Sunday, August 12, 2012

Top Five Cowboy Bebop Episodes (Spoilers)

Let's get out of gaming for a moment, shall we? Cowboy Bebop once again cleared through its run on Adult Swim's late night action block, now known as Toonami. But next week the show will not be starting from the beginning-- in fact, it won't be airing at all. It's taking a hiatus for a little while. A shame as I could watch episodes of Cowboy Bebop over and over again (in moderation, of course) as they air on TV. It's a series that is atypical from your average anime; so much so that I have shown it to people who ordinarily don't care for Japanese animation shows and they absolutely adored it.

This list of five depicts my personal favorite episodes from the 26 session run of Cowboy Bebop. There will be spoilers, so be aware if you have yet to watch this show. This includes pictures, so for the first time on SPC, this story will follow the break.

5) Session #1: Asteroid Blues

The opening gambit of this episode shows a series of cryptic scenes. A man walking down a rainy street with a bouquet of flowers in his left hand, a rose being dropped into a puddle of water, gunfights in a church, and a face that smiles are shown before one of the best openings of anime begins, featuring the incomparable Yoko Kanno's Tank! The first episode of Cowboy Bebop starts the series off right. It introduces a pair of bounty hunters (or cowboys), Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, aboard their intergalactic space freighter, the Bebop. Hence Cowboy Bebop. Spike is in a dark room practicing his martial arts as Jet informs him that dinner is ready. When Spike asks what is, Jet tells him it's a special, bell peppers and beef.

The two head to Mars. Their bounty is a man, Asimov who is selling Red Eye, a drug that enhances the reaction time of the user exponentially. Unfortunately, their bounty is also a user of the stuff. Along the way Spike meets a pregnant Spanish woman who he charms. She discloses how she would love to go to Mars and start a new life. Turns out she is the bounty's girlfriend. After Spike reveals himself to be after her boyfriend, the drug-peddling bounty wraps his fingers around Spike's throat and tries to choke him to death. After the girlfriend orders him to let Spike go, the two escape. "Adios, cowboy," she utters as the two drive off. Little does Asimov know that Spike pickpocket-ed a vial of the Red Eye as he fell to the ground after being strangled.

When Asimov looks for a buyer he comes across a man in a sombrero and suitable Mexican attire. Asimov reaches for his vial of Red Eye, but is shocked to know it is missing. The buyer holds up the vial. "Looking for this?" He asks, revealing himself shortly thereafter to be none other than Spike. The two enter a fistfight (and kick fight in Spike's case) while men after Asimov for stealing the Red Eye shipping from his syndicate get involved. A machine gun's gun penetrates the Asimov's accomplice's "pregnant" belly, showing viewers and the others that she was merely holding the extra vials of Red Eye inside a compartment to make her look pregnant. Asimov and his girl flee in a ship while Spike closely follows. Asimov's ship enters space where a flurry of police cruisers are stationed as he starts abusing the Red Eye on himself. Asimov's girl comes to the realization that her dream to reach Mars and start over will never come true. She takes a gun and blows her drug-crazy partner away to Spike's alarm. She utters one phrase before her ship is torn to pieces by police gunfire, "Adios." Her body flies lifelessly in space as the horde of Red Eye vials she carried in her stomach department spread all over.

The episode ends as it started with Jet giving the word to Spike that dinner is ready, and it's a specialty, bell peppers and beef. The perfect end to a perfect start to a near perfect series.

4) Session #18: Speak Like A Child

There really is no action in this episode. Unless you count horse-racing and dog-racing as action-packed. That notwithstanding, I found this episode very touching. It all begins with a package being delivered to the Bebop with no return address. Jet disagrees on paying the COD charge, but has to when Spike shreds the packaging open, revealing some kind of object. We know it is a tape of some kind, but these characters living in the far future obviously do not. Spike and Jet take the tape to an antique electronics lover's store where he discloses that the tape is a Beta one. When the contents of the tape are played on the store owner's tape deck, the picture messes up, prompting Spike to start using brute force, destroying the tape deck in the process. What was shown on screen for a brief period was an idyllic ocean and Merlion statue.

With their one way to watch the tape destroyed, Ed informs Spike and Jet that there are other types of tape decks in an Earth building. Unfortunately it is a multiple story trek downward through flooded walkways, less-than-steady rails, a hellish real world obstacle course, and no elevators to work with. The two finally arrive at the floor where the tape decks are. They snag several as they aren't familiar with which one will actually play the tape. When they return to the Bebop, none of the decks fit the tape. The two become flabbergasted beyond belief knowing they did all that work for nothing. The journey is the destination and all that, right, guys?

