man who had appeared on the screen to Faye, informing her of the “insider information” on where to find Mao, sitting in the orchestra. He is not playing his violin, just holding it and looking toward Mao’s box. I think this detail often gets missed along with the actions of the Opera House attendant since all of these come together to show how deeply Vicious had planned this all out.

The scene cuts to the lobby where the same attendant who had approached Faye is standing, tossing the keys to the Red Tail which she had given him, and a Syndicate operative approaches him. The information received by Faye was specifically planted on the Bebop by Vicious through the man in the orchestra. The attendant was waiting specifically for her to arrive, since she was the person to whom the message was given. Vicious is also aware of Jet since the man on the screen had said his name when he popped up.

Now, we can infer from this that the man who called the Bebop with the message was likely known to Jet, probably someone in the ISSP. The alternative would be to assume that Vicious was specifically targeting Faye and had hacked the camera on the Bebop monitor so he could tell exactly when Jet had left the room and Faye would be alone since, if the informant was unknown to Jet, he would likely just ignore the message. Implying this kind of hacking seems off because it would mean Vicious could see inside the Bebop at any point and would defeat the purpose of pretty much everything.

Faye gets to Mao’s box and runs into Vicious’ people who already have information on her. The Syndicate operative shows her the key to Red Tail saying they have done a check on her, revealing to her she was set up and everyone has been in on it. So basically, we establish that by this point Vicious is aware of the Bebop, Jet, and Faye.

In the middle of all this, we cut to a scene with Spike and Annie where through her the audience is informed for the first time that Spike had a close association with Mao and he faked his death three years ago. Spike is shown to honour Mao’s memory and takes ammunition from Annie.

Back on the ship, Jet tries to warn Spike that Mao is dead already and he is walking into a trap. Spike tells him he doesn’t want to do it but has to. I’ve mentioned in the analysis on Spike and Faye that, while Spike gets a reputation for being reckless, he actually does all his death-defying to take care of people around him. Vicious is a figment of his past he always knew was coming to haunt him. When it does, the people around him get targeted. Spike is shown asking Jet where Faye is since he likely already suspects that, if Jet is still on the ship, Vicious will use her to get to him.

This proves true as they get a call from Faye and Spike leaves to meet Vicious. The interactions between Spike and Vicious here are very important in understanding the series since they give us a lot of context into why Vicious does what he does.

I find it interesting that when they meet, Vicious talks about angels “forced” from heaven when what we see later in the series gives us an understanding that Spike left willingly. I do want to explore this track in another piece but not right here. Spike responds to him saying he is only watching a dream he never awakened from and Vicious answers back that he will wake him up right now.

Spike talking about a dream here refers to two things. One is his sense of dissociation, likely trauma in his past, which leads him to feel his life is like a dream he is watching. I’ve explored this more deeply when talking about the theme of dissociation in the show. It also perhaps refers to his life in the Syndicate, which was a bad dream he was unable to truly get away from since here he is being haunted by it again.

Vicious saying he will wake Spike up at this point, is him talking about killing Spike. In Samurai tradition, life is a dream and death is an awakening from it. This is often confused with what Vicious says in the finale. When Spike confronts him at the end, Vicious says. “You are finally awake.” That awake does not refer to the “awakening from life as a dream” metaphor of the Samurai. Rather, that awakening ties in directly to the exchange they have in front of the Rose window in the next few sequences. Will come to that. Within the current dialogue, Spike tells Vicious to not be so anxious. Vicious asks if he is pleading for his life. He responds by saying he knows something like that doesn’t work on Vicious.

During the events of Ballad of Fallen Angels, both Spike and Vicious show a deep understanding of each other and the way they operate. The moment Mao’s bounty flashes on the screen, Spike automatically knows it has something to do with Vicious and goes to Annie for information. Vicious knows exactly what he needs to do to bring Spike out in the open.

Spike tells Vicious he kills those who saved his life, hinting that Mao was a benefactor for Vicious as well, but the other man simply dismisses Mao as a fangless beast just like Spike, establishing his callous coldness, heartlessness, and lack of fealty.

They are distracted through Spike getting threatened by a man who is holding Faye and he responds by just shooting him. This action on his part both amazes us with his general coolness but also does away with the idea to all present in the Church that Faye is of any significance to him. This essentially saves her life since immediately after he does this, Vicious’ people stop paying any attention to her and she is able to escape unscathed.

The fact that Vicious kidnaps Faye also tells us a lot about who Spike was when Vicious knew him in the Syndicate. For all his posturing as someone who is too cool for school, we do see that Spike has an empathetic and caring side to him. Vicious is aware of the same and hence attacks people close to him both times he has to lure Spike out. What he does in this episode by kidnapping Faye is the same as what he does in attacking the Bebop during the finale. A lot of the tactics which Vicious is shown using in this episode like targeting Faye, building danger for Spike’s companions etc. are also reflected directly in the actions of the “Syndicate” during The Real Folk Blues. This is covered in more detail in the analysis of The Real Folk Blues.

The exchange which takes place between Spike and Vicious right before the former is thrown out of the window ties back to Vicious talking about Mao as a beast who lost its fangs, just like Spike.

Apart from being a cold killer, Vicious is a control freak and a megalomaniac. He needs things around him to be exactly as he wishes them to be and is willing to kill whoever comes in the way of their being so. His entire need to take over the Syndicate is fuelled by his unwillingness to work under those he views as weak.

Vicious views virtue as a weakness. Loyalty, justice, honour, benevolence etc. are all things which he despises and therefore destroys those he sees practising it. He makes the move to kill Mao once he sees Mao leading the organisation in a more benevolent direction. Ballad of Fallen Angels is the beginning of the continuum which leads to Vicious’ coup in the finale. Spike is a threat to Vicious’ own ambitions since he is the only one who can challenge him and be an opponent on equal footing. He also has people in the Syndicate waiting for him to come back.

Vicious’ plans through the series run in two sequences and Spike is not his prime priority. His ambition to take over the Syndicate starts long before the events of the series and killing Mao is the first step to it. He needs to kill Mao to stop him from taking the organization in a “weak” direction. With Mao eliminated, he goes after Spike to eliminate this additional threat before he takes the next step but Spike survives. The fact that eliminating Spike is a secondary priority to Vicious when compared to his larger plans is also seen in Jupiter Jazz, where his focus is on his deal with Gren and he passes up an opportunity to kill Spike for it. That makes the significance of the deal with Gren that much more.

In the finale, Vicious again does not prioritize Spike. He focuses on and goes about his own plans, putting in place catalysts which will anyway flush Spike out to him.

During Spike’s flashback in Ballad of Fallen Angels, we see him in a gunfight back to back with Vicious, both of them friends. Vicious respects that man who was a criminal and a killer like him, albeit with a stronger moral compass than Vicious. Once Spike chooses to leave, Vicious views him as something despicable in his standards, a person who does not fit in with his world view and should therefore be eliminated.

He despises his own former close association with this man whom he views as weak and also tries to re-invoke in him the bloodlust which he himself respects. He taunts Spike saying he looks like a bloodthirsty beast because Vicious wants him to go back to being that. He can respect that man and would probably even be ok working for that man. For Vicious, taking over the Syndicate is not so much about seeing himself at the top as it is about ensuring someone who will run it in the way he would like to see it run is at the top. This is what he expresses every time he critiques Mao or the Van or shows contempt toward Lin/Shin. He even goes so far as to encourage Lin to betray him. In Vicious’ book, only someone capable of being truly ruthless is worthy of respect.

This is why he is so cavalier about dying at the end. When he sees Spike on the rooftop, he comments “You are finally awake.” This is not him speaking of Spike being awake/dead here in the context of the Samurai’s post-death awakening. He is perceiving that the bloodlust lying dormant in Spike has finally been awakened and that has drawn him to seek Vicious out. Killing Annie is a part of invoking this-it’s an unnecessary waste of life but he knows it will anger Spike. Attacking his companions, Julia’s death etc. are all ways of awakening that “worthy opponent” in Spike.

