Cowboy Bebop: The Ending

The final disc of Cowboy Bebop came in the mail today, and I just finished watching it. I liked it, but didn’t love it. There are a couple of things that bothered me and hold it back from true greatness, though I have to say that I didn’t especially feel sucker-punched. Perhaps a big part of that is that I was expecting bad things to happen, so when they finally did, I wasn’t particularly phased by them. It’s not a sucker-punch if you’ve braced for the blow, I guess.

More spoiler-ridden thoughts below the fold.

The thing that bothers me most about the ending of the series is Ed’s departure. It doesn’t make much sense, and had she stayed, I think the series would have been more impactful to me. As it is now, I keep straining to think of ways for Jet and Faye to run into Ed and Ein again and get back together.

Let me rewind a bit. In the first 23 episodes, what we essentially get is an introduction of characters, a little backstory on each, and some relationship-building between them all. In the last few episodes, we see a lot of conflicts come to a head. A lot of unpleasant things happen, but it’s not a total loss. There’s some hope in the end, which is all I really ask. Actually, there’s a lot of room for interpretation, but if you give me that sort of opening, I’m going to insert hope.

Steven Den Beste has a long, spoiler-laden analysis of the series in which he looks at it from two angles. One, the tragic point of view, sees almost no room for hope or happiness. The other, which posits that Cowboy Bebop is really a Ronin story, presents a very interesting perspective. I think I come down somewhere inbetween. There is tragedy in the story, but also hope and honor.

Of the main characters, Jet’s story is the most straighforward. He changes and grows as the story moves along, but his growth is along the same trajectory as it always was. Den Beste’s ronin theory describes Jet remarkably well:

Jet served a dishonorable master, the ISSP. Once he found out that the organization was corrupt, he faced that dilemma: if he remained part of it, he too might become corrupt, forfeiting his honor, or have the ISSP prevent him from carrying out what he saw as his duty. But leaving was itself dishonorable. Still, he found the best answer he could: he left, but became a bounty hunter, because it let him continue to pursue lawbreakers and to bring them to justice, which he had accepted as his duty in life. He decided that he had to stay true to his own honor rather than to stay true to a corrupt and dishonorable master. …

Jet owns the Bebop, and he puts up with Faye and Ed, and Ein, in part because of his feeling of obligation to not turn them out. They need help, he can provide it, and he feels as if he must even if he gains nothing for doing so. He feels protective about the others, for the same reason. He gives up the possibility of shaking down the gate corporation for a huge sum of money and instead demands that they leave the chess master alone, because Ed wants to keep playing against him. Faye and Spike keep wrecking their ships and he keeps fixing them. And in one exchange between them, it becomes clear that Jet had even taken Spike in out of that same kind of feeling of helping someone less fortunate, giving a place to someone who didn’t have one.

And it goes on. I don’t know nearly as much as Den Beste about Japanese history and culture, but this fits Jet well. Spike, I’m not so sure about. Steven says:

Jet and Spike were both ronin, but in every other way they were opposites. Jet became a ronin to save his honor. Spike was a ronin because he had lost his.

The only problem is that Spike was a gangster. Jet was basically a cop, and it doesn’t take much to draw parallels between a cop and a Samurai (in the idealized sense, at least). Jet’s crisis came about because he was always trying to do the right thing. Spike had no such luxury of pretending that he was doing something good. Can one be a ronin without ever being a Samurai? He was a gangster who found love and tried to run… but was not followed by the one he loved (the whole event only postpones the inevitable though). There is some sort of honor in Spike’s world, but it’s not the honor of the Samurai. It’s the faux-honor of the gangster. Spike’s story seems to jive well with my limited experience of Yakuza flicks, which are filled with talk of honor but acts of deception and betrayal. Gangsters with honor are gangsters who are crushed by weasely boss’ or betrayed by friends and that’s what happens to Spike. Steven is right that Spike had no honor, but I’m not sure ever had honor until the end. He gets revenge on Vicious, but dies in the process. I think the one saving grace of this, for Spike, is that he also gets to join Julia, even if it’s only in death. I think Spike’s death could have meant more to the story, but this isn’t really explored for reasons I’ll belabor in a moment.

