Comment on Cowboy Bebop, “Jupiter Jazz” (Sessions 12 and 13)

Spoilers galore ahead

Cowboy Bebop, “Jupiter Jazz” (video – part 1, part 2) | episode guide (part 1, part 2)

“There is nothing in this world to believe in.” – Vicious

1. These two episodes are haunting, beautiful, and present some of the deepest characters I’ve ever seen on television. I can’t think of a better introduction to anime. There’s excellent dialogue, plot twists that provide layers and not simply suspense, and a gorgeous fight scene between flying vehicles: every time they circle, the air is filled with that much more tension.

2. We have dreams, and then there are the people we work with every day. It doesn’t look like we even have vocabulary for describing the problem which arises from these two things. But that problem drives every single element of the story here. Faye leaves the ship, taking all the money from the safe and its coolant. With the ship literally boiling hot, tempers flare. When Spike hears that Julia might be in the vicinity, he runs off on his own after being very curt to Jet, who doesn’t do his best to keep a terribly level head about things.

Faye later seems to accept Gren’s analysis of her leaving: she was scared she’d be abandoned, so she left first. And Spike and Julia are very much a couple, despite their distance. The question “What is home?” is right in front of us, but leaving Jet alone on the ship broke is a massive injustice, no matter how much fear one feels or hopes one has. Still, “home” isn’t as simple as “the people we work with every day:” dreams matter too.

Which brings us to the character whose story this really is: Gren. Once a partner of Vicious, like Spike, he was betrayed by Vicious and subjected to medical experimentation while in prison that caused him to grow breasts and have other hormonal changes. The ability to have “home” in the sense Spike wishes isn’t there. And playing saxophone for a living in a seedy bar where only fugitives visit may be almost as bad as prison; the ability to wander like Faye isn’t there when one has a bounty on one’s head.

3. Gren was a warrior, a comrade-in-arms of Vicious. While there are many characters in the Bebop universe who bring up questions of sacrifice – Rocco from “Waltz for Venus” gladly gives up everything for his sister, and Vincent from the movie raises all sorts of issues – Gren’s question might be the most pertinent. In terms of “dreams” and “working with people every day,” Vicious gives a crude but effective answer of sorts. Why believe anything when one can take power, and let others sit deluded with notions of honor or duty? Vicious seems to transcend the problem, even as he appears petty and barbaric throughout the story. Lin, ordered to accompany him by the Red Dragon, takes a bullet for him and saves him from Gren. Vicious’ explanation that Lin was only protecting the honor of the Red Dragon – an explanation Spike doesn’t buy – makes perfect sense when first heard.

Vicious can’t account for sacrifice, but that flaw in his logic does not seem like much of a flaw when our usual scheme is “work hard, achieve something.” One has to see Lin as the old Gren to understand whether or not Vicious is correct. Gren confesses that he trusted Vicious, believed in Vicious. They fought together, and Gren says he even looked up to Vicious. Gren could not believe he would be betrayed so badly.

Does that mean Lin is a fool for protecting Vicious on behalf of a crime syndicate? We know that Spike had and has friends who are mobsters (including Lin), and that not every gangster is as nihilistic or murderous as Vicious. And in a world much like the Wild West, the crime syndicates might be the best chance for law and order in some areas. Lin acts honorably but seemingly mindlessly. He shoots Spike with a tranquilizer bullet, perhaps remembering some kinship the two had. He gets in the way of every confrontation Vicious has, acting as a guardian of sorts. Perhaps Lin understands “home” as something that watches over one, and his notion of honor and duty to a crime syndicate is based on that. We can’t read too much into Lin, we don’t see enough of his motivation.

We do know that he seems to resemble Gren in a way, in that he fights with Vicious but keeps his humanity in the fighting. We also know Spike thinks Lin died for Vicious, and that there is probably a principle to association which Vicious is blind to. Given that Spike worked in the same circles as Vicious and Lin, we have to take his opinion seriously. (In fact, perhaps one reason Spike gets into fairly fierce arguments with Jet is that Spike can’t ever come entirely clean about his past to a former cop.)

