Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cowboy Bebop Session #26: The Real Folk Blues [Part II]

...And now, [drum roll], closing out 2009, the final episode of Cowboy Bebop, Session #26, The Real Folk Blues [Part II]. I believe my favorite part of any story is the setup. I love the build to the climax in just about any tale, which is why part one of this two part finale was so tasty. Rarely do the conclusions live up to the expectations we set. Battlestar Galactica is a great example for me. I have such high standards and high expectations it's almost unfair. Will the Cowboy Bebop finale meet them?

The entry kicks off straight into the drama. There is no opening theme. None of the opening credits greet us as they have in the previous twenty-five entries. They are nowhere to be found. This promises to be the doozy.
The finale picks up where we left off in Episode 25. Julia and Spike stand in the graveyard in the rain. Julia tells Spike she was suppused to kill him. If she does it she will allegedly be set free. "Why did you love me?" she asks. He still does. She holds Spike and yearns to run away with him. It's clear, I suspect, from the flashback images that Julia was Vicious' girl and that Spike fell in love with her at first sight. It tore the crime family apart so to speak. Julia clearly desires to be with Spike over Vicious. In the end, as I've said before, empires have fallen, men die all thanks to a beautiful woman. And Julia is gorgeous, but did we ever really know this character?
Shin returns to the site of The Elders' massacre. Vicious asks him if the target was terminated. Shin lies as beads of sweat drip down his neck and he tells Vicious Spike "got away." That's not a good answer when it comes to Vicious. Strike one. Vicious asks "Where's Julia?" Shin tells him he couldn't find her. Enh! Wrong answer. Strike two. As Vicious walks away he warns Shin not to follow in his brother's footsteps. Yikes. Yeah, that might be strike three. His brother died. If Shin wanted to kill Vicious he might have taken his chance right then and there with his back turned. Still, there were too many of Vicious' henchmen to pull it off though.
Elsewhere, Spike visits Annie. She's been either shot or gutted by a sword. Julia was suppose to wait in the car, but she comes in and rushes over to Annie as well. Annie clearly knows Julia and vice versa. Annie dies from blood loss. In Annie's closet, Spike retrieves an arsenal of weaponry. Julia would like Spike to run, but Spike must confront Vicious and come face to face with the past he has run from for so long. Julia tells Spike, "Then I'll stay too. I'll be with you until the end."
On another part of the planet, Jet has crashlanded the BeBop, which is badly damaged and smoking from the missile fire. Faye and Jet talk. She suspects Spike could already be dead. Jet figures "it's possible." He's cold about it, because he's nearly helpless at this point and he doesn't want to think about that possibility too much. Jet tells her he's dealing with "his own past." "It's his fight," he implores. This is a good moment between Jet and Faye.

The shootout begins between Spike and Vicious' crew. Spike takes down two men. Julia appears ready to back him. She's not much of a shot, but then again neither is the guy shooting at her when he goes down after her third try. Spike's good. He's a bloody marksman. He takes out two more men as he and Julia run across the roof. That's five down. In the melee, Julia is gunned down. Here's that critical, dramatic moment.

It looks to be the end for Julia. It looks like she won't be with Spike until the end afterall. Farewell Julia, we hardly knew ya! We did know, however, that Spike loved her. Meanwhile, Jet is off in the Hammer Head. He visits a prophet of some kind. He feels death is near. Jet is none too pleased with his ramblings. He doesn't want to hear that shit. "Do not fear death" he tells Jet. Back on the BeBop, Jet lays on the couch. He wakes to find Spike has returned. He's returned hungry as well. It wouldn't be Spike if he wasn't hungry. He tells Jet a story of tiger-striped cat who wasn't afraid to die clearly an analogy to himself. Jet tells Spike it's a good story. I didn't think much of it myself. Actually, some of the stories told within Cowboy BeBop's stories as analogous to these characters are kinda weak. Spike tells Jet, "I hate that story." Once again, I'm with Spike. As Spike exits, Faye holds him at gunpoint. "You told me once to forget the past because it doesn't matter, but you're the one still tied to the past Spike!" snaps Faye. Spike tells Faye to look into his eyes. One of his eyes is a fake. The series alluded to that eye back in Session #6, Sympathy For The Devil. He tells Faye one eye sees the present, the other the past.
Faye's line is spot on and I do think that is one of the things about the series that has left me rather cool to it. "You never told me anything about yourself. So don't tell me now," declares Faye. It's true. Here we are at the final episode and we still no very little about these characters. Don't get me wrong, we know some things but it's hard to feel loads of affection toward them, or to care about them. I still believe the characters and stories would have been better crafted and benefitted from a much longer run. I do think this is one of the most moving moments of the series. Here is Faye coming to terms with who she is.

