Overthinking Cowboy Bebop:  Sessions 11-14

Overthinking Cowboy Bebop: Sessions 11-14

Stokes picks up on Cowboy Bebop right where he left off. On the menu for this week: sexually ambiguous saxophonists and mutant space blobs.

Chessmaster Hex, age 15, looking not unlike a young Harry Potter.

14) Man.  After all that, it almost seems pointless to talk about Bohemian Rhapsody. “Jupiter Jazz” is a tough act to follow.  But just to fill out my contractual obligations, let’s touch on a couple of things.  The crew is searching for a mysterious criminal mastermind who is behind what amounts to an identity theft scheme involving the interstellar transit gates.  (When people pull up to the gate, he uses their EZ-Pass cards to access and drain their bank accounts.  Not too shabby.  They eventually figure out that the man behind the scheme is Chessmaster Hex, a brilliant engineer who was largely responsible for designing the gates to begin with, but was fired after he grew dissatisfied with the system. (It’s vaguely implied, but never actually stated, that he realized the gates were unsafe and would wind up blowing up the world the way they did.) To get his revenge, set up an elaborate and fully automated plan to take revenge fifty years down the line.  But in the intervening time, Hex has became completely senile, so that the person who actually committed the crime is, for all intents and purposes, gone.

Let's just say that he's a few pawns short of a Sicilian defense, if you catch my drift.

This isn’t played for horror, amazingly enough.  (I may have a slightly more than rational fear of losing my mind.)  Overall the tone of the episode is wacky and fun, sort of in line with “Stray Dog Strut” and “Heavy Metal Queen.”  It’s also a fun one for playing the “find a Cowboy Bebop logic flaw” game.  For instance, Hex’s plan to take revenge on the Gate company wiped out the life savings of many innocent tollbooth users, and mildly inconvenienced the Gate company executives in that they had to answer a lot of angry phone calls. Mission accomplished!  Also, at the end of the episode, when Jet figures it all out, he confronts the gate executives about it.  So far so good.  They ask how much money  it’ll take to keep him quiet.   So far so good!  Nothing, says Jet, just don’t hassle that senile old man any more.  Let him live out the rest of his life in peace.  Ed has taken to playing chess with him over the internet, and it would make her sad to lose her partner.  Very noble of Jet to put his surrogate daughter’s happiness above material gain.  Very dramatically satisfying.  On the other hand, could one perhaps ask for the old man’s safety… AND a few hundred million dollars?  Just how much Jet got screwed on this deal becomes apparent in the closing shot of the episode, where, after trouncing Ed at chess one last time, Chessmaster Hex dies.  In peace, granted.  Still, for sacrificing the financial security of his entire crew, Jet bought, like, a week of peaceful, hassle-free existence for an old man who, remember, the Gate company had no real motivation to mess with anyway.  The execs didn’t want revenge, after all they just wanted to stop the theft, and Hex was no longer in any position to stop it.  Speaking of which… are we to understand that people are just going to keep on getting their accounts drained from now until the end of the series?

But none of that much matters.  Two things really stand out here.  First is that this episode borrows heavily from the music of earlier episodes.  This isn’t the first time a cue has ever been reused, but it’s the first time that it’s been systemic.  I rather suspect that this means something – not sure what yet – for the next arc of episodes.  Second, Faye has high-heeled shoes on her spacesuit.  Yeesh.

Random, parting thoughts:  Gren’s full name is Grencia Mars Elijah Guo Eckener.  So… Gren or Grencia == Glen or Glenda?  Cute, Cowboy Bebop writers.  Real cute.

13 Comments on “Overthinking Cowboy Bebop: Sessions 11-14”

  1. RiderIon #

    Ed’s 4th wall-breaking and her dubious lesson in Toys in the Attic is a lot more revealing to her worldview: she’s completely disconnected from reality. There are no consequences in Ed’s mind.