Vicious and Spike enter a Mexican standoff in Ballad of Fallen Angels much like the finale but it ends differently. Spike saying “let’s end it all” at this point could have also resulted in exactly what happened at the end but because he does not say it, Vicious does not land a direct blow on him but pushes him out of the window in disgust, offering him a coward’s death at best.

Vicious actually respects Spike quite a lot. He is narcissistic and views himself above all. Him saying to Spike that Vicious is the only one who can kill him is actually putting Spike on a very high pedestal. It’s him telling Spike he is so strong that only Vicious himself is a worthy opponent. It means in Vicious’s eyes Spike is the only opponent he views as an equal or even a challenge. Coming from a very different mindset, he cannot understand Spike’s motivations in leaving behind so much power to live a life of ignominy and keeps trying to awaken in him the individual he once was. He feels he sees that awakened finally at the end and is therefore no longer concerned about the outcome of the fight since it is evenly-matched in his book.

Random Trivia: Ballad of Fallen Angels seems named after a mix of ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ by the Beatles and “Fallen Angels” by Aerosmith. Considering all the Beatles references strewn throughout Bebop, it’s very plausible. This is also the episode where Julia makes her first appearance, albeit through Spike’s flashbacks and I’ve covered all the other connections Bebop makes between Julia and Yoko Ono here.

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Cowboy Bebop: The Theme of Doubt, Death and Awakening

This essay deals with the different definitions of death and awakening in the anime Cowboy Bebop, exploring the referenced Asian spiritual and religious beliefs. The intention is not to insinuate these are the ultimate truth, just explore what they say. I personally have no one belief system I follow. It’s more of a mish-mash.

“Doubt everything.” Mish Mash Blues, the extra episode of Cowboy Bebop tells us.

What’s doubt? Doubt is the path you take to arrive at what you can definitely be sure of. This mention of doubt so vehemently seems to refer to Cartesian Doubt and Solipsism. Also the doubt of the Butterfly dream of the Taoist Master Zhuang. Both Cartesian Doubt and the Butterfly Dream are often paralleled and the latter is written a love letter in the Cowboy Bebop movie, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.

cowboy bebop

For me, doubt has been a way of thought I’ve tried to cultivate…not to say I’ve achieved any spiritual heights with it or anything, because it’s not easy. Just that I try to use it to keep my ego in check. It allows you to stay more centred, empty, not captive to just the perception of the self. It’s a journey and I am somewhere on the way.

Even what I write, whether the current writing around Bebop or anything else, I doubt. I question it and keep trying to verify it, looking from different angles, eliminating something if I discover it no longer holds true. What I write is based on my observation, research, and intuition. There may be a lot more or a lot less than what I am seeing. So read it with your own doubt and question it till it makes sense to you. If it doesn’t, find what does.

I feel the show was constructed in a manner to encourage the viewer to doubt as well…doubt your first impression of things, keep questioning if you have the absolute right idea. Why build a canvas so confusing otherwise? I mean, you can interpret the show in a very straightforward manner if you want to, as a simple story of lost love and revenge, but you will definitely be left with things which won’t fit in. Maybe there is no “right version,” just the closest you can come to eliminating what doesn’t seem right to you to get to what does. It doesn’t just apply to the stories of main characters or the Monomyth running through disjointed episodes either. It applies to the bounty heads, to each individual story we encounter which ultimately gets us no where, doesn’t move the narrative forward at-all…or doesn’t it? We are blatantly told at one point that the story doesn’t go anywhere but it does. You meet that one character whom you see once and never again but they leave their impressions on what you take away from the story, the impact of that one episode on the overall series, how you view your protagonists, or the conclusion you derive from another story later because something resonates or contradicts from the earlier one. Sometimes you look at someone and think if they are even a real character or just a recycled version of someone we already know. Anyway….

cowboy bebop

Different characters within Bebop are shown doubting their reality, unsure if what they see is the real world, a dream, or just parts of reality. It leads them to different paths in the context of the story but there is also a much deeper thread underlying the narrative, one which is much more spiritual and transcends the story. It’s the idea that the truth is beyond all of the doubts, beyond past, present and future, beyond the perceivable reality. We live our lives like actors on a stage, just like these drawings on the screen, but ultimately all are governed by the same universal laws. The death of someone on the screen is about as real as the eventual death of the viewer watching them. Whether a character dies at the end credits or later is meaningless because he will eventually die at some point in his life just like all of us. We cannot build any narrative in our heads around him without factoring in this reality. And that is the ultimate futility which the show keeps reminding us of, a beautiful futility. You can either use it to live your life pessimistically or make the most of what you get here and keep an eye on what is beyond this, whatever it may be. You can either live in the fear of death or embrace it as an old friend.

Who an individual was, what they did, what they possessed is all ultimately rendered meaningless in the face of death as a certain reality. The story builds a myth of Julia for so long only to have her pass away in a moment like her life was very much a dream. Vicious expends enormous effort to build his reality in the image which ultimately fits his own values to have it all end in a moment, a moment which he himself engineered.

The Daoist idea of pre-determined destiny and the pointlessness of human effort are driven again and again through our protagonist escaping certain death simply because it is just not his time to die yet. Because he yet has a role to play in the world. The idea is not nihilism or fatalism here but living life in freedom, without fear (think of what Bull says in both the movie and in the finale-the two scenes are directly linked) because Daoism literally says “whatever happens, happens.” It’s also pointless to seek out death or waste your life away. Once your role is over, you will be allowed to leave, but not a moment sooner or later (think to the story of the cat who keeps coming to life till his purpose is served).

Then what is this world? This “real world” which is so fleeting, so uncontrollable?

To answer the question of what is actually real, Descartes began the process of doubting everything, including what he could perceive through his own senses. By doubting and eliminating all which did not absolutely hold true, he did arrive at one final thing which he was sure of “I think therefore I am.” That the conscious thinking self is the only thing which one can be sure of. This is the crux of Solipsism-the understanding that only the self can be known to exist. All else is doubtful.

Over the course of time, both long before Descartes and after him, similar understandings have evolved across philosophical and philological thoughts in different parts and eras of the world. Descartes questioning what is the truth is no different from the question which led Buddha to leave all behind in search of the ultimate truth. It is the same question which Master Zhuang woke up with wondering, asking if he was dreaming he was the butterfly or the butterfly dreaming it was him. It is found in the teachings of Confuscious and so many other religions and philosophies.

The solipsist idea of the conscious self as the only surety is the occidental representation corresponding to the Buddhist ideal of Atman, the thinking and feeling self separate from physical form, energy which is recycled through the cycle of life and death till Nirvana is achieved. It’s same as the Vedic ideal of Brahman or pure consciousness as the ultimate form of the self, or the Taoist idea of the spirit which reincarnates again in different forms (and again, many other philosophies). These concepts may be complicated or extremely easy to understand but at the heart of them is the doubt which led to these questions. All come down to the idea that life exists beyond just this world, that the self or consciousness is beyond material reality, and ongoing. What we see here may be a seen as a mere illusion, a dream, a field of action. But we ourselves transcend it all. Our existence doesn’t stop at death since we are not just the body. In the Taoist text Zuangzhi, Master Zhuang refers to himself in the third person to indicate this detachment.

Concepts from both Buddhism and Taoism are mentioned across Bebop. The theme of the show is Spike’s Karma, as quoted by its creators. Karma is the Sanskrit term meaning ‘Action’ and is a core ideal for Buddhism. Good Karma takes you up spiritually and bad Karma drags you down.

Death in the context of these spiritual traditions is not necessarily just the cessation of the physical form. It can also to refer to transformational events which change an individual drastically while being very much alive in the body. Prince Siddhartha Gautam left the palace to take on the life of an ascetic seeking enlightenment and became ‘Buddha,’ a spiritual rebirth while in the same body.

