What’s interesting about “Mushroom Samba” is the dissonance of the elements mashed up. You have your inner-city Blaxploitation drug narrative set in a Cowboy Western milieu. This comes to a head in how one of the characters (the younger of the “Shaft” brothers LOL) is dragging the coffin by which he’ll put his quarry in. You don’t see this in the inner city. This is a cowboy thing.
This dissonance lives in the lyrics of “Mushroom Hunting:”
Africa, Mexico, Sicily, Tijuana, India, Osaka, Indonesia
All of it is played for laughs, and this episode is one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud ones in the show. The strangeness of Ed (and Ein) throws off many of the other characters and prevents them from acting fully according to their type. In the case of the Blaxploited characters, they end up being comical instead of cool.
Cowboy Bebop distinguishes itself from parody in that it uses the elements from the sources not so much to send them up, but rather to compose this nihilistic space drama which ultimately signifies nothing except that it is new and it exists. And yes it is a drama, because all these laughs are empty, like the cast’s perpetually empty stomachs, like the prizes and bounties that defeat snatches from the jaws of victory every episode, like the future that’s meeting them in all kinds of speeds…
Empty, no fuller than death.
Impressive drugged-out reveries, in that Cowboy Bebop doesn’t resort to cheap kaleidoscope psychedelic images and instead goes for physical behaviors.
As far as I can tell, “Mushroom Samba” does not remember love for a single object of reference. Its homage is generic, to mean that the entire genre or sub-genre of Blaxploitation and/or Spaghetti Westerns are being paid tribute to. This is different from previous episodes wherein we can tell Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado is being referenced, that John Woo’s The Killer is being referenced.
Generic referencing made to create new meaning (or meaningful lack of meaning) is distinct from the 2000s’ tradition of parody movies: Scary Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, Disaster Movie, Dance Movie, etc. While I personally enjoyed Not Another Teen Movie, I find the whole series utterly devoid of merit. There’s another way of doing this, and instead of cheaply aligning elements of the sources into a forced narrative for laughs, an entire example of the source material is created to celebrate the tradition.
A great example of this, is Black Dynamite (2009):
The film revels in the cheese of its source and utterly believes in how AWESOME it is. It’s not making fun of the tradition as much as it’s having fun with it, and thus I as a viewer eat all of it up. This film is so badass.
The movie works largely because its humor lies mostly in-character rather than outside the fourth wall—going a step beyond Quentin Tarantino who frequently takes his subjects too seriously, relying exclusively on self-aware dialogue. “My mamma said my daddy’s name is Black Dynamite,” says a neighborhood girl. “So did my mamma,” says the other girl. The music abruptly stops. “Aw, hush up little girl. Lot of cats have that name,” Dynamite immediately deflects. A beat, then the music starts up again, as Dynamite’s friend Gloria (Salli Richardson) looks at one girl, then the other, as if checking for genetic similarities.
Also, it has FANSERVICE, which prompted what, for me, is one of the most eloquent celebrations of fanservice in media:
The women are also dressed in period threads, and many have big Afros. I am happy to say it brings back an element sadly missing in recent movies, gratuitous nudity. Sexy women would “happen” to be topless in the 1970s movies for no better reason than that everyone agreed, including themselves, that their breasts were a genuine pleasure to regard — the most beautiful naturally occurring shapes in nature, I believe. Now we see breasts only in serious films, for expressing reasons. There’s been such a comeback for the strategically positioned bed sheet, you’d think we were back in the 1950s.
But ok, this is cinema and Cowboy Bebop is anime. There is an anime that did this kind of treatment towards a genre, and it predates Black Dynamite by at least a decade. It is none other than Gekiganger III, the show-within-a-show from Martian Successor Nadesico, a good and important parody anime in its own right.
It is for the most part a running gag played within the series, up until it becomes a major plot point for awesome hilarity and hilarious awesomeness. What makes it ultimately similar to Black Dynamite is how it was released as an OVA with both the content from within Martian Successor Nadesico and a “movie” – wholly in the tradition of the Super Robot movie specials.
While Gekiganger III is mostly similar to Getter Robo, the elements it uses draw from the whole set of what is fundamental to super robot anime. It is just that Getter Robo is one of the shows that laid down these very fundamentals, along with Mazinger Z. Both works are by Nagai Go, verily the crazy-ass father of robot anime.
All of these elements are played straight, there’s no winking past the fourth wall. This show is a world where alien females fall in love with male hero pilots and alien rivals form temporary alliances to fight even badder enemies, but not without forgetting that they are FATED to settle things with each other before the end.
Remembering Love is a rich banquet, and Cowboy Bebop makes noteworthy contributions.