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