Before I begin this discussion of one of the all-time greatest anime, I want to take a second to remember someone who passed recently. I’m not going to pretend I was an avid reader or follower of Zac Bertschy. When he wrote something interesting, I paid attention. When we disagreed, we butted heads like two old rams. His influence in the anime sphere, especially in the West, is undeniable…as well as his influence in the English Visual Novel sphere. Zac and his then partner Jacob Chapman hosted a livestream years ago called CYS. And while it feature many, many ‘interesting’ pieces of media, it was also one of the first major livestreams to showcase EVNs. This included an excellent demo playthrough and interview with the Moacube team on Cinders. Their work made visual novels a viable choice for content and many, many things sprung from there.
I cannot speak for every developer and publisher, but on behalf of this corner of the Internet, I am very grateful for what CYS was and what it did when this genre of gaming. Rest in Peace, Zac. You’ll be greatly missed.
….WHY AM I THE ONE WRITING THIS?
Seriously, forget my Oldtaku roots and preference for intellectual property from almost thirty years ago (….dear God, Toonami is almost thirty years old). For someone as frigid as I am, WHY. ME?! With the last ten years or so of anime and manga, the amount of geeks who can’t go a day without a hit of that sweet, sweet fanservice should have been lined up around the block on this one. Yet they bring in a practical hormonal corpse for a pinch hit.
….You know what? Fine. If that’s the way it has to be, fine.
I have been burned by enough Western anime adaptations of properties I like to go into any of them skeptical. However, Cowboy Bebop is different. Cowboy Bebop was written by Shinichiro Watanabe to reflect what he loved about American film. This meant not only could the cast in a Japanese cartoon be a literal melting pot of races and cultures, but also that the series could have a different setting while exploring similar themes. Cowboy Bebop is a show that incorporates Film Noir, Gangster movies, Westerns, Blaxploitation, Art-house cinema, Horror movies and straight-up action films and not only did it not feel out of place, no one batted an eye. Anyone with a threadbare knowledge of American 20th Century Cinema could successfully adapt Cowboy Bebop. It is that straightforward of a prospect.
Apparently, someone at Netflix didn’t get the memo.
In an interview with i09 Moron #463, also known as Javier Grillo-Marxuach, talked about some of the things that will change with the adaptation. One of the things mentioned is that it won’t be a direct adaptation of the original series, which is fine. Again, knowing the main inspiration for Bebop, you can adapt it nearly any way you want on a narrative level and still strike all of the right cords. Then, we get this gem:
“Spike Spiegel has to be Asian. Like, you can’t Scarlett Johansson this shit,”
…..SPIKE SPIEGEL IS JEWISH. The dude literally has a Jewfro. The only way Watanabe could have been clearer is if Spike called someone a ‘mensch’. The entire character is a statement on the effect popular media can have on cultures outside of the original audience. This is why he is a practitioner of Jeet Kune Do and a member of Chinese organized crime and that is not even close to what I am supposed to be talking about. Here’s the line about Faye:
“We need to have a real human being wearing that.”
Just like with having Section 9 fight a prototypical evil corporation instead of the government in the Western adaptation of Ghost in the Shell (and you can read that analysis here), if you cannot understand the basics of a show’s philosophy, then you cannot understand the show. Cowboy Bebop was not shy when it came to the sexual attractiveness of its female cast. Julia, Faye, Katarina, Coffee and the Girl from the Big Shots show all come immediately to mind. However, the men also have moments of fanservice. The show literally starts with Spike’s bony self practicing with his shirt off, Jet gets naked a few times and we can spend all day on how the show presents Gren in a blatantly lustful light. Because sex has very little to do with the everyday world of the story though, the overarching point of this particular fanservice was to arguably give the audience something pleasant since so much of its world was bleak and nihilistic.
Beyond that, there are the narrative reasons for why Faye wears what she wears and, like how most of the cast is dressed, it’s done to reflect an in-universe point, a character point, and a thematic point. The in-universe point is that Faye cannot afford much else. Along with all of her debts, she isn’t the most effective bounty hunter. So, if it looks like an outfit one would slap together with not a lot of time or money, that’s because it was. The character point is that when Faye is shown to be effective, it’s because she uses her sexuality and her intelligence to get her targets to lower their guard. This is why the few times we see her going to buy clothes, the outfits are to get closer to a bounty and, somehow, they leave less to the imagination. This is a point to Faye for being smart. She works in an enterprises that were the majority of both her targets and competitors are stronger and more ruthless than her. She has to use the advantages she has if she’s going to survive and she does.
Finally, there is the thematic point. Really look at Faye’s outfit: soak it in. Now think about who spends the most time with Faye in the series: the rest of the crew of the Bebop. One is a child, the other two are heterosexual men. Now, this isn’t widespread knowledge, but I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret: heterosexual men tend to notice attractive, half-naked women. I know: shocker. However, Spike and Jet do not care. Even more so, you can make the argument that they never cared.
Why? Because this is a story about broken people just trying to make it through the day.
Bounty Hunting in the Cowboy Bebop universe is not glamorous. It can be profitable, but bounty hunters are treated like outlaws in most of the known world, none live to see old age and whatever they earn is usually gone within weeks if not days. It is a career path of lost souls stuck in a world outside of life and death, but not quite purgatory. The show reflects this by getting progressively darker with each episode: putting each member of the Bebop closer to things in life they are either running from or have left unresolved. Eventually they all have to come to terms with it. However, for the purposes of this conversation, instead of getting lost in vices, they’ve all chosen to disconnect and compartmentalize to focus on a simple thing that, at worst, could kill them.
Spike and Jet aren’t interested in Faye the same reason Faye only shows a passing interesting in Spike when it becomes clear he was not coming back to the ship alive: attachments have baggage, baggage comes with pain, pain requires time to heal and none of them want to think about how long they have been at this. The longer they think about it, the more they’ll have time to think about the broken pieces of their own souls and that, for most people of a certain age, is terrifying. So Faye can wear what she wants and does. It’s just another odd part of their existence, but nothing to get attached to.
Unfortunately for all of them, they do get attached; which is one of the show’s larger themes. But you cannot get there without this piece first. It’s not about drooling over a half-naked babe like so many anime female characters of the moment. It’s about taking that woman from something that catches our eyes, to someone who breaks our hearts. Faye Valentine is one of the most deeply human characters in modern fiction and if a ‘real human’ can’t even carry her look, well then, I highly doubt they can carry her weight.
But, maybe I’m overthinking it. What do you guys think of Faye’s outfit and character? Let me know in the comments. JP3: OUT.