Spike heads off to meet his destiny in the old Swordfish II. Faye is certainly pained to see him go. We get a few flashbacks from Spike's past including a lovemaking shot in bed with Julia following what appears to be his first encounter with her out playing pool. Spike gets things started with a nice grenade. Japanese pop music plays over the excitement. Spike is fully loaded and bringin' it. In all of the gun violence, Spike finally takes a hit to his left arm. Shin shows up and has Spike's back. Shin bites it. Did we ever doubt that? He rolls a seven after being shot up real good like. Spike moves closer and closer to his final confrontation.
Spike and Vicious do a bit of the machismo talk down thing. "It's going to end here." It's a punishing and brutal battle. After losing their weapons of choice. Each makes the final move by tossing their weapon back to one another, gun versus sword. There is honor to these characters, a bit of code here. I would prefer the gun in this case, but the creators make it a close call. Vicious goes down with Spike still standing. Spike hobbles down some stairs mortally wounded it would appear. Men with guns stare. Spike falls face forward. Is this the end of Spike? Maybe. Maybe not. You are left to wonder. There has been much controversy over whether he lived or died here through the years from what I've heard, but I feel he was definitely killed with honor and went out with a "bang!"
So, I have to say, that was fairly disappointing. I didn't find a great deal of depth to the series or an overly satisfying conclusion regarding any of the characters and where they came from. What were their motivations? What about the past that brought them to this place? Where is Ed? Where is Ein? What of Jet and Faye? I suppose they still have each other. Jet sets his friend free. Spike had to deal with it all himself. These are all free spirits looking to find themselves. It was foolish for Faye to expect anything more herself. I'm not looking for a happy ending mind you. I'm perfectly fine with a melancholy exit such as this, but I wasn't feeling connected enough to these characters to care all that much, except for maybe Faye. When Julia 'takes one for the team' as they say, I'm not connected to her enough to really care all that much. I haven't invested any time at all in getting to know her enough to care. I would have liked more character work and a little more continuity with the storylines throughout the short series. Unfortunately friends, all in all, it was a decent episode, but not very fulfilling or satisfying. I simply cannot recommend the series and feel it was entirely overrated. If you love it, all the power to you. It wasn't for me. I had high hopes for it. I was really game for a good anime series and this one was great looking and loaded with great style and animation, but not much more. Well, we'll see you around space cowboys.
The Real Folk Blues (Part II): B-


Anonymous said...

Hey. I'm not trying to disagree with you here. Your opinion is yours and cannot be inherently wrong. I want to share mine though, because it differs from yours in a key area.

You are correct. The characters aren't particularly fleshed out. We don't really get a full M.O. on anyone. I like that though. It bothers me when a story and related characters are explored to their limits. This series started with four people with mysterious pasts, and we got to know a little more about each of them. Not everything about any of them. I like this for two reasons.

1) It's a refreshing change of pace. Usually by the end of a series there are no significant mysteries left. I like a show that dares to be different.

2) What I loosely imagine in all of the blank spaces in this show enhance it for me. We never really find out the details about how Spike and Julia hook up, nor how they interacted with Vicious. That's ok. For me at least. I didn't need to see it happen to know that it happened. I guess that's what I feel the show did so well, it didn't need to flesh out details, because it was able to convey everything important without them.

You're right though. I absolutely felt no remorse when Julia died. I figured out the significance (namely, Spike loses touch with reality. There's some left/right eye symbolism from here on out, but I've never bothered to figure it all out) and then moved on with watching.

Either way, your writings were interesting and valuable to me. I'm sure I like the show unreasonably anyway because it's my first anime.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Not at all. Pleased to have you stop by with these great points about the series.

Your input is well taken.

