“Toys in the Attic” or, 1998 Space Trek Alien, or Cowboy Bebop Episode 11

cowboy bebop 11 jet black is a man of his word faye valentine

[Cowboy Bebop Episode 10 “Ganymede Elegy”]

Jet is a loser. How do we know this. We see him show character, backbone, and an interesting history back in “Ganymede Elegy,” then we see the Jet of the every day; the slices of his life reveal a mark that gets played like a drum by the likes of Faye. Strip dice? Jet loses his underpants and walks into the “attic” of the Bebop where he gets bitten by some mutated space lobster that Spike put in a fridge for a year and forgot all about.

If this was the only thing we take away from this session, we have quite a bounty. It underscores the point that whatever pasts they all have, this empty barren present is all they have left. It is entertaining to witness the way Ed entertains herself being around these losers. There is no future in hunting bounties, just tracks of emptiness until the next job. Freelancers have it tough, the price of freedom is a different kind of indignity.

Cowboy Bebop portrays this emptiness by showing a session where nothing of consequence happens. Sure, the adults and the dog get bitten and are given their token death scares, but the show knows that we know that nobody’s going to die here. It’s played for laughs, “look, there’s nothing here” – and that’s the human condition! How apt, how perfectly apt. And since this is Cowboy Bebop, the episode is crafted like the people who made it gave a lot of fucks, and it showed.

“Toys in the Attic” is really a mashup of three homages to space travel and exploration. It is from this three bases, as if a tripod, that the show portrays the slice of space life from those who hunt bounties. We learn more about the resources available to their ship, including a Wikipedia-grade (or better) database. It is unknown how this is updated and if it exists in a kind of internet cloud, or is completely an onboard program. My bet is that it’s a kind of internet thing. We know the kind of weapons they have in the armory (including a pretty awesome net gun), along with tracking devices. It is a stark contrast with their food situation.

cowboy bebop 11 spike spiegel arsenal

The three references are:

Star Trek – primarily via the voice log that the characters use to keep a journal of their travels. The irony of emptiness and nothing happening is underscored by this very referential device (though the reference itself is less instrumental to creating the irony). This, as a literary device is also quite convenient in creating both characterization and delivering exposition – we otherwise never hear the characters’ thoughts. This is a way that forces them to think aloud.

image

Alien – This is the primary reference, as the toy in the attic is pretty much the eponymous Alien of the Ridley Scott film, that stalks and massacres an entire space ship crew. The visual techniques including the POV style crawls through the air ducts and piping is straight out of Scott’s film, as well as the very goop found in the refrigerator is almost a complete copy of the Alien habitation (albeit more examples in the James Cameron sequel). The film was a suspense thriller, and the episode is a humorous sendup of it. Even the penultimate scene of Spike kicking the refrigerator outside the airlock is a classic scene from both Alien and Aliens (the the sequel had more of a battle).

2001 A Space Odyssey – The final scene features a montage of the crew mostly unconscious, drifting in zero or near-zero gravity, and the disposed-of refrigerator pirouetting in space, to waltz music. This is a direct reference to the classic Stanley Kubrick film. It is of supreme interest for me because of the dissonance created here. The accomplishments of humanity include space travel and space colonization, but the human condition also includes a destroyed Earth, and the general emptiness of life in the solar system (thus far we have not scene any real joy or prosperity), and the specific absurdity of the lives of the cast (drifting unconsciously, perhaps diseased/poisoned except for the least expected survivor – Ed). The scene in 2001 Space Odyssey also with its waltz and a graceful docking between a spacecraft and a rotary space station provides further contrast.

It is clean, technologically perfect, and graceful, to Cowboy Bebop’s decaying, clumsy, barely escaping from death slice of existence. Here is a video juxtaposing the relevant scenes:

What you’re looking for: the rotary movement of the refrigerator corresponds to the spinning space station; then you have the unconscious bounty hunters amidst various objects floating in zero-g corresponds with the passenger in the space craft and his floating pen; then of course, the waltz music (Johann Strauss – The Beautiful Blue Danube).

I’m very fond of “Toys in the Attic” because of my own shifted attitude towards it. It used to be my least favorite session in the show, and my younger, less-experienced self (as a viewer) dismissed it as “filler.” I now think that it’s one of the most expressive movements in the long musical piece that is 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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15 Responses to “Toys in the Attic” or, 1998 Space Trek Alien, or Cowboy Bebop Episode 11

  1. animekritik says:

    Great post. This episode is potentially very depressing, like life itself. But you just have to laugh and keep going. It reminds me of the Mexican classic “Cielito lindo” which people like to quote when things look kinda crappy. You might as well laugh instead of crying.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cielito_Lindo

    • (fittingly, a performance in Japan)

      Who doesn’t know this song? What a lovely tune. Indeed, to remix the good book Ecclesiates: the fool and the wise man both end up dead. Might as well laugh like a fool, it’s the wisest thing you’ll ever do.