4. But what is it about association that itself has a principle? Lin and the old Gren can’t articulate the question, let alone an answer. And Spike is still searching a bit too hard for Julia: his first question to a dying Gren is about Julia. He needs to see blood coughed up in order to realize Gren’s condition.

The new Gren sets up the drug deal with Vicious purposely just to ask Vicious why he was betrayed. There’s revenge involved, of course, but the question is very real for Gren. His last wish is to be placed in his ship and sent toward Titan, where he and Vicious fought together. Gren’s whole concern is whether fraternity is real. He gets two answers: one from Lin, which we have discussed, and one from Spike.

Spike saves Gren from one of Vicious’ missiles, and even while in a stupor about Julia, breaks off chasing Vicious in order to tend to Gren. Association seems to be about making caring for others a habit. It isn’t ironic, but necessary, that given Gren’s concerns he is sent off by a stranger whom he already knows. “Home” finds itself rooted in association. Lin’s thoughtlessness about the Red Dragon may not be sensible, but it makes perfect sense.

Gren’s final gesture seems to be a realization of this answer. There is much for Spike, Jet and Faye to realize about him. For obvious reasons they can’t and shouldn’t join crime syndicates. But there is something about their relationship that is less than mercenary, and not entirely contingent. Dreams aren’t always had, and association is the surer thing. When people are open about believing in each other, honor, fraternity and even love make a lot more sense.

3 Thoughts.

  1. For better or worse, I was drawn into your blog simply because I love that show (Cowboy Bebop) more than any program on television.
    It’s great to me for several reasons.
    Regardless of my love for it though, your blog seems a bit sad to me. I wouldn’t use the word “pathetic,” because that’s harsh and unnecessary; but sad because it’s silly.
    Of course it’s a very well-written show that’s highly entertaining, but it’s fiction.
    It seems that you’re analyzing the fiction and drawing conclusions based on fantasy.
    Keep loving the show; I know I will, but blog about something real. I get the feeling you’re talented enough to do so.

  2. who is to say this isn’t real? if you watch fiction but it moves you, does it not belong in our world as something of value? the greatest value of entertainment is the sharing of ideas and emotions. that being said, cowboy bebop transcends entertainment and becomes art. just because one does not see it as that does not mean one should belittle another who does.

    and by the way you have written your comment i can see only judgment. though you say you wouldn’t use the word “pathetic”, you actually did literally and by insinuated it by proclaiming it was too harsh a word. a backhand compliment works in the same way.

    for lack of a better phrase, you need to get off your high horse. of mice and men was just fiction, so does it not deserve critical discussion? You say you love cowboy bebop but you relegate it to pulp fiction, to comics aimed for children, to a sunday morning cartoon. for shame. you have just condemned everyone who has ever had an opinion on anything that matters to them that just happened to be a work of fiction. surely you were drunk when you made such scathing and narrow minded conclusions of this blog’s author.

    this blog post is top tier analysis, and reading it helped me understand and enjoy the episodes all that more. it helped elevate my understanding of the characters, their plights, their real and made up codes of life, and in turn, helped me understand a bit more about this world we live in. if that isn’t something real, something tangible… i don’t know what is.

    or do you believe i am interjecting fantasy, meaning where there is none, and that the creators of the show only wanted to make an action packed cartoon devoid of anything worth critical dissection?

    danny, go fuck yourself. you are silly for writing such an ignorant comment and arrogant for dictating to another what their time and efforts are worth and are worthy for.

    but i’m sure you wouldn’t waste your time critically thinking about some fictional universe with made up people. you certainly wouldn’t waste your time commenting on another (silly, pathetic) person’s blog post, now would you?

  3. i’m impressed by how deep this blog post is. damn.. i used to watch cowboy bebop on adult swim a lot, though not anymore. but every now and then when i’m bored at night, i would tune into adult swim and this show would be on from time to time. and out of all the episodes, jupiter jazz 1&2 are by far the most memorable for me. great music and story.. and i just love the overall mood of the episodes.

    this analysis kinda let me think deeper into each characters and the story and stuff dude. and for that i thank you. next time i catch these episodes on tv i’ll try to keep some of the things i read here in mind.

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