Why Cowboy Bebop ep 23 “Brain Scratch” is Superior to Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

cowboy_bebop_remastered_23[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_05.12_[2012.04.07_10.56.06]

[Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door]

Commentators say that the Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door film is an extended session of the TV series. The claim is truest after watching “Brain Scratch”. It is the spiritual partner episode to the film, even serving much of the same narrative purpose so as to render the film as little else as indulgence of spectacle.

The same theme sets up the ending of the series: life/reality as a dream “if you want to dream, do it by yourself.” Vincent’s motivation is a refrain of this. The exploration of the dream vs. reality boundary as terrorist acts. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this episode doesn’t bring much by way of fistfights, gunfights, and sword(fish) fights. Hence, the film had an opportunity to take advantage of.

Personally, I find this episode far more compelling, narrative wise.

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First is the very creepy Scratch cult, which is founded on a doctrine of transcending the dirty, physical body; the source of sin and suffering. This is because the body has needs, and therefore desires. As long as there are desires, there will be suffering. The members of Scratch are disciples of God sent to free our souls from our disgusting bodies to join the Infinite Sea of Electrons.

The consequence is that members attempt to achieve an electronic state of existence similar to that of the “Puppetmaster” in Ghost in the Shell – a consciousness without a physical body. The device and process required for this results in what becomes a contingent suicide by the member.

It’s doubly creepy because Scratch is really based on a real cult called Heaven’s Gate (this actually links to an existing website – though not updated since 1997), and Londes is actually based on a very real Marshall Applewhite (when Ed made a dummy account for Jet to register in Scratch, she used “Marshall Banana” LOL), who died in a mass suicide along with 38 other cult members in 1997.

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Heaven’s Gate believed that the planet Earth was due for a cleansing, and the only way to survive is for their souls to escape to space, leaving their bodies behind. Applewhite is also on the List of People Who Have Claimed to be Jesus.

Heaven’s Gate pretty much died off after the mass suicide, but Scratch was undone by the efforts of our Cowboys. Another thing echoed by the film is the informal, but effective teamwork all 5 members did to crack this case (Ein saved Jet from hypnosis by biting him). It’s for the last time, which makes the next episode so powerful. Similarly, it’s Faye who takes the first crack at the case, and ends up in trouble (just as she did with Vincent).

I found Londes’ diatribe against television quite dated, as it feels more accurate to substitute the internet as his ark/scapegoat. Otherwise, it’s entertaining stuff, calling TV a religion in itself, and definitely I’ve seen the discussions, diatribes, etc. about the evils of TV in my lifetime.

The inauthenticity that underpins this whole session is that there is no Londes the same way there is a real Applewhite. Instead there is a comatose hacker named Rosny Spanngen whose consciousness applied itself on the internet and created Londes and the Scratch Cult. Can Rosny be held responsible? Is it his real malice that actively perpetrated these crimes? It’s a great moral question, I believe. Interesting too in that how does society serve penalty to such, if indeed he is found guilty. He’s a person barely alive, whose dream inflicted suffering and death to many.

I find this far superior to Vincent’s sophistry about dreams and reality. Vincent’s beef is a moral one. Rosny/Londe’s is also moral, but also existing on a more complex metaphysical plane. But hey, all these questions end up being reduced into a right/wrong binary anyway so no big deal.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door was mostly about Spike and his date with death. Brain Scratch on the other hand, was actually about something.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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22 Responses to Why Cowboy Bebop ep 23 “Brain Scratch” is Superior to Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

  1. The fact that the episode you mentioned parallels so obviously with a real-world event took away some of its magic. I have to say the actual event was much creepier and interesting to me than the Cowboy Bebop episode.

  2. Hogart says:

    I agree with Milo. The episode’s mystery was precisely the anticlimax I expected it would be, so given the ep’s lack of human drama and philosophy, the “cult” angle didn’t really add much to the story other than forming the basis of the episode’s mystery. Not that it was bad, just that it didn’t wow me any more than the film did.

    • I’d agree a few years ago, but having revisited this episode for the nth time after maybe 6 years I’ve found a new appreciation for it and less for the film (which I’ve rewatched at least thrice before I could write about it).

  3. Pontifus says:

    While I would’ve always agreed that ep. 23 is meatier than the movie (which I like anyway — action movies are fine too), I was going to comment about its being my least favorite episode. The diatribe vs. TV feels terribly trite in this context. I’m not the kind of person who thinks that stories aren’t allowed to have morals, but it sure feels inappropriate here; what the hell does Spike Spiegel care? How does this further the plot and characters?

    Halfway through that comment, I realized that that’s the point.

    Londes is inauthentic in a literal sense. His message is egregiously, irreconcilably inauthentic. It’s the internet calling TV a waste of time! That’s far funnier than I gave it credit for upon first viewing.

    • Oh the diatribe re TV is interesting in that I don’t feel that the narrative respects it at all. It’s just the ranting of a failure of a human being.