      What you just said is also why I hold this episode to be so representative of Cowboy Bebop itself. It’s a garish thing that sticks out like a sore thumb (of course it would given how the cast kind of dies), but at the same time remains the episode no one wants to talk about. Let’s not talk about this show being bittersweet. That is what a fool believes. It is a sad song that makes you laugh in places.

      Anyone who calls this show sweet has no taste.

  2. Reid says:

    I worked off-and-on as a freelance reporter while studying to get my journalism degree (my instructors encouraged this kind of thing – double-dipping a class assignment with published work not being a problem for some of them). I made enough to pay for the rent or maybe some groceries or maybe some Christmas gifts or whatever. That line you have at the tail-end of the second paragraph sums it up perfectly: “Freelancers have it tough; the price of freedom is a different kind of indignity.”

    For me, that indignity was either having to dip into savings to pay the rent or not buy textbooks and use the scholarship check I got each semester or, sometimes, beg the parents to help me out. As far as on-the-job indignities, I always had to contend with people who wouldn’t call me back or who wouldn’t respond to my emails because I wasn’t directly affiliated with a particular newspaper. However, my thinking was “I’m here to go to school, not work like a slave if I can at all help it,” so sometimes going without was worth it in the long run because I could take more hours per semester and graduate sooner.

    This doesn’t have much to do with your (excellent) post about “Cowboy Bepop”, but I just wanted to through this out there: congratulations on being an excellent, excellent writer. I read this blog to get inspired and this post inspires me to take a more critical look at my own writing.

    • Reid says:

      …and yet there I go and write “through” when I meant to write “throw”. Jeez. Some English-nerd I am. We seriously need some “edit” buttons on these wordpress pages!

    • Thank you for the share, and the even more generous compliment.

      I’m going to take your compliment seriously for a moment, despite all the typos and misspellings I left in the post itself.

      I like the craft of blog post making. Writing is a part of it yes, and I do give a good number of fucks to turn out a post.

      The thing about writing about Cowboy Bebop in particular is how it makes me feel.

      When I read my own words, I FEEL as if I gave a performance, like I blew a sad horn in some small, smoky dive… filled with old, faded hipsters that found true cool at the end of their ropes. They had a shot at life, but were too busy trying to be hip. Now they’re enjoying their wasted existence drinking to their failures and celebrating, remembering love. A melodrama of pathetic doom.

      I see all of this when I write about Cowboy Bebop, and ONLY when writing about Cowboy Bebop.

      If you think I write good here, in posts like this, it’s because I learned to work the saxophone, and I played just how I feel.

  3. megaroad1 says:

    I kind of had a similar experience to you the first time I watched Cowboy Bebop. I dismissed this episode as comedic filler (of the very funny kind mind you), meant to give a short breathing space between the ‘seriousness’ of Ganymede Elegy and Jupiter Jazz. And with each viewing I appreciate it more, since it kind of brings out a little bit of the quirks of each character, specially with the so called ‘lessons’. And by God are the crew of the Bebop a sad bunch when they’re not on a job. From Spike’s attempts at cooking to Faye’s cheating ways. They are so full of fail as you like to put it. I think that’s part of what’s so interesting about them.

    Other episodes are a lot more subtle about their references, but this one doesn’t pull any stops. The final scene has to be one of the finest homages to Space Odyssey ever put together. I’m sure even the cantankerous Stanley Kubrick would have appreciated the humour involved in it.

    One little detail about this episode is that I think it’s the only one, were none of the music played makes it into any of the OST’s. And with the exception of that final scene, music doesn’t really have much of a significance for the ambient, which I think is rare for this show.

    • That’s just the thing.

      This isn’t a set of awesome characters with faults and nuances kneaded in for “color.”

      They are failures. They’re wasted wrecks.

      What is Spike? A regretful killer… who tried to get away from the game but left his girl, lived his life as a deadbeat bountyhunter always hungry… then found his past and then died, but not before he sees his girl get shot before his eyes.

      Failure.

      They’re all failures that have these awesome powers kneaded in, marbled fat in the steak of their wretchedness.

  4. JELEINEN says:

    The episode reminded me a lot of the film Dark Star. I also just now realized how appropriate that Aerosmith song really was.

  5. Pingback: The Jazz of Friendship in Cowboy Bebop: Episodes 12 & 13 “Jupiter Jazz Parts I & II” | We Remember Love

  6. Pingback: The Filling Joke: Cowboy Bebop 20 “Pierrot Le Fou” | We Remember Love

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