    There’s a lot of assumption on the writer’s part for Jupiter Jazz. They assume we have figured out what makes these characters tick and I’ll give you my thoughts on the matter

    Being bounty hunters, Ed would be skimming underground sites and bounty hunter websites that deal in rumors and criminal sightings. With Julia’s name coming up (despite being a common name), Spike would still react to it because of where it came up: the criminal underbelly of the solar system. That makes, at least in my opinion, Jet and Spike’s argument all the more poignant. Jet assumes that Spike is going chase after his past. The last time he did that, we got Spike the Mummy and Jet’s willing to bet that Spike will be coming back in a body bag. However, I can’t explain how Faye ended up in the same moon as the Julia rumor (and ultimately Spike) other than plot convience. Nor can I explain why they just let Faye back on the ship despite how much she screwed them.

    Faye’s actions inside Gren’s apartment are also pretty explainable if you follow Miss Valentine’s modus operandi for (most) of the series: money. Gren was/is close friends with Vicious, as evidenced by the pictures Gren has of the two in uniform. Vicious is the leader of the Red Dragons, a premiere organized crime syndicate. Gren’s in the shower alone, unarmed and possibly with a nice bounty on his head. I believe I can see the dollar signs in Faye’s eyes. She is flirty with Gren and shows some attraction to him but now it’s business. I imagine all the alcohol she’s consumed in the last 12 hours also influenced her decision making.

    Faye’s reaction to the reveal of Gren’s intersexed condition is a well done. She was attracted to what she was classify as a woman. She isn’t exactly pleased with this revelation and doesn’t really know how to react to it (I imagine the booze isn’t helping either). Once she finds out Gren’s past, her prior plan doesn’t really work as Gren doesn’t have a bounty and there’s no guarantee that Faye could even get to Vicious now. I’m also sure she’s sobering up and her plan isn’t as great as she first imagined it.

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  2. marmls2m #

    having read all 4 of your posts, i now feel qualified to comment. i would have written some comments on the other articles, but apparently i am too late. you make some really interesting points and comparisons, but you seem to ignore one critical aspect of cowboy bebep. which is this: it is anime. i don’t know if this was touched on in the past, or assumed, or deliberately ignored, but some of your observations and comments could be answered by the fact that this series is a product of a foreign pop culture. and there are certain aspects of that culture that explain some peculiarities of the series, most notably, the animation. the long panning shots of static backgrounds and images are a staple of anime, not because of artistic license, but because they save money. the same could be said about weird character movements, strange visuals such as the fruit flying over ein in episode 2, and the reuse of establishing shots like the bebop pulling into a warp gate, which i know you haven’t mentioned. and while i know the music was innovative for an anime series at the time, the choices aren’t necessarily as deliberate as you might think. Yoko Kanno composed hundreds of songs and themes for the show before the animation went into production and Watanabe or whoever the shot caller was picked and chose what to use for any particular scene or episode. that is why there are 5(?) soundtracks for the show that have a ton of songs that you may not recognize or possibly have never heard. no one knew how popular cowboy bebop was going to be until it started to be popular, after production had already ended on the core series, and so it was produced in the japanese anime tradition: haphazardly. in fact, if i remember correctly, it never aired in its entirety in japan until after it started to gain popularity in america. at the time, it was really just Watanabe’s low budget love letter to american culture.

    maybe your analysis of the series is purposefully ignorant of the intentions of the creators of the series, i don’t know. but basically what i’m getting at is this: like all anime, it has to be viewed through the lens of our cultural differences and translation problems before it really starts to make sense. there are some points where you touched on that, like jet’s weird arm gestures and the translation problems at the end of episode 10, but i feel that you are taking too small a scope on its impact on the entire series.

    side note: i am endlessly amused by your nod to the tick. and here i thought i was the only one.

    Reply

  3. RiderIon #

    @marmls2m I don’t think that’s a valid criticism of Mr. Stokes’ analysis. Yes, something is lost in the translation and there is a culture gap between American and Japanese audiences. It does lead to some references and direction that leaves us curious (like the character design influences and the fruit flying), it does not immediately exclude us from understanding the themes and the narrative value of the show. The show stands on its own and can freely be criticized by the masses regardless of whether we understand every single minituae of the show.