Similarly in Bebop, death is not always physical. Spike refers to the end of his past life as a death since it was a transformational event for him. He moves from doing some very bad things to a comparatively more moral life. He goes from being a bad guy to literally catching bad guys, regardless of the motivation. Awakening can definitely refer to him awakening from life in the form of death but spiritual awakening refers to a shift in one’s plane of consciousness, moving to greater wisdom. Awakening is also often used to refer to the attainment of ‘Enlightenment’ or realisation of the ultimate truth.

For Vicious, who stands at the opposite end of the belief system, awakening refers to Spike stepping back into the immoral and violent life of his past since he views a more benevolent life as a “step down.” When they meet in the end, he believes the bloodlust in his former friend has been awakened again and that is what he comments on right before their final battle. For Spike, awakening is moving away from the bloodlust and he refers to this earlier, talking about bleeding all that blood away.

Similarly, “Ascension” can definitely refer to the act of leaving the body and going to heaven or another plane. But in these traditions the goal is never a “heaven” or “salvation.” In both Buddhism and Taoism, we are given this life and the body with a purpose and the journey of the soul here on earth is very important. We come here to live out our roles, destinies and Karma. It is here that we achieve spiritual ascension which eventually allows us to transcend this plane of existence in the right way. This translates to cessation of rebirth in Buddhism but a more evolved state of being while continuing to be a part of the eternal rebirth cycle in Taoism. But in Buddhism, to achieve Nirvana, one needs to either attain enlightenment or have all their Karmic debt settled.

As per Buddhism, you cannot run from your karma but only by settling your Karmic debt and doing right action can you begin the journey of true spiritual ascension, moving to wisdom and true freedom from the bounds of this world which is fleeting and steeped in suffering. Whenever you die and leave the body, you are pure energy and can’t settle any earthly debts. The body is a tool for spiritual growth because through it you can perform actions.

All the different belief systems have their ways of tackling this unreal world but essentially the crux for all comes down to being a better human being, in-line with the flow of the universe, nature, divine will, or the pure self. It is only through all or a mix of transcendence of the ego, detachment, right action, settling past Karma, discipline, doing one’s duty, ceasing unnecessary effort, being present, not living selfishly or hurting others unnecessarily, and any other number of wholesome practices that one can achieve true freedom from the illusion. Running away or living poorly never gets you anywhere.

For instance, Spike coming back to the Bebop at the end to share a meal with Jet is a shift in him toward honouring his emotional obligation to someone who depends on him and has done a lot for him. It’s one of the indicators of him beginning to take accountability for his Karma, a shift toward greater wisdom. It’s irrelevant to whether he lives or dies next but he chooses to not leave that end open without paying due respect. I do want to explore how Spike’s karma flows through the story and where it stands by the end but likely in another piece…because rabbit holes. But the crux of it is, I do not feel Spike’s karmic cycle is resolved by the end of the show because he has people still relying on him, who need him, and hence saying he has died and achieved Nirvana at the end (as is assumed by most people from the fading of the star) is a fairly simplistic take without any understanding of Karma or Nirvana.

There is also a reference to Lakota belief through the mention of Wakan Tanka, the great spirit which animates the universe and whose realm of peace a soul achieves after it has journeyed well. This does not seem exactly accurate to original mythology though, more adapted to drive the message of Karma perhaps and Bebop did receive criticism on the character of Laughing Bull.

Anyway, point of the matter I guess is-don’t be obnoxious. Doubt everything till you know for sure that what you believe is the absolute truth. It’s a fleeting world.

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Cowboy Bebop: The Theme of Masculinity and Femininity

A Play on Names and Meanings

Masculinity and Femininity, and gender as a whole, are a low-key theme in Cowboy Bebop, but the episodes which deal with it most are the two parts of Jupiter Jazz. The sequence announcing part 2 makes quite a few allusions to masculinity and femininity. The episode deals with the absent Julia. The name Julia is the female version of the name Julius which is the Roman name for Jupiter, the ruler of the Roman pantheon of Gods. The episodes revolve around the moons of Jupiter. We see Spike hunting for the woman Julia and running into the drag queen Julius, a male by birth but identifying as a woman. The meanings of names seems important here since the same episodes also reference the meaning of Faye’s name i.e. ‘Fairy’.

The episode is based on Callisto, which is a moon of Jupiter. Titan is another moon of Jupiter. Both Callisto and Titan are names in Greek mythology, which also features the God Hermaphroditus. He is the God of male and female sexuality and possesses organs of both sexes. Hermaphroditus was formed post merger of Hermes and Aphrodite’s son with a nymph who fell in love with him, two halves making up one entity. Gren is the same, with both male and female organs. This theme in the episodes seems to have both occidental and oriental influences, much like most of Bebop.

Yang Qi and Yin Qi (Yin and Yang)

The oriental influence seems to be from the concept of Yang Qi and Yin Qi in Taoism…essentially Yin and Yang, or the composite of masculine and feminine energy. Callisto is a satellite which is very visibly pointed out as being cold but it is inhabited only by men. Cold is a trait associated with Yin, or feminine energy. There is imbalance in both the satellite and its inhabitants with both featuring extremes, and an absence of the other balancing element. Even the drag queens are very visibly male, with five o’ clock shadows and beards. That’s why it seems to be depicted as a crime-infested area housing criminals who are mostly male because generally such acts would be associated with the “masculine” aspect of humanity.

Taoism is a major theme in Bebop with different elements tied to it like Jeet Kune Do, Spike’s ‘whatever happens, happens’ life philosophy, Zuangxhi’s Butterfly Dream as the base of the CB Movie, references to Taoism’s tenet of life as a dream, and an entire episode dedicated to Feng Shui.

In Taoism, it is the combination of the ‘masculine’ energy Yang Qi and the ‘feminine’ energy Yin Qi which birthed the Five elements and the world itself. An individual needs to maintain a balance between these two within themselves to be whole and healthy physically as well as psychologically. These energies also represent other opposites like light and dark, night and day, with both needed to form a whole, neither able to exist without the other. The combination of Yin and Yang is not dependent on how we choose to identify our gender but rather are aspects or traits present in each individual. Someone born male but identifying as a woman or as non-binary would still need to balance their masculine side (logic, dominance etc.) with their feminine side (intuition, emotions etc.) to live a healthy life. It’s a human requirement, common to all, rather than based on the chosen gender of the individual.

In Taoism, rather than correlating to physical sexes, Yin and Yang are more traits which exist within each individual. At the deepest level of our self or soul we are neither male nor female, there is no gender to the pure self. Rather, we are both and neither at the same time. A similar thought process is found in Buddhism and Vedic Hinduism. The soul is formless, traitless, pure consciousness.

I feel to completely understand Bebop as well you need to tap into both of these aspects. If you just look at it from the surface level, practically, logically, you can miss out on a lot.

Hemingway’s Masculinity and Femininity

This is not too different from the Yin and Yang concepts. Hemingway seems to be a huge influence on the storytelling of Bebop in general and his stories deal heavily with the themes of masculinity and World War I, talking mostly about men who have returned from war broken and damaged (just like Gren and Vicious).

Hemingway held fairly misogynistic opinions and his stories glorify the strong, silent, emotionally-controlled man. These characters are more similar to the emotionally-stunted characters of Bebop like Spike, Vicious, and Faye and are contrasted by more intuitive characters with greater “feminine” trails like Gren and Jet.

Imbalanced Characters

During the episode as well, we see characters reflecting this balance or imbalance in their behaviours. Both Gren and Jet operate from a space of being in touch with their ‘feminine’ aspect i.e. emotions and intuition. Gren is an amalgam of both masculine and feminine and, even in the flashbacks, we see him as someone more tuned into his emotions against the contrast of Vicious, who is emotionally suppressed. Gren immediately understands the emotional implications of Faye running away and Jet remains concerned about her well-being despite the damage she has done. He catches on to the fact that she left their zipcrafts undamaged. Jet is very “typically masculine” in his external appearance but he is balanced with his “feminine” side, his emotions and intuition.

