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. 

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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

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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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The Black Dog: Exploring the Character of Jet Black

The story of Bebop is set up fairly simply in terms of character structure. You have your protagonist Spike, the antagonist Vicious, the deuteraognists Jet Black and Faye Valentine, the “romantic interest” Julia (though I have a different opinion on this matter), and sundry tertiary characters in the bounties they encounter. There is no one foil character though, and each character ends up with multiple foils in others which highlight their own qualities through contrast and comparison. For a story which does not say a whole lot and leaves the actual plot for you to fill in, these contrasts are extremely important.

The character of Jet Black is a direct homage to Blade Runner, with both Rick Deckard and Jet having the themes of police and bounty hunting to them. He is also a key player in Bebop’s overall theme of not adhering to the ideals of toxic masculinity. Men who act like pompous pricks or objectify women are generally treated with contempt in the narrative. ‘Cowboy Funk’ pokes fun at the pompous fragile masculinity of Spike through the parallel of Andy, Faye’s choice of clothing never causes either of the Bebop boys to be an idiot to her, Gren can be gay and also be a soldier, something which the militaries of this world are just barely beginning to come to terms with etc. Gender and sexuality doesn’t define a character, despite all the lines about men doing this and women doing that. These lines are stuck in purposefully without adding any resonance to them in the narrative itself to negate how ridiculous these ideas really are.

Jet Black is very “typically stereotypically masculine” in his external appearance but he is balanced with his “so-called feminine” side in the most non-caricaturised way possible. Throughout the series, we see him go about the domestic work around the ship, taking care of everyone, being emotionally far more expressive than Spike and Faye, while also being the ex-ISSP bounty hunter he is (like literal Blade Runner, no shit…Rick Deckard with an apron and laundry). He expresses his concerns about the people in his life, is a proxy father to Ed, shows understanding of Faye when Spike is clueless, is the confidante to Spike and the general voice of reason for everyone, whether the listen to him or not. And none of this is used to paint him up as a “sissy” or anything out of the ordinary. It’s just who he is. Somebody’s gotta do it so he does it.

Emotionally, Jet is the most sorted member of the Bebop. Granted, he has likely had a more well-adjusted life than the others have and therefore has the emotional bandwidth needed to ground them. He is shown as intensely sensitive and caring, watching out for his crew even when they act like jerks to him. He is the father figure to everyone and the two sequences which particularly stick out in my mind are his rescue of Faye in Jupiter Jazz, something which perhaps saves her life both physically and psychologically, and his worrying about Faye and Ed in Hard Luck Woman. It shows how Jet has a heart of just pure gold.

The hunt he goes on for the Betamax player in ‘Speak Like a Child’ always seems to me a lot more than just a hare-brained treasure hunt. I often wonder what we are to think of why Jet lets Faye stay on the ship and always feel he understands her situation better than he lets on. He likely doesn’t know the specifics but perhaps we are to understand that, having been with the police, he knows a troubled young person when he sees one. They can use the extra pair of hands of course but I get a sense Jet has insight into the desperate situation Faye is in, whether through finding out from one of his contacts or through his own experience, thus allowing her to stay on. The same thing which leads him to worry about her being alone in a dangerous sector despite her having sucked all the coolant and stolen all their money causes him to take her in when he sees her alone and in trouble two times in a row.

I’ve covered his relationship with Spike below in more detail but the other character whose relationship with Jet is particularly beautiful is Ed. Ed is as much a pet on the Bebop as Ein is by virtue of how bizarre she is. Everyone sort of takes care of her but Jet is often seen taking on the role of proxy father to her, at one point even making her pose as his daughter in what is definitely one of the funniest sequences in cinematic history. This paternal equation is shown through sequences like in ‘Speak Like a Child’ where he is depicted telling her a story while hanging up the laundry, or in Bohemian Rhapsody where he expresses the crew would not want Ed to lose her chess partner.

When Faye asks Ed to go find a place where she belongs it is interspersed with images of Jet worrying about Faye and Ed very much like a doting father. Appledelhi, her real father, has meanwhile run away chasing a meteor, forgetting her again. It’s ironic for Ed to leave following this advice, trying to find him because, even if she does, he cannot provide her the kind of stability and care Jet already gives her. Just like Faye herself realises later, the Bebop is where Ed really belongs simply because Jet is more a father to her in one day than her real one has been in seven years.

Jet Black as a Foil Character

In the story of Bebop, Jet acts as a foil to three characters majorly-Faye, Vicious, and Spike.

As a foil to Faye, his role is largely to bring attention to the recklessness of her choices and her emotional imbalance. By being more balanced in how he approaches things, he offsets her emotional turmoil and ridiculous behaviour. He also offsets her insight into Spike’s life, which the narrative builds. Jet has known Spike a lot longer than she has but she gets more well-rounded visibility to him, getting to see both aspects of him, the goofball cowboy and the former gangster.