The biggest surprise for me was Faye’s arc of the last few episodes. She confronts her past and gets her memory back only to find that it gave her no comfort. She had sought this past for as long as she could remember, and it gave her nothing… nothing except the realization that she already had what she really sought. This is a variant of a common story. A protagonist seeks some unattainable goal only to realize it’s been sitting right before their eyes the whole time (this story seems to happen most often with a male character seeking to win the affections of the pretty, popular girl, only to realize that he’s really in love with his “normal” female friend that he’s known forever). Faye finally understands that she does belong somewhere, and when she finds out that Spike is leaving to face certain death, she can’t handle it. She asks him why he’s leaving and pleads with him to stay. Steven attributes this to selfishness, which I guess I can see, but I’d give her more credit. I think she’s giving Spike a chance (or at least, she thinks she is). She sees that Spike’s life still has worth and she tries to make Spike see that she wants to depend on him, but Spike is empty. For most of the story, Spike is aloof. He doesn’t seem too connected to anything, in part because he’s been traumatized in the past. Knowing what I do of Spike’s story, I can’t say that I blame him for leaving, but from Faye’s perspective, she just doesn’t have any idea why he needs to do it. I think she’s offering a chance at redemption to Spike, even if she doesn’t realize that Spike can’t be redeemed in that way. I don’t see that as a fault either. Faye is far from perfect, but it’s clear she’s turned the corner. I think this is why I liked her story’s end so much. She’s the one character that doesn’t really have a straightforward trajectory. As such, I can’t imagine a scenario where Faye and Jet don’t stay together, and I could even see Spike’s death really galvanizing Faye and Jet’s relationship.

Which brings me to Radical Edward and Ein. I think Faye’s return and Spike’s departure would have been more meaningful if Ed and Ein were still members of the crew. Instead, we get a tacked-on backstory for Ed and her inexplicable departure. In episode 24, Ed finds her father… but her father is clearly not interested in Ed. I agree with Steven’s take on Ed’s story as well, and find Ed’s departure baffling. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Indeed, this is the only real story (other than when we first meet Ed) that really goes into Ed’s past, and it’s in an episode that also has significant happenings for Faye. As such, we spend about 10 minutes total (if that, and that’s in the course of 26 episodes) on Ed’s past, which is kinda lame. For most of the series, Ed plays a sort of comic-relief foil to the rest of the crew. A cheery, naive child in the presense of bitter, world-weary adults. It worked really well. I loved the character of Radical Edward, even if there wasn’t really much meat there. So this backstory of a father that abandoned her felt arbitrary and pointless. Ein followed Ed, and they make a good team, so there’s at least that. The only other trace of hope I can see here is that Ed left right after Faye left, and Faye told Ed that it’s good to be where you “belong.” Faye found that she didn’t belong where she thought, so it stands to reason that Ed could come to the same conclusion. But that’s just my naive optimism coming out, I guess. I like the idea of Spike being a tragic figure whose death brings together those that were around him. They might not live happily ever after (they are bounty hunters, after all), but at least they’d be growing.

It’s funny, because I wonder how much the show’s creators thought about such things. A part of me wants to think that the story is really just an excuse to creat a compelling audio/visual experience, which is something they do in spades. This is probably the most visually and stylistically impressive anime series I’ve seen. There’s a real cinematic feel to every episode, which is an achievement these days when a lot of movies don’t feel cinematic. They hit a good balance between humor and drama, and nail the tone of the whole series. I think the reason this series is so popular is that it’s such a visceral experience. Plus, the series is more episodic than serial, so it’s easy to isolate parts you like from parts you don’t. For all their faults, I think people can at least identify and empathize with the characters, and the creators do a good job of setting everything up in the series.

Having just finished the series, I’m not sure how it will sit with me in the long run. I may be tempted to write some more about the series once I’ve had more time to think it over (episode 23, in particular, warrants more thought on my part – shades of Ghost in the Shell‘s existential themes), but these were my initial thoughts. All in all, it’s a good series, and it is one I’d recommend as a gateway drug. It’s very accessible and, as previously mentioned, it’s a visceral experience. The ending isn’t perfect, but it’s not the black stain for me that it seems to be for Steven (or, at least, not yet, we’ll see how I feel later or if I ever rewatch it). I don’t think the ending ruined all that came before it and I can see a silver lining in the dark clouds of the story. Of course, part of that is probably wishful thinking on my part. The creators didn’t show a lot of things I’m taking for granted about the ending, but they did leave it open to interpretation.

28 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop: The Ending”

  1. I think your confusion about Ed is due to you not understanding the character. She’s the least normal one there, and I don’t mean just because of how strange she comes across. She never had any significant emotional link to any of them, not even to Ein, I think. She’s something of a sociopath, in fact.

    Consider the mushrooms. Those things could have been deadly. Ed wasn’t sure if they were safe. So she tested them out on the other members of the crew, even Ein.

    The reason she was on the ship, mainly, was because she wanted to find her dad. She even tricked Spike and Jet into doing that.

    And what we find when we see him is that, as one of my readers put it, the fruit didn’t fall very far from the tree. There was nothing there for Ed, and once she knew it, she took the frirst opportunity she had to jump ship.

