The Jazz of Friendship in Cowboy Bebop: Episodes 12 & 13 “Jupiter Jazz Parts I & II”

cowboy beboop 12 vicious profile

[Episode 11 “Toys in the Attic”]

As incredible this pair of episodes were in my re-viewing them, I was pretty much left scratching my head, “Vicious sure is one silly douche of a villain isn’t he?” I then thought that this wouldn’t be so head-scratching if he didn’t bear his silly name. I mean he is quite vicious, and menacing, and ruthless, etc. It’s just overkill to have a character who’s all those things, but also be named one of those things.

But then I realized, thinking about the victim of his viciousness here, namely Gren, what this arc was saying. To follow up the statement on the pointlessness of the human condition in terms of idleness with nothing enriching to look forward to in “Toys in the Attic,” this arc fleshes this out more by exposing the state of human relationships.

Gren wanted to be Vicious’ friend. Vicious may have betrayed him, even if only in Gren’s mind. But Vicious isn’t alone. The main cast, they’re really not into this “friend” thing. They’re just minding/not minding each other, as if there’s little choice. This is the hollow heart of humanity in the time of Cowboy Bebop.

cowboy bebop 12 faye gorgeous faye valentine

I’m alone. I don’t want comrades… and it’s not worth having any. I end up worrying about things I don’t have to… because you know I’m such a good woman…

– Faye Valentine

I also find it very interesting how there’s very little reference if there’s anything at all, going on in these episodes. It makes this the purest, original stories in the series, bereft of allusions however unimportant. I will, however make an allusion of my own: Gren in this episode plays a similar role of another lounge performer, Dil, from The Crying Game (1992).

Here’s Dil doing a cover of Boy George’s song in the film by the same name.

The story is vastly different. The similarity is mostly due to the “twist” regarding the characters’ sexuality, and that they’re forlorn and lovely in their sadness. Fergus isn’t quite the same character as Faye Valentine, but we both know they are rather lonely, and kind of broke. It’s not hard to imagine either of them falling for a fetching and sad lounge performer.

cowboy bebop 12 gren running

But that loneliness is like a bass line for Jupiter Jazz, it drives the characters’ behavior. Spike leaves the Bebop for the barest mention of Julia, Jet tells him to never come back, then goes out asking about Julia anyway. He can’t really quit Spike like that. He’s as close to a friend he has in his life. Same goes with Faye, though all of them are pretty antagonistic towards each other. Faye hears Julia’s name, and she can’t help but want to know. Who among them doesn’t have Spike in the brain?

They’ve got each other, and none of them are willing to acknowledge that. This runs parallel to Gren’s one desire to be Vicious’ friend, who betrayed him after their tour in the war in Titan. He confronts him, willing to kill him in turn, but see, Gren just isn’t as vicious, and he was doomed. Spike bears witness to his last wishes, actively this time, as opposed to how it ended with Katerina in “Asteroid Blues.”

cowboy bebop 12 spike swordfish 2 jet

And we see Spike the human, as the main cast are indeed soulful humans, with so much decency they’d rather manifest but for some reason are incapable of doing so for each other. They somehow can’t bring themselves to be that kind of good people to each other. When we see them do it, it’s played up for laughs as with how Spike tended to everyone bitten by the alien goop in “Toys in the Attic;” or how Faye tended to Spike when he was injured after the fight with Vicious in “The Ballad of Fallen Angels.”

This is the human condition in the time of Cowboy Bebop, people are still people, they got hearts capable of so much heart, but their souls are for themselves, for the pasts they have lost, and hardly ever for each other. They just won’t choose to make it so.

And that’s how the song ends, a slow feel, to a fast Jazz number.

Addendum:

Faye Valentine is a triumph of character design. It has never been more apparent until this episode and in the contemporary context of moémoé girl designs. It is not that much hyperbole when I say that you can put Faye smack in the middle of a moémoé show and not seem “old” both in terms of dated character design, and in actual age in relation to the cast (except for extreme cases of qrotesque deformity that somehow fits an aesthetic of cute e.g. Hidamari Sketch, Madoka Magica, Lucky Star, Mitsudomoe, etc.)

Look at this sequence of illustrations:

cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_19.56_[2011.09.22_01.35.17]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.19_[2011.09.22_01.40.30]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.24_[2011.09.22_01.40.40]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.39_[2011.09.22_01.42.11]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.40_[2011.09.22_01.42.16]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.48_[2011.09.22_01.40.56]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.49_[2011.09.22_01.41.09]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.49_[2011.09.22_01.41.26]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.49_[2011.09.22_01.42.35]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.49_[2011.09.22_01.43.15]cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_21.50_[2011.09.22_01.51.15]

Trust Faye to wear the most “anime” face in the whole cast. It’s a single in-between frame so it’s very easy to miss, but there it is. It’s a very un-“anime” show that reminds itself, and us, that it’s very “anime” indeed, despite absurd statements such as:

cowboy_bebop_remastered_12[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_12.15_[2011.09.22_01.58.01]

LOL. If this indeed had come to pass, it would be a lonely genre with only one example, unless we include Samurai Champloo.

