Overthinking Cowboy Bebop: Sessions 15-18 (part 2)

Overthinking Cowboy Bebop: Sessions 15-18 (part 2)

Disc four out of six. We’re on the home stretch here, folks!

(Continued from the previous post.)

16) Black Dog Serenade

“My Funny Valentine” was in many ways emblematic of the new direction that Cowboy Bebop seems to be taking:  a story that’s basically about character, with strange, kicky dramatic beats, and a pervading sense of quiet surrealism.  (The same could be said of #14, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for that matter, which is why I say that it’s a new direction rather than one atypical episode).  By that standard, “Black Dog Serenade” is kind of a throwback, because it is BAD-ASS.

Bad ass.

And it is an awful lot of fun, I’ve got to say. Fad, Jet’s old partner from his police days, pulls him back in for one last score (more of a drug dealer trope than a cop trope, but whatever), in order to track down an escaped convict who just happens to be the guy that shot off Jet’s arm.  It is noir as all get out – in the visuals,

I like that the difference between "Cop Jet" and "Classic Jet" is that Cop Jet keeps his beard trimmed.

in the score, which is mostly a muted trumpet version of Jet’s signature tune, “The Singing Sea,” and in the narrative, which muddles betrayal, and fate, and revenge, and professionalism, and machismo, and honor, and cigarette smoke into that rich, black, frothy cocktail which is the stuff that dreams are made of.   Like, there’s a point where the assassin gets the drop on Jet and almost shoots him in the head, but Jet is able to block the bullet with the robotic arm that the assassin saddled him with.  It doesn’t come much more noir than that.

Oh, and of COURSE it turns out that Jet’s old partner is corrupt, and was the one who shot his arm off in the first place.  I mean, that’s almost obligatory, right?

But fun as this episode is, there isn’t that much to say about it.  So although “My Funny Valentine” seems like a smaller episode in a lot of ways, it’s actually a lot more robust.  There is one interesting character moment here, though.  If we look at the Bebop’s crew as some kind of messed up family unit, it’s pretty clear that Jet is the father.  He’s always the one who tries to be responsible, he’s always the one who scolds the other crew members and holds their feet to the fire, he’s always the one who tries to make sure that the kid and the dog get fed on time.   (Also, he has some seriously stone-age sexist attitudes that he brings up in public every now and then, which the people who care about him seem to do their best to ignore.  He’s not just the father-figure:  he’s the patriarchy!) What’s interesting is that when he’s part of the Jet+Fad team, he plays the same role that Spike plays in the Jet+Spike+Faye team: running off half-cocked, pointlessly risking his life, taking on an unspeakable badass in a close-quarters knife fight more or less just for the hell of it.  The way that Fad dies in his arms at the end of the episode even has some resonance with the way that Rocco and Gren each died in Spike’s arms in their respective episodes.  So if “Black Dog Serenade” explains anything about Jet’s character, it’s his weird co-dependent relationship with Spike.  He never actually comes out and says “You remind me of myself, when I was your age,” but after watching this I’m not sure he even needs to.

20 Comments on “Overthinking Cowboy Bebop: Sessions 15-18 (part 2)”

  1. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Great post, as usual, Stokes. Two completely unrelated things:

    1. What did you think of the cow in the mushroom episode? :)

    2. I absolutely love your reading of Speak Like a Child. It just goes to show how right you are when you say that our 14-year-old selves are dead, because when I was 14 and watching Bebop for the first time, that episode made me say WTF? And I just moved on. I only figured out the second time I watched the show a couple of years ago that it’s clearly one of the best and–ahem–deepest episodes.


  2. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Several more unrelated things:

    3. I find it funny that you characterize Jet as the “dad” character, because I’ve always thought of Jet as the ship’s “mom.” He’s always cooking, wearing an apron, pruning plants, having emotional outbursts — not that dads can’t do this, of course, but Jet’s outbursts to me see coded as “feminine.” The fact that he sometimes dissolves into sexism strikes me, then, as ironic.

    4. If you like your Bebop meta-literary, just wait for “Brain Scratch.” It may blow (or scratch) your brain.

    5. Oh, man! Next time, you’re going to see “Cowboy Funk” AND the crazy Batman-inspired episode (well, I think it’s Batman-inspired, anyway)? I cannot wait. (/ Underthinking It)

    6. Ever give any thought to overthinking another anime series? Because Neon Genesis Evangelion is just sitting there, waiting around with its insane Judeo-Christian/Freudian imagery with no one to talk to. Unfortunately the music in that show isn’t nearly as good, and the tone is more serious by a factor of, like, a million… But it’s surely worth a watch.