Both of these are juxtaposed against Spike and Faye, both imbalanced in their energies, both cut off from and suppressing their emotions, but also overwhelmed by them and deeply hurt. They are well in touch with their “masculine” energies, being able to be forceful, aggressive, but out of touch with their “feminine” sides, unable to feel fully. The episode also ties in with Spike speaking about his “other half” at the end. Yin and Yang are both halves of a whole, they complete each other, each needs the other to survive and to be defined. Night is pointless without day. Both of these characters are imbalanced, they are not whole.

Spike sets off at the beginning of the episode looking for someone he believes he needs, someone who he believes loves him back and can make him feel whole again. He doesn’t find the person and remains unfulfilled, partial. He is so driven by his emotions that he acts very pompously toward Vicious, “flexing his muscles” metaphorically by taunting him through his affiliation with Julia, asking him if he is seeing Julia behind Spike’s back, likely repeating something Vicious may have asked him earlier. Vicious responds back with a taunt of his own and then in the latter parts of the episode, we see Spike less emotional, more thoughtful, evaluating the situation rather than acting on impulses.

There is also the theme of warning. Gren has the imbalance of being too emotional, too trusting. Even before what happens to him, he trusts Vicious, giving in to the emotions he feels for the man rather than using logic to identify who he truly is. He is a soldier, a typically masculine profession, but he is an artist and that is what he remains on the battlefield as well, thinking of playing the tune on his sax once he is back, missing out on the danger right in front of him. He trusts Julia blindly as well, never once questioning her motives or the coincidence of her appearance. We see him do the same with Faye, who could have been equally dangerous to him. His emotions leave him bare, vulnerable.

Spike is in a similar space. He is run by emotions in the beginning, driven by them to abandon his home, fight with someone who cares about him. These emotions have already made him once leave someone else who truly cared for him (Mao) and he is repeating the pattern. It’s required for him to look through the lens of logic and see the destructive nature of the path he is on to make a shift toward balance. He does do that I feel and swallows his pride (something which goes against masculinity) to return back to the ship. Jet greets him with the classic “masculine” reticence, allowing him back on the ship without any explanation or detailed exchange, understanding him wordlessly as only a comrade can.

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Cowboy Bebop: The White Cat and the Tiger-striped Cat

This is a part of my “Alternate Take” on Bebop, basically a relook at the same series but from a different perspective. You can click here for background on that. This is a four-part series on the relationship of Spike and Faye across the entire series. The others can be accessed below:

Author’s Note: Very often, as I keep writing these pieces, I ask myself why on earth am I doing this. I am not getting anything out of it. When I wander around the internet, everyone is saying the show is something else….and I have also believed it to be something else for all these years. Why am I then spending so much time and effort doing all this? I do have a day job and a day life. I honestly have no answer other than the fact that I feel like I have to. The posts do get quite a few visits and I have heard back from people saying this makes sense to them so I guess there are others out there who want to read this. So it seems this is for you as well as for me. This is for AldreanTreuPeri, who has pretty much been a very consistent presence and sounding board throughout this writing and I feel that without her I might have just flaked long ago on getting anything done. 


I’ve been musing on what exactly happened with Bebop that, despite so much content pointing otherwise, people ended up with Julia as the prime love interest for Spike. The answer I finally arrived at was that Julia was deliberately built in the image of the “typical love interest” character trope with Faye intentionally designed as the exact opposite to maybe drive home a point. Keiko Nobumoto as a writer has built in very strong messages around women in her works and what she has done with the love interests in Bebop seems no different.

Faye Valentine as a love interest was a feminist statement way ahead of its time (and maybe still ahead of this time). I have written about Nobumoto-san in a bit more detail here in case you would like some context. If you are reading this and happen to be someone who thinks “feminism” is just a way to terrorise men and for women to take over the world then the rest of this post will anyway not make sense and will likely make for an uncomfortable read so suggest you give it a pass.

For me, one of the key themes in Bebop which, in line with her writing of female characters in other works, is a satire on how women are viewed by society. She created two characters, one appearing as the typical demure and “respectable” woman and the other an archetype of the “cheap and easy” woman and then flipped the tables on both. Appearances and narrow mindsets can be deceiving, seems to be the message. She created a protagonist who seemed indifferent to and capable of seeing past these, even if the viewer is not initially. The story is intensely human, intensely subtle, and very, very beautiful.

Perhaps this is why the commonly believed version of the story has always felt too simplistic, too base, too…”macho” and incomplete to me. When Spike talks about his “other half” it is very easy for us to imagine the uber-feminine Julia as the counterpart to this man who oozes “masculinity” and charm. That’s what wives are “supposed” to look like, dressed in aprons, smiling, and singing for you. The image of Faye Valentine is not a ready fit and most people still struggle with the idea because that is simply not how they view women. How can a woman who dresses in tiny bits of clothing, who is assertive and difficult, who is very flawed in ways real women usually are, be anyone’s “other half,” much less that of a guy they look up to? The idea here was not to shame anyone for being feminine or glorify the opposite, but call out the general societal tendency to put labels, boxes, and irrational expectations on women.

And that’s what I wanted to touch upon before proceeding any further. In Bebop, neither Spike nor Jet are ever, at any single point in the entire series, seen commenting on Faye’s body, calling her out on the way she dresses, leering after her, or “slut-shaming” her. Other men are seen doing these kind of things but they are always treated by the series with ridicule and contempt, never respect. The crew call each other out on their idiosyncrasies and bad behaviour but never do anything uncomfortable. Faye never feels the need to “use her body” with the boys, something she has had to build her entire personality around because of how the men in the rest of the world are. She is just one of the crew as far as they are concerned.

Ed, a thirteen year old girl, is completely safe around both of these men. Jet, an ex-cop and a very “typically masculine” character does all the domestic work without every making a big deal out of it. When Spike flashes back on Julia he thinks back on both her in the “homely” attire, which she happened to be wearing during those memories, and also her “Syndicate” avatar in the black leather. Spike understands mid-way through the series that Julia made a different choice and chooses to accept that choice and move on. He does not take it on his ego and hunt her down to make her pay. It is only when she has to play against him in the end at Vicious’ behest that he gets back involved with her but never vengefully. He cradles her head and reassures her life is just a bad dream when hers is slipping away from her.

He gets irritated by Faye’s behaviour and bickers with her but begins watching out for her from fairly early on. When she needs emotional support while facing up to Whitney, he hangs around to be there for her but does not make a big deal out of it. Through these characters, Bebop tries to show us how men should be toward the women in their lives. Neither of the men are perfect but they try in the ways they each can. And that is why, for Spike, how Faye chooses to dress is depicted to not matter since he loves her regardless. That is her choice and irrelevant. He falls in love with the woman, not with what she wears or how she possesses flaws every human being will have. And that is why it is important to understand that his feelings for her begin before he gets to know about her past. They are not strong and he does not act on them because there is already someone else in his life, even if currently absent and ambiguous. He does not fall for Faye only after learning about her past, indicating that she was sweet and homely once. That just happens to be the point where he is no longer emotionally encumbered and committed to Julia, and can allow himself to get invested with her.

So how does Spike end up here? Hopelessly smitten, aware of it, and filled with a life-wish for the first time ever? The movie is set right after Session 22, so this goes back to the episodes post Jupiter Jazz. We know he liked Faye on some level already and then the realisation about Julia strikes, allowing him to let go of things finally, or at least begin to. Spike probably takes an emotional breather, needs some time to reset.