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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21 Responses to The Jazz of Friendship in Cowboy Bebop: Episodes 12 & 13 “Jupiter Jazz Parts I & II”

  1. animekritik says:

    What a depressing show~

    Faye is lovely. Character design is perfect, and with Hayashibara doing the voice it just becomes ridiculous. I like Vicious’ because he reminds me of Harlock.

    • I acknowledge this.

      It never ever depresses me though… perhaps because whenever a sad or tragic show is well done, I am too busy celebrating its triumph to be emotionally brought down. I am so full of life that I gleefully consume depressing work. (Read Bokurano, and Eden: It’s an Endless World)

      The thing I think about what depresses people about nihilism is that they are addicted to hope. This show is amazing in how it exposes the activity of hoping as bankrupt. It doesn’t quite fully materialize in these two episodes but it will. Hope is harmless at the onset, if it only means a positive opinion on the probability of a future outcome. It becomes insidious when the activity of hoping robs us of present vitality. Instead of acting to make a difference in the present (e.g. preparing for the worst, enjoying the moment), it takes us into delusions and anxiety over the future. It is comical when it isn’t the outcome that is removed from probability, but when HOPE is the thing removed. It is comical when it is the removal of hope that is the source of suffering.

      I find it funny, anyway.

      Hope is a wasteful indulgence. Jet hopes for meaningful companionship. Faye hopes for freedom from debt. Spike hopes Julia will run away with him this time. Only Ed is without hope. All of them feel hunger and privation, but only Ed does not suffer from it.

  2. kuromitsu says:

    I’ve always found it strange that people rarely mention Vicious’ past friendship with Spike and how that figures into everything. I mean, yes, it’s easy to write him off as a one-dimensional villain, but I’ve always thought he runs much deeper than that, and Jupiter Jazz I-II are the episodes that shed light on his character (in the roundabout way that Bebop likes so much), with the themes of friendship, betrayal, loneliness and embitterment.

    In fact, regardless of everything else that is going on, I can’t help seeing Jupiter Jazz as being in a great part about Vicious and how he came to be what he is now, woven into the “surface” story. Vicious had been also betrayed by a friend (and a lover, though it’s worth noticing how, in the present, he seems to be more obsessed with Spike than with Julia), and this betrayal has transformed him into a cold, empty shell who renounces the notions of friendship and loyalty because he believes they don’t mean anything. After all, he knows this first-hand. I think it’s no coincidence at all that in Jupiter Jazz Spike gets mistaken for Vicious (marking him, for a moment, as the bad guy), and “Julia” turns out to be an ugly transvestite (not someone you would’ve thought she was). Or that the melody in the music box that Vicious uses to betray Gren is called “Julia.”

    • Implied, sure. But in this case there’s just too much subtlety and not enough explicitness. Why would he feel so betrayed? How much did he love? What kind of passion existed in that previous life? These things can be made explicit with a song or two, a montage here and there, nothing too dramatic. Instead we are to take these things for granted. I am okay with this, but I’m not inspired either.

      This pair of episodes does well to add to the mystery of Julia.

  3. Reid says:

    Having not seen this episode, I’ll not make a comment that in any way enriches the discussion here, but I will say this: Ghost, what you’ve written here is very classy and very, very good, as always. You have a rare talent for writing that puts many others to shame.

    I will also say this: Faye is like Jessica Rabbit, but with a gun instead of a microphone. She’s not bad, but boy-oh-boy is she drawn that way. Too hawt for the galaxy. Except for those stockings/boots…never liked that combo. But otherwise, she’s tip-top.

    And this (and you should appreciate this, Ghost): Jet looks like he could give Pacquiao a working-over with arms like those! Imagine what HIS left straight would be like! I never really noticed what cannons he had until I saw that image in this blog post. On a related note, what did you (and anybody else who’s interested) think of Pacquiao/Marquez III? I’ve been dying to ask you. What was the reaction like in the Philippines?

    • Thank you. I really give credit to Cowboy Bebop. It pulls this kind of material out of me like no other thing. The show came into my life when I was finding my way as an adult. I had was just still starting to go out with my future wife, and was in-between jobs… but I had just left what I thought was my most aimless phase… it was 2004 and I was already 27. This gave me a solid perspective on my recent past, and Cowboy Bebop gave me a soundtrack to remember love for it.

      I wasn’t lonely anymore, but I remembered how that was like. I wasn’t quite as hungry anymore, but I remembered how it was like not to have money for food. It was a great melancholic piece for the happiest person on Earth (me). It just feels so good to know it in the gut that I get this show, in a way that I think many people who love it just as much, don’t.