As a foil to Vicious, Jet Black represents honor, loyalty, and letting things go. There are two significant people in Spike’s current life, a man and a woman. He had a similar set in his previous life who are opposites to each other, so Jet is the replacement for Vicious in his current existence. Where Vicious is completely out of touch with his emotions, cold and uncaring, Jet is the exact opposite. He ends up being the rationality in his crew members’ lives, showing them genuine love and concern. Where Vicious is constantly hunting Spike, trying to displace him, Jet offers him stability and belonging. Where Vicious refuses to let go of things from the past, Jet quietly forgives Spike and accepts him back after he has stormed off post some very juvenile antics in Jupiter Jazz. Where Vicious tells Spike he is the only one who can kill him, Jet patches him up and saves his life many times. These actions on Jet’s part work to establish again and again that, even though they live in a broken world, good people still exist. They offset the sheer evil and extremism in Vicious’ posturing. While Vicious claims he is the only one who can keep Spike alive, in fact it is Jet who actually does this.

Similarly, Jet acts as a very major contrast to Spike and also as a deflective element, confusing Spike’s narrative to the viewer at-times unless you look deeper. Jet has had a very different life than Spike and most of the elements which happen in Spike’s life like abandonment by a lover, confrontation with a past friend/rival also happen in Jet’s. It’s a way of pointing out just how different and desperate Spike’s background is that these elements are so much more dramatic and hold much higher stakes for him than they do for Jet.

Just like with Faye, Jet Black is the emotional contrast to Spike. He is more balanced, more rational, more in touch with his own inner workings and those of others. He is used in this case as well to establish Spike’s insight into Faye’s life by again being shown as unaware of the exactly traumatic nature of her past.

He is also used to purposefully confuse Spike’s narrative by all his talk of asking him to let go of the past. In truth, by the end Spike seems not to be holding on to the past in the way Jet thinks. Jet choosing to keep his artificial arm even when Faye is shown pointing out he can get an organic one, is him holding on to his past, even if as a lesson. Jet has the choice to hold on to the past or give it up.

It is not so in Spike’s case. Even if he lets go of it completely, Spike’s past will not let go of him. We are shown this when he is found so easily at the beginning of Real Folk Blues. Jet could have ignored the whole Udai thing, he had the choice, but Vicious having ascended to the top of the Red Dragons was simply too powerful for Spike to ignore at that point. He would have come after everything in Spike’s life. Jet speaks to Spike from his own perspective, imagining the other man is holding on to a past he has the choice to let go of. It confuses the narrative in the audiences’ minds as well but I feel what Spike does with regard to Vicious at the end is a mix of their past equation, the recent events in Spike’s life, and also a need to protect the people who have gotten dragged into the mess because of him rather than just due to false ego.

The arc with Jet’s former partner is also reminiscent and a foreshadowing of Spike and Vicious’ final showdown. There are three notable Mexican standoffs across the show and the movie which result in death. There is also a gun duel in the movie-within-a-movie which plays during Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door so if you want to count that, then there are four. All of these instances result in the death of only one of the characters involved in the showdown. If you are a firm believer that Spike dies at the end, then this might not be in line with your beliefs but I have never believed that he dies. It’s not just a hunch and I have strong reasons for it captured in a separate piece.

Anyway, the first standoff happens between Jet and Fad, where Jet shoots Fad while the other man has done a roulette sort of thing with his gun and a single bullet, so he may or may not hit Jet. He stacks the odds against himself on purpose. The second happens with Elektra and Vincent, where Vincent outright chooses to not shoot her since he finally remembers who she is. The third happens with Spike and Vicious, where again we see Vicious not land a killing blow. Spike shoots him through the heart and he could have very well stabbed Spike through the heart as well resulting in instant death but we see him choose to not do that and I always wonder at this fact. He was definitely skilled enough with the blade to do it and we see him come close to doing exactly that in Ballad of Fallen Angels.

In all three cases, the antagonist of the arc chooses to not hurt the arc’s protagonist fatally. While yes, this leaves us with an open-ended closure in Spike’s case but, going by the parallels of the other two, it always seems to me like Vicious maybe has a moment of remorse or recalls his friendship with the other man and changes his mind at the last minute, choosing to let Spike live even as he himself is released from life. Not landing a blow on Spike at this point would not be the honourable thing to do as per the Samurai code. Vicious is widely believed the be a ‘Samurai’ due to a hint the series places in the third episode where Spike walks past a screen displaying the words “Only a true Samurai can kill him like that.” Because Vicious carries a Katana, a sword typically used by the Samurai, it is easy to believe the screen indicates that he is the Samurai who can kill Spike but actually he does not really fall into the definition of a Samurai as defined by Bushido, the code of the Samurai, or pretty much any other Japanese literature which talks about the definition of a true Samurai. A Samurai needs to be honorable, loyal, and compassionate and Vicious is none of that. But Spike does fit this definition to an extent and his code of honor loosely aligns somewhat with that of a Samurai. Therefore, Vicious not landing a blow at that point would dishonour his opponent and so I feel he does injure him, keeping up the illusion of an equal fight, but decides to not kill him after all at the last minute.

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The Real Folk Blues Part 2 : Cowboy Bebop Alternate Take


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Folk Blues Part 2
cowboy bebop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Real Folk Blues Part 1: Cowboy Bebop Alternate Take


This deals with The Real Folk Blues Part 1. The ‘Alternate Take’ is basically a reanalysis of Spike’s story and for more context on it, please click here
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In an interview, Dai Sato says that Shinichiro Watanabe feels people will eventually understand his works when they revisit them 10-20 years down the line. Coming back after 15 years, I am people. Relooking at Bebop from the lens of Julia as an antagonist. This is a two-part thing. You can read the second part here. If you’re a fan of Julia give this a skip please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the second part here.

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More thoughts on Julia…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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