Cowboy Bebop Episode 02: “Stray Dog Strut” and The Comedic Shift in the Formula

cowboy_bebop_remastered_02[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_08.43_[2011.05.22_13.42.53]

[Episode 01 “Asteroid Blues”]

If “Asteroid Blues” is a slow and angry tune, with hard riffs and a throaty saxophone for a solo, then “Stray Dog Strut” has a lot more whimsical horns, a faster beat, and a kazoo. Cowboy Bebop is not a consistently somber tale of woe, and despite the whimsical antics of Spike with poor dead Katerina and Asimov, that story is one bitter song.

There is mirth in melancholy – the mirth is what makes the sadness more sad, and taking a long view over the show, it must feature episodes where the tragedy isn’t as dark and deadly as the Bonnie and Clyde in Space affair in the pilot. Thus, this little strut, that involves a less sinister bounty, a dubious prize, and an ending that underscores a way of life in this time in human history.

The bounty is a ‘serial pet thief’ for crying out loud! It’s as far from a dangerous drug dealer as you can get. But see, there’s something else going on here besides the presentation of a silly bounty. It’s a statement on the way of life for these Cowboys, dependent on this show ‘Big Shot’ which is aimed at the 300,000 bounty hunters in the solar system. Is there a registration? A license? How does the show come up with this number?

Spike alone has a past that he doesn’t fully disclose to Jet, so this number is very suspect. It’s almost like Jet is an owner to Spike’s stray cat. Not that Spike is a pet, but if he were a domesticated animal, a cat is fine too. I don’t want to get too much into this at this point of the show, so you’ll just have to trust me. Meanwhile, a little about how Bebop makes its villains badass:

It’s not enough for Bebop to show Hakim beating three armed assailants with kung-fu. We’re shown how he’d smash a cockroach with his bare hands, put it in some herbal drink, and force a guy to drink the whole thing. It’s badass in its very low-rent way, as befits a kind of criminal with such a lame specialization. It’s touches like this that really endear this show to me. For all I write about the shoutouts, references, and Easter Eggs, these are all things I discover much later.

My initial appreciation for Bebop is immediate and intense, and mostly on the level of the core content. It’s during the latter rewatches than I began to notice the shoutouts and Easter Eggs. And what’s to be immediately appreciated? Mistaken identities, appraisals of worth, and a 4-way chase in the Martian streets that is so very much the Hong Kong of 1980s films… all of which humorously concludes prior to the first eyecatch!

The soundtrack of the first chase scene in Stray Dog Strut. Awesome.

But if possible, the second 4-way chase scene is even more ridiculous, as it involved nets, pets, a limo with a ‘Just Married’ sign, guns, a grappling hook missile, a mid-air catch via the Swordfish II(!), and an all-badguy crash into the police station!

It’s the last bit that begins to describe the sitcom kind of humor in Bebop, wherein after all the hard work and adventures in pursuit of the big prize, by the end of the episode the protagonists are just as poor and hungry as they ever were. Only here in Bebop, their prize is that their ‘team’ grew by 1 dog. The show invites viewers to consider the consistency in the pointlessness of human effort in this age, albeit not every venture needs a tragic tone.

The soundtrack of the second chase scene in Stray Dog Strut. Awesome.

The blues can be upbeat too, just don’t forget how laughter can be just as bitter as tears.

Stray Dog Strut Remembering Love

Cowboy Bebop has song titles for episode titles, and the Stray Cat Strut (see first video on above) provides the inspiration for this episode. It’s suggested that the chase scenes in this episode evoke those from the Scooby Doo cartoon. If you consider the madcap hijinks, crashing into things, and especially the musical soundtrack, then yes. Here are samples:

In Stray Dog Strut, there’s even a van involved!

cowboy bebop abdul hakim snoop dogg kareem abdul jabbar bruce lee game of death ein swordfish 2 macross minmay

The Scooby Doo reference had ‘dog’ in it, so it’s only consistent that Hakim use another canine reference for his alias. In this case, the rapper Snoop Dogg. Abdul Hakim himself, is styled as Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Spike Spiegel’s Bruce Lee in Game of Death (1978). The mid-air plane catch is straight up remembering love for SDF Macross. This makes Cowboy Bebop one of the first shows to directly reference this (albeit in a very, non-dramatic manner). Here are other examples of the mid-air catch in anime, but in far more dramatic moments.

Most of the references I got after consulting The Jazz Messengers, one of the best damn sites for Cowboy Bebop.

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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23 Responses to Cowboy Bebop Episode 02: “Stray Dog Strut” and The Comedic Shift in the Formula

  1. Tronulax says:

    I really enjoyed this episode. These posts are really eye opening to the things I’ve missed or the little things that fly by unnoticed. I got the big references, such as the Swordfish/Valkyrie mid air catch. Seems all Shouji Kawamori jets gotta be able to pull off that maneuver. But lol at the snoop dog reference I never once thought of that.

    “I’ll pay you when I’m rich!”

    • I owe most of the references research to the Jazz Messengers Cowboy Bebop Shrine. I’ve read that site half a decade ago and I felt even then I wanted to do something like this. I’ve linked to them in my very first blog post.

There truly is something amazing in this rewatching journey. Part of it is this treasure hunt for new meaning.

      • hearthesea says:

        I don’t like this particular episode, but the fact that I’m a massive Bruce Lee fan enabled me to at least appreciate all the little tributes to him. I do like how the episode doesn’t even pretend to be serious or dramatic — that whole chase scene, concluded by Spike falling in the water was admittedly amusing. I like the way you mention how the ‘mirth’ serves to further reinforce the sadness — that’s a great point in regard to the series as a whole, although I don’t think there was any of that in this specific episode. (Rather than using comedy to maximise the drama, we instead get an attempt at only using slapstick comedy from beginning to end.)