      A good number of us were unhappy with the decision. I myself think that a draw would be the fairest result. 16-12? That judge is fucking retarded. Marquez landed the best shots. Sure he got outworked, but that’s to be expected. Manny wasn’t landing with the same quality though. How do I know? It’s because if he was landing quality shots, Marquez wouldn’t be standing.

      • Reid says:

        Wow. That’s a wonderful explanation of your connection to the show. It never entered into my mind that something as personal as all you mentioned could be the source, or the reasoning behind, why you so obviously “get” “Cowboy Bebop”. Frankly, I’ve got to say, I haven’t yet found anything in the world of entertainment media that speaks to me in that melancholic way. Probably the closest I can come is the (visual) sense of isolation and lonliness present in many Western movies, but I still wouldn’t call it my muse when it comes to reflection or appreciation (remembering love) like you do with “Cowboy Bebop”. I’ve written a couple pieces of Western fiction where I let some of these ideas about isolation play out but in a way that detaches itself from almost everything but the most basic frame of references common to the Western genre. All that is to say, for as much as I love Gundam-everything and was spoken to on a deep emotional level by the best moments of the Macross saga (particularly DRYL?), either I haven’t yet had enough meaningful life experiences or I haven’t found the fictional work that represents my own feelings about life. I congratulate you on finding your anime muse.

        _________________

        I too feel like a draw would have been the best call. Many critics (haters ^.^) already feel like Marquez won or deserved to win one or both of the previous fights and I think this most recent one was the best argument for that, despite the decision. Manny is, as you say, the harder worker in that fight, but it’s clear that on several instances he was being hurt and staggered by Marquez and this is something that, had Manny been more on-point, though it beats the heck out of me why he wasn’t, ought to have been the other way around. There’s no doubt in my mind that Pacquiao is the better fighter between them, I just think, personally, that he’s getting burned out by all this spoiling for a fight with Mayweather. To bring the discussion back in an anime-conscious meta direction, Manny and Floyd are “men of destiny” and will be, must be, brought together at some point because that is how the tide of history goes in and out. I somehow feel that it was the desire on the part of the whole sporting world for Manny to maintain his winning streak that motivated the judges of the Marquez fight to give the decision to Pacman. I don’t think it’s fair, but I think it’s consistent with the image we want to have of him when it comes time to face off against Mayweather – presumably on Judgement Day in some titanic confrontation to decide the fate of the sport. Regardless, I see us getting a Pacquiao/Marquez IV soon. Maybe then Manny will put him away for good and put the critics’ (haters’) arguments to bed.

        • Hehe, Cowboy Bebop is only my muse when I’m writing about Cowboy Bebop.

          Maybe because I’m afraid of Marquez, but I don’t really want to see another fight. It was a great fight no doubt, but it was terrible for me to watch. The sweet science is losing its sweetness for me… in part because of those damn big gloves. I make no secret of the fact that I’m an MMA fan, but it’s not because I’m a boxing hater. I saw great fights live on sattelite: Hagler vs. Hearns, Hagler vs. Duran, Leonard vs. Hearns, Leaonard vs. Hagler, all the dominant Mike Tyson fights, the good De La Hoya fights… I saw lots and lots of ’em and I loved it.

          But in MMA I get decisive victories, and quantity of fights. In two hours I get a card of 6 or so fights, more than half end in knockouts. It’s the small sized gloves man, you can’t cover up and defend like boxers. It requires different defensive tactics: from distance, in the clinch, etc. I swear to you as a boxing fan you will find no greater joy than watching a fighter use a good jab/cross to neutralize kicks and tackles.

          I recommend you read Holyland or All-Rounder Meguru to get good fightan manga. I love these books to death.

          • Reid says:

            As a guy who spent many many many hours in the MMA/BJJ/muay thai/boxing gym, I will tell you that I too love MMA as a sport more than boxing (and I love good kickboxing more than both), but there is nobody in MMA who I love as much as Manny. He’s my hero on so many levels. As much as I appreciate the mastery of Silva, enjoy watching the rise of John Jones and Jose Aldo, the ferocity of Urijah Faber or Junior Dos Santos, the old-man kick a$$ery of Couture and Fedor from back in the day, the down-to-earth scappiness of Forest Griffin, etc. I just don’t love those guys. But Pacman – he’s my bro for life.

          • LOL I get you. Manny is heroic and you can only imagine how big he is here. His bro-ness to me is such is that he can do all these shitty things like become some stupid Congressman and shit and he’ll still have my good will.

            This weekend I’m going to see my favorite fighter Lyoto Machida get asswhipped by John Jones. It won’t be pretty, but I will support Machida all the way.