Going back to their motif of “entwined journeys,” from ‘My Funny Valentine’ the second half of the show builds Spike as the one to get a peek into Faye’s past and secrets. By accident, he ends up hearing her real story, waking up after 50 years to a new world and no memory, saddled with debt, and scammed by someone she liked. Bebop has this habit of covering up extremely poignant moments with humour and so he is shown saying idiotic things like her story needs editing and Whitney is probably crying in the afterlife, rather than sympathising with her.

But honestly, if it was really too long and he didn’t care at-all, he actually didn’t need to stay stuck in the bathroom eavesdropping till she finished it. When he is speaking to Elektra in the movie, she speaks of her love for Vincent stemming from a place of empathy, knowing no one ever loved him, and I feel Spike’s movement from passive attraction to love begins from a similar space.

The story he hears causes him to feel pain on her behalf. While he is brushing it all under calling her out on not paying Whitney’s debt and the story being yet another fake past, when she tells him this is her actual story, we are shown a certain expression on his face, again like he feels pain or concern over what she has gone through. He belongs to a troubled and difficult background himself so it would not be a stretch of the imagination for him to comprehend what it takes to go from a woman who trusted the first guy she met to someone who trusts no one. This is where his emotional wheels begin to move I believe, since he gets to see behind her tough exterior for the first time to understand who she really is

As the episode progresses and Faye runs away with Whitney to try and get some answers, Spike ends up going after her. Whitney is Jet’s bounty and the episode again goes out of its way to establish this is a small fry Spike would never be interested in. Even if Faye ran away with him, Jet could have very well gone after her but Spike makes it a point to, resulting in what can only be described as a lovers’ quarrel executed through a dog fight.

He knows she is hurting, lost, and confused. She is alone and feels she has no one at her back. He perhaps also begins guessing now at exactly how vulnerable and untethered she is. I get the sense from that scene that he goes out to make sure she is ok, especially because he knows how difficult it is to confront your past. He distracts her, engages her, does not let her fall prey to something irrational. There is also a chance Whitney could harm her, distraught as she is at the moment, and I feel Spike wants to ensure he is in the vicinity to prevent that from happening. The pattern continues with him making it to the police station, waiting for her outside, albeit under the guise of cashing in the bounty. He makes sure she is ok and not going through all of this alone. She is sad about not knowing her past but he gently points out she has a future and that’s what’s important. It’s very uncharacteristic of his interactions with her, much more caring, and tender.

The next couple of episodes deal with other subjects but Mushroom Samba is significant in what both Spike and Faye experience while high. He sees an unending staircase and she sees herself drowning in water way over her head. Jet simply gets to talking with his plants but nothing to do with insurmountable circumstances. The episode draws another parallel between the journey and current situation of these two characters.

‘Speak like a Child’ shows things no one is expecting. It’s a beautifully over-the-top episode with the Bebop boys risking hell and high water (quite literally) to watch one tape which has nothing to do with either one of them. Spike launches into his “doing things for no reason” mode, the one he takes up when pretending to do something weird with the actual intention of helping Faye. This time he does so by acting like he has no brain cells left alive. Just as Jet is talking of returning the tape, he opens the parcel so he can’t.

From the moment they walk into the pawn shop, Spike starts doing things which will irritate the owner and will get them thrown out so the sale of the tape will not go through. He finally succeeds when the tape player begins eating the tape and he smashes it to pieces, kicking it unnecessarily hard till it breaks and getting them chucked out from the shop. A man so skilled in Jeet Kune Do would know when to stop kicking. Over here, I also wonder what Jet knows about Faye’s past (he was an ex-cop and could have found details about her cryo situation) since he walks the unnecessary extra miles with Spike to get the Beta player. Of course they get the wrong one and of course, once the correct one finally arrives, Spike immediately proceeds to open it up before Jet can return it.

We know what the last few scenes of the episode are like and the series deliberately cuts to Spike as the younger version of Faye is wondering if there is a wonderful person next to her.

I feel the theme of Spike understanding Faye’s overwhelming circumstances comes to a head here as he sees the young girl she once was on screen. Again the reactions shown on both his and Jet’s faces speak volumes. It would break anyone’s heart but I feel the protective streak Spike has anyway been harbouring for her so far reaches a critical point post this.

The episode Wild Horses sets up a hilarious reminder of how similar Spike and Faye are as individuals when they both cannot comprehend the computer jargon and then decide to shoot both purple penguin delivery trucks, unanimously agreeing it is a good idea without even considering that both might be real. Spike also comments how he is not one for delicate operations, reminder of similar statements Faye has made earlier in the series.

The truth is both of them are actually very similar. Spike’s ‘whatever happens, happens’ philosophy is mentioned by Faye as a life philosophy as well in Mish Mash Blues, though using different words to describe the same idea. Both characters are tough as nails and have managed to survive in impossible circumstances. Both are emotionally stunted due to their trauma but also capable of intense emotion and care. The similarity in their approach to death, courage etc. are all already established.

Faye is the very embodiment of the survival spirit. The circumstances she was set up with three years ago, she should not have been alive now. I feel that is what begins to awaken the will to keep living in Spike somewhere around this point. He has seen what she was like in her earlier life and the contrast is stark. He’s been wrapped up in his misery but then sees someone who has had it equally bad, if not worse, but hasn’t given up. Likely a sense of bonding and affinity emerges from the realisation.

This also goes back to the idea of seeing a woman who was “truly alive” which I spoke about in the last piece. He loved Julia who, despite all her strength, could not find the courage to break away and walk the line with him. She stayed shackled to what she had always known and abandoned him when he needed her most. Then he sees Faye who found herself in a situation she knew nothing about but was courageous enough to adapt and keep going. She is shoulder to shoulder with him, never giving in.

It likely also comes both from knowing how incredibly difficult things have been for her but she has kept going and from realising she has no one else but the people on the Bebop to take care of her. I feel he begins feeling the fear of death because if he dies he does not know if she will be well and cared for or not. Even though they are not in a relationship and multiple factors may be preventing him from taking that step with her yet, perhaps he realises eventually that he wants to live so he can be there for her.

That’s also reflected in what we see him do during Pierrot Le Fou. After Spike has received a solid beating up and is lying mummified on the Bebop couch, Faye makes fun of his recklessness and leaves an orange peal on his head, feigning indifference.

However, we see her moments later smoking with a mix of worry and anger on her face. The moment she sees Pierrot’s mail addressed to Spike, she gets panicked and asks Ed to hide it, knowing he will go.

He sees it though and realises if Pierrot can mail Ed then he can definitely trace the people in his life and likely hurt them while trying to get to Spike. So he has to go and face up to Pierrot. But I feel at this point Spike’s feelings are intense enough to want to know if Faye feels something for him as well. Perhaps, seeing her so concerned about hiding the mail from him, he senses that she might but doesn’t know for sure.

So he asks her in the most juvenile and adolescent way possible, asking if she will come rescue him. Faye is not amused but then she does come. She’s not much use to the fight and ends up being shot down almost immediately but it tells him for the first time that she cares for him as well and how much. This romance in his life is very different from whatever he may have had earlier since it is very much reciprocal, authentic, and really quite innocent on both ends. But he has not experienced such reciprocation before.

When she shows up he likely realises how idiotic he was in riling her up to this level of concern, thus explaining his reaction at seeing her there (again the Bebop theme of covering up a poignant moment with an opposite reaction). He said what he did just to see her reaction, not expecting her to actually act on it, believing his own feelings to be one-sided. Since she acts indifferent to him, he probably feels she does not like him that way or, even if she does, her feelings don’t go deep. But the fact that she comes in the face of sure death tells him finally that what he feels is equally reciprocated, even if she hides it. Faye risking her life to try and save his, regardless of how futilely, is the ultimate test of commitment. It’s part of the progression which leads him to refer to her as his “other half” later, since he knows he is as important to her as she is to him, even though they never actually reach a point to be able to admit it openly to each other.

