Cowboy Bebop: How Julia knew who Faye was (as per the CB anime guides)

So I decided to write a little bit on that question many of us get in our heads around how Julia knew who Faye was at the end of Cowboy Bebop because recently someone was wondering over about how she ran away but was still able to keep a tab on the Bebop crew somehow and I realised that most of us don’t actually know that there is an official ‘canon’ explanation for this because, for a change, this is one scene which is explained even though very little in Bebop really is otherwise. It’s not a great explanation but it’s there so let’s have a look at it. If you don’t actively engage in the community which still exists around this series, my analyses may feel like an overkill so perhaps best to avoid reading them.

In a story so sparse, little details can really change how we see a character and what we understand of the story. We don’t actually need this or any other explanations to enjoy it either but I’m writing this because I got asked about it a couple of times too and in case anyone reading the CB articles might want to know. In the official explanation, Julia is not an all-powerful character adept enough to keep tab on the crew on her own. She’s unfortunately more of a helpless martyr there than anything else really which is also why she is such a fascinating character for me because, despite being largely absent for most of the story, how you see her decides how you see the rest of the monomyth. I did cover this briefly in my alternate take on the finale but that may not be everyone’s cup of tea so here goes.

Quick note: This article is a part of my Reanalysing Cowboy Bebop series which is some 30+ articles on the show and has an established reader base. If you are a new reader, this can be read standalone too but you can see the main page of the series for more context on it.

I am talking here about the version which is mentioned in the anime guides of Cowboy Bebop published by Tokyopop for Sunrise and I suppose is the only “official version” of the story available to us since its creators never really talked about it much and when they did it was mostly confusing answers (for a change I’m actually agreeing with that CB stan who goes around beating everyone in the creator community over their heads with his own opinion). Now, I have mentioned enough times how ridiculous I think the Cowboy Bebop anime guides can be sometimes because whoever wrote them seems lost and they don’t offer much beyond what you can see on screen but this scenario is an exception where the guide does offer an explanation. The guides are based on interviews from the creative team so anyone writing about this series does need to familiarise themselves with this content, and hence I ended up reading them, even though I feel the creators may not have given too many explanations in those interviews either. I’m also thinking of occasionally doing something like Cowboy Bebop “short takes” for stuff like this which I don’t feel requires a long analysis in case anyone wants to read them.

Anyway, as per our revered Guides (which, if you are part of the general CB creative community, you will know that our resident stan also believes to be equivalent to the Holy Bible) Shin had gotten super salty with Vicious over Lin’s death so he decided to seek out Julia and become her informant. This is the reason why at the beginning of Session 25 Julia walks into her apartment and gets a message from Shin because he has been informing her about Vicious’ plans lately. Julia apparently had no clue where Spike was till the events of Jupiter Jazz and was just running around trying to stay ahead of the Syndicate. Post Lin’s death is when Shin starts his efforts. How Shin tracked down Julia, someone whom neither Vicious nor Spike could find, is not explained. How Shin figured out not just where Spike was but also who his companions were is also not explained. Anyway, below are the two places the guides talk about this.

I guess one can assume that he may have gotten to know about that second bit when Vicious targeted the Bebop and Faye, during the events of Ballad of Fallen Angels. Sounds weird to me because Vicious did not exactly trust Lin or Shin so would be strange for him to have either of them part of his super-secret entourage which kidnapped Faye in the Opera House or attacked Spike in the church but whatever. By the way, when you really look at Ballad of Fallen Angels it’s crazy the level of planning Vicious is actually shown to have done. I’m self-plugging that here because I loved breaking down that episode and found a bunch of new things when I watched it frame by frame including a better perspective on Vicious’ coup so read it if it may interest you.

Anyway, so this is the official explanation. My view? If we go by this, Spike and Vicious should’ve given up everything and enrolled under Shin to learn his art of tracking people down. Compared to him, they both sucked. This was sort of why I completely ditched the anime guides’ “canon” version and went the alternate take route that Julia was up to no good. Anyway, we can always ditch the guide’s explanation and also just believe she was magically tracking the crew through some non-Shin way all along too (or through Vicious if you believe me but you don’t have to-many days I don’t either). Go with the headcanon which makes most sense to you. Peace. As always, don’t fight me. It’s not even my favourite anime. It just has some weird grip on me where I keep feeling the need to dissect it.