        I also agree about Jazz Messengers — wonderful site.

        • It’s not the most endearing of sessions, but viewing it keeping in mind the discoveries I’ve made, gave me a stronger appreciation for it. The content is really well-presented, as ‘meaningless’ as it is/becomes, etc.

          The show indeed shows two faces towards failure: one grim, one smiling. Both are brave faces to show, and I will enjoy it to the very end all over again this time.

  2. MarigoldRan says:

    Given their talents, Spike should be a lot richer. As a protagonist, he’s probably got the worst karma in anime.

  3. shinmarizu says:

    I smile the most at the Hakim vs. Spike = Kareem vs. Bruce comparison. I immediately have the urge to rewatch CB ep 2, Game of Death, and Eureka SeveN ep 26 all in succession. But before that…
    The song combination of “Stray Dog Strut” and “Want it all Back” was the point in my burgeoning anime viewing career (if only there was such a thing) that I became a CB fan in the first place. Although Asteroid Blues established the dramatic and comedic potential in CB, the moment the first chase started, I realized that both the dramatic and the comedic elements within the series would be treated with the same amount of creative energy. The series changed from a dramatic one with comedy filler to a slice-of-life series which was anything but ordinary. Thank you Shoji Kawamori and Yoko Kanno.

    • I do have this deep gratitude for that creative pair, obviously for their work on Macross and Escaflowne. By all means do indulge yourself in rewatching these. They’re all very entertaining without taking so much emotional energgy from you… Save maybe Eureka Seven 26.

      • shinmarizu says:

        Well, last night I needed to invest some emotional energy somewhere, so after watching everything I mentioned, I proceeded to marathon Eureka Seven 27 to 50.

        On a side note, what would be your favourite track from the Bebop OST? This is a loaded question considering you’ve posted only 2 episodes worth, so go ahead and mention as many as you want.

        • I’m stuck around ep 38 of E7 for a few weeks now due to being flat-out the whole time. Glad you’re facing inspiration with hot-blooded action.

          As for your question, my favorite changes from day-to-day, but let me narrow the list:

          Blue
          No Reply
          Knock a Little Harder
          What Planet is This?
          Flying Teapot
          Adieu
          Fantasie Sign
          ELM
          The Singing Sea

          God dammit that’s a lot of tracks. Right now I’m feeling the strongest for Flying Teapot.

  4. gwern says:

    ‘Stray Dog Strut’ always left me a little nonplussed.

    Ein is the *first* new character we see aboard the _Bebop_ (Jet and Spike being introduced in ep 1, IIRC, and Ed & Faye yet to come), but what does he ever do…? He’s like one long-running MacGuffin to me – a complete Chekhov’s Gun. A datadog? I bet he’s carrying some really interesting data – but come the last episode, the gun has yet to fire. Ein moves the plot along in a few minor ways like messing with viruses and being a victim, but nothing that really justifies his character. Spike has justification & development, Faye has justification & development, Jet does, Ed has some, one episode one-shot characters like that feng shui girl have development – but not Ein. (Even though it’s hinted he’s more like a human than a dog mentally.) It’s one of those odd omissions in anime that makes me wonder whether plot arcs were deleted in development (although unlike Evangelion where there’s tons of documentation, I’ve seen very little for _Cowboy Bebop_, so I’ll probably never know).

    Also, first video link is broken in the US.

    • Too bad about the video, it’s the Stray Cat Strut by the Stray Cats.

      Makes sense that Ein may have ended up becoming an unintended MacGuffin. His eventual departure however punctuates the beginning of the end of it all… is the thing I remember the most about how it felt to have the character as a presence in the narrative.

  5. megaroad1 says:

    Man, I’ve watched Bebop like 5 or 6 times and I had never caught on to until now, that Spike catching Ein in mid air was a homage to Macross. Shame on me.

    These early episodes have always struck me as being kind of introductory. They set up the mood of the series, introduce the characters and the Bebop universe, but never really get into the plot, or try deepen the relationships between the characters. Mind you, its not necessary at this point at all. In fact it adds to the mood. Its almost like Bebop is meant to be felt and heard, yet not understood.

    And yeah, Jazz Messengers is probably the best site for reading up on all things Cowboy Bebop.

    • shinmarizu says:

      “Its almost like Bebop is meant to be felt and heard, yet not understood (yet).”

      This. (With a small edit.)

      The best way to enjoy CB is sit back and let the show take you on a journey.

    • I do agree that the show can be enjoyed in an non-reflexive mood, but I consider that wasteful. The thing to get here is that the relationships don’t get any deeper. The characters don’t really grow. The principal cast never really complete their past. There is no future for anyone here, unless one speculates about Francoise. The show is as empty and stylish as its eyecatches.

      This failure lies at the very heart of this show. Space, and life in it, is a cold, empty, and futureless hell.

      • vendredi says:

        This is probably the most maddening thing about Bebop; especially in later episodes, the emotional impact of some scenes is just profound, but the characters never really grow or develop. Like you said it’s arguably, it’s an intentional choice; each episode is a clean slate and I think the fact that none of the characters do change gives the viewer an incentive to be reflective and bat around various “what if?” scenarios.

      • megaroad1 says:

        There’s a lot of episodes left were we’ll be able to discuss the point you’re making (which I think is very interesting) in more depth. I’ll just add at this point, that I believe that more than anything, with the exception of Ed (francoise), these are all characters that have had their “glory days”, for lack of a better term, pass them by. Their engines are running on the fumes of their previous lives. Hence the atmosphere which is thick and coated in nostalgia and melancholy.

        • Indeed. None of them really chose to make out of a ‘career’ on bounty hunting. Faye herself would prove to be hijacked potential, now drifting like flotsam in the sea of space.

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