Given your criteria I think Cowboy Bebop certainly retains a sense of mystery around its characters and much is left for us to consider.

Certainly the series was limited by its time and that plays into it, but your appreciation for it is admired and your approach to it in some ways more open-minded than my own.

If this is your first anime, may I recommend a few to look into: Ergo Proxy, Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex, Last Exile and Neon Genesis Evangelion. These are solid entries that come to mind for a variety of reasons. Thank you and take care.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon this blog in my search for more takes and opinions on this series. I am absolutely enthralled by this series, and to put that into perspective, I am not an anime fan :)

I tend to agree with the guest poster, I believe it's the mystery behind the characters that draws me in. The series didn't give us all the details, but just enough to let us fill in the gaps.

I'm a jazz musician and that may be another reason I love this series; the music is just badass! I actually have the sheet music for the opening credits song "Tank!" and I'm trying to get a big band I work with to play it :)

The series also held to it's music themed analogies. As a professional musician, the analogies between bounty hunters looking for the next mark and the next paycheck really resonated with me; I also keep my ear to the ground looking for that next gig and that next paycheck :)

The similarities are uncanny; I know the majority of players in my working area (I'm from Dallas); we have a network not unlike 'Big Shots' that we keep up with; and we're all fighting for the same money. However, we're a lot more friendlier with each other!

I love this anime and set the dvr to record it every time I catch it on Adult Swim. I've seen the majority of the episodes, including the 2 part series finale, and fervently wish there more! Great blog!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Glad you stumbled upon it. I loved your analogy and connection to the series from the perspective of being a creative, jazz musician. That speaks volumes about your open mind and you ability to connect to this series. I commend you.

I love a number of different animes out there as you may have noted reading along. Cowboy Bebop was a bit disappointing for me only because I had built it up so much in my mind. Still, I love the ideas. I love the concepts and I think it could have been even better.

Having said that, I do love that much of it is left to interpretation. I loved Blade Runner for these reasons. It's nice when things aren't spelled out.

I agree 100%. TANK is a cracking number and I would love to here that live. I hope your band pulls it off. I think it would be a tremendous piece in your repertoire.

The comparisons you made of bounty hunting to playing as a jazz musician are pretty sharp. I would never have put that together, but it's a great analysis.

I wish you well on your journey in the business. Thanks for coming by

cor said...

The character development in this show is one of its most amazing aspects, along with music and cinematography. To have the interactions be so complex requires a knowledge of every word in all 26 episodes, in both English and Japanese w subtitles, if you really want to see what is paraphrased incorrectly or in a way that changes the meaning. This is an amazing work of art that needs no changes.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...


First, thank you for leaving your lovely comment.

My apologies to you for not having published this long ago, but for whatever reason it ended up in my Spam folder. That is a first for a legitimate message. So thank you.

I must revisit this series, maybe when it arrives on Blu-Ray to really be even more open to the series. I may have viewed this at the wrong time in my life.

I enjoyed it, but I didn't fully appreciate it the way you did or the way I appreciated Neon Genesis Evangelion. I will have to try again. Thank you. Best, SFF

Leigh said...

The essence of Cowboy Bebop is quite sophisticated, though possibly not everyone's cup of tea. Allow me to gently nudge you in the direction of these articles to address some of the questions you'd asked:

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Leigh. Thank you. I intend on reinvestigating this series someday. I will definitely give your link a look over.

I think the support for Cowboy Bebop out there is undeniable. It is a certified classic.

Part of me wonders if I wasn't completely open to the experience when I watched it the first time.

I'm just not sure.

But, I hope to see it released on Blu-Ray and thus revisit the series at that time one more time.

Thank you for the input here.

Anonymous said...

You're right, we didn't know Julie that well. But i cared about her death because of what she meant to Spike, who i cared about a lot. Maybe you didn't get there. Still, i think that is why her death is supposed to be sad.

Have you watched any other anime lately?

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Fair point and I think a fairly acute assessment on your part that I probably, for whatever reason, did not connect to Cowboy Bebop on that emotionally resonant level.

To answer your question, I haven't watched much lately.

I think I am feeling a desire to check some out though. Gunbuster has been on my fingertips a few times for example.

Thanks for writing.