    SHe didn’t take Ein; he chased her. In the end it’s not clear that Ed feels affection for anyone, except maybe the kid in the coma.

    As to Spike being a Yakuza, yes. But a lot of the modern Yakuza culture comes from ronin. During the Shogunate, all samurai were required to swear fealty to the Shogun, and all of them were given stipends on which to live.

    After the Meiji Restoration, the new civilian government recognized that it couldn’t afford to keep doing that. It told all those samurai that the stipends would end in five years (I think it was).

    Some of them tried a counter-revolution, but that failed. A lot of them found careers. But a lot of them ended up joining the Yakuza, and as a result the Yakuza code of honor does actually have mutant strains of the bushido mixed into it.

  2. One very common theme is Shinichirō Watanabe’s work is that nobody ever escapes their past-it will forever haunt them into the present. And, when the past confronts the present, it is always disaster.

    In Macross Plus, it is the failed three-way love triangle that ended in an assault and near-rape that would eventually lead to an incident that would demand victory and death.

    In Samurai Champloo, the past of the two characters (the crippled victims of one, the political affairs of the other’s teacher that nearly had the other character turned into an assassin) tie into the third and the samurai that smells of sunflowers (her father was the leader of the last samurai rebellion and a Catholic in Japan in that era). It all collides in the end, and the meaning of the series and the goal of it means nothing.

    And, we have Cowboy Bebop. All of them are broken and damaged characters-some more than others. Jet had nothing but what could clutch in his own hands-the career he loved in the ISSP gone because what he served was corrupt, his marriage because he couldn’t let go. Fae had nothing but what she could win by chance or steal-even her memories are what she had to take. And, Ed…let’s put it at the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, yet the apple would have loved to have fallen from a much different tree.

    Which leads us to Spike. It always leads us to Spike. All of the characters are aspects of Spike’s own internal dilemma. He tries to be happy-go-lucky like Ed, but it doesn’t work. When he tries to break away like Ed (when he escapes from the Tong, when he finds Julia again and tries to leave Mars) it brings him no peace. Ed found peace again by being on the road-it was being in one place that she could see would be a trap.

    Spike tries to forsake his memories, like Fae did involuntarily. He claims to have died in that incident with Vicious prior to the start of the series, and was a “new man”. That he had no past, but a future he could make. But, his past kept haunting him-and the bloody ghost was named Vicious, which was everything Spike was not and had memories. Yet, the only way for Spike to escape his memories was to slay himself-and the black mirror that held his memories.

    Spike tries to find a new life, like how Jet found a new life. Yet, their old lives keep coming back to haunt them. Hell, the entire main plot line of Cowboy Bebop can draw upon the fact that Spike’s old life just keeps on coming back for more.

    And, when it ends-it ends because Spike becomes what he was, whatever the cost. He cannot be happy-go-lucky, because he cannot ever walk away from what he was. He cannot forsake what he was, because ignorance gave him no peace-nor did knowledge. And, he cannot make a new life because the old one will not let him make something else.

    Jet realizes this, and knows he cannot talk Spike out of what he was. Fae doesn’t realize this-what she has become depends upon a life that has all of them-Jet and Spike-in her life. Her past means nothing at all, being gone for so long. She has only the relationships she has made, and there are only two-Spike and Jet. To lose Spike is to lose half of herself.

    Yet, what she doesn’t realize is that Spike never escaped his past-it still lives, and for his past to die, he must die.

    That’s why Spike smiles at the end-he’s really and finally escaped.

  3. When I first watched the ending of the series I didn’t think Spike died. I assumed he just passed out from his wounds like he had in other episodes. Geez, if he survived a fall of 50 – 60 feet from the church onto concrete stairs I figured he should have easily survive his wounds from the final episode.

  4. Steven, If that’s the case, then I totally misread Ed. I didn’t think she was normal, but I had her pegged as more of an ADD (or ADHD or whatever they call it now) personality. I don’t think I attributed as much malice to the mushroom incident as you did. Ed had seen Ein eat one of the mushrooms, so I think she thought it was safe, though it was clear that it had some affect (Ein started bouncing around erratically for a few minutes, but appeared to be fine by the time they got back to the ship). But I guess that does sorta indicate something weird going on with her personality. I didn’t put together that Ed’s entire purpose of being on the Bebop was to find her father (though I was a little confused as to why she wanted to join the Bebop). Considering that her father (and anything from her past) only comes up in episode 24 (her last episode), I just felt like it was tacked on and lame. It’s like they were getting near the end of the series and realized they needed to give Ed some backstory, so they made something up and then wrote her off in the course of a single episode. I disagree that she doesn’t have any emotional link with the bebop crew though. She seemed to have a good relationship with Jet and I got a sisterly vibe from her relationship with Faye. Spike was closed off and aloof as usual (he seems more sociopathic than anyone).