          • Reid says:

            Oh, and yes! I have read most of Holyland. What an amazingly decent book about fighting! So “intelligent” when it comes to the techniques and strategies. I love how only in manga do we get such obsessive studies of niche interests, be it Initial D’s drifting thing or Holyland’s MMA-like approach to street fighting or even how awesome Norinrin makes bicycling look. I think it’s great. This phenomenon warrants further investigation.

          • You should definitely read All-rounder Meguru. It’s hardcore MMA, and is like a million times better drawn than Holyland. The mangaka of Meguru did the fuckmazing Eden: It’s an Endless World and if you’ve read that, you know he is a master of drawing the human form (which is a big plus if you’re drawing transitions on the ground which result in a side-mount arm triangle, etc.).

          • Reid says:

            Lyoto and Jones are a good match for each other, what the elusiveness and unconventional angles of the former and the straight-at-you tenacity (AND REEEEEEACH) of the latter. It should be a really good fight. I’m looking forward to it in a big way, though I would much rather have seen Jones beat the living crap out of Rashad Evans first. The whole “fake heat” angle the UFC was trying to work by playing up the bad blood between Rashad and Jones really stank of pro wrestling’s worst efforts to me, but I’d have loved to see Evans get pounded but good. There are a lot of punks in the UFC…it’s such a “bro” culture over here. Is it that way in the rest of the world as well? I can’t imagine it was, not back when Pride and Shooto dominated the (admittedly much smaller, more niche) marketplace back several years ago.

          • I think Machida is going to get killed, and in a far worse way than he did against Shogun.

            I never ever liked Rashad.

            When Pride was big I didn’t have internets, so I pretty much missed out on the good stuff.

  4. megaroad1 says:

    Whenever I try to hook people to watch Cowboy Bebop, these are the episodes I suggest. They remain amongst some of my favourite anime ‘watchings’ almost a decade after I watched this baby for the first time. I’m a total sucker for a good blending of significant imagery with important music and the ending of Jupiter Jazz acomplishes this like few others I know.

    I really like your analogy between Gren in Jupiter Jazz and Dil in The Crying Game. They do play awfully similar roles (BTW my experience of watching that film back in the day was notoriously reduced by some guy telling me beforehand Dil’s ‘secret’).

    It is sad to see how hard it is for Faye, Spike and Jet to feel at ease with each other and express their comfort with companionship (which I think is a more relevant term than friendship in this case). Either the ‘badass’ facade has to stay on at all times like with Jet (who’s the biggest softy of the lot) or in the case of Faye, her insecurity is so great that she has to pull her stupid stunts. When she says to Gren that “…instead of feeling alone in a group, it’s better to feel alone in solitude” it just drives home the sense of inadequacy she feels in the company of others. The contrast with Gren, who was happiest in the comradeship of soldiering is palpable. I don’t think with people in their line of business, friendship is an attainable goal, but at least identifying each other as fellow travellers and comrades in arms would be relevant.

    You make a good point about Vicious as a villain. He is a bit overkill isn’t he? I mean, as letdown as he must have felt by Spike/Julia, there should be some inklings or flashes of the guy who was once their friend/lover/comrade. Otherwise one kind of has to ask one self what they were thinking hanging out with him. He’s not exactly subtle.

    • I’m almost upset that I didn’t see the similarity at once. I saw The Crying Game a few years earlier than CB and I should’ve seen the similarity with Gren immediately. After all, you don’t forget someone like Gren or Dil in cinema. Nope, they kind of stay with you.

      It’s really stupid how they are with each other. Look at how Spike is with other women. He’s almost dashing. He just doesn’t find Faye appealing in any way; probably thinks she’s trash. You’ll see it in My Funny Valentine.

      Yeah, Vicious. What’s there to say, really?

      • megaroad1 says:

        Yeah, Spike really isn’t into Faye at all. And in this episode Faye hears the name Julia for the first time and that name is just going to grow as a mental image until she finally will meet her and be in total awe of her.

        • Yeah man, that meeting was fuckmazing and I almost can’t wait to see it again. But I’m currently rewatching “Speak Like a Child” for about a billion times until I find my way into writing the post.

  5. Good old Faye. She really has lived a long time, and after these two episodes she really could say she saw everything. And DID everything. Hur hur…

    I always like the cold and lonely atmosphere this arc seemed to have. I also enjoyed (after a short period of adjustment) seeing a character like Gren show up and add a bit of spice to these already complicated relationships. I almost wish he could have lasted longer, but he more than fulfilled his purpose.

    • One thing I continue to enjoy about Cowboy Bebop is how Faye is always, ALWAYS made to feel small when she encroaches on Spike’s world. It’s like she tries to hang, but is almost always outclassed…

      so moemoe.

  6. Pingback: Bohemians… IN SPACE (suck) Cowboy Bebop 14 “Bohemian Rhapsody” | We Remember Love

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