Western Jive in Cowboy Bebop 17 “Mushroom Samba” or, We Remember Love, Let Us Count The Ways

cowboy_bebop_remastered_17[h264.ac3][niizk].mkv_snapshot_08.13_[2011.12.01_09.56.06]

[Cowboy Bebop 16 “Black Dog Serenade”]

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.

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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.

Rubin Safaya

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.

Roger Ebert

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.

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.
This entry was posted in Cowboy Bebop and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Western Jive in Cowboy Bebop 17 “Mushroom Samba” or, We Remember Love, Let Us Count The Ways

  1. Matt Wells says:

    The coffin dragging Shaft brother is probably a direct reference to the classic Spaghetti Western “Django”. The titular main character drags a coffin behind him for the first half hour of the film, finally opening it when a posse of Klu Klux Klan members come to kill him.

    Instead of housing a corpse, it contains a gatling gun. In 30 seconds this tense showdown in the Sergio Leone style degenerates into a videogame style shooting spree. Wonderful sequence from a great movie, I’d rank it right up there with the Dollars trilogy. Even in a genre as cynical as the Spaghetti Western, it stands apart for its sheer brutality and nihilisim. Huge influence on Quentin Tarantino too.

    DYNO-MITE! DYNO-MITE!!! Good lord that film kicks ass. Did you see the pilot they did for an animated series? Less focused in its briliant satire than the film, but every bit as funny.

    Why has not a single SRW game featured a playable Gekiganger 3? That oversight is criminal.

    • Holy crap I must watch moar of this cartoon.

      Yeah I forgot all about Django.

      • Reid says:

        Django
        Hai amato solo lei
        Django
        Ma dimentica se poi
        Che si vive, che si ama,
        Che si ama una volta sola.

        Django
        Hai amato solo lei,
        Django
        Non è piu viccino a te,
        L’hai amata, l’hai perduta,
        L’hai perduta per sempre, Django!

        Nasce una stella nel cielo
        Anche per te,
        E su la terra una rosa
        Nasce anche per te.
        Oh, Django!
        Dopo il dolore c’è la speranza.

  2. Reid says:

    I’ll just this brilliant ish right here. Black Dynamite is such a friggin’ bauce-a$$ movie.

    “As we all know, zodialogical astronomy was created by the Greeks in….”
    “785 BC!!!!!”

    Fuggin right, mane.

  3. megaroad1 says:

    Great read Ghost. I share your view of the generic referencing in CB. It celebrates it’s sources without ridiculing them which has more value in my opinion. And boy does this episode do it by the motherload, from Django to Blaxpoitation movies, to the the classic Tarantino trunk shot when Ed and Ein are found by the police. Love it. I even believe that Faye’s drug induced trip might be a reference to Trainspotting.

    But as you say, behind all the references and humour there’s still the pathetic vagabond existence the crew leads. They can’t even feed themselves properly and are willing to snatch food from each other in order to quench their hunger. The life of a Cowboy is grim indeed.

    Have to confess that the bit I enjoyed the most from Martian Succesor (which didn’t do that much for me) was actually Gekiganger III.
    After watching these 2 Black Dynamite clips I just have to see this fine piece of cinema.

    • Wow I forgot all about Trainspotting, and since it does involve the toilet, you may be right.

      It’s grim, if not dark, but comically so the life of the space cowboy. And uh yeah, musical too.

  4. sadakups says:

    Yeah, seeing the Bebop crew get high is priceless. Heck, Ed does not even need mushrooms to get high.

  5. Reid says:

    This is the kind of thing that I think you were talking about when you wrote “[the work] 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…”

    These guys are no amateurs, either. Just check out the bands they’ve played in. This is really a fitting tribute to the awesome work of the original animetal. Now THIS is remembering love on many levels: true metal virtuosity + respect for the classics of anime. I can’t endorse this kind of thing enough. Sorry if this comment is a little out of place, but I hope it’s close enough 🙂

  6. ojisan says:

    I have RUNNER”S HIGH!!

    This was a great great post. It does you credit to be defining the division between (coy self-congratulatory) parody and tribute (that knows it’s a bit dumb but really loves it anyway).
    Nadesico shows us ourselves – with families, worries, mortality, but still sitting up at night crying over silly cartoons that reveal ourselves to us.

    • Reid says:

      I couldn’t have said it better if I had tried. Good job, sir. Prior to Ghost’s post and your comment, I hadn’t really thought about what specifically differentiates a work of pardody (or pastiche) and tribute, or how a tribute is different from homage. It’s all remembering love, after all, but the shades of difference are very important to the understanding of the concept in full. Thanks again.

    • Thank you, and yes such is the brilliance of Nadesico.

      I think it’s the very spirit of Macross and this blog. Macross is great because I love it and not the other way around. It’s ridiculous and dumb but there’s so much about it that I love, and even the stupid retarded parts.

  7. Pingback: Cowboy Bebop 18 “Speak Like a Child” & Treasure Hunt Into Nothingness | We Remember Love

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