Unfortunately, during the entire time Spike is falling for her, Faye continues to care for him but the perception built in her mind of Julia’s presence in his life keeps her guarded. We see that in the finale as well, the intense, suppressed emotions she is carrying around after meeting Julia. It continues till the very end of the series and he never does get a chance to tell her how he feels about her. It causes her to stay away from him, keeps fuelling her sense of not belonging on the Bebop, and he doesn’t quite know why since he is unaware she knows about Julia’s existence.

Boogie Woogie Feng Shui has some hilarious sequences of “dumbass guiding dumbass” as Spike and Faye conjecture at Jet’s relationship with Meifa, get kicked out by Jet for smoking, and then he declares themselves fairies as they defend the ship together.

Cowboy Funk is a love letter to fragile masculinity and Faye takes Spike’s case with the comparisons of his personality to Andy. The events of the movie happen right after this one but we don’t see Spike too overtly bothered by Faye spending time with Andy. He has not made any kind of commitment or confession to her so what can he really expect? I always feel his reaction to the can of stew had more to do with Faye returning from Andy’s place in the morning than his hatred for Andy itself. Anyway, the episode is an allegory so we can’t exactly take it at face value.

The events of the movie happen, which I have already covered earlier, and we see Faye kidnapped by Vincent. Despite the threat of death, she refuses to be an accomplice to someone like him. Even without the definitive jail scene between Spike and Elektra in the film, the story of Spike and Faye is traceable, but that piece was deliberately woven in later to go back and enunciate what is shown in the series. It shows the point where Spike finally accepts for sure how important this woman is to him. He already knows he is important to her as well. It ties in very well with what happens during the next chronological episode.

The next episode is Brain Scratch, the last one before everything goes to hell. We see Faye try one last desperate bounty at SCRATCH. Here again Spike does his world-famous deflective act. He reaches where Faye is and, the moment Jet informs the implications of the software used by SCRATCH, he switches off his communicator and goes in just as the other man is telling him they need to plan things out. He has seen her faint on screen earlier and knows there isn’t much time left to save her.

He finds Faye and Londes is dealt with by Ed, post which he just sits around till she wakes up. Spike’s presence being completely useless in saving Faye here is very similar to her presence being unhelpful in saving him from Mad Pierrot. But the idea is, it’s the intent and motive which counts and, in similar circumstances, they act identically toward each other. Even when they are not equipped to deal with the situation at hand, they cannot just abandon the other in the face of danger and would rather join in and try to help as opposed to doing nothing or running away.

Hard Luck Woman is an episode which begin the culmination of the series. Faye leaves trying to find her past connections and Spike is seen keeping tab of her leaving each time but seems to sort of let her figure her things out. He doesn’t know what’s going on but we see her continuing to feel the sense of not belonging on the ship. During the episode, Faye’s memory comes back and she lapses into her old personality for some time. He sees the resulting reaction and is concerned but she leaves immediately after. I have mentioned earlier too that I feel, while she definitely wants to find her past, she also feels she does not belong on the ship because she thinks Spike has no room for her in his life. The episode culminates with both Jet and Spike feeling hurt and emotionally eating double their share of boiled eggs as both the girls seem to have left the ship.

This episode is also significant due to its musical motifs which I have covered here.

And that leads us to the finale. I won’t go into the events between Spike, Julia, Vicious etc. here because again already covered in detail here but let me touch upon some things not included there. The moment the attack happens on Jet and Spike, he knows Faye will be targeted since Vicious knows about her. When Faye is at the airport, the scene with Alfred and his mother happens. While yes that scene is reflective of the Bebop crew as a whole, it is specifically relevant for Spike and Faye at this point.

Faye is chasing her past, trying to find a place she belongs to because she feels unwanted and in the way, just like Alfred’s mom. When she speaks to Spike later as well, she makes a point of telling him she has a place to go to, even though she does not. She feels she does not matter to him when in truth, getting her to safety is likely his top priority at the moment. Just like when Alfred comes, we get to know that he has been looking all over for his mother, Spike calls Faye breaking his norm of letting her sort her things out to ask her to come back and meet him at Tharsis. He tells her he wants her to help Jet but that is not such a big requirement. Jet is just shot in the leg and can manage-we do see him take his zipcraft to go see Bull during the next episode. Spike tells Faye to stop wandering and come back to ensure she is safe and accounted for, so she is not targeted by his enemies, but she brushes him off feeling again like she is extra on the ship and he is just calling because he needs something. She reacts initially with a flash of emotion at seeing his face on the screen but then schools herself into acting difficult.

He is right though, since she is targeted by Julia and the Syndicate ships follow her back to the Bebop. During the interim, Jet asks Spike to turn back and let go of the past and Spike responds to him by talking of a woman. Jet feels right now that Spike is going out of some bloodlust or hang-up on his past but I’ve already covered why that’s not the case. What Spike is telling Jet is that he needs to do this for a woman but what Jet does not know, and what Spike glazes over, is that the woman is Faye and he needs to do this to ensure she is safe, so that the past can be laid to rest and he can have hope to move forward to a life with her which is not hunted. The language he uses here, speaking in pronouns and adverbs, is the same as what he uses in the Jail scene with Elektra. These two scenes are perhaps the most misunderstood scenes in CB ever.

Spike tells Jet he saw a woman who was “truly alive” for the first time and she was a part of him he had lost i.e. his wish to continue living. He begins speaking in the past tense since earlier in the episode Faye has informed him she is not coming back and she has a place to go to now. So he assumes she has left them for good. He still has to do what he has to do though, even if she decides to never comes back.

He is looking out of the window and moves from using the past tense to the present as he sees Faye’s ship appear on the horizon, continuing in the same flow to inform Jet “She’s back.” Jet gets confused and then thinks Spike is talking about two different women when in truth it is the same one. The English dub does a weird meandering dialogue here but the screenshots are how it goes in the sub. I’ve already covered what he means by ‘other half’ etc. in detail in the previous part so will not go into that again here. Spike knows by this point that he is loved in the same way that he loves because he has seen the test of her commitment and hence he refers to her as ‘his other half’ even if nothing is formalized between them.

He knows that, with everything that is happening, he has to ensure he closes the door on the Syndicate once and for all so he can move on with his life if he survives, a life he wants to live now. He also knows the people close to him will be targeted so he needs to ensure the threat is removed completely. Jet is assuming his intentions to be steeped in the past when in truth he is looking to the future.

For Faye, she has seen Julia and her feelings of inadequacy and alienation from Spike become higher, indicated by her not using his name to Jet once she is back. But she does relay the message, even though Spike seems indifferent at first and then angry at the mention of Julia’s name. There is a lot of conflicting emotion in Faye as she goes to him sitting at the workbench, hesitating if she should give the message or not.

This would not be easy for Faye since here is a man she loves but has been pretending not to and has been running away from believing he loves someone else. Then she comes face to face with that someone else and all the fear she had of being abandoned by him has become real. It’s a testament to her character though that, even at a moment like this, she chooses to do the right thing (or what seems right to her since she doesn’t have the background on Julia’s true intent). He would want to know so she is conveying the message regardless of how much it kills her. She even tries to convince him by trying to drive home the point that Julia is in danger. It’s an incredibly selfless act of love.

Spike on his part pretends to not understand the message. Julia is not relevant to him now, not a priority but rather the exact opposite. He knows she has been working against him. And he wants Faye to understand that. He gets who Faye is referring to the moment she begins speaking but continues to dismiss it till she uses Julia’s name. He looks angry then as if infuriated Julia would stoop as low as to try and use Faye to get to him.

He leaves and Faye requests Jet to let her out as well. They defend the ship together and then Spike goes off to deal with the situation. It’s interesting that she is shown taking all the damage here, leaving him unscathed enough to go off. Faye and Jet discuss Julia and Faye gives Jet her description, looking broken up about how amazing Julia seems to her. I’ve mentioned in the second part why this is because she is overthinking the situation in her head without understanding what is actually going on. Spike is trying to keep Julia within his line of sight, knowing she is working with Vicious and likely intends to lead Spike to him under the guise of running away.

