Coping with Cowboy Bebop

On November 6th, 2008, my university’s TA union announced they were going on strike. I was initially confused by what this’d mean for me as a freshman, but as the days turned into weeks, and my mother kept insisting that I check the school website for updates, the reality began to kick in. For 50000 students over three campuses, this was a nightmare in academic form. The news of the strike spread throughout the TV and radio stations all-over my home city, and the newspapers kept posting updates whenever available. After 85 days, it finally ended, but the damage had already been done. I’d lost a third of my first year in post-secondary, and I was a mess because of it.

There were many ways I tried coping: I began reading more books. I started watching more movies. My video game library started growing. I took up volunteering at my local geriatric retirement centre. I became attached to my then-new laptop. I became more fascinated by my roots and took up praying twice a day. But above all else, I decided to take up a recommendation from a site called ScrewAttack and watch Cowboy Bebop.

I know I’ve written in great lengths about this series, even criticizing its presentation, but I do want to stress that this show was the precursor to my fascination with anime a year before I picked up the copy of Spirited Away lying on my living room table. I wasn’t even immediately hooked on it anyway, as my initial curiosity was with Radical Edward. Essentially, she fascinated me. Her clothing choice, her mannerisms, even the way she spoke, they all bewildered me. Because she was only introduced in Episode 9, I ignored the first eight episodes entirely. But even then, the episodes that didn’t feature her, namely Episodes 12 and 13, were ignored too.

But then something happened that I didn’t expect: I fell in-love with the show. I’d originally gotten hooked because of Edward, but Faye, Jet and Spike were also starting to interest me. By the time Edward had left altogether in Episode 24, I no longer cared. I immediately went to the two-part finale and watched in awe. It didn’t matter that it was 3:00 in the morning, and that everyone else was long in bed, I had to know what’d happen to Spike, whether or not his romance with Julia was doomed, and if he’d finally get his overdue fight with Vicious. I simply had to know!

By the time I was done, watching as a fatally injured Spike toppled to the ground, I was convinced I’d watched the greatest show ever. It’d be years before I’d see every episode in their entirety, but it didn’t matter. I’d come for Edward, and I’d left with an attachment to Spike. If that wasn’t enough to blow my 18-and-a-half year old mind, I didn’t know what would. Besides, it was helping me cope with an 85-day strike.

There were many signs, in hindsight, that Cowboy Bebop was having a greater impact at the time than it would’ve otherwise. For one, I was emotionally distressed. I was desperate for an outlet of some kind, and this was it. Two, I was unaware of what I was getting into. I was out-of-the-loop on the anime scene then, still thinking it was the dumb, childish schlock I saw on TV every Saturday morning. And three, I’d never seen a cartoon so sophisticated before that wasn’t a Pixar or Disney film, so the novelty factor was really strong. These days it’s easy to laugh at my ignorance and desperation, but I was struggling and Cowboy Bebop filled a need.

Additionally, time and multiple rewatches have allowed me to realize the show’s shortcomings and strengths. On the former end, the directing and writing of Cowboy Bebop are incredibly cold and detached, leading to minimal emotional investment. When a character died, even an important one, I didn’t shed a single tear, while most of its comedy only got a chuckle or two out of me. The show is still absolutely fantastic, but it’s not the all-time favourite it was all those years ago.

On the latter end, the show also has intricately-written and fully-realized characters. True, the writing is detached, but so what? Does that not mean I can’t appreciate how fully-realized the Bebop crew is? Can I not be invested in Faye’s tragic love and loss of identity? Can I not feel bad for Jet over losing his arm to his best-friend? Can I not want Spike to get his happy ending after all these years? Can I not want to see Edward reunite with her father?

These are questions the show satisfactorily answers, flaws and all! Besides, ignoring my then-fragile state, Cowboy Bebop is great from A-Z. Even the opening, Tank!, is one of the best show openings in the history of show openings, so much so that it actually made me respect jazz! If that’s not enough to appreciate the show now, then I don’t know what is.

Of course, it wasn’t the hook that converted me into an Otaku, but that’s for another day…


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