    As for Spike, I can see what you’re saying, and I don’t think we necessarily disagree much (though I maintain that Spike never had much honor to begin with). Again, I’m extrapolating from my experience with Yakuza films, which probably doesn’t mesh exactly with the historical reality, but from what I’ve seen the Yakuza do have a code of honor, but they only really pay lip-service to it. When push comes to shove (as it usually does), any concept of honor flies out the window. In any case, whether he lost is honor or never had it in the first place, the result is the same.

    I’m still thinking it through though and will probably post some more thoughts this weekend.

  5. Jon, your thoughts on Faye and Spike make a lot of sense to me. Jet understood Spike (or at least, he understood enough), but Faye didn’t, which is why their reactions to Spike were so different.

    TBlakely, I thought the same thing. Could he still be alive? I decided that he died though, because he had no reason to keep going. I think he wanted the release, the closure of death. The other times he approached death were all in situations where he still had a will to live. For Julia, for honor, whatever.

    There’s more to this, but I don’t have time right now:P

  6. Mark, the mushroom incident wasn’t about malice. It was about total indifference. Ed wasn’t actively trying to poison the others, she just didn’t care whether she did or not. They were lab rats, nothing more.

  7. Hmm. The Ed as sociopath is interesting, but it’s not really how I read the character. She’s a child, and does things with a child’s carelessness, and she’s clearly got a few screws loose, but I don’t think I like a reading of the character as being morally bankrupt.

    My read on the show is that a lot of it is about interpersonal connections and the fragility of them- all of the characters are, in some way or another, looking for a family.

    Jet is a father figure, and he plays that role through the entire series. He takes the other characters under his wing, not out of a sense of obligation, but out of a desire to create a family. He tries to give them guidance and to support them because they’re his surrogate family. When they’re in trouble, he, like a parent, does what it takes to help them, even when they’ve done something he warned them would lead to trouble. When he says that he’s not going to help, and Spike is on his own, does he stick to it? Hell no, he goes back and helps. There was a time when Jet was more interested in his work than in his family- thus, the failure of his marriage.

    Spike, on the other hand, has spent his lifetime trying to escape from one family, and trying to avoid getting personally attached to anyone or anything. Over the course of the show, we see him interacting with all kinds of people who have strong connections to family or loved ones. The series opens with a story about a couple- the drug runner and his girlfriend/wife (who, until the end of the episode, we’re meant to think is very, very pregnant). Spike doesn’t trust or want to trust people anymore- he wants to keep his personal attachments to a minimum so that he never has to worry about being betrayed again. He wants to live solely for himself, but the crew of the Bebop makes that impossible.

    Faye and Ed are also people without families- they don’t have homes to call their own, and, like Jet and Spike, can be seen as having been betrayed by someone they trusted. Jet was betrayed by his partner (like family), and Spike, by the woman he loved, and by his crime family.

    Anyway, that’s what I generally felt like the show “is about”- an exploration of four characters who are looking for or need to find families, and find each other, and how they learn to rely on each other, trust each other, and what happens to them.

  8. I picked up on the phrase “sucker punch” because that’s what others were using, but yes, I saw it coming a mile off, even before Jet started talking to the old indian shaman. From the moment Spike and Julia got back together, the entire vibe was “bad ending incoming!”

    And remember, the star went out (in reference to whether Spike lived or died).

    I stand by what I said to Dr.Heinous at the end of the last episode: “That ending sucked. I hate it. But it was the right ending.” By sucked, I don’t mean they did it badly; maybe a bit cliche, but they did it very well indeed. By hate it, I mean a part of me wanted the typical happy ending. But that part of me was wrong, and I knew it then and now. Frankly, as we watched the ending play out, I dreaded the “cop-out” more than anything.

    Cowboy Bebop was a classic Greek tragedy, translated into Japanese. Man seeks to rise above his past, but is devoured by it instead. Had the writer tried to tack on a happy ending, it would have felt wrong and compromised the series fatally.

    An American series writer wouldn’t have hesitated to kill Jet, then have Spike and Faye live happily ever after in the Bebop. This is why I really don’t give a rip about there being a writer’s strike in Hooeywood right now — hacks deserve to be out of work.

    I’ve never listed it and rarely discuss it on my website, because I don’t own it and it’s been years since I saw it, but Cowboy Bebop is one of my two “gold standards” that I judge anime by. The other being Misaki Chronicles, of course.

