Cowboy Bebop Hits the Notes Modern Entertainment Misses

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One of the advantages of opting out of most of today’s popular entertainment is that it gives me the chance to catch up on things I always meant to watch, read, play, or listen to. And I’ve missed some big ones. Within the last few months, I finally watched Day of the Dead, Big Trouble in Little China, The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and Cool Hand Luke. The biggest surprise in that list is Big Trouble, because it came out at a time when I was the perfect age to fall completely in love with that movie. But somehow I missed it. Or it missed me. Not sure how or why. But I’m glad, because I was able to enjoy it as a completely new experience at a time when I find entertainment sorely lacking in so many ways. 

A few weeks ago, I wrapped up my first runthrough of Cowboy Bebop. I was sort of ping ponging back and forth between it and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and not really paying attention to the episode count. So when I started “The Real Folk Blues (Part 1)”, I assumed I was somewhere near the middle of the show. But when the credits rolled on “Part 2”, I was stunned. 

I’d been with the crew of the Bebop for several weeks, dolling episodes out to myself, usually one at a time, savoring my first viewing of the series. I had gotten to know these characters. Come to love them in a way. As far as I was concerned, I was on board for 25 more adventures. At least. Hell, I was hoping there was another season or an off-shoot of some kind that I could watch once I was done with the series. 

But not this time. There were no other seasons. No continuations. No sequels. No prequels. No rebootquels or whatever we’re calling this stuff nowadays. Nothing. Nada. And without that promise of something to fill the void, something to fill the need for more to consume, I was left only with this knot in my stomach and this feeling that I had just said goodbye to a group of friends I had grown close to without really even knowing it. I felt the sense of loss that Jet and Faye feel at the end of the series when they know they’ll never see Spike or Ed again. 

And all of that from an animated show about space bounty hunters.

Well, it didn’t take long for me to start drawing comparisons between Bebop and modern entertainment. I thought about all of the times I’d gone into some prestige genre television show like a kid in a candy store wanting to pinch myself and knowing that 13 year old me would not believe that such shows with such budgets and such effects would ever (could ever) exist–only to be completely dismayed and disillusioned by the end that I hadn’t cared at all about what I’d just seen. Despite the amazing effects, the high production values, and the star power–9 times out of 10 I just didn’t feel anything afterward. It was like the show could have never been produced at all and nothing would have changed as far as I was concerned. 

Now there’s very little I can say to those of you who have lived with these characters for two and a half decades now. You know them better than I do. You probably have a firmer grasp on the themes, the characters’ backstories, the show’s philosophy, and the whole world of Bebop than I could possibly have having just finished it. 

What I do know is that the writers of this cyberpunk, sci fi animated show somehow found a way to write Jet and Spike and Faye and Ed and even Ein in a way that made me care about them. Somewhere in between the adventures of the week, the hijinks, the jokes, the cool sci fi imagery, and the action set pieces, the show’s creators injected enough backstory and imbued these characters with enough pathos that they began to feel real. Real and relatable. And I’m still thinking about them. I’m still missing them, wishing I’d had some kind of advance warning at least that my time with them was nearly up. Wishing I’d been able to prepare myself for the end. 

But that’s not how life is. And the more I’ve thought about this show, the more I think it’s completely fitting that there are no more series or prequels or whatever to fill the void. Because that is how life is. People and things ebb and flow in and out of our lives, and all we are left with are the memories of them. Maybe a picture or trinket. And the thing is, there’s rarely much we can do about it. That’s just life. Everything has a beginning and an end. And the end is often sad. And we have to figure out how to deal with that. It just is. 

Modern popular entertainment shies away from confronting this truth. Nothing ever ends. Characters rarely stay dead. And even if they do, it doesn’t really matter, because we’ll probably see them in a few years in a prequel or a reboot. Somebody will come along and retcon it all and instruct us to ignore what came before. 

And maybe there’s some sociological reason for this, but I think it mostly has to do with money. You can’t bank on characters if you kill them off. You can’t bank on a franchise if you give it a satisfying conclusion. Which is understandable. I mean, it’s human nature, I suppose. Where there is demand, right?

Meanwhile, though, these stories have been stripmined of anything and everything that makes them human and relatable. All of the important character moments that seem trivial on their own but when added up at the end are the actual bits that make us care about the story we’re being told–all of those moments have been left on the cutting room floor. For pacing concerns. If they were ever written and filmed in the first place. 

I wish writers and filmmakers would get back to telling stories that we can care about. Stories that stick with us longer than it takes to leave