[Springtime for Jet Black: Cowboy Bebop 21 “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui”]
This session seems more light-hearted than any other with Jet Black as the protagonist. In a lot of ways it is: there’s a cute girl who pursues bad men, a lot of chases and jumping into passing traffic, and that cute girl uses feng shui to see the future! Sort of. But if you think of this session in just the right way it might be darker than anything else, save “Real Folk Blues” one and two.
Jet’s old friend is dead, or presumed dead. Visiting his grave, Jet meets his friend’s daughter, Mei, who’s looking for a “sun stone” her father hid before he disappeared. Some bad men are looking for the stone, too, but Mei was trained well by her father — in the art of feng shui. Not arranging furniture, but reading the arrangements and placements of all things. Apparently she can see the concordances in the ley lines of the world. She showed up in the graveyard where Jet mourned his friend because the concordances showed a friend would be there. She then goes on to time a jump into traffic by doing the fastest reading ever, under fire.
Why is this dark? Why isn’t it silly or funny? Well, it’s all those things, but it’s dark because this session is the one that decides to really mess around with the noir detective fiction that’s the stuff Jet’s life is made from.
Of course, Cowboy Bebop is most likely getting noir from film, so I apologize for using the books. Hell, they’ve all been adapted into films, so it amounts to the same thing.
The two greatest noir “heroes,” in my opinion, are Philip Marlowe and the Continental Op. Marlowe is the creation of Raymond Chandler, and he’s a tough, alcoholic private dick who tells women to fuck off because he’s convinced they’re trying to get something from him. He also tends to obsess over things even after he gets paid, or doesn’t. He ruins families and politics equally because he feels a duty to the person who hired him, even if they’re dead and were playing him.
Does this sound familiar?
Come back with me, I mentioned The Continental Op. He’s the single greatest traditional noir character. At one point in Red Harvest he tells a woman he’s going to trick a boxer into throwing a fight, just to see what the local kingpin does in response. The woman says “you’re a real Sherlock Holmes type. Aren’t you supposed to be picking up clues?” He doesn’t. He dogs people. He bitches and punches and takes shit from everyone and pokes his nose in where it doesn’t belong and torments everyone until they admit it. Whatever it is. In Red Harvest damn near the entire town is guilty — Personville, which everyone calls “Poisonville,” neatly equating people with poison — and the Op gets them all. He may also murder a woman, but he doesn’t know. He goes “blood crazy,” getting people killed until he does what he said he’d do, even after his client pays him, tries to get rid of him, tries to get him killed. He hired on to do something, so that’s what he does.
Does this sound familiar? Jet is these men, with a metal arm that comes from a betrayal and a need for people to stay because a woman walked out. And that comes right back to “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui.” Mei is the brand new woman walking into his life. Faye jokes about Jet’s new girlfriend, but that’s not the point. These damaged noir manly-men can’t trust women, even when they want to. He wants to take care of Mei. It’s important her father’s the missing man, and not her lover or her brother. Jet fills in, but in the course of helping her he gets her over the loss of her father — who’s really dead by the episode’s end. Or near enough. She doesn’t need a surrogate father, but Jet needs a surrogate daughter, a woman he can care for without ruining things with his dead sex. He might go “blood crazy” too one day. Not really, that’s not our Jet, but he can’t actually deal with the loss of his lady. He just lets it go. Like he lets Mei go.
The session is built around the old noir structure, too. In some ways, more than Jet’s other sessions, even though they’re all the pursuit of the black dog. Marlowe goes from police station to gambling den, hooch bar to mansion, knocking on doors and grimacing and walking some more, drinking to steady his hands. Jet and Mei go from place to place, the concordance of the feng shui replacing the old noir idea that everything’s connected because everything’s dirty, everything’s corrupted. Instead everything lives together. It’s the noir session that offers a door out of Jet’s noir nightmare, but he doesn’t open it. He lets it go, too. That’s why it seems so light-hearted: it’s as though Mei brings another show with her, a light-hearted romping show that still ends with a father’s death. She’s not a noir character, even though noir fiction has dozens of innocent young women. It’s just that most of them aren’t actually that innocent, since no one is. In Marlowe’s first book, The Big Sleep, the murderer is an “innocent,” a “natural” — a young woman with a mental handicap. She still sleeps around. Because that’s what people do in the noir nightmare — they ruin and spurn their own innocence, because that’s the only way to deal with the corruption around them. Jet needs that attitude to survive out alone in space, floating through vacuum — the pure expression of nihilism’s nothing — but Bebop suggests the world isn’t actually like that. Mei couldn’t possibly survive in that world, suave and strong though she is. The corruption and crooked connections Jet and crew use to make their way in the world may just be the grimy side of feng shui, finding connections that are always there. But it doesn’t matter, because Jet looks at the feng shui board and is just baffled. But he sure can do crime.
Oh, and you know the title’s just good old B. B. King, right? “Boogie Woogie Woman.”
Mei keeps boogying and Jet don’t mind, but he can’t do much more than look amused and wonder how she does it.
[You can find the author of this post you hopefully loved at the blog Wondrous Windows.]