He comes back to the ship post Julia’s death, knowing he needs to go end things with Vicious once and for all now. Over here, he tells Jet the story of two cats, which is generally believed to be Spike conclusively telling Jet he is going to go die and not survive in the face of extreme injury the way he had before since Julia is dead and his will to survive is gone. But in truth, the situation is quite the opposite-he has recently acquired the will to live so it can’t indicate that.

There are two stories told during these episodes, the first is Jet paraphrasing the story of ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ by Ernest Hemingway which seems intentionally distorted. What Jet narrates of it is not how the story happens and the airplane is a dying dream of the main character Harry who has been thinking back to different events in his past till that point in the narrative. He was never headed to Kilimanjaro and gets injured in a hunting expedition. But in his dream, the plane he is on begins to move toward Kilimanjaro and then Harry knows that this is where he is now headed. The second story, however, is intentionally not distorted.

Just like Jet’s story is tweaked to align with what he needs to say in the current moment, Spike’s cat story could have also been tweaked to mention the tiger-striped cat meets his mate and then chooses freedom/becomes free, or this part could have been glossed over. It would fit his situation with Julia much better since he met her during his Syndicate days, not after becoming free. But this is not done. Spike specifically talks about meeting the cat after becoming free.

With the same deception where we are led into believing Vicious is the ‘true Samurai’ who can kill Spike till we go deep and understand what it actually means to be a true Samurai, we are misguided here and need to look deeper at the actual story to understand what Spike is trying to say here. This story is a children’s fairy tale called ‘A Cat Who Lived a Million Lives’ by Yoko Sano.

The story of the two cats begins only after the tiger-striped cat becomes free. The tiger-striped cat is loved very much by all its previous owners but they all end up killing him by mistake. They mourn him deeply when he dies but, at the end of the day, are all bad for him. On his part, he hates them all.

So he keeps coming back to life again and again, moving from one incompetent and incompatible owner to the next. One day he becomes free, and is his own cat, free to do as he pleases. He meets a lot of girl cats who want to be his wives and they throw themselves at him (not a fan of this element in the story but I didn’t write it) but there is one cat, a white female cat, who ignores him completely. He notices and goes to brag to her that he has lived a million lives, shows her his abilities but she remains unimpressed, simply commenting “Is that so?” Finally he stops this and just asks her if he can be with her and she says yes. They then spend their days happily together and have many kittens who grow up into fine stray cats. Eventually, the white cat gets old and dies. The tiger-striped cat cries a million times and then finally he stops crying. He lays down silent beside the white cat and dies too. He never comes back to life again since he does not need to. He has lived a fulfilled life with his beloved and joins her in death.

This story is very reminiscent of Spike’s own. He starts off not caring what happens to him, goes through near-death experiences again and again. He falls in love with someone but it is not enough to make him begin valuing his own life and he continues to be indifferent to danger and death, just like the cat in the story. And then he becomes free and meets someone who makes him want to live. The cat, earlier so impressed by his own feat at defeating death, finds joy in the mundane when it finally meets a mate who does not want anything from him, who complements him and helps him find stability and the will to live. This is not a story of a destructive romance with lives cut too short but of a beautiful equation between two people who are slow to find love and togetherness but when they do, it’s the real thing.

Spike meets Faye after he becomes free and she shows no interest in him. She has feelings for him but doesn’t display them just like he doesn’t really express to her what he may be feeling. They go through a whole subtle journey together, understanding each other and showing each other that they care, but it is all very muted. By the end of the story, he has realised his feelings for her, knows she cares deeply for him as well, and her presence in his life makes him want to live.

I always get the sense he starts this particular story out of the blue since he becomes aware she is listening to his conversation with Jet, standing outside in the passage. Him telling the story at this point perhaps comes closest to a confession of his feelings directly to her as we get on screen. He does confess them to both Elektra and Jet, though again so disguised that it is very easy to confuse them for his feelings for Julia.

There is also the line which he says to Jet while he is leaving. “I can’t do anything for a dead woman.” This is translated a bit differently in the dub but this is the translation in the subs. At this point, Jet has asked him why he is doing what he is doing and this explanation prima-facie does not answer Jet’s query at all unless we think deeper. Spike knows Jet is thinking of Julia and he says “I can’t do anything for a dead woman.” but leaves unsaid that he can do something to protect a live one, and is about to. Of course, he is doing it for Jet too but by now he knows his feelings for Faye.

During both the parting sequences with Faye and Jet and pretty much during the entire finale, Spike is intentionally ambiguous. His dialogue is designed to allow the viewer to draw the current interpretations we are drawing but is confusing enough prima facie to make them feel like there is no point in trying to stop him or save him so that they do not try to accompany him. Spike is going now to end things with Vicious once and for all and to protect his companions. Having them accompany him at this point would defeat the very purpose of what he is trying to do. That’s why he doesn’t give a straight answer to either Faye or Jet during the entire finale.

In the sequence which follows, as Faye confronts him, we don’t see him ignore her or act cold toward her like he did toward Julia or Vicious. When he looks at her as she points the gun at him, he seems sad. There is a lot of unspoken emotion there. She tells him he is hung up on the past, again assuming his intentions are to avenge Julia or to go fight Vicious out of a personal grudge. However, he proceeds to explain his eyes to her which seems a rather odd thing to do at a time like this.

The scene right here is often cited as a classic instance of the “almost kiss” trope in anime, also used in the “cigarette kiss scene” between Rock and Revy from Black Lagoon below. If you trace the movements, Spike is drawn to actually lean in to be pretty much like 5 milimeters away from her face, which is a very weird way to show someone your eye.

In the sequence, she asks him a series of questions and he takes a beat before leaning in this way. It seems more like he tries to just explain everything through a kiss but when she moves away he feels this is perhaps not the best time and launches into a poetic roundabout explanation instead.

Faye is overriding her earlier misgivings of staying away from (what she believes to be) an emotionally unavailable man by confronting him this way and she gets agitated by his sharing new information with her now of all times. In truth, she knows quite a lot about him but thinking that he never thought her worthy of telling anything himself bothers her. It’s her fighting back against the sudden intimacy of the moment which seems overwhelming considering that, in her mind, he is going off to die.

He continues to talk about seeing the past from one eye and the present from the other making him feel like he was watching a dream, one which was now over.

He is smiling in this sequence, a very fond smile. This scene is not him making light of death. It’s him looking at someone he loves and smiling, telling her how she has snapped him out of his self-destructive mental state.

These lines are usually taken to mean that he is speaking of life being a dream which is now over, which does not really apply with the rest of the dialogue and explanation he is giving so let’s look at the whole dialogue sequence again. Firstly, he has spoken about his eyes. Whatever made him loose the eye was likely a trauma which also left him dissociated with reality, part of him stuck in the past trauma and the rest living in the present, causing him to doubt his own grasp of reality. This was already his state before he got together with Julia since during his flashback in Jupiter Jazz both of them are shown saying the same thing-feeling like they’re watching a dream.

In ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ when he is shown awakening from a dream of the surgery he had to replace his eye, he is visibly shaken. He seems unconscious during the shots of the surgery so whatever causes him to wake up sweating was likely also what caused him to be in that condition in the first place. The trauma likely caused him to develop a dissociation from reality in the form of Depersonalisation, a condition which causes someone to feel their own life is a dream which they are watching as a passive audience.

I’ve talked here about how the theme of dissociation runs across Bebop for different characters including Faye, Julia, and Vincent who have all suffered trauma which caused it. Watanabe has mentioned in an interview that what happens to Vincent in terms of loosing his grasp on reality is because of the traumatic events he suffers in the battlefield on Titan so not all of the references of dissociated states refer to philosophical aspects. The philosophical aspects of an illusory world and dreams as metaphors for life itself run as a theme also but what happens to the characters has a clinical side to it too.