  9. I don’t mind that there’s a major crisis at the end of a series. That’s the norm; it makes the ending emotionally satisfying. But I prefer cases where there’s an amazing come-from-behind win if the win isn’t contrived, if the win is firmly established beforehand and makes sense. Misaki Chronicles, and Petite Princess Yucie, are both like that.

    Cowboy Bebop didn’t end with a win. Everyone (with the possible exception of Ein) loses.

  10. Looking around in Wikipedia, I noticed two interesting tidbits:

    1. Spike is generally thought to have died of wounds sustained in his final duel with Vicious, and the fading star in the ending theme of the finale is thought to support this claim. In an interview, Watanabe stated “I’ve never officially said that he died. At this point, I can tell you that I’m not sure if he’s alive or dead.”[4] He also stated that he believes fans would be upset if there was a continuation.

    Go figure. As TBlakely commented earlier, I think Spike has endured just as much damage as before, so I guess it’s possible… but I still think he’s dead. The star is definitely a give away, and it just makes sense for his character.

    2. Originally, Ed’s character was based on a description of the series’ music director (“a little weird, catlike, but a genius at creating music”)

    Ed was partially based on Yoko Kanno? It’s funny, but Kanno did a commentary on one of the episodes (the mushroom one, I think), and you can totally tell…

  11. I also found that forum threads at Animesuki have good info for post-watching parsing. For some reason I am not comfortable with Wikipedia, not knowing who has made a particular statement (I suppose there must be a mode where it shows this information, but I don’t know how to extract it).

  12. Well, I’m not sure everybody lost at the end. If Spike died, he died happy/satisfied/fulfilled (take your choice). Other than that everybody else goes there own way (at least for now) and given they have no real ties to each other it makes sense. Ed is too loony and Fai is too self-centered to make a ‘family’ with Jet.

  13. TBlakely, you’re missing the point. There are a lot of stories which are realistic, that aren’t worth watching. If I spend 24 episodes getting to know these characters, coming to like them, and getting invested in them, I don’t want to watch them all shrug their shoulders and walk away from each other.

    Maybe it’s realistic, but I don’t watch anime for “realistic”. What I want, when a show is over, is for the director to have made me glad I watched. Misaki Chronicles did. Petite Princess Yucie did. Cowboy Bebop did not.

  14. I can appreciate that distinction, Steven. Given what you’re looking for in a series, it makes total sense to me that you wouldn’t really like Cowboy Bebop. I’m totally okay with movies/anime that have downer endings, as long as the journey that takes me there is interesting. Cowboy Bebop wasn’t a win for the characters involved, and I have misgivings about some aspects of the series, but the stories being told and the characters involved were interesting enough that I count it as a win for me.

  15. I dunno, usually I’m a sucker for a happy ending but for some reason the ending of Cowboy Bebop didn’t bother me at all. Would it have been better for Fai or Jet to show up at the end and nurse Spike back to health? Perhaps. I interpreted the ending as ambiguous and respected it.

    For the most part the series was well written, had superb action sequences, had interesting characters and was ‘different’ enough to pique my interest without being too weird. So for me, Cowboy Bebop was a big win.

  16. The entire 26 episodes of Cowboy Bebop doesn’t really have an interconnected storyline. They are not after a McGuffin or out to defeat the empire. It’s really four stories that happen to touch one another. You could make four whole separate series out of each of these characters lives.

    Jet is the Old Cop story and his time during CB is all epilogue. By the time we meet him, his cop story is almost over. He wraps up loose ends by letting go of the girl who left him, confronting the partner who betrayed him, and settling the score with the one that got away. He’s done and will settle down into the life of the Obi-Wan. Bounty hunting is now his retirement. Some cops buy a bar, he catches inconsequential lowlifes. If he ever picks up the mantle of hero again, it will be for the last time.

    Spike’s Yakuza story is the events leading up to the dramatic climax. At the start of CB, he story is two-thirds over. He rose to power, fell in love, and then turned his back on all he knew. CB is that pause between getting out alive and going back to settle the score. Eventually, he has to find the women he loves and settle things with Vicious. Since it is a Yakuza story, it will not end pretty.

    Faye’s Lost Girl story is in the middle. The setup to her story is in place by the time CB begins. She is in search of who she is and where she belongs. At the end of CB, she knows who she is but she not where she belongs. Her old home is gone and her new home has been overtaken by events. But her story is not over. She is young and still in search of her place in the universe.

    Ed’s story hasn’t even started yet. If a series was made of her life, Cowboy Bebop would be back story. It would be told in flashback, of where she came from and how she met Ein. It was her first taste of adventure that got her out of the junk heap and into the world. Finding her father wasn’t a life defining quest. It was a consequnce of her and Faye’s visit to the orphanage. She has her whole life ahead of her and is journeying out to meet it. She’ll build her own crew and fine her own story. Maybe in a later episode she’d run into Faye or Jet but they won’t be part of her new story. Just part of who she is.