My Fangirling Exceptions

Ok this will be a very useless post because there are just too many dark things going on in the world and I’m still a bit mentally exhausted at the moment. So I need fluff and nonsense. I don’t usually do a lot of those because there is a creature in me who likes to dissect everything even when not required but I’ve been writing on some dark stuff too lately and I need a minute (here’s looking at you Macross Plus).

Kino no Tabi

This was born of a friend of mine being on my case about not finding Spike Spiegel “hot” or worthy of fangirl behavior (she would marry him if he was real…actually she may still do it). She felt it was required of me since I wrote so much on “his show.” I’m a woman in my early 30s (as is my friend) so honestly fangirling isn’t really required of me I guess but the truth is I never had the fangirl gene (no offense to fangirls everywhere-you do you). I don’t find fictional men attractive whether live action or animated (I’m heterosexual so that’s not the disqualifier either-no I confirmed it too). So I really struggled to put this together but then there are some exceptions. I wanted to do five but couldn’t even come up with that many so ended up adding a section on anime men generally found worthy of fangirling who I just don’t get. And you can bet Spike Spiegel is going on top of that one…because I am a child…and so is he.

Anime Guys I can be a Fangirl over…sort of…if you squint

Ginko (Mushishi): Truth be told, my list starts and ends at this man. He is probably the only fictional character I have ever seen and felt like yeah I could be ok with that. Ginko is sorted and unproblematic. He is mature, kind, has a code of honor, sense of humour, and also has this scientist sort of side to him when it comes to Mushi which again I can appreciate. I like his easy-going nature juxtaposed against his being a Mushishi and I like his whole thing of being a traveling hermit who helps people as he goes. Honestly, I’m not sure if I “want” Ginko or just want to be Ginko.

Ginko Mushishi

Genjo Sanzo (Saiyuki): Why? I do not know. The man is a monk (well not really cause he never took vows), angry ALL THE TIME, threatens to shoot everyone constantly. But I guess what endears me to him is that he has a soft side which is genuinely very deep, he is wise beyond his years, has a sad past which didn’t corrupt him, and he is anti-establishment but in a good sort of way.

Genjo Sanzo

Jin (Samurai Champloo): Do we see a pattern here? I guess I like the general quiet wisdom of Jin, his “honorable Ronin” situation, his whole arc with Shino, the contrast he offers with Mugen, his general calm and composure. I get it.

Jin Samurai Champloo

Honorable mentions who nearly made the cut: Batou (Ghost in the Shell), Roy Mustang (Fullmetal Alchemist), Abel Nightroad (Trinity Blood)…good work boys, maybe next time I pick random names out of a hat…

Fangirl-ed over Anime men…I don’t get

I’m just gonna list these. I got their names off random internet lists and what my friends go nuts over….there’s no science here really and I did not put much effort in coming up with this list at-all:

Spike Spiegel
  1. Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop): He’s a manchild. I don’t get his charm. I like him, I’ve gone deep trying to understand him, but I do NOT want him. He needs therapy and that’s that. I never even realized he was supposed to be “hot” till very recently. Of course, he’s also here because my friend wants him to not be here so there’s that…sorry Spike.
  2. Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist): Literally a child so no
  3. L/Light (Death Note): See above. They’re children…well initially, at-least. No I don’t see the charm. I can’t fancy villains either. Who is putting Light on these lists?
  4. Levi Ackerman (Attack on Titan): There’s so much AOT around these days that I can’t even….goes for all AOT guys
  5. Mugen (Samurai Champloo): I’m putting him here because I put Jin up there. Again manchild.
  6. Sesshoumaru (Inuyasha): I’m not masochistic so no. Also grooming Rin? Ew, no!
  7. Lancer (Fate/Zero): Too much of a pretty boy
  8. Vash the Stampede (Trigun): I’m just adding him here cause I want to. He wasn’t on any lists oddly enough. I like Vash but too problematic and also kinda skirt-chasing?
  9. Tatsu (Way of the Househusband): Are you kidding me? The man is a ticking time bomb! No!
  10. Everyone from Naruto/Bleach/DBZ/Tokyo Ghoul/Ouran/Academia/(fill in name of done to death anime)….just no…also mostly children

Stories of Significance

This is not an analysis again, just some stream of consciousness which I felt like adding. It deals with somewhat dark themes so please be warned. I didn’t want to publish it initially but sometimes these dark pieces may be what someone else may relate to and find meaning in hence sharing. Anyway, I’m taking a pause from my writing about Bebop for a bit and this sort of touches on that. I’ll keep writing about other anime for now.