Spike’s dissociation leaves him feeling like he was watching a dream which he could not wake up from, leading to his reckless behaviour and indifference toward his own life. He’s saying here that he’s snapped out of that state, tying back in directly with his dialogue to Elektra in the jail cell where he speaks of feeling fear of death for the first time, of meeting a woman who made him want to live. His life was not very real to him before that but this is the transformation which has happened in him.

He is saying here that what he came to feel for Faye, the healing which has happened because of her, caused him to snap out of his dissociation and the dream state got over before he knew it. This is again similar to him telling Jet earlier during the dialogue about the part of him he had lost that his death wish is gone since he has found a person who restored to him the part of him he had lost Since he is no longer dissociated, he is not living in the past and not looking to throw his life away.

He gives her that explanation and begins to leave, believing it’s the max he can do in this moment, but she’s not quite ready to let go yet. She tells him about recalling her memory, acknowledging for the first time something only he knows about her. This is again more acknowledgement of their deflection-they have been pretending they are casual acquaintances or virtual strangers when in truth they know each other very closely.

When you watch the scenes again from this perspective, the emotions on Spike’s face as Faye speaks to him become much more meaningful. This is the first time he learns from her that her memory has come back and can understand how traumatic and confusing it all must be for her.

He knows she needs reassurance at the moment, needs him to stay back with her but it’s impossible. He is not going with an intention to die but he also does not have any insurance that he will come back alive. There is also a very focused shot of her white boots as she speaks and it begs a wonder if this is supposed to be a nod to the “white cat” in his story earlier.

The shots in this sequence are drawn to show a lot of pain, guilt, and regret within Spike at her situation, one he cannot be there for her in right then. In the same way that he never told her much about himself, she never did either. They found out what they did about each other accidentally but now here she is telling him what is happening with her and how much she needs him there but he has no option to stay back.

This is also when Faye actually acknowledges in spoken words that he is important to her, not saying it directly but expressing how futile returning seems now if he is going away. She’s always pretended he’s just some idiot she has to put up with but her saying this now is as much a roundabout expression of endearment as his story about his eyes and snapping out from the dream.

She desperately asks him if he is going to throw his life away and he responds saying that he is not going there to die.

Spike never has any intention to get himself killed when he leaves to confront Vicious. Of course, he may just die but he’s told in the story of the cats that it will not be because the desire to live is gone in him. In the same way that Faye is alive because she has survived against all odds, he needs to go see if he can face and survive this. If he is alive on his own merit because he had the strength in him to kill Vicious all along or if his life is at Vicious’ mercy. It’s the only way for him to be free and live his own life.

He walks away from Faye without looking back at her because what he is doing is incredibly hard already. What she shares about her memory coming back does make him take pause and the sheer pain of it is depicted clearly on his face. However, if he keeps turning back and engaging with her again and again he may lose the resolve to continue with what he has to do. This entire scene can only be understood through its unspoken nuances and poignance.

She empties her gun behind him and then breaks down crying, giving in to the feelings she has clearly kept tightly bottled away, finally. He hears the shots but keeps walking away. It’s a very sad moment because we know she feels abandoned, like she mattered nothing to Spike, when in truth she is extremely important to him. On his end, it’s a moment of helplessness and, repressed as he is, he is unable to handle it any differently, unable to figure out how to reassure her. Both are very damaged individuals and this stunted communication is the best they can do in the middle of a very desperate moment, but neither is indifferent to the other.

We know the rest and how it goes. You can believe what makes sense to you personally about whether Spike lives or dies but something the series has established again and again is that he does not die that easily. The injuries sustained by him at the Syndicate do not come close to many he has sustained in the past and lived. The question of whether he lived or died always rested in whether he had the will to live on or not, which he does. He has a reason to come back since someone he loves is depending on him.

In the song ‘See you space cowboy’ there are quite a few lines which are references to Faye. This song is often considered a parallel to ‘Adieu’ due to the use of the word ‘Fade’ and is usually believed as related to Julia since one version of it is playing in the background when we first see her on screen in present-day narrative. Actually ‘Adieu’ first comes up in Faye’s context during ‘Speak like a Child’ as an operatic bit sung in the opening sequence and is later shown in a different version when Julia first appears. The ‘fade’ bit may be a coincidence as well since we do need to understand the original team did not speak much English. ‘See you Space Cowboy’ is in Japanese though so the lyrics of that particular song become more significant over the English-only ‘Adieu.’ The tune for ‘Adieu’ has three versions, all of which are usually played in the context of Spike or Faye.

Adieu also comes on during RFB at the “beginning of the end” and the lyrics are more resonant to someone being left behind by a loved one which, was not the case with Julia, so I don’t think that song placed in this particular sequence refers to her. It seems to me more directly tied to the scene where Spike leaves with Faye left behind, like foreshadowing it since this is where it all starts. Anyway, below is how ‘See You Space Cowboy’ goes.

When everything is finished, Though my ears are still shut, you speak to me
Your words are being washed away, They can’t bring relief as they flow to tomorrow
In the night when even prayer has vanished, You go on towards what you believe
The teardrop-colored falling stars pass by, So that they can mock you

These lines are reminiscent of Faye trying to convince him to stay even as her words are “washed away” because he cannot heed them at the moment. We see her crying alone in the passage, interspersed with images of Spike flying away. In another piece, I’ve covered how the flashbacks he sees here are both Julia and Vicious, indicating he is thinking back to when he was on better terms with both, people he cared about but who ultimately betrayed him. It’s not him longing for the memory of Julia alone.

The scenes are also interspersed with the current two people in his life who care for him deeply, diametrically opposite to the other two.

There is nothing which can be done at the moment to ease Faye’s pain, to stop her tears and it’s like the stars are themselves mocking her hopeless situation.

Even when the dream hides in the darkness
I got a rainbow in my hands…

This is a hopeful line from Spike’s perspective. Everything is broken and devastated at the moment but he has one hope still remaining in her.

Crossing over inside your heart, a voice speaks, “You can erase even unchangeable things”
Praying before the truth in the morning, Love will once again return to this place

I always take this line to mean that perhaps something in Faye speaks up that she can change this hopeless situation and she leaves to try and save him in the end if she can-I really don’t see her giving up and not even trying, now of all times. This is also foreshadowed in Pierrot Le Fou where he asks her if she will come save him since this might be the one he does not come back from. What he is facing now is equally dire and there is really no reason why she would not make one last try. In the last sequences Spike is seen in the early hours of the morning descending the stairs post killing Vicious. If she does manage to salvage him, love can return for both of them.

Although mortal life will someday end,
This love can’t be erased
It is something that will live forever
Escaping from the darkness

When you pass phantoms frozen in time
Love is waiting over the rainbow
A thousand rays of light are waiting
You got a rainbow, Rainbow in your hands…

Frozen in time is again something related to Faye. As she lets go of the ghosts of her past frozen in time, which she has done now after realising she has nowhere else to go than where she currently is, there is love waiting for her. She has kept running away trying to find a past lost in time but she needs to see the love which is there for her now. This is very reminiscent of how Faye keeps departing during “Hard Luck Woman” thinking no one cares and her past holds a place for her while Spike is keeping a quiet tab on her exits.

The term rainbow is only referenced in Bebop one other time. It appears as part of the lyrics of ‘Call me’ but I don’t consider that a reference. However, there seems to be a hint retroactively inserted into the movie when, after all the drama is over, Faye asks Jet if he thinks there will be a rainbow now since it has rained.

I like to keep this as a headcanon rendition of the post-finale which was made for me as a very kind gift by the supremely talented Ambarden

For more Bebop Essays, please click here

This is a part of my “Alternate Take” on Bebop, basically a relook at the same series but from a different perspective. You can click here for background on that. This is a four-part series on the relationship of Spike and Faye across the entire series. The others can be accessed below:

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