    Cowboy Bebop is about the lives of these four people and a dog as they intersect for a while and then drift apart. A lot happens to a character in between episodes and seasons which we don’t get to see. “Mushroom Samba” would be three minutes of clips in a regular series. “Hey remember that time we found those psychedelic mushrooms?” If this was a Yakuza story or a cop story would they spend time on old space shuttles, truckers, blues playing immortal kids, computerized cult leaders or Cowboy Andys? No. Interesting stories all, but not enough time to tell them and not germane to the plot.

    We find the ending of Cowboy Bebop sad because Spike, a guy we liked, died. But Jet got closure, Faye is halfway to finding happiness, and Ed and Ein have they whole lives ahead of them. That’s gotta count for something.

  17. deep down i hope that spike is alive…i think thtat he might be because the developers of the series said that “someday, maybe someday” there will be more

    also theyre making a cowboy bebop movie….but i doubt it will be as good as the anime 🙁

  18. why at the end of the show does it say…your going to carry that weight…is that b/c we wont ever know if spike trully lived or died…and i see alot of you sayin spike has no more reason or will to live thats why he dies at the end…but i watched 24 episodes of jet and faye growing emotionally and even physically attached to spike so obviously he still had a reason to live through them

  19. i just finished watching this today and all in all i’m satisfied. the only episode that was really unsettling was 24 where ed and ein left. it just didn’t feel appropriate. however, it was then that i realized that something bad was about to happen. i then watched the final two episodes and believe it or not, i found them less depressing than episode 24. episode 24 felt unjustified and unexplained; ed’s father didn’t care for him and the fact that ein had to go to… ugh, don’t get me started. but the truth is, they were just bracing you for what was really going to happen (or at least they were trying to). i expected spike to die as soon as episode 24 ended, it just seemed appropriate as he was the only character that had loose ends to tie up.

    however, the points that i would like to focus on are the story jet tells spike and the story spike tells jet. i’ll start with the story jet told spike. basically, jet talks about a man who gets shot in a hunting accident or something, i can’t quite recall it correctly. but he’s in the middle of nowhere and there is no way to get help. right as death is closing in, a helicopter comes and picks him up. the man looks down from the helicopter and sees bright white. it was a snow capped mountain. and he thinks to himself, “oh yeah, that’s where i was going…” spike’s reaction to the story is rather indifferent, but jet says, “i hate that story. men that remember their past before they die as if they were frantically searching for proof they were alive.” this, right here, should be a big giant sign that spells out for you “SPIKE DIES.” it’s not that i wanted him to die or that i didn’t like him as a character, but think about it… it wouldn’t make sense if he was still alive and it would make the ending inconclusive.

    on to my next point is the cat story spike shares with jet before he departs for his final confrontation with vicious, i believe. he tells of a cat that lived a million lives and died a million times. the cat was revived a million times and was owned by various people and most of which he didn’t care for. kind of like how spike was once “owned” by the syndicate but “escaped” and became a bounty hunter, which leads me to the rest of the story. eventually the cat ran away and became a stray, more or less the cat found freedom. the freedom the cat experienced was similar to the freedom spike experienced when he quit the syndicate and became a bounty hunter. in the cat’s (the cat symbolizes spike) life as a stray he met a beautiful white female cat (julia). they spent their days together happily but eventually the female cat grew old and died. the male cat cried a million times and then died, and didn’t come back to life.

    if you haven’t realized that spike is going to die at this point (or that he is meant to die at the end) than you’re stupid. somewhere in the episodes spike even mentions that he had died before but came back to life (i guess this is somewhat of a metaphor as he played dead in order to escape the syndicate but he was just avoiding his problems). you probably should have recalled this as soon as you heard the cat story. it’s not about how fatal his injuries were or how someone could have helped him, it was about finishing what he had started with the syndicate, with vicious, and with julia. once he knew it was all said and done, he welcomed death warmly because he felt he had nothing left to live for and he felt he had accomplished all that was left for him.

    now in an artistic aspect, it’s a great ending. however, if you want to look at cowboy bebop as more than a story and more seriously, than i can also offer another explanation. although (imo) the anime makes it obvious spike is meant to die, the reality of it is that he probably didn’t die. i mean how could he? look at what he lived through in episode 5 and episode 20, it’s not logical but artistically that’s not the point. spike’s life was essentially the same as the life of the cat in the story he told jet. once he felt his ends were tied and he found satisfaction, he was done and had will to live no longer.

