The Filling Joke: Cowboy Bebop 20 “Pierrot Le Fou”


[Cowboy Bebop Episode 19 “Wild Horses”]

The first two time I watched the whole of Cowboy Bebop I still thought that some of the episodes were weaker than the others based on a near-complete lack of contribution to what I then thought was the “main” narrative – which was Spike vs. Vicious over Julia. I had thought that the worst offender was episode 11 “Toys in the Attic,” and the slightly lesser offender was this episode (20) “Pierrot Le Fou.”

As you may have read, I’ve come around in my appreciation of Toys in the Attic; this episode was a little more difficult. This was because I approached the episode wrongheadedly. I first tried to watch the Jean Luc Goddard film Pierrot Le Fou (1965). The film was beyond my powers of comprehension and appreciation.

The assassin’s name was Mad Pierrot, and the film itself is an intentionally disjointed mess of structural playfulness filled with non-sequiturs and digressions that did nothing for me. I could not make a case for remembering love for this film, which could not get me past the apparent soullessness of the episode.

Then I realized how “Toys in the Attic” was a metacommentary on the pointlessness of the show and how this can be artfully done, then “Pierrot Le Fou” is a metacommentary on animation, influence, and reference. The staff who worked in Cowboy Bebop is part of the Sunrise staff that worked on Batman: The Animated Series – a show I was truly impressed with back in high school. I realize how this episode is a straight up homage to that particular Batman show.

I only have the OP of Batman to work with, but the animation techniques executed here in “Pierrot Le Fou” from mood/atmosphere to the action, were used in Batman. The mad assassin Pierrot Le Fou himself is a combination of the more prominent members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery: The Penguin and The Joker.


The body type is very much like the animated Penguin and that of Danny De Vito’s representation in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. The mad laughter is very much like Mark Hamill’s performance of The Joker in the animated series.

Overall, this episode is a gesture; a finely executed performance in terms of episode production. Works that remind me of a similar spirit is the 2nd half of Panty & Stocking: With Garterbelt particularly episode 05 with the vomit beast. Unlike Cowboy Bebop, this work features a clear art shift – referencing the work of Oshira Shinya in the Hakkenden. It’s difficult to capture the effect by using still images, so I present the Oshira section in the Sakuga panel:

[WhyNot] Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt - 05 [BD 720p FLAC][76444162].mkv_snapshot_20.50_[2012.01.22_08.19.50]

Everything is consistent with the Bebop style of Jazz music when the piece starts from a riff or section from another piece of music altogether, then turned into something entirely new.

It is the irony of things, that in this manner of apparent digression how Cowboy Bebop reaffirms or re-establishes its consistency. Jazz is indeed full of musical gestures. This episode is a rather fine one.

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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25 Responses to The Filling Joke: Cowboy Bebop 20 “Pierrot Le Fou”

  1. gwern says:

    “filling” joke?

  2. MarigoldRan says:


  3. TWWK says:

    This episode was soooo very Batman: The Animated Series. I don’t know how I missed it the first…10 times around.

    Still, even without making that connection, the episode was always one of my favorites – maybe my very favorite episode that didn’t directly connect to the Vicious/Spike thread.

    • In the whole scheme of things, this was Spike’s last win, as a duelist, until the very end. He’s going to go through an interesting slump leading up to the finale.

  4. W says:

    i actually liked episodes that weren’t implicated with the main narrative – looking at problems of different individuals in different planets, it gave perspective to spike’s undertakings and the work that he had to do.

    This ep, especially, was nice for me in seeing the crews exhibiting genuine care for one another for the first time.

  5. megaroad1 says:

    Like you the first time I watched this ep. I saw it as a bit of a action packed filler episode. But as W., wrote above, despite all the “tsun” you get from Jet and Faye, you get to see them trying to protect Spike. It’s specially telling in the case of Faye, who tries very hard to point out that Spike’s battle with Pierrot has nothing to do with her. Nothing at all. Yet she first tries to prevent him seeing Pierrot’s invitation, and then goes so far as to actually show up in her spacecraft and tries to rescue Spike.
    As a Pink Floyd fan, I’ve always been pleased that Kanno and the Seatbelts chose to cover “On the Run” for the Pierrot transformation montage.

