Cowboy Bebop 04 “Gateway Shuffle”

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[Episode 03 “Honky Tonk Woman”]

First let us pay attention to the assassination scene. This scene needed to several things well:

  1. Depict Jet and Spike tracking down a bounty competently, if not impressively.
  2. Depict the bounty as an unsavory character, establishing therefore that Jet and Spike play for the side of the angels.
  3. Introduce the ‘real’ bounty of the episode, and depict them as more unsavory than the original bounty.

It accomplished all three very well, while interlacing with Faye Valentine’s adventures in failure in space. Humor is very much an element of this scene: it’s used as a tool of misdirection, making the remorseless violence that followed more shocking in effect. We know the violence is remorseless, because the ringleader of the assassination was dancing in the midst of the gunfire, reveling in it as if moved by the music.

All the diners save for Jet and Spike were mowed down by gunfire. Then something really interesting happens:

The “good guys” take a hostage. They seize the mother from her children (Twinkle Maria Murdock). This is a case of lowlifes turning on each other and it’s delicious. The Universal Environmental Protection Society is a family of terrorists who killed a guy, and everyone around him on a matter of principle. Spike and Jet took Maria as compensation for the guy she had killed. As it turns out, she’s the bigger bounty anyway.

Spike and Jet are not ‘morally outraged’ at the massacre they witnessed. They were too busy trying to make money. Lupin III is pretty much a lowlife, and characters from Nagai Go works are monsters, but it’s worth remarking on the utter callousness towards human life we are presented with. The sympathetic Spike Spiegel in the first episode is almost radically different from the person here. It’s like we now see the ruthless Spike who took on Asimov in “Asteroid Blues” along with the carefree, careless Spike who wasted his time chasing Hakim in “Stray Dog Strut.”

Is this inconsistency? Is it complexity? In any case, the Spike Spiegel who deals with these terrorists acts with haughtiness, with arrogance. But it’s not the kind that is founded on some kind of morals (perhaps), but rather it’s as if he’s invoking a fuzzy concept of class among criminals. He acts as if these terrorists were utterly beneath him. I think it’s cool stuff, also because this family of terrorist is mostly a bunch of retards.

But they’ve been an efficiently deadly bunch of retards. This brings me to how it contrasts with that which it remembers love for: The Army of the 12 Monkeys.

I truly adore this film. I must’ve seen it like 8 or more times, at least thrice in the theaters when it came out. This synopsis of the film compels me to link it with Cowboy Bebop:

An unknown and lethal virus has wiped out five billion people in 1996. Only 1% of the population has survived by the year 2035, and is forced to live underground. A convict (James Cole) reluctantly volunteers to be sent back in time to 1996 to gather information about the origin of the epidemic (who he’s told was spread by a mysterious “Army of the Twelve Monkeys”) and locate the virus before it mutates so that scientists can study it. Unfortunately Cole is mistakenly sent to 1990, six years earlier than expected, and is arrested and locked up in a mental institution, where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist, and Jeffrey Goines, the insane son of a famous scientist and virus expert.

In “Gateway Shuffle,” there is this virus called Monkey Business that, well, turns people into monkeys. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but there is something inherently humorous with the very idea of it. The reversal in Cowboy Bebop of the 12 Monkeys film is how ruthless the UEPS are. These characters are actual terrorists who kill people and want to turn them into monkeys. The Army of the 12 Monkeys was pretty much an organization reputed to have caused the end of the world as it was known, but in actuality their biggest act was to set zoo animals free in the middle of Baltimore (or was it Philadelphia?).

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It is consistent, I think with how Cowboy Bebop did Desperado, wherein Asimov was an authentic criminal as opposed to a romanticized revenge-seeking hero in the form of El Mariachi. The UEPS are a far less complicated and nuanced set of ‘characters’ than the ‘Army’ but they are in turn more comically evil. Again I must say that it is never my intention to suggest that one version is better than another (personally I prefer the cruel irony in the film the same way I am nuts over Brad Pitt’s performance as the leader of the Army). The straightforward evil represented by Maria makes her ideal to be rendered as a comical villain as victim, as if within the tradition of Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes, to Spike Spiegel’s Road Runner.

But I’m letting myself get carried away. Both stories feature a threatening organization of malcontents humorously: one execution with black irony, the other with something akin to cruel slapstick. What this session really wanted to show is a battle in a hyperspace gate, to get the Foxtail and Swordfish into action, against one of the great Itano Circuses nearing the end of the millennium.

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…which brilliantly serves as an expository piece of world building. The ‘ghosts’ of the missiles escape the hyperspace gate, scaring the piss out of Faye. Jet disses her for not remembering anything from high school science: Matter trapped in hyperspace may at times be visible in real space, but can never interact with matter in it.

Maria and the rest of the UEPS are stuck in hyperspace, the vial of the Monkey Business virus cleverly reverse-pickpocketed by Spike to Maria now surely to turn all of them into monkeys. The bad guys get what’s coming to them and yet the Bebop Cowboys end the session without their bounty.