    as far as the aftermath goes, it’s up to you. you can imagine whatever you’d like as anything goes but i’d like to believe it goes something like this… jet continues bounty hunting and faye probably continues living on the bebop with him as she probably needs a shoulder to cry on and she has no one else to go to. as far as the characters go (i don’t want to get to deep into this, just thought i should say this) jet is by far the most mature and most “adult.” he doesn’t rely on petty defense mechanisms or excuses; he’s mature and is probably the most balanced emotionally. he’s also the token father figure in the anime. he’s generous and caring but stern and honest. jet was probably my favorite character. i have no clue what faye will do after she feels she no longer needs jet as a shoulder to cry on. however, it’s obvious she really needs to grow up. she will probably leave once she feels she might be accepted by somee thing but then realize it was all for the wrong reasons and go back to jet. she seems to make one mistake after another, really, and she truly has no place to call home. i for one would welcome a sidstory/sequel of sorts that focuses on faye, jet, ed and ein after spike’s death. although the storyline and main character received closure, the other main characters didn’t and it leaves us wondering.

    this is REALLY getting way too long but there is one thing i’d like to mention. i’ve heard talk of a (mostly) fan theory that says that perhaps spike never did die but it was all a bad dream (hence all the talk of waking up from a dream or being in a dream from julia and spike). i don’t particularly agree but it is interesting to think about.

    anyway, that wraps up my rambling about CB. i’m sorry for any typos or grammatical errors, which i’m sure there are many. i’d love to look through and correct them but i’m just far too tired at the moment. maybe i’ll come back later and post some more of my thoughts (with improved spelling and grammar :/) as i have many many more concerning CB.

  20. alright, i’m back for the second time. i still have a LOT of thoughts racing through my head about the ending and about the series in general but i can only write so much per sitting and can only fathom so many ideas at a time before my brain goes dead. i apologize in advance for spamming walls of text all about some meaningless cartoon show (take that with a grain of salt, please). =P

    okay, where i left off… it was about the fan theory that perhaps spike’s life was all just a dream. however, i didn’t elaborate on this mostly because, well, no one has elaborated it for me. the best way i can think of it or put it is that everything after episode 5 (where he fell out of the window and became a ‘mummy’ so to speak) was a dream. that’s only my idea/belief though. now, i already stated i don’t believe this is plausible but hey it’s still interesting to think about and since the ending and storyline is so vague anything’s possible. if this theory was true, i imagine when spike awoke i’m not sure what he’d think. spike is stubborn and foolish. i really don’t think he would think anything of the dream with the whole “whatever happens happens” motto of his. but you never knew, perhaps that would be his changing point where he realizes where he’s going wrong. i’m just speculating of course. of course i felt his death and vicious death alike were poetic justices, but at the same time someone as great as spike didn’t deserve to die. the whole reason behind his death seemed to be freedom, he apparently had some sort of death wish going on. even vicious says before they fight one last time: “i’m the only one that can kill you spike, i’m the only one that can set you free,” to which spike responds “the same applies to you as well, vicious.”

    another thing a few fans like to complain about is the lack of emotional interaction between faye and spike. this is something i never really understood. faye seems manipulative and emotionally unstable while spike just seems cold and pensive most of the time. ever hear that sarcasm is hidden anger? most of the time i don’t believe that but in spike’s case it is most certainly true. behind every sarcastic remark he was angry, angry at vicious, angry at the syndicate, etc. i don’t think they’d work out because quite frankly they worked together better as a bounty hunting duo. they just didn’t seem meant for each other. i guess i can’t really say much more than that as far as reasons go. besides, even if spike were to have lived and came back to the bebop, i think he would be even more disconnected from reality, himself, and from his emotions. some will say that he came back in touch with all that after he killed vicious but honestly i think he lost touch completely with all of it after that. why do you think he chose to die, even after the times he had “died” before? i mean, the part of him that completed him was missing. he even said that julia was “the one,” the one that made him whole. after all that spike probably didn’t want to live and i can’t imagine how hard it would be for him to establish relationships with other human beings again due to his walls being all built up from the incident.

    on the other hand, i guess it is possible. spike seems to be able to separate his work from his personal life but you just can’t be sure when dealing with something like the death of someone he truly loved. so like i said, it’s really hard to say.

    besides, wouldn’t it seem slightly unrealistic to bring back a character that has survived numerous fatal incidents? something had to kill him sooner or later otherwise what would? and would something else be more fitting or more poetic than to have him slay his life long menace and at the same time die by his hands? they had to have something kill spike otherwise he would seem immortal and inhuman, which was EXACTLY what the creators (imo) wanted you to see he wasn’t. however, at the same time, it seems unrealistic from the wounds he died from compared to what he walked away from in the past. but that’s part of the poetic justice and this goes back to the cat story. it was a justified death and he wanted it i think.