  6. TheBigN says:

    This episode is actually my favorite as a whole of the entire series. Part of it was because of how Fou seemed like an impossible enemy, and I felt it was one of the few times that Spike actually really “felt” something besides the many forays into the past. Of course, that feeling seemed to be fear more than anything else, but hey. 😛

  7. Xard says:

    This episode has always been one of my favourite Cowboy Bebop episodes. The action scenes were intense and thrilling to level that was second to none and the whole affair (like a lot of Bebop generally, admittedly) is well animated well beyond its production years. 90s Sunrise was animation monster.

    Mad Pierrot was very memorable exercise in comic book villainy and best of Spike’s standalone episode antagonists if you ask me.

    What really makes already superb episode even greater in my eyes was inclusion of Kanno’s excellent rearrangement of Pink Floyd’s groundbreaking instrumental “On The Run” from all time classic Dark Side of the Moon:

    It was used in the terrific montage that shed light into Pierrot’s mental landscape and past (cat in lab etc.) and for a Floyd fan like me it’s one of series’s highlights.

    As for Godard’s classic, it definetly isn’t a easy film. Very impressive and has considerable depth mixed with more domineering art for art’s sake spirit but as usual with Godard my appreciation for it is more intellectual than emotional or as something that truly engages me.

    • My reaction to the Godard film is still ?_?

      I’ll leave it to his fans to make sense of that one.

      I’m not a big fan of surreal/trippy scenes and the action here reminds me of those. There was this part when Fou did a flying kick air juggle combo on Spike that really broke the episode for me.

      • Xard says:

        haha, Godard is prettty much loldeep of cinema defined and utterly uncaring regarding audience (in a sense making it close to definition of kinda-dated 60s po-mo) so I’m not blaming anyone for not particularly enjoying it.

        The thing that really made Fou fights so amazing beyond their technical brilliance was the sheer foreboding sense of danger and threat the madman brought with him. TheBigN above me pretty much said the same in different words but Spike is really pushed against wall unlike in nearly any other action scene in series, repeatedly. He needs all his skills and wits to make it barely out alive (and luck is one of his skills as with Isamu!) and he knows it and audience knows it. We’re talking about the embodiment of casual badassitude here turning into the underdog (it’s not even “destined battle of equals” like with Spike and Vicious that brings its own dramaturgical weight, Spike is clearly the underdog) repeatedly. Because of this the tension was through the roof in each clash for me.

        For me the only fights that match Pierrot with visceral intensity are the duels with Vicious in eps 5 and 26 as well as fights with the movie bad guy.

        I do love surrealism and such but reason I wasn’t bothered by jumpkick combos and such was because I saw Pierrot as supervillain from the moment I first saw him (Terminator Joker or something like that was my immediate impression) so I accepted it as part of the superhero hand ep dealt for me in general.

        I didn’t link the episode and Pierrot with Batman:TAS in particular before though. After this post it really feels obvious…

      • TheBigN says:

        That was actually part of the “impossible enemy” shtick for me. Fights in Cowboy Bebop tend to be grounded in reality in terms of what people can usually do with their capabilities. Fou was a gamebreaker.

  8. Pingback: Springtime for Jet Black: Cowboy Bebop 21 “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” | We Remember Love

  9. Pingback: Rescue People so You Can Believe there are People who Rescue People — Cowboy Bebop 21 “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui” | We Remember Love

  10. Congratulations says:

    “I first tried to watch the Jean Luc Goddard film Pierrot Le Fou (1965). The film was beyond my powers of comprehension and appreciation.”
    Tragicomic. Just as I thought. You are too dumb (I guess you have around 105-120 IQ, which is higher than mediocre, but still dumb for me) and have shitty tastes (tastes need to be cultivated through decades) to appreciate one of the greatest film in history of cinema.

    Cowboy Bebop has allusions all over all episodes to “Pierrot Le Fou”, not only in 20 EP, by the way. The core philosophy of nihilism, absurdism, existentialism. “Pierrot Le Fou” changed history of cinema forever and anime as well as consequence.

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