    You also gloss over the fact that Cowboy Bebop was not show in its entirety in both Japan and the US until it was very popular as it crossed Japanese and US cultural taboos. The first episode wasn’t cleared for air in Japan as it featured prominent drug use. The US had 2 episodes cut (episodes 6 and 8?) because it featured violence against children and a plane hijacking shortly after 9/11. There’s also an episode that featured the WTC but I can’t remember if they trimmed the scene out or if they cut the whole episode during the first few runs.

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  4. marmls2m #

    cowboy funk. cut out of its run on adult swim either the first or second time, i cant remember.

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  5. fenzel #

    @marmls2m

    Good points, but also, restrictions breed creativity. If circumstances, budget or genre force you to use a certain technique or make something a certain way, it’s better to make it work on your own terms than to just let it happen.

    For example, _Paranormal Activity_ is the way that it is because it was shot on a super-low budget. But the aesthetic choices are also deliberate and have other purposes.

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  6. stokes OTI Staff #

    @Riderlon –
    Yeah, to a certain degree I’m being uncharitable about the plot holes just because it makes for a funnier article. And you’re absolutely right about *why* Jet gets in an argument with Spike (although it doesn’t make the way their argument is carried out any less strange). I disagree with you about Faye’s motivation for drawing down on Gren though – I don’t think it’s supposed to be money, I think she wants revenge on Vicious for Spike or for herself.

    @marmlst2m – “maybe your analysis of the series is purposefully ignorant of the intentions of the creators” Yeah, that’s the one. I always try to avoid learning anything about the creator’s artistic vision until I’ve drawn my own conclusions about the work itself. Especially when I’m dealing with something like film or TV, where pinning down one creator is often borderline impossible. I don’t mean to say that this is the “right” way to analyze a show, but for me doing it the other way is kind of paralyzing.

    As for the music “not being deliberate,” while I freely acknowledge that I have no idea who assigned which track to play under which scene, someone made the choice. I usually assign that agency to the composer for the sake of convenience, but even if it turns out to have been left up to some lowly production intern, I’m sure that whoever it was said “Wow, placing the music! Here’s my chance to shine!” and did the best job they could do.

    Your criticism that I should approach this with more of a background in anime is harder for me to answer, because I probably should. There’s always room for multiple perspectives, as Riderlon points out, and I like to think that includes the perspective of a genre neophyte like myself. But it IS usually better to be able to put the work in context with its genre. Let me ask you, (and Riderlon, I’d love you to weigh in on this as well, because from the earlier comment threads you seemed to be well-informed): what aspects of Cowboy Bebop are generically required? That is, are there some parts of the show that are so common in anime – specifically action/sci-fi anime – that they don’t even bear commenting on? I can think of one example right off the top of my head (Spike’s green hair), but I’m sure there are others that I’m not seeing.

    (Keep it spoiler free please, though – I still want to approach the rest of the show without preconceived notions.)

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  7. marmls2m #

    just off the top of my head, i would say translation is a really big issue. like almost all anime, the english voice actors were really hamming it up and pretty much butchered most of the dialogue. my favorite example of this is in episode 3, honky tonk woman, in the exchange between faye and spike at the blackjack table.

    (i am going completely from memory here)
    english subtitles:
    “i am not nimble, nor am i lucky”
    “what are you?”
    “generous”

    english sound track:
    “i’m not skillfull and i’m not really lucky either”
    “what are you then?”
    “well, i seem to be very generous”

    what is a simple, graceful, elegant, and well written exchange becomes a pop up book level display of the awful translation job. that is not to say the subtitles are totally perfect either. let me just say that my japanese friend had much more criticism for the english dialogue then i did.

    the second thing i can think of right now is fan service, which explains faye’s ridiculous outfit and the amount of coverage seemingly dedicated till faye’s boobs (just wait till you see the movie). fan service is pretty much an inescapable aspect of any anime aimed at an audience over grade school age. while there are some shows that do avoid fan service, like full metal alchemist, they often fall into other trappings of anime, like silly rage attacks and deliberatly poor animation.

    i would also like to point out that i feel ed’s personality to be pretty irrelevent to the series, as he/she does have a tendancy to break the 4th wall, and no one in the show really pays that much attention to her insanity. it is just my personal opinion that ed was just kind of shoved into the show with little regard for how it would affect the greater story or their other, better fleshed out characters. ed seems to be there only for comic relief, and only, it seems, in moments and episodes where it has no effect on the story or general mood.