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I woke up this morning and sort of just went….um, no. So I decided to take a break from engaging on the topic of this one thing (Bebop) which I enjoy a lot. Why? Because I was starting to hate it, hate the thing itself. This writing has mostly been a very positive experience for me and the posts have received quite a lot of visitors since December so I’m assuming it has been for them too but then some things have bothered me and they will if they become frequent. This is more to do with me than my readers and hence I need a minute to figure my own head out.

Now, I am far from being famous or anything but whenever you go out into public spaces with something, you are exposing yourself to people acting like idiots. This could be anything-fandoms filled with people acting like they need to crusade for their own opinions, someone taking offense at something you wrote which they found factually inaccurate (just point it out to me-I’ll go back and change it) as if a creator needs to have the entire universe’s knowledge downloaded into their mind, stans who…well I don’t know really. What DO they want?, or just someone who is angry for no good reason. Of my entire experience, these have been maybe 1-2% but they get to you sometimes. Creators in the public space do have to put up with a lot and these disrespects are really very mild examples. But the fact is, lately this was starting to bother me a bit and wearing my motivation thin. This writing does not pay my bills. I don’t need to do it, and to sacrifice and risk losing forever something which holds a lot of meaning for me is way too high a price to pay for it. Hence I hit pause till I can figure my way around psychologically and figuratively distancing myself from what isn’t helpful.

“It’s just a story” or “it’s just a show” or “It’s just fiction” is the kind of thing you will find me saying very often because that’s in-fact what it is. It is definitely not reason enough for anyone to harass others just because they have a different opinion, issue death threats, or act like jerks. It’s a work of fiction and when I say this I say it in that context. I definitely do not support projecting on fictional characters or using them to drive bizarre personal or social agendas. But in the space of healthy cherishing of a story it can be just so much more for a person. In a more holistic and less gatekeepery context, a work of fiction may hold great significance. A book, a TV show, a movie, a comic can hold a story or character with whom you found resonance, which helped you grow as a person, or gave you a message which helped you cope with something when you needed it. And that’s what I mean by stories of significance, of which Bebop is definitely one for me.

In all our lives, there will be some things which we hold dear not just because of what they themselves are but also because of when they happened to us and what impact they left at the time they happened. For me, this was a set of books, movies, and television including Bebop, stories which perhaps saved my sanity and maybe even my life as a teen, not just for what they were but because they gave me something to associate with at a time when I had nothing left to associate to in the life I myself was leading. It was impossibly broken, impossibly beyond repair, I didn’t even know where or how to begin rebuilding, but finding characters who kept going even when their lives were beyond repair probably helped me stick around on the planet long enough to figure out a way of finding some sort of anchors.

That’s what it did for me and that is why I never, ever believe in enforcing my views on another person in terms of how they choose to enjoy something they love because I do not know what it meant for them or what it helped them deal with. I remember reading an article about how someone dealt with the death of a family member by reasoning out Spike’s death and why it had to happen so meaninglessly. That’s a huge association for that person and I could never be pathetic enough in my own beliefs to try and take it from them. I may believe the character is alive at the end because I have analysed and found evidence proving it or I may believe it because I need to believe the story ends happily since I’ve experienced too much of the bad already but the death of that character may be something which another human being requires for their sanity and neither of our needs is greater than the other. Both are valid by themselves and are important parts of our lives.

Bebop is cherished for me because it was one of the stories which saved me, helped me accept and come to terms with my trauma of that time, made me feel that it was perfectly ok to not be ok at-all. It’s not something I would ever bring down to the base level of what stats it gives me or what followers it gets me, or how I can push my own opinion on another for some clout. It’s too important for me to put it in spaces like that. I dissect it for the joy of being able to spend more time with it, to find something in it I missed before, not to capitalise it in any way. Heck I may be completely wrong about everything but there are people who have found joy in it so then what’s the harm in that? I have things I still want to explore (real or imagined) but which I don’t really feel like writing about at the moment within the space I find myself in sometimes these days. I know I will eventually write it because I want to and maybe also for those who have shared it’s been comforting to them as well just like it has been to me, even if it’s all misguided and deranged nonsense, but probably after I have worked around and psychologically distanced myself suitably from the unnecessary stressors.

Bebop was a very unlikely thing which happened to me pretty randomly. I had seen the show’s ads on Animax and caught glimpses of it while flipping through channels but none of it ever appealed to me. I was 17 at the time and maybe more on the Ranma/InuYasha train. Bebop always felt too adult to me, too boring and for a while I think I believed it to be something like a serious soap opera. I wasn’t too big on spaceships at the time either so whenever I did eventually catch glimpses of those bits it made me want to watch it even less. Honestly, the whole thing felt too….bizarre to watch maybe. I don’t know. Just seemed boring.