Later another package arrives for Faye, yet again with no return address. Jet refuses to pay for "that witch," but Spike once again tears the package open, revealing the proper device to play the mysterious tape. The group (aside from Faye who is told that if she wishes to watch it she must pay for the delivery charges) sits down to view the contents of the tape. Faye watches from afar anyway to their ignorance. The tape depicts a little girl who is no doubt Faye, delivering a message for her future self. This message causes the crew to stare in astonishment at this side of Faye they have never seen. Meanwhile, Faye starts to cry, not being able to remember her past or even taping this video. The episode and tape concludes with the message from young Faye, "In your time I'm no longer here, but I am here today and I'll always be cheering for you right here, cheering for you, my only self." Poor, poor Faye. You'd have to have a heart of ice not to feel anything.

3) Session #5: Ballad of Fallen Angels

Prior to Session #5, the only back story we've had on Spike Spiegel was the opening of the first episode. Ballad of Fallen Angels reveals that Spike was a member of the Red Dragons syndicate and left. However, you don't just leave a syndicate. When you are in one, they own you for life as Spike knows and viewers will learn throughout the duration of the series.

A truce between two rival syndicates including the Red Dragons go on. All things go on without a hitch until an explosion and Vicious, Spike's former ally in the Red Dragons, slits the throat of Mao Yenrai, the capo of the Red Dragons.

Suddenly a great reward bounty is placed on Mao Yenrai for a non-specific crime. Spike takes this opportunity to revisit his past. When Spike and Jet are away, a video call is received revealing a new lead on the bounty. Faye takes the opportunity, letting fortune blind her better judgment, to take up the man on his lead, heading to an opera house where Mao Yenrai is said to be seated at.

When Faye arrives, she gets a gun pointed into her back by one of Vicious' henchmen. The syndicate member advises her to be quiet during the performance and has her sit beside the dead body of Yenrai, who is seen with an obvious slash across his throat, the one that Vicious gave him during the opening scene. To her left is a foreboding figure who when asked by Faye what his identity is, he smiles and says, "Vicious..."

Meanwhile, Spike is talking with his lead, Annie, a middle-aged woman who is shown in a picture as having been friends with Mao Yenrai. Figuring that Spike was dead, she is alarmed to see Spike alive when they first cross paths. Annie advises Spike not to get caught up in Vicious and the syndicate again, but realizes that he will do whatever he wants as he never listens to anyone. As Spike returns to the Bebop to stock up on ammunition, Jet asks why Spike is going out. Mao Yenrai is dead and Spike is walking into a trap. Spike knows this but conveys the message that he has a debt to pay off to an old friend. (wink wink) All the while he can save Faye who has been captured, though this isn't a really big motive for playing Vicious' game.

Spike enters a cathedral, kills off the man holding a gun to Faye's head, and a huge gunfight ensues. Taking fire, Spike makes it up to the top of the cathedral where he is ambushed by Vicious. The two exchange lines before Vicious grabs Spike by the face and pushes him violently out of the cathedral's window. As Spike falls out, he drops a grenade by Vicious, whose eyes widen with fear. While Spike falls, his life as a member of the syndicate flashes before his very eyes. Memories of a girl named Julia, his partnership with Vicious, and more are shown. An explosion erupts out of the cathedral's large window as Spike plummets slowly to the ground.

What follows is a memory of Spike lying in a bed with a woman humming a gentle and soothing song, Julia. Spike wants Julia to continue to sing for him. Julia smiles.

Spike wakes up to hear a song being hummed, but this time it is by Faye. Faye notices Spike has finally woken up after several days of unconsciousness. Spike holds up a finger and calls Faye close to him. "You sing off key," he utters. Faye wallops him off camera and angrily marches away. "Oh, well," Jet exclaims. It is never revealed how Spike survived the fall out of the cathedral. Did Jet arrive in time and catch him on his Hammer Head ship? Did Spike even survive? Was the rest of the series a dream? All I know is that the character development of Spike, the first major development of the series, and the final act battle that went under way make Ballad of Fallen Angels one of my top five Bbeop episodes.

2) Session #26 The Real Folks Blues (Part II)

Finally, after so long Spike and Julia are together again. Meeting at the graveyard where the two planned to meet so many years ago, Julia lowers her gun and embraces her former lover, saying the two should escape, vanish from the grips of the Red Dragon syndicate. The two head to Annie's where a gunfight ensues. As the two run across a rooftop, a random thug's bullet penetrates Julia's body. White doves fly in the background as her body plummets to the ground. Before she perishes, she whispers an inaudible statement to a clearly disgruntled and emotional Spike.

Later on in an unspecified amount of time, Jet rolls over in a pitch black room and is alarmed to see Spike, someone who he didn't think would see again. The two talk and have one last conversation together. Spike tells the story of a cat who died a million times, alluding to the circumstances between him and Julia before revealing that Julia is dead. Jet rubs his head, visibly moved by the news. As Spike walks away, Faye holds up a gun to his head. She asks why Spike has to go to die, but he says that he isn't going to confront Vicious to die, but to find out if he is truly alive. This is a reversal of roles here. Spike throughout the series told Faye, through her constant struggles remembering her past, that the past no longer mattered, yet he is the one who can't let his past go. Faye discloses that her memory came back, yet nothing good came of it. She had nowhere to return to; no home. Funnily enough, her new home is with the Bebop, yet just like her past, this home is being taken away from her with Ed and Ein's disappearance and Spike leaving on a surefire suicide mission. As Spike moves into the background, Faye fires gunshots into the air, shaken as can be.