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  8. RiderIon #

    @stokes I’m glad you consider me an expert. I think I have too much time and disposable income.

    Cowboy Bebop hits a few things that you as a self processed neophyte would probably miss: Spike, Jet and Faye’s character designs are homages to the cast of Lupin III, which is a series that’s been (essentially) running since the 70s. The hair color thing is just to make characters more memorable and diversify the cast. I’m trying to think of some specific examples but it’s been ages since I sat down and watched Cowboy Bebop.

    @marmls2m You make it sound as if the English translators either go out of their way to ruin dialogue or that they’re totally incompetent at their jobs. Citing the example you use as a way the English dialogue was inferior. They have to match the dialogue to the lip movements. The exchange between Spike and Faye still conveys the same information and the code talk (from Faye’s perspective)/flirty tone (Spike’s perspective) but loses a little bit of that “elegance” as you put it. You also seem to fail to realize that the Japanese companies have a pretty large part in the translation and voice selection process. The English scripts and the cuts of the dialogue will not go anywhere until the Japanese studio (Bandai, in this case) approves it.

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  9. stokes OTI Staff #

    The problem of translation is not specific to anime, of course, but Cowboy Bebop is an interesting case. Most of the differences between the dub and the subtitles are like the one marmls2m points out, where the dubbed version is slicker, more verbose, more conversational, etc. And I agree that this is annoying. However, very rarely, there will be a really substantive change. And in these cases, I sometimes find myself preferring the dub. For instance, there’s a throwaway scene in one episode (Ganymede Elegy, I think), where Faye spends a little time working on her tan. Ed asks her why she’s doing it. Here’s her reply, according to the subtitles:

    “Beautiful skin requires constant effort that seems futile,”

    and the dub:

    “Beautiful skin requires constant effort that is ultimately futile.” [emphasis mine]

    Just a small change, but there’s a world of difference between them. The dubbed version presents a character that is complex, ironic but resigned, vain but self-aware, and generally interesting</em. The subbed version comes off as vain and conceited, and that's about it.

    Now, I generally assume that the subtitles are closer to the original Japanese, per lectio difficilior. But does that make them better, necessarily? Or should translators feel free to improve the original whenever they get the chance? Obviously the problem with this second tactic is that a lot of the improvements end up being “improvements” instead. But there are some cases where they actually are better… and I find that these put me in an uncomfortable position. I don’t know how to judge them, honestly.

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  10. stokes OTI Staff #

    >.

    (Better late than never.)

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  11. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Not that anyone cares, but, although I’m usually a big proponent of subtitles, where Bebop is concerned, I prefer the dub, primarily for the reasons Stokes outlined above. (Although maybe it’s just ’cause I’m sick of hearing Megumi Hayashibara’s voice, I don’t know.)

    Reply

  12. marmls2m #

    anime dubs have been getting much better lately, with the rise of anime’s popularity in the us. pre-2000 no one really gave a crap about the english dub, which explains how the atrocious dub of envangelion happened.

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  13. Jean #

    I find your analysis interesting, yet I believe it fails in its mention of the LGBT part of the episode. Gren never changed his “gender” and it wasn’t inflicted upon him, if anything was inflicted upon Gren, it was the gynecomastia that he suffers from. That is all. If anything, I think the portrayal of LGBT characters is interesting in this episode as Gren casually admits that he is homosexual and it is not played in a gag in a 1998 anime. I guess my comment is a bit too late, but still.

    Reply

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