I mentioned somewhere too how I ended up watching the last scene with Spike and Faye completely in isolation with zero context and it struck me as so charged with unspoken emotion on both ends but probably the kind of dramatic thing these idiots did all the time. All that emotion again did the opposite of making me want to watch it. The memories are sort of vague from that time but I do recall the general revulsion pretty well.

Then one random evening I happened to chance upon the scene with Faye and Gren in the bar. The broken, empty, utterly devastated version of Faye in that scene caught me. I could relate to her instantaneously. That was me right then. Also, let me take a minute here to clarify something. I don’t “project” on or “relate to” Faye overall as a character. I’m talking here specifically about the version of her we see in that episode and the arc with Gren. She then proceeded to walk off and try to fight some goons and that hopefully suicidal act was like someone acting out what was happening in my mind. That kind of realistic and powerful capturing of extremely difficult emotions so subtly made me want to keep watching.

It caught me and never let go after that. The sheer pathos and brokenness of the episode in general, Faye’s doomed encounter with Gren, her state of mind of suppressing emotions, telling herself it was best to be by herself because she knew there was nothing she could fall back on anyway, all of it was me just then. Gren’s story of something beautiful gone bad, a life filled with potential drained completely of it, the dichotomy of that which you thought would save you being the thing which kills you, all of it struck a very deep personal chord. You get to be like that post severe trauma. I didn’t just watch that episode-I was living it. I had zero context to the story but somehow it all just felt very meaningful, very relatable. I was also immediately struck by the realisation that this woman’s brokenness was directly related to the man in the episode going around looking for another woman and the general mastery of that kind of storytelling conveyed to an uninitiated stranger within such a fleeting set of sequences captured me.

Just something about the whole mood of the episode-the snow, the jazz, the darkness and the broken, broken people made it through to me and that was it. That’s when Bebop had me and it’s been with me since. I watched a lot of anime and other stuff back then too but very few of them did I end up still recalling to such an extent over 15 years that I could write a whole essay on them (Goodnight Julia) just from sheer memory alone.

It’s pretty ironic that revisiting Bebop this time around I ended up writing something which actually put a more positive spin on the story because what has always held me fast to is the sheer devastation-not all the crap happening at the end. That’s pretty unnecessary I feel. The devastation which held me to it was always what got me there in the first place i.e. the specific encounter between Faye and Gren (the line “I am attracted to that word to the point of tears” is one of the most powerful and unexpectedly astute lines I have ever heard in anything), all the loss, loneliness, general unfairness of what happened to them. I actually ended up countering a lot of it this time. Like the version of Faye covered in my analysis this time, a loved and cared for Faye, is one I cannot truly relate to in the least bit even now. She’s a stranger to me but like I said-analytical writing only works if you are objective. Similarly, a Spike who goes through emotional growth or a Julia with shades of dark and who has another, even sadder layer to her, are all strangers to me. It’s a more “adult” version of the story than what I could have grasped as a kid. But I guess it’s ok too because it does give comfort to find this version too. At the end of the day, it’s all about how you choose to perceive it and what you decide to take away from it I feel.

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.

For more articles on Cowboy Bebop, please click here

Why You May Need Hemingway to Understand Cowboy Bebop

Remember that story at the end which Jet tells about the man going to Kilimanjaro? That’s a story called ‘The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro’ by Ernst Hemingway. Prima facie, this seems to be the only allusion Cowboy Bebop does to Hemingway but, if you are familiar with the man’s writing, you may get a sense that this moment is simply a culmination of a giant love letter the series has written to Hemingway all along through its style of storytelling, motifs, imagery etc. In fact, to me it feels like one of the most significant homages, one which may help you interpret the episodes better. And no, I don’t have anything definitive from any of the creators saying they used this. I am going off the reference to Hemingway, appearance of his signature motifs in the show, similarity with Hemingway’s writing style in the omission-based style of storytelling the series does, and my own analysis to draw this conclusion.

It’s like a code. If you know it, you’ll know what to look out for, what to catch, you’ll know the pattern. If you don’t, you’ll still get something great but might miss out on quite a bit of context needed to interpret the series, ignore subtle stuff which is extremely important. Hemingway was definitely a great writer though there are aspects of him which I don’t appreciate too much personally but Bebop mostly picked up some of the better aspects thankfully.