      So yes. It is very darkly comical.

  4. megaroad1 says:

    Like you Ghost, I find this episode more fulfilling than the film, which despite it’s excellent action sequences, delivers little in terms of substance to the CB narrative.

    Besides the tribute to Serial Experiments Lain (the whole leaving your body to live online thing), there are 2 things that make this episode a memorable one for me. The first one is that in this episode the crew of the Bebop actually seem to care about each other. They work together in their own chaotic kind of way and actually for once get the guy who is behind all the mischief (sort of). And then just as they were getting it all together, we know that it’s all going to end soon and that this is the last time they operate as a team (again sort of).

    The second one is IMO the exquisite use of music, particularly the song “Hanashi 23″. Throughout the episode we hear the first half of the song, a series of almost grating electronic noises. The moment that Spangen realizes he is getting cut off and will no longer be able to live an electronic existence as Londes, the second half of the song beautifully sung by Soichiro Otsuka kicks in. The communal electronic existence is replaced by the solitary human one and he is forced to dream alone. It’s just very poignant stuff and the kind of thing that the Nobumoto/Watanabe/Kanno troika did so very well in this series.

    • They didn’t quite perform like a well-rehearsed troupe of actors, but like you said, it’s obvious that they care about each other here — even if it’s at the cost of making Faye the damsel in distress again.

      I thought I had all the Cowboy Bebop OSTs. I can’t find Hanashi 23!

      • megaroad1 says:

        Yeah, for some reason they didn’t include it in the 3 main OST.’s. It can be found in the Cowboy Bepop boxed set (hard to find outside Japan but the Taiwanese bootleg is easily available) and the mini CD “Cowgirl Ed” that came with the movie’s OST. I wouldn’t bother with Cowgirl Ed, but the boxed set is fantastic, including a couple of tracks that were missing from the OST’s as well as live version played by the Seatbelts’s themselves. “Tank” live is an aural delight!

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  6. I always thought this was an interesting episode. Maybe it’s because the real Heaven’s Gate incident happened at just the right time in my growing up, at the age where hearing about something like a group of people dressing in purple and killing themselves so that their souls could hitch a ride on a magic comet was the kind of thing to make certain truths about the human condition click in my head. I didn’t see this episode until many years later, but I understood exactly what it was going for as soon as Londes’s face appeared in front of the starscape background with that cold, dead stare.

    It never would have occurred to me to critique Londes’ anti-television rant as being dated (which it is), because the validity or timeliness of his philosophy isn’t really something I spent much time considering. It was obvious from the moment he appeared on screen that Londes and his philosophy were a lie. So unlike some, I wasn’t disappointed by the revelation of the identity of “Londes” as some nobody who created a false persona and an equally false cult of personality and suckered people into believing in them both rather than be alone. It wasn’t an anticlimax to me, it was the natural progression of things.

    • I’ve always been interested in religion, especially from my very secular perspective. I’m drawn to its drama — the delusions it inspires and the manipulations it perpetrates towards its followers. I’ve never really discovered cults until I was already an adult, but truly I am fascinated.

      As you said, Londes’ rant on tv was never worth considering because of the obvious lie.

      On the other hand, what makes it fascinating to consider is how it is such an obvious, by-the-numbers play of any religion — that is to point at a current aspect of culture (that is, contemporary human life) and make it evil so as to inspire guilt from those the religion implicates. TV, music, Harry Potter, Lady Gaga, the list is a source of near limitless comedy.

      • I share your fascination with religion. And it’s always interesting to consider at what point exactly church morphs into cult.

        And it’s always interesting to watch how people often group together more strongly when given a common enemy that they can band against. You’ll see it with religions (lots of Christian conservatives are banding closer together to each other and pushing every one else further away over homosexuality), but you also see it in political movements as well (though those can often take on the fervor of religion). And for a really dedicated, committed group to form there has to be some enemy that they are all pointed against to the point of irrationality. Whether it’s corporations, Obama, gays, Republicans, it’s amazing how quickly and easily people can start to blame one person or one thing for all the troubles of the world, and how integral that blame is to the rest of their beliefs.

        • Yes, but also consider the reverse: cults become legitimized as churches. One can characterize the early Christians as a Jesus Cult. They didn’t do suicides but to be a member was practically suicide since the Romans really, REALLY had it in for them.

          • Oh definitely. By “when church becomes cult,” I meant more of where the line is that makes people think something is one or the other, not necessarily a chronological progression. Most religions, I daresay, started out much closer to cults than they did anything else.

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  11. Anonymous Penguin says:

    I didn’t know about Heaven’s Gate, and today I read this article on Hacker News:

    https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6787136

    And the first thing that came to mind was that this sound awfully similar to the “cult” episode of Cowboy Bebop.

    A search later, I found your article and my suspicion was correct. Too bad no one has mentioned this on the HN article.

    Thanks for the nice article.

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