    so, long story short, the show wasn’t trying to tell you spike had fought his last battle and the wounds he suffered were just far too fatal to live from. it was the story of a warrior with a good heart who was a little mixed up and had gotten involved with some bad people. it was his story in which he finished what he started (the most focal and stressed point in the series arguably, to finish what you start) and once he finished it all, his job was done and thus he was done as well. his duty was complete.

    some people will say jet didn’t care because he let spike ultimately kill himself but jet did too care. jet would have been possessive and selfish if he tried to hold spike back. jet understood spike had unfinished business and respected that. in my opinion, that is a true friend. the last time they spend together where jet makes him food is one of the deepest moments i can recall seeing on a cartoon or any tv show in general. it is the first and the last time spike and jet look at each other as fellow men and say their farewells. it’s a great scene but also a very sad one.

    although messages are everywhere in CB, there are 2 main ones. one of them i already addressed, which is to finish what you start. another good one and probably another main one is that you can’t escape your past and it will catch up to you (i can explain this in one word: karma). however, a strong message that appears less strongly but is just as important is the sentiment of not taking life for granted. that is the most beautiful theme of all in CB. to have no regrets and to live to the fullest, taking the good with the bad, knowing you can’t change it really.

    so, there ends my ranting, speculating, and raving on a great story. i still have more thoughts but right now that is the gist of what i wanted to say. thanks for reading, if you did.

  21. Hi Xavier! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree about Ed and Ein, though I think the rationalization that their departure was foreshadowing Spike’s unhappy ending, while clever and perhaps accurate, does not make the way they treated the character a good thing. The way Ed’s character is handled is the big stain on this series for me, the one thing holding it back from greatness… As for Spike, yeah, I’ve come down pretty firmly in the “he’s dead” camp. Thanks for commenting!

  22. I agree, Ed and Ein didn’t *have* to leave. I think maybe they didn’t know how to make Ed respond to Spike’s death. Another reason I think (now I’m searching for things, haha) might have been to rid the show of comedic relief because after Ep.24 things get really serious.

  23. I was just wondering if anybody thought there were parallels between Mugen/Jin’s relationship and Spike/Vicious’ relationship before Spike and Vicious left whatever elements of Tharsis City/Red Dragon Syndicates they were tied to.

    Obviously, in Bebop S/V are enemies beyond the superficial, at times, comeraderie of Mugen/Jin. But I wouldn’t put it past Shinichiro, in looking into the past with Champloo, he might have also looked into Spike’s past a little bit.

  24. I would agree with the person that said that the entire ship was sort of in a transitional

    period, and they really didn’t jibe with each other. sort of like house mates that move on. Jet was the bond that brought them all together if only briefly. I just started watching because of the “Kool Music” and state of the art animation for the 90’s, My favorite character was Jet, from the begining through to the end, because He was a little rough and grizzled but He had a huge heart; and found out that He really did like kid’s and dogs. I was really shocked when this “Adult Swim” cartoon, became a morilistic,existintual,Drama. “The Road Runner” never did get killed,nor the coyote. Side note if the plans go to fruation I hope they don’t F*ck up the “Movie” too much.

  25. Marcus, Have you seen the Cowboy Bebop Movie (the animated one)? It takes place somewhere before episode 23 or 24 in the series and is actually a lot of fun. The live action movie that’s in production hell right now may never come to pass, but given that Keanu Reeves is the main force behind it, I’m guessing we’re going to be disappointed…

  26. i don’t care how bad the movie will be. reeves will be able to pull off a convincing spike, if you ask me, but the plot will most likely be severely altered or watered down. besides, live action cowboy bebop seems awesome. i’m currently in the middle of watching hellsing. never thought i’d get into this anime thing.

  27. I don’t think Ed is a sociopath; that’s just reading too much into it. The nun on Earth that once cared for Ed said that she wandered in, stayed for a while, then left, like a cat, and I think she joined and left the Bebop for the same reason. I don’t think that she joined just to use the crew to find her father, because she didn’t even know what her father looked like until she returned to Earth.

    Ed does things on a whim, but she’s not completely random. I think the real reason she left was to find where she belonged, and her father leaving her a second time only added to it. I say this because she tells Ein not to follow her, which suggests a personal journey meant for her alone, although Ein seems to feel he belongs with Ed more than the Bebop. Ed and Ein are skilled hackers, and make a great duo. It’s nice that they’ll have their own adventures, and the solar system is too small for them not to run into the Bebop again.

    Time stopped for Spike, and now his time is finished, but the rest of the world moves on as it should. Who’s to say Spike would be happy had he lived?

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