Why Cowboy Bebop is Not ‘Just One Thing’

cowboy bebop

More musings, probably because this is a space I am distracting myself with for the time being from some major life changes till I need to go deal with them. I’ve written so much on Bebop and have quite a bit more I want to cover-some days I get alarmed at the volume of content here too but then I know I won’t be doing this forever so if it’s with me at this point in time let me do what it’s asking me to do. This will hang around here after I’m done and maybe someone else can do something else with it.

I’ve talked elsewhere about how the show is a mish-mash of multiple ideas, references, and influences. I doubt anyone can cover them all but in bits and pieces people do keep making the connections-I’ve made some, others have made some. We keep piecing it together and finding new ones two decades later and that’s incredibly impressive. In the same way, it’s also a mish-mash of multiple themes and stories happening at once and really cannot be clubbed down under one particular category. It doesn’t take itself very seriously either which is the greatest respect it pays to its viewer.

If you feel they are messing with you…you are right

One thing I claim to be absolutely clear on, and perhaps the only thing, is that Bebop’s creators did all the mind-fuckery in the show pretty intentionally. It’s a classic trait of genius creators, as can be witnessed in the existence of multiple PhDs and books which most of the seminal works of the world inspire. It’s not just a story and that’s very important to remember. You are given this great piece of art with absolutely nothing to interpret it with. The anime guides, as I have already mentioned, are likely intentionally ambiguous in explaining the series beyond lore information to not lead the viewer along. The people who made it refuse to give a straight answer about it in interviews. They’ve also started leaving the planet so there is that too. (I love Nobumoto-san for a lot more than just Bebop. This is not me being disrespectful, just kind of sad).

If you watch/read the interviews of the creators, there will be ambiguity and contradictory information galore. Watanabe may claim he did not intend any lessons for the viewer in the show and then have an episode in there with everyone talking about their own lessons. But those are lessons learned by the characters. Are they intended for the viewer? Sure. If you want them but you don’t have to take them and often it’s advisable you don’t because you’re also being shown a cautionary tale of what happens if you follow them…which by itself is a lesson.

I’m not saying everything said in interviews is nonsense. I’ve based some critical pieces on interview snippets but it comes down to seeing if what is being said actually resonates with what is being shown or not.

It doesn’t take itself very seriously

The series is always telling a story and critiquing itself for telling that particular story at the same time. It’s showing characters, glorifying them, building them up, and then ridiculing them, pulling them back down simultaneously. It is not just one thing and it will never be. It is an amalgam of multiple conflicting aspects in the same manner as none of its characters are just one thing. They are people in the story and also giant metaphors and lessons at the same time. Which is why you will often see them acting very differently and inconsistently across episodes and you need to fit complementary parts together to figure out who they really are and what the actual running story is, eliminating what is just metaphorical or humorous fluff added to drive a point. Factor all of it in while trying to understand them and you’ll end up with a giant mess.

Most shows are written by a team of writers but in Bebop’s case, the individual personalities and styles of different writers seem to have been allowed to reflect in what they wrote with just some basics loosely remaining consistent across episodes. Even when it comes to references or influences, they may be both intentional and unintentional, shaped by the experiences and contexts of individual writers. Similarly, lessons may be both intentional and unintentional, impacted by the lessons and values each one has picked up along their journeys and may vary widely.

Keiko Nobumoto has mentioned in interviews that as “Head Writer” of a team of nine writers, she mostly just ensured that the crew did not become too out of character or things were not inconsistent with the whole. Apart from this, writers were free to write as they liked and it does reflect in how different episodes written by different writers are.

Whatever happens, happens

This inconsistency is also why you will see me contradicting myself often across essays. And likely anyone else writing about it would run into the same trap. There are days when I talk about all of it being pointless and others where I’ve written multi-part series chalking out progression of story and characters. It’s because all of it is happening simultaneously, because that’s what holds true for that particular piece of the show in its context.Whatever I am talking about may have taken up a theme or piece of story never touched elsewhere and hence I’m talking in the confines of that alternate universe. It may also change basis the lens I’m talking from because there may be one thing going on from the perspective of storytelling while something else entirely from the perspective of philosophy or metaphor.

And that’s probably why works like this end up with people getting into very heated debates about their views on them. It’s like that situation with the dress some people see in one color and others see in another which drove the internet crazy….except it’s 20 dresses at-once and each can be seen in 25+ colors. And everyone wants to prove that only what they are seeing is the right one but it’s not quite as narrow as that. Even references in Bebop will rarely be a 100% copy or homage of something else. There may be two or three things mixed together to make one thing depicted in the show but they are done with such depth and breath and an understanding of human psychology and behaviour that it still ends up being a pretty good snapshot of the contemporary world, still relevant today after 20+ years.

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