An alternate version of "The Real Folks Blues", the ending theme of each Cowboy Bebop episode plays, "See You Space Cowboy," as Spike rides off in his ship into the night. Memories of his past with Julia and his days in the syndicate, alongside Vicious, linger in his mind. Spike arrives at the Red Dragons' doorstep and casually enters, kicking a grenade and starting the party off right. He makes his way through to the top floor, bloodied but still breathing. Spike and Vicious have a final showdown. The two have a final standoff where they both slide one another's weapons to each other. Spike gets a fatal shot off to Vicious' chest before the villain can raise his blade. In the aftermath, the morning sun shines, Spike slowly saunters down the steps, sees a bunch of confused Red Dragon members who have no idea what to do now that Vicious is dead, harks back to what Julia whispered to him on the rooftop before she died, "It's all a... dream," and pulls up his finger like a gun, says "Bang" and falls to the ground. The ending theme "Blue" plays as the camera pans upward into the bright azure sky. Doves flock across the screen and Spike's star vanishes, just like Gren's did at the end of the episode Jupiter Jazz. Manly tears were shed when I originally watched the ending. It was eloquent and well done. Every piece was terrific and had its place. Every plot point and loose end had been finished. Cowboy Bebop was complete.

1) Session #24: Hard Luck Woman

Following the events of Session #18, Speak Like A Child, Faye Valentine is shown rewinding, playing, and pausing the video of the mysterious Betamax tape that was shipped to her. Going AWOL on the crew of the Bebop after the ship took an unplanned stop on Earth, Faye decides to head to the various landmarks she viewed in the video of her young past. Ed coyly says that she knows where some of these locales are, so Faye hauls Ed with her, with Ed being forced to ride on top of Faye's ship, of course. The two come across an orphanage in what looks like it is surrounded by mounds upon mounds of junk and garbage. Here, it is disclosed that Ed's father was looking for her, which sends Faye into astonishment that Ed actually has a parent, much more an alive one.

One of the locations seen in the video is where Faye and Ed end up, the statue of a Merlion. It's here where a shocked former schoolmate, now in old age, arrives and notices that Faye hasn't aged a day. Then she remembers that Faye was in a gate accident that put her in cryogenic hibernation until the proper procedure/treatment could be done. The two return to the Bebop shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Spike and Jet happen upon a new bounty target, a 50 million woolong one, who of which the two encounter, Spike battles, promptly gets his butt beaten badly, and Ed interrupts by controlling the Bebop and crashing into the fighting festivities. It is revealed that this bounty that Spike and Jet were after was created by Ed because she wanted to find her father, who the bounty turned out to be (oh, and the bounty reward was actually 50.00000 etc. woolongs -- there was a period instead of a comma). It is at this moment that Ed's father asks his daughter (or was it son?) if Francois (Ed's real name) would like join him. Before Ed can answer, her father and his assistant (MacIn-whatever) speed off to chart yet another meteor that has ravaged the Earth. "Father person gone," Ed states in a bewildered tone.

With her memory returned, Faye stands at the bottom of a tall hill upon which her house stood as a child. At first she slowly saunters up, but remembering even more about her past and the feeling of belonging excites her. She begins running while quick flashbacks of her as a young child running up the same hill are cycled. Faye finally makes it to the top of the hill, ready to belong in her old home. To her dismay, the home is completely gone, only indentations in the ground where the foundation remain.

The final musical piece and scene are what makes me love this episode the most. Back at the Bebop, Ed gives Spike a pink pinwheel, much to his disillusionment. Little does he and Jet know that Ed has decided to take up her father's offer of joining him. Steve Conte sings "Call Me, Call Me" as Ein follows Ed, both leaving the Bebop. Spike and Jet see a painted message on the deck of the ship, "Bye-Bye." The two chomp down boiled eggs while Faye draws in the dirt a rectangle, the space in her room as a child where her bed used to be. She lies down and just wonders where her place in the world really is. The final shot of the episode shows the previously mentioned pink pinwheel standing tall on the top of the Bebop, spinning in the sunset. It's an emotional episode, and it is one that mixed with the music and how moving the end is. Definitely my favorite of the bunch.


There really isn't a bad episode in the Bebop bunch, so I found it tough to not leave out a good episode from this list of five. Jupiter Jazz, Mushroom Samba, Cowboy Funk, Black Dog Serenade, Ganymede Elegy, My Funny Valentine and many more make such decisions quite difficult. Regardless, what are you favorite episodes of Cowboy Bebop, and if you haven't seen the show yet, what is stopping you? Bebop, as stated prior to this list, is an anime unlike any other. It doesn't follow the typical tropes you generally find. It also avoids the annoyances I have with the genre, too. Nonetheless, I hope this was an enjoyable look at my favorite anime series of all time.

No comments: