Hard Luck Woman opens with pretty much the same image that Brain Scratch closed with: television. Some details are different, of course… it’s Faye watching, rather than some anonymous audience, and rather than watching a communication from Londes, or the general deadening blitz of modern media, she’s watching that mysterious betamax tape she got a hold of in Speak Like a Child. (As you probably remember, this is a time capsule tape that Faye made for herself when she was in high school – and due to her amnesia, it’s her only record of her life pre-cryosuspension.) Differences notwithstanding, the resonance is pretty unavoidable, especially when the camera zooms in and focuses on the blurry grain of the CRT image.
I wonder if that effect was as striking back when most people were actually watching Cowboy Bebop on cathode ray monitors? Come to think of it, although Faye is obviously watching an old school TV to go with her old school VCR, I’m not sure the CRT blur in Brain Scratch even makes sense. Don’t they usually watch TV on their little floating holographic view-screens?
But all of that is beside the point. What matters about this scene is that it establishes (with wonderful economy, relying almost entirely on lighting and body language), that Faye has been staying up night after night watching the tape over and over, scouring it for something — anything — that will jog her memory and lead her back to her forgotten past. Obsession, nostalgia, futility… this much is pretty standard Cowboy Bebop stuff. What’s interesting is that this is the only time we’ve ever seen any of the principal cast members devote energy to something for more than a single episode. It’s not like this is the first element from an earlier episode to pop up again — as I’ve said before, the show trades HEAVILY on recurrence, and of course there’s the continuing plot of Spike’s backstory. But the thematic resemblances are only approximate, and Spike doesn’t dash off in pursuit of Vicious and/or Julia unless he happens to stumble across them. This is the first continuing plot element that has any kind of agency behind it: Faye is watching the tape because she hasn’t given up on her past. She has a long-term goal and she’s taking active steps – if faltering and repetitious ones – to achieve it. This will all end in tears, naturally, Bebop being the kind of show that it is. But given that Faye’s first and only instinct for the main bulk of the show has been to cut and run as soon as the going gets tough, this probably counts as an astonishing milestone in her personal development.
While she’s lost in thought, Radical Edward appears at her shoulder in a way that would be frankly horrific if Ed was the OTHER kind of creepy feral child. Faye freaks out a little and tries to cover up the video. But she changes her tune when Edward lets on that she recognizes one of the landmarks.
Well. All that Edward actually says is “Waterfall” (or “water sploosh,” in the subtitles), which is just a one word description of what’s on the screen at the time. Now, Japanese is a strongly pro-drop language, so maybe there are subtleties to which I am not privy. But doesn’t Faye’s decision to interpret this as “[I recognize and know how to locate the] waterfall,” seem like a hell of a stretch? In a different show that would have been intentional, and Faye would learn a valuable lesson about not jumping to conclusions or assuming people mean what you want them to mean. In Bebop, where the plots run on high octane contrived coincidence, it turns out that this was EXACTLY what Ed meant. So Faye learns nothing. It’s just as well that she doesn’t seem like the maternal type, because she’d probably run into some trouble down the line:
21st-century analogue of Dora the Explorer: Can you say “backpack?”
Faye: “WHAT? Baby, are you saying you know where the backpack is? Take me to it immediately!!! THIS I COMMAND!”
But maybe I’m being too hard on the show… it’s possible there’s more to this exchange that takes place off camera. The next action we actually get to see, after the title card, is Spike and Jet waking up to learn that Faye has diverted the BeBop to Earth and gone AWOL overnight. (Their reactions are laconic and crotchety respectively, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that by this point, right?) Of minor interest here is the fact that we get to see Spike brushing his teeth. In one of the early comment threads, there was some discussion of whether Cowboy Bebop should be thought of a slice-of-life anime… I still think it’s a little too action-packed to qualify, but I’ll grant that you don’t usually get this much information about an action hero’s dental hygiene.
And then, over a delightful hard rock track that sounds for all the world like a slower-burning version of Heart’s immortal Barracuda, we’re introduced to this mysterious fellow.
Later on, we will learn more about him, for instance that he is the bounty head of the week, and that his name is Appledelhi Siniz Hesap Lütfen (which is apparently phonetically identical to the Turkish phrase for “Excuse me, check please”(?!)), and that he is Radical Edward’s long-lost father. But for now all we know is that he has some kind of operation going on that involves the meteorites that keep crashing into earth. This is vaguely sinister, perhaps? Although he seems a little cheerful for that to apply, and the fact that he’s actually running around exploring the blast craters himself rather than watching it all on a monitor somewhere (while stroking a cat, for preference) seems to establish him as a salt-of-the-earth type… It’s definitely mysterious, though. No getting around that. And at this point the stage is set for the episode’s two plotlines. Faye is going home. Edward is finding her father. Act break.
Wow. Mr.Stokes, you have shown me one of my favorite shows in a different light. The surrogate family of Bebop is done in other shows but so well in this one.
I knew I loved this show because it had so much emotion and depth of characters, which not a lot of people would associate with anime unless they’re expose to a lot of it.
Your closing thoughts on the show forced me to reflect on my own surrogate surroundings, and how my group of friends is constantly referred to as a family.
Great work. I need to watch Bebop again. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it.
I don’t know anything about Cowboy Bebop, but when this popped in my RSS feed, I thought I recognized the lion fountain. Sure enough, later in the article you mentioned Singapore. Here it is:
Speaking of CRT blur, the Star Wars holograms all had that as well. Maybe it’s just a deficincy of holo-technology?
Ha! I like it. Actually, I feel like there are two plausible exceptions. One is that it’s like the control panels with the buttons and dials on the original Star Trek: the writers just didn’t imagine a world where that particular technology had moved forward. The other – probably more likely – is that they realized that the audience would be more likely to accept the image as a projection of some kind if it had recognizable signs of image decay. In Star Wars, this is important because if we were looking at a perfect non-blurry miniature image of Princess Leia kneeling in front of R2D2, we’d be more likely to recognize the signs of image compositing, which would destroy our suspension of disbelief. Bebop doesn’t have this problem, but here it’s actually MORE important, because without the image decay how do you tell the difference between the hologram and “real life?” They would both just be drawings… the “fake” ones need to look different somehow.
Regarding your suggestion that the CRT blur is an effort to help the audience distinguish between the in-universe real/non-real images, I’ve seen the same special effect used in other anime when they depict events via televisions or computer monitors. I first recall the Patlabor movies using it and remember thinking at the time that it was a nifty device.
There is an in-universe explanation for poor radio and hologram quality as well, at least by the Rebel Alliance, to do with concealing identity from the Empire, which is ironically rather parallel to the real reason of concealing other give-aways…
Another lovely article that does a lovely and gut-wrenching episode justice.
Given your in-depth analyses of the Faye-Ed counterpointing, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the (to me) baffling moment right the title card where Faye . . . gives Ed angry mouth to mouth? Engages in anime’s most unappealing girl-on-girl kiss?
I noticed that in the shot where Ed shows up, the line of her neck and profile exactly mirror Faye’s. I liked it visually–it made Ed’s entrance feel that much sneakier having her suddenly pop up while also blending in seamlessly. She really is a weird kid. But maybe with this and the quasi-kiss, there’s also some other parallel–Faye passing on the burden of fruitlessly searching for her family? Faye as Sleeping Beauty (from her cold-sleep/Whitney storyline) literally waking a sleeping Ed up with a kiss?
Final thought: The final moments of the episode show Ed’s pinwheel mounted on the Bebop. I’ve read that in Japan pinwheels are placed on mizuko kuyo shrines for lost, stillborn, aborted, or deceased children. Mizuko kuyo means “water child.” Some relevance to Faye maybe(who’s often associated with water imagery and with whom water, memory and childhood seem to be linked–the water melting off her when she’s defrosted, her shower where she remembers everything, the home video coming via turtle messenger “from the deep,” the Merlion fountain, the fish hallucination from the mushroom episode?)
Here’s a link with pics of some such shrines, with thousands of pinwheels:
Anyways thanks for another great write-up!
That is *super* interesting about the pinwheels! I was wondering about those.
As for the “kiss” thing – your guess is as good as mine. I mean, it’s closer to mouth to mouth than a kiss, because she’s obviously blowing. It’s probably an attempt to wake Ed up completely, and it probably would wake most people up at that. But as to why she would choose THAT method? It is a mystery. The symbolism you suggest could make sense, definitely… makes it kind of a tag-you’re-it moment, I guess.
You went exactly where I did with the idea of a surrogate family. Once you get this point, it gives a very different perspective that colors the rest of the series up to this point, especially regarding Faye. When she shows up, she’s annoying, bitchy, and basically bullies herself onto the Bebop. Retrospectively, though, it’s kind of sweet because you now know enough about her character to understand that she’s subconsciously searching for family, and more overtly looking for somewhere to “belong,” as she says to Edd.
So now you can look back at her decision to join up with Jet and Spike, which essentially takes just long enough for her to announce she’s going to take a shower. Just like that, she insinuates herself into the family, dysfunctional as it is. Earlier her complaining made her look like a spoiled bitch, but looking back, it appears more like familial banter, and her tiffs with Spike can seem more like a sibling rivalry (with a bit of sexual tension). The writers do a great job showing the crew growing as a family while the series progresses without overtly demonstrating it.
And this episode is damned well done. They’re at the point where they can say a great deal without any dialogue. I don’t have it where I can review, but I remember a great scene from this one where Jet yells something at Faye when she gets back to the Bebop, and she stops and gives him a look and…she just looks so lost. It’s something that should be just entirely beyond anime’s ability to pull off, but it’s great. Just like the scene with the eggs at the end-there are simply no words, so just stuff your face while you can.
I thought it was interesting that Faye’s accident was the same one that messed up so many other lives: The exploding of the gate that cracked the moon.
I don’t have your knack for writing or symbolism, Stokes, but I think there’s something here. We’ve seen a lot of lives affected by that event.
So the gate explodes, the moon gets a chunk taken out of it, and life changes. Debris rains down on the Earth.
– The surface becomes so riddled with asteroids hits that people have to take shelter underground. Cities are devastated, cultures and records are lost, including who Faye was, pre-accident.
– This also eventually drives most of the survivors to space, after new gates are built, leading to the massive colonization that we see throughout the series.
– That creepy immortal kid became that way due to being hit with residue from the explosion.
– Chessmaster Hex set up his whole long-game scheme because he was more concerned about gate safety than his superiors. Considering what happened with one of the gates being built, I’d say he was right to be concerned.
– Though he probably would have gotten distracted by something else, it is these asteroid hits that causes Ed’s father to abandon her in the first place. That’s at least two crew members direct affected by the change. Considering the major details of Jet’s and Spike’s lives revolve around crime, and that crime was probably caused by the frontier-environment of colonization, you could stretch and claim all four have been affected in some way by that explosion.
I need to think about this more…
I hate to burst your bubble but I don’t think Faye’s accident occured during the gate explosion. I believe the moon looks cracked because the widow of the craft is cracked. I also thought it occured as a resut of teh gate explosion; but when you see the moon in prior sessions, it isn’t cracked but is just missing a large chunk.
Joel, I think you’re right — but this doesn’t mean that Bobulus is wrong, exactly. Even if Faye’s accident isn’t the same event as the Gate Accident, it’s still thematically similar, and the way the moon is “cracked” by the window glass is meant to establish that connection. After all, why not have it be an image of the earth that gets distorted? Or the sun, or another spaceship, or the reflection of Faye’s own face? And if you look at the images of the damaged moon — I’ve got one of these up, on the post Wild Horses I think — the missing chunk is pretty close to the pie slice cut out by the broken glass. Roughly the same size, roughly the same location (although not exactly the same).
I was so excited when I came across your writing series about Cowboy Bebop and I’m still thoroughly enjoying these. Nothing particularly fascinating to add here, just appreciation from a film student who adores Cowboy Bebop for many of the reasons you’ve articulated and now for even more reasons I hadn’t spotted before. Makes me want to go back and rewatch the series all over again!
Excellent analysis…the most thorough treatment I’ve ever seen Cowboy Bebop receive. Now that I’m done waxing complimentary, I’d like to chime in some analysis as well. I’m not going to touch anything you’ve already provided because any divergence of opinion is minor and not nearly as thought out and thorough. I think one of the more interesting angles to the series expression of futility is that A) it unites each character in experiences (i.e. misery loves company) further establishing a bond which by series end is VERY strong and B) the futility exists because of the existence of the bond. As you correctly surmise, each character is more successful before becoming a member of this crack skeleton crew of failure.
I don’t know if the writing team chose to make them fail repeatedly deliberately to tear down the awesome convention of such ensemble shows (in real life…the ‘Oceans’ movies would be an example) or if they decided that each characters own dysfunction would sooner or later trigger the inevitable collapse. Yet, there is a sort of cohesion brought about by series end…I’ll await your analysis of “The Real Folk Blues” before expounding on that one, but because they always seem perched on the edge of the cliff ready to fall, the characters sort of have a binding tie working under pressure. What’s more is inspite of some unsavory characteristics amongst the leads (Faye and Spike in particular are capable of some pretty nasty acts) the audience finds themselves feeling commonality because at the end of the day, even though Spike is the essence of cool and Faye is a femme fatale in the making herself, they’re all human. They screw up, espically because of misjudgements caused by human conditions like arrogance or being impetuous and yet they return together…no matter how much say Faye has screwed the guys over or Spike has cost them financially in being reckless. It’s a persistant theme…but yeah, totally agree…even though it’s not really fleshed out, Faye CLEARLY was in love with Spike (by the way, I missed her running away in Jupiter Jazz as pertaining to Spike..but now that you mentioned it, that does make sense, in fact she’s impressed with him the moment she sees him). Yet in true Bebop fashion…he’s oblivious to her and….I’ll leave the rest to anyone has hasn’t seen the entire series to figure out. Great analysis and I’ll keep reading along…I’m also an amatuer anime watcher…I usually stick with proven ground (like this and Ghost in the Shell, which I’ll check and yes I’m asuming, but if you haven’t watched the Stand Alone Complex series I’d recommend it and I’d love to read your analysis of it, just FYI but it’s got intellectual ground and depths that I think are fascinating, including the changing of bedrock political outlook from the original film). If you’ve seen it..disregard and next time I’ve got nothing to do University-related, I’ll search out your analysis of it, too.
Whoops…I kind of said in real life or to finish the juxtaposition of ensemble example such as the ‘Oceans’ series…which I think is more poorly done, easier to predict (they always win in the end) than any high-end anime I’ve watched. Before anyone jumps on me…I just noticed that.
I know I’m 7 years late to the party here, but there is a beautiful symmetry to the fact that the first thing Faye does when she forces herself onto the Bebop is take a shower, and the last thing she does before she takes off (she thinks) for good, is… take a shower.