Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Don't you want to hang out and waste your life with us?
I know I've talked about "Cowboy Bebop" a little in the past, but I've recently really been re-watching it for the first time in ages and it does feel like rediscovering it. I suppose that is not an accurate statement, because I never really lost sight of it, even if it's been several years since I really watched all twenty-six sessions, and the film.
I first encountered "Cowboy Bebop" in the summer of 2002. I had cable, but at the time my local cable company did not offer Cartoon Network (it did that winter though). A friend of mine had been part of an anime club at his college and was determined to make me watch this series. I received the first two DVD's for my birthday that year, and by the time I finished session five, "Ballad of Fallen Angels" you can say that I fell in love. Over the next month, I bought the other four DVD's, and this was back before the market was flooded with anime DVD's and each disc cost you $30. It took a while to find them all, at different stores... and at the time, across different states even. But I did it. I loved it. I really loved it.
After I finished "Cowboy Bebop" I went on an anime sampling spree, some I sampled for dozens of episodes, and even asked another friend of mine for a list of good anime, and got a huge list. How did that go? Well, I discovered "Berserk" which I also love, but that was about it. I'm not going to trash anime, but 99% of it just isn't for me. Some, like "Neon Genesis Evangeleon" are series I can respect, even if I don't love or even particularly like them. I'm not even a Miyazaki fan, although "Princess Mononoke" is great! Maybe it's a cultural thing, I don't know. But I didn't find another that meshed with me, and my tastes... and then there are some which I felt had very bad pacing. But, if you will indulge me at least one bash: "Dragonball" sucks and so do all its spin-offs, and other incarnations. I will admit, I feel some guilt over ethnocentrism about this, the two that I love are the one based on medieval European fantasy, and the one that is a space western with a lot of western culture and musical influences thrown in, but I don't think it's ethnocentrism so much as tastes in certain styles of character and storytelling.
Okay, on to the show itself.
In some ways, I feel like most of these characters are me. I can relate to each and every single one of them (except for Ed) in a way.
In Spike Spiegel, we have the type of protagonist I love to watch. A man with a past, even a dark past who is a better person than he gives himself credit for. He is laid back, easy going, but can and does get serious when the need arrives, or when the phantasms of his past appear. His attitude in life (whenever Julia and Vicious aren't involved) is "whatever happens, happens" and I often have that same attitude. Why worry about things you can't change? And as much as he pretends he is cold and unfeeling, and only after his bottom line, he is full of mercy and compassion for others. I can relate to these things, and like Spike, I am not especially fond of kids or animals either.
Jet Black is the resident den mother, whether he knows it or not. A big, tough, former cop, who is the heart of the Bebop crew. The captain and the ship's crew. He is the one who makes sure that everyone has come back alive, tends to wounds, fixes the ship, and while he can gripe and bitch, he is a big softie at heart. I have a little of this, but I have at least one friend who is very much like Jet, he didn't disagree after it was pointed out to him.
Faye Valentine is a broken, bitter woman who has been kicked in the teeth by life, and been used. So she wants to use others first before they can use her. She wants to abandon others before they abandon her. I've been there... sometimes I'm still there. Life is rough, and I appreciate her searching for a place where she belongs, her place in the universe. Of course, she realizes way too late that she was already there, but that's so universal. I'm searching for that place myself, who knows, maybe I'll find it.
Ed is, I don't hate Ed. I like Ed. In small doses. I get why she's there, but she is easily my least favorite character among the main cast, and as much as I get why she is there, I think she could easily be removed without losing too much. That being said, I wouldn't remove her because I think the series is perfect as is, and would change nothing. But that doesn't make me overly fond of Ed, I just don't relate to her. I love Ein though.
And how good is a series without a great villain? Vicious is awesome, and we only ever receive him in small doses. Out of twenty-six episodes and one movie, Vicious only appears in five. He is very cold and subtle, even in his violent brutality. Very quiet, he doesn't speak often and when he does, his voice is this creepy monotone. The Van (the elder leaders of the Red Dragon Syndicate) compared him to a snake, and there is no better comparison. I have seen a lot of villains over the years with snake motifs, and only Vicious really comes close, and that's without the motif at all... just how cold and calculating he is, and how he chooses his time to strike. He is not the slightest bit bombastic, and his nihilistic outlook on life is very realistic. He is underplayed and that adds to his scariness. How do I relate? Most people know that I have a temper... but when my temper comes into play, my bark is worse than my bite. It's relatively harmless. When I am at my worst is when I am cold and calculating, and if someone pushes me to that level of anger, no one would know it... because, and I inherited this from my father and grandfather, when I whisper is when you should be afraid. And hey, I've gotta admire a guy who can take a sword to a gun fight and win!
The story isn't serialized, and while I prefer serialization, this is one of the few exceptions. We still have Spike's conflict with Vicious and his search for Julia as the major arc of the series, even if only at the forefront of five episodes. That being said, there are subtle clues and hints of it and what happened in their past sprinkled throughout most of the episodes, in places where you wouldn't think to look. I always catch something new every time. It's like listening to a great album... and on that note, what can I say about the music that has not been said already? Yoko Kanno is a genius, and this is the greatest soundtrack I have ever heard in any movie or TV series. A mix of jazz and blues... so up my alley.
To bring things back to where I can be accused of ethnocentrism, the voice cast for this show is pitch perfect. Of course, I am talking about the English dub. Spike Spiegel was Steve Blum's breakout role, and for good reason... he is Spike. Wendee Lee brings a level of sexiness, sadness, playfulness and bitterness to Faye. Skip Stellrecht makes Vicious sound creepy and evil without sounding the slightest bit cartoonish. Everyone is perfect. I've tried watching it in Japanese, and I couldn't do it. And before anyone labels me ethnocentric, even the original Japanese producers said the English dub was better.
I suppose I should talk about the movie, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." At this point it's hard for me to separate the movie from the rest of the series, it takes place between sessions twenty-two and twenty-three and every time I re-watch the series, I watch the movie in it's proper place. It's become just another episode to me, albeit a long one. As a stand-alone, it's not something I can recommend. It's easily for fans only. I once made the mistake of trying the movie on a group of people who hadn't seen the series, and it did not go over well. And I can see why, unless you don't already know this world and these characters, this movie won't make you care. And even I have to admit, the movie itself is thirty minutes too long. But I like it, and viewed as a long episode of the series, it's great.
Unlike other shows and universes I love, I actually don't want any more "Cowboy Bebop" episodes, or movies. Sometimes a story is told so completely that to add anymore damages the story rather than enhances it. I didn't used to feel this way. When I finished the series, I wanted more. I wanted a prequel series about Spike, Vicious and Julia in the Red Dragons. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this would dilute things. Sure we don't know all the details about what happened that caused this huge rift, but we know enough. The rest we can piece together through the many clues scattered across not just the five episodes, but the entire series. They're there. To make a musical analogy, the Beatles White Album is perfect as it is, we don't need anymore.
"Cowboy Bebop" is a series I can watch any time and not get tired of. It's easily in my top five TV series of all time, regardless of medium or genre. It's one of the fictional loves of my life... don't laugh, we all have them. I love it. My brother got my a Play Arts Kai Vicious figure for Christmas, and I broke down and just ordered Spike (and yes, I will display them in the iconic pose), and will buy any more they choose to release. It's been with me for ten years, and I'm looking forward to enjoying it for at least another ten years.