The show is a mix of occidental and oriental influences and Hemingway is a big one from the former. But they do mix up multiple influences during execution so many of the themes picked up from Hemingway may also be built on further from other areas like nihilism, stoicism, spirituality, theatre, (any of the number of minimalistic theatre forms like Noh, Theatre of the Absurd etc.) history and more to get the final effect. But Hemingway feels critical to me because his Iceberg Theory is very similar to Bebop’s style of storytelling.

Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory and Bebop’s Style of Writing

Also known as the ‘Theory of Omission’ this is the classic style of writing which Hemingway followed in his short stories and is pretty much the style Bebop was written with. Describing it, Hemingway has stated that “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Hemingway believed that you could omit critical events from a story to make it even more powerful. In the short story ‘The Big Two-Hearted River’ the protagonist Nick goes fishing. The heart of it is about him recovering from the horrors of World War I, which is not even mentioned once during the entire story. It’s a theme in most of Hemingway’s works where what is not told is as important as what is being told or what is being downplayed is exactly where you need to focus your attention.

Why something is happening is not told but as it happens you do get enough context to understand what likely led to it though those details are not expressly revealed. Playing the evidence game of needing everything to be told or shown does not work in Hemingway just as it does not work in Bebop. I see the term ‘headcanon’ get thrown around with quite a bit of contempt in discussions on Bebop sometimes but the fact is the writer is depending on your headcanon. It’s encouraged and required, not something contemptible. You can read more about the theory on the net but the biggest example of it in Bebop is Spike’s past. We are dropped abruptly in the middle of the story one day with Vicious killing Mao, given zero insight into it except for flashes, and that makes it even more powerful. If it seems confusing, it’s because it was done very intentionally, urging the viewer to look beyond the obvious, to put together the clues you are given to understand the truth.

This is abundant in the narrative. Even when the series starts, there is no time spent to set context, nothing is narrated to the viewer. Spike and Jet are in the middle of their lives and we just get started with them. Multiple important incidents or pieces of information are omitted. What is the incident which makes Faye run away before Jupiter Jazz? Doohan is introduced abruptly as if he has been a recurring character with zero background, no insight ever given into who sends Faye the video, no insight into what Julia has been upto the time we have not seen her or what her true nature of association with Spike/Vicious was, or what exactly happened in the meantime that Spike is so cold to her at the end. These are things which conventional shows would spend multiples episodes, if not seasons, on but Bebop just conveniently skips them and all it does is make the impact that much more.

While no series can show you every minute of a character’s life, most would make the audience a “confidante” for the main characters. Shows like Bebop will do the opposite. There will be a very clear understanding built that what we are seeing is not the entirety of what is going on. The characters’ lives are happening and we are getting only some snippets of them which we need to put together to understand what they are actually up to. Pierrot Le Fou just opens up on Spike playing pool with some stranger who seems to be a regular acquaintance from the nod he gives him but could also be a complete stranger. The person appears on the screen only as they are exiting. Faye mentions Spike was going to bag Teddy Bomber as a minor task during his trip but what was the trip for? No indication. What exactly was Vicious’ plan and how has it been running while the series we know was happening, culminating in the coup at the end? Again, no apparent information but if you sit down and analyse what you know deeply the patterns do emerge

And this is exactly why interpreting the show basis what we see on screen is a very bad idea because it cannot give you a full picture. It will give you ‘A Picture’ but often a partial one. The story of Tamatebakko is told in an episode toward the end of the series but it’s been played out already in the arc of Wen many episodes back. It’s important toward understanding what led an eight year old boy to become a callous criminal, which in turn gives insight to what turned a naive girl into a reckless gambler and generally difficult individual. Innocuous episodes like Toys in the Attic, Mushroom Samba, and Cowboy Funk seem to be just funny fillers but dissect them deeper and you’ll find a whole layer of metaphorical storytelling which is perhaps as important for understanding Cowboy Bebop as the events of the more story-heavy episodes.

We are never told why Faye runs away and it’s very easy to brush it off saying ‘oh she’s just like that’ but watch the episode closely enough and it is possible to construct a pretty good picture of why. Spike comes across as this callous man with no regard for others or his own safety but dissect his actions closely and you realise who he really is. Jet becomes the mirror through which we view the ending events of the series but think about it closely enough and you realise how partial the picture he had a view to was and how much more information the viewer is given to construct a better one.

Other Hemingway Motifs

Apart from the style of writing, the series has multiple other motifs which are classics of Hemingway’s storytelling strewn across it.

The Theme of Nothing…which is actually Everything

While announcing the episode ‘Speak like a Child’ post the end credits, Jet plays it down saying the story doesn’t really go anywhere, ending is forced etc. This is a key episode in the anime about the backstory of a major character and also ties in with the ending of the series directly. Do you see my point about downplaying important stuff? This is basically it. You’ll find a lot of articles/videos on the net which talk about why Bebop is a story of ‘nothing” but is that really true? What are we doing during 26 episodes then? This is a deflective motif again picked up from Hemingway (and likely other areas like nihilism as well though Bebop in its true form is not as nihilistic as it looks prima facie but that’s my opinion).

For instance, in Hemingway’s story ‘A Clean Well-lit Place’ nothing really happens. It’s just a few scenes and at the end there is a stream of consciousness rant with the word ‘nada’ repeated multiple times. But that entire sequence is critical to understanding two main characters in the story and the similarity of their circumstances. Similarly, in Bebop seemingly meaningless sequences like Spike and Jet at the antique electronics store or diving into the bowels of the earth to get the Betamax player, even as Jet claims it’s all so he can watch the tape which he paid a very paltry sum for, are critical to understanding both characters and how much they care for and want to help Faye out. I always believe Jet knows some parts of her situation and maybe that’s what leads him to taking her in on the ship in the first place. This episode shows a very empathetic side of both the Bebop boys as they try to help their friend. It also shows their understanding of each other. Spike tears up the boxes knowing Jet will never return them but giving him an excuse to side-step his own pride and keep the packages now.

The characters of Bebop, just like the ones written by Hemingway, are all damaged and repressed in their emotions and that’s why you have to really squint and understand the deeper meaning of why someone is doing what they are doing. The main crew actually care deeply about each other even though if you don’t pay attention it will seem like they don’t give a damn. But their ways of expression are very subtle and far from perfect. What someone does is as important as what they did not do which they could have also done under the same circumstances. Glance over it and you’ll get a big nothing-look a bit deeper and you’ll realise the nothing was everything.

The Theme of War-weary Veterans

This is a stock theme of most of Hemingway’s writing, influenced by his own experience as an ambulance driver during WWI which resulted in a massive injury. Most of his protagonists tend to be veterans burdened by their battleground experiences trying to make it in the world while struggling with physical or psychological trauma, or both.

Bebop does this multiple times with Gren, Vicious, and Vincent but executes with recall to other, more recent and relevant wars like the futile, no-allies/no-enemies experience of Vietnam War veterans, the theme of experimentation on POWs and soldiers may be influenced by Japan’s own sordid history of Unit 731 during WWII, which involved some true horrors of humanity. The people responsible were even given amnesty by the US Government in exchange for their knowledge much like it was done for individuals involved in similar experiments with the Nazi regime. This is a theme touched upon in the CB movie. Like the other references, this may not necessarily be a connection to Unit 731 but could be a general reference to such instances related to war across human history.

Motif of Fishing and the Lost Fish

Fishing was a favourite pastime of Hemingway and his characters are often depicted indulging in the activity, much like the characters in Bebop, usually either Spike or Ed. In the episodes ‘Ganymede Elegy’ and ‘Speak Like a Child’ both characters catch a fish which then drops off the line and jumps back into the water, a motif depicted in ‘Big Two-hearted River’ when the same happens to Nick. It’s a motif of opportunity almost appearing and then slipping away and the events which take place in both episodes as this motif appears align to this theme in different but rather interesting ways.

Masculinity and Femininity

I’ve gone back and added this into the essay on this topic as well but this was a major theme in Hemingway’s writing with men struggling to stick to masculine ideals and traits. Hemingway had some misogynistic ideas which Bebop thankfully does not adopt but masculinity was a major theme in his writing and he wrote female characters and love interests who were a lot more sexually-active than women were depicted in conventional literature at the time. Faye Valentine’s character is very reminiscent of characters like Brett which Hemingway wrote in ‘The Sun Also Rises’ (yes, yes she is based on the noir femme fatale too…there can be multiple influences to one thing).

The lens of Hemingway has been the entire basis of my ‘Alternate Take’ analysis on Bebop but it applies to the larger story otherwise as well and can be a powerful tool for interpreting the episodes.

There are a couple of more motifs from Hemingway which are also important but adding them here without the analyses pertaining to them will not make much sense so maybe I’ll do a follow-up second part to this. Hope this helps you in understanding the show a bit better!

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