  3. RiderIon #

    I’ll give my full commentary on this and part 1 of Stokes’ OTI of Cowboy Bebop when I get home from work but I’d like to recommend that you ignore that request from mlawski to shy away from Neon Evagelion Genesis for two reasons: 1, it’s Judeo-Christian imagery literally makes no sense and is fully admitted by the director Anno was picked because it was foreign to its intended Japanese audience (as opposed to being fitting symbolism). And 2, NGE is a full blown deconstruction of the Super Robot Genre of anime. It’s much more poignant to have seen a handful of Super Robot series so you can compare/contrast the characters and their mecha.


  4. Redem #

    I must say there something amusing, Ed was original meant to be a little black boy, but the director decided to balance male and female on the bebop and to base the character on the composer in term of persona (though I can’t say if the previous concept was similiar)

    So its strange that the ed-centric episode as a lot of element blackpoitation


  5. MrsSpooky #

    Another brilliant analysis! My favorite was your take on “Black Dog Serenade.” I had come up with a similar conclusion about Spike and Jet. (quote)What’s interesting is that when he’s part of the Jet+Fad team, he plays the same role that Spike plays in the Jet+Spike+Faye team: running off half-cocked, pointlessly risking his life, taking on an unspeakable badass in a close-quarters knife fight more or less just for the hell of it. The way that Fad dies in his arms at the end of the episode even has some resonance with the way that Rocco and Gren each died in Spike’s arms in their respective episodes. So if “Black Dog Serenade” explains anything about Jet’s character, it’s his weird co-dependent relationship with Spike. He never actually comes out and says “You remind me of myself, when I was your age,” but after watching this I’m not sure he even needs to.(quote)

    Yeah, totally!

    @mlawski, Stokes will find out on the next DVD that Jet IS the mom. :D


  6. RiderIon #

    My Funny Valentine and Speak Like A Child also give us a viewpoint of what the future is. Faye at the beginning of My Funny Valentine is a blank slate but she has idealism for the future once she gets past freaking out and groping holograms. Things look like they might just work out: she’s going to work off the debt, she’s got a love interest and she’s adapted to the future only for Life to suckerpunch her. Her cynism begins at that moment when her George Clooney saddles her with more debt and leaves her to fend for herself. Then the video of teenage Faye wishing her future self all the best with a cheer of encouragement also showcases the idealism that Faye lost.

    Jet’s misogyny ties into his whole persona as ex-cop and as the Black Dog. Men aren’t raised and don’t act like Jet. He’s the last of the Old Guard and his age as well as older world view dictate that to the viewer. This hits a bigger note in Japan as well. Women, despite having much more modern standing in society and the workplace, still face discrimination (with the whole Christmas Cake analogy that pops up in Japanese media jumping to mind).

    Ed was picked to go gather food because of who she is: a kid. Someone on the planet would feel the need to help a child out. Sending Jet, Spike or Faye out to beg for food (as we all know from previous experience, they are broke) is a gamble. It also keeps Ed from repairing the ship with whomever stays behind. Seriously, would you trust Ed with a blowtorch? I’d also argue that Ed’s haul of shittake mushrooms is a pyrhic victory at best. Ed got them a lot of mushrooms but the lack of variety (especially with no guuarantee of income), you can argue that they’re merely surviving as opposed to living.

    The nerdy guy who owns all the vintage electronics is more parody of the geek (otaku) who populate the shops in the Akihabara district than a writer insert (although the two aren’t mutually exclusive). Which makes it much more amusing that Spike and Jet have to go into the den of geeks to get the betamax player.

    An aside, “My _____ works when I kick it” has entered my vanacular after I saw Speak Like a Child.


  7. Serp #

    Another great analysis. I love reading them and look forward to the next one. FYI the Pam Grier character in Mushroom Samba is actually called “Coffee” in the closing credits. So… yeah.


  8. Wraith #

    I have to agree with RiderIon about Evangelion. I do like the series, and it stands on its own without having seen any other mecha series, but it’s better to watch with at least one or two of the more standard mecha series it’s deconstructing under your belt.

    On a similar note, I’d love to recommend Revolutionary Girl Utena, a series that is pretty much tailor-made for a site like this. But it takes a deconstructor fleet to shoujo tropes. Another one that works on its own, but is better judged with a knowledge of where it came from.

    So I’ll offer up a compromise. FLCL. It’s short, only six episodes. It’s quickly paced. And despite the surface wackiness, there’s enough meat there to dig in to. It’s also by the same studio that did Evanglion.

