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:
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.