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“All that work for nothing… Oh, don’t look so down. We’ll make money next time.” Faye says this, and marks her informal inclusion in the group. She also said she was headed to the shower, which was totally a sexual flag of some kind. We are sure of this because Spike just had to call her on showering on their ship without their permission, then Cowboy Bebop slapped him with its cock-blocking chastisement. This show cracks me up.

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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10 Responses to Cowboy Bebop 04 “Gateway Shuffle”

  1. TWWK says:

    I feel like I’m rewatching the show without really viewing it as I read through your series of posts. I love nostalgia, and I get that feeling (along with your insight) which each of these posts. Thanks for doing them!

    • You’re welcome. This post series is definitely an item on my anime blogging bucket list… the first item on record (written on the very first statement on the very first blog post here on WRL).

      Nostalgia is at the core of things on this blog, but it functions as a hook and a means to get comfortable as I attempt to explore the material in ways that were not available to us when we first experience these shows that we love.

      I had seen 12 Monkeys many times over before I ever saw Cowboy Bebop, and it was only this year when I made the connection. It’s not an important one, and that’s what I argue in this post series: the connections are here not because they are important; they’re Easter Eggs — their value is that they are interesting as peripheral experiences.

  2. megaroad1 says:

    Who says Cowboy Bebop can’t be funny? Re-watched episode 4 last night to be able to comment on your blog and kept cracking up at the scene were Spike (unwittingly?) is playing around with the vial of Monkey Business. I specially dig Maria’s expression when Spike pulls out his gun and fires at the thing. Absolutely hilarious stuff. And the response from Spike and jet to Faye’s self inclusion to the crew of the Bebop is classic

    LIke you, I was reminded of 12 Monkeys by this chapter, but somehow I couldn’t help thinking throughout the episode of the debate that exists on the whaling issue, primarily between Japan and some western countries. The whole thing with ‘protecting the sea rat’ just rang a bell. I won’t go into depth on it since this is not the forum for such things, but once talking to a Japanese friend of mine, he commented upon how some people in Japan see environmental action groups as borderline criminals, particularly when it comes to how they tackle the japanese whaling fleet every year.

    next is the Ballad of Fallen Angels. Can’t wait!

    • I don’t know anyone who says the show can’t be funny.

      Thanks for going that far. I’d like to think the post made you remember love.

      This, however goes way further than nostalgia. That’s one thing I want to be clear with the method I do, especially with this post series. It’s one thing to fondly remember how a vintage show made us feel. It’s another thing altogether the exploration I invite you readers into. Frankly I do not believe the level of adventure in interpretation and cross-referencing I do here is possible during our first viewings of the show.

      It’s a curious thing to read the Sea Rat as an allegory for whales and the Japanese Whaling industry. I doubt that it’s limited to Japan, given how Greenpeace have been known to interfere with industrial operations, including logging, etc. In any case, the portrayal in Cowboy Bebop is very far from flattering, so it’s kind of dicey to read a clear statement from the show.

      • megaroad1 says:

        You’d be quite surprised about how some of the younger anime crowd see CB. I had an interesting discussion with an anime fan at a convention last year were he told me that after having watched CB with some of his friends it had left him cold. He mentioned that while they appreciated the music and the original style, they ultimately couldn’t relate to it because of the lack of what he called “appealing characters and funny or humorous scenes”.

        • Recently a bunch of online friends were introduced to Cowboy Bebop and unsurprisingly they fell in love with it. There will be exceptions, but I think on the whole the effect on viewers will be fairly consistent. I do know someone who desperately wants to tell anyone who’d listen how inferior and lacking this show is, but the person is not really worth listening to after a while. As for humor, Stray Dog Strut (session 2) pretty much established it, and Faye is often played up for laughs. Ed is almost entirely a comical character… “Toys in the Attic” “Mushroom Samba” etc etc etc

  3. Pingback: Sika’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time! 20. Twelve Monkeys (1995) « Lunki and Sika – Movie, TV, Celebrity and Entertainment News. And Other Silliness.

  4. Clint says:

    Okay, this is an old thread. But after watching 12 monkeys on tv for the first time last night, I didn’t connect it to cowboy bebop until the very end. When Railly was in disguise with blond hair, red lipstick and sun glasses, she looked exactly like julia in the car chase/shoot with Faye near the end of that series. Then the vials and monkey business closed the link.

    Then seeing that bebop first aired in 98, a few years after he monkey film…. It all makes sense.

    12 monkeys is one of the first abstract sci-fi out from the us and the Japanese are really into that.

    The sea rat protection group are terrorist like how the westerners want to protect the dolphines …. Watch “earthlings” and you will be born a new human….

  5. Pingback: The Good, The Bad, And The Funky: Cowboy Bebop 22 “Cowboy Funk” | We Remember Love

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