    Of course, I want to see the rest of what you have to say about Cowboy Bebop first. I haven’t watched this series in a long time, and you’re making me think I need to watch again and pay attention.


  9. MrsSpooky #

    @Wraith, you really should watch it again. :)

    I’ve watched Cowboy Bebop from beginning to end at LEAST a dozen times since last June, and every time I watch it, I find something new that I missed in all the previous viewings. Either I’m not that observant or there is just so much there that it’s hard to get it all in one viewing.

    I have my own opinions on Bebop, and I’m really enjoying stokes’ persepective. We don’t differ that much on a lot of things Bebop.


  10. mlawski OTI Staff #


    @Wraith: Okay, your argument about watching Revolutionary Girl Utena was so strong that I couldn’t allow myself to pass it up. That’s right: I actually watched three episodes of it last night when I couldn’t sleep. And HOLY CRAP is that show weird. Epically, epically weird. I think I may be in love. (And, yes, I have far too much experience with shoujo anime/manga, so it’s completely rocking my world. Inverted gender roles ho!)

    Speaking of weird: I dunno, Stokes, FLCL may be the weirdest anime I’ve ever seen (and that’s including Evangelion, Serial Experiments Lain, Paranoia Agent, and the three episodes of Utena I watched last night). I might need to watch it again, but I definitely got the impression that it was mostly weird for weirdness’ sake, not for Overthinkers’ sakes.

    You know what, Stokes? Forget what I said about Evangelion. Neither of us should watch any anime again ever. The bad stuff is AWFUL, and the most of the good stuff is 2001: A Space Odyssey-levels of bizarre. Neither really makes for good overthinking, in my view.

    Although one of these days I’m going to write my post about how Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a Marxist allegory…


  11. Wraith #

    @MrsSpooky: My tastes have definitely… matured, I guess you’d say, since the last time. I’m currently in the middle of a Crest/Banner of the Stars rewatch, but I think I’ll move Cowboy Bebop into the queue after it.

    @mlawski: Utena is pretty high on my top-ten list, so I’m always happy to get others hooked on it. It’s harder to find in the US than I’d like it to be, though.

    Paranoia Agent, yeah, that’d be another interesting selection.

    As for FLCL, it’s best summed up as animated male adolescence, which gives it an interesting quality and more than one layer. Plus plenty of weirdness for weirdness sake, yes.

    My all-time favorite anime is Haibane Renmei, which would be another good one for this series. I’m just more than a little obsessed with it, so I try not to go overboard with talking about it (any more than I already have). The pacing might throw off people who aren’t used to Asian cinema, but the series itself is simply wonderful. Not even far out there on the bizarre scale.


  12. RiderIon #

    @mlawski The movie for Utena is completely off the deep end. It condenses the series down to about an hour and then…it gets really weird. I’d say more but…it’d ruin the surprise.


  13. stokes #

    I watched an episode or two of Utena – which, due to the opening credits, I like to refer to as “Revolving Girls Utena” – a few months back, based on a description of the music as “the Vienna Boys Choir singing Megadeth in Japanese.” I’m a big fan of cinematic excess, so as you can imagine I pretty much loved it. But it would be hard for me to overthink. It seems to be one of those shows that’s always playing the signification game; where “What does THAT mean… maybe it’s about sex?” is pretty much the intended audience response. This is fine – great, even – but it means that trying to decode the symbolism is only “thinking it,” but refusing to decode the symbolism is like refusing to laugh at a comedy. Also, the like, ten minute segment of recycled footage at the climax of each episode gets pretty brutal when you’re watching episodes back to back.


  14. inmate #

    I would like to see FLCL, although it is almost too odd for words.

    How about some Fullmetal Alchemist? Some of the metaphors are blatant, but have great depth and since there are two different anime series the differences between them could provide much Overthinking fodder.

    And why must we stay with series? Could we not also include full length movies? Specifically Akira. Unless there is an article on this already, in which case I would like a link.


  15. Sillyweasel #

    I’d very much like to see this followed by Samurai Champloo actually, since the two series are very similar but extremely different. (Not to mention the obvious Watanabe link)


  16. Frank #

    I met a girl at a party once who’d written more than one graduate paper on FLCL. I think that in spite (or more likely because) of its strangeness it stands as one of the better bildungsromans out there.


  17. Conny Aster #

    I wish i had discovered your breakdowns earlier! Gj! Interesting thought, i actually think the coffin was inspired by Django [1966] as well as Moby Dick.


  18. David Randall McKay #

    The tape followed Faye’s cryotomb while she was frozen in it, until it finally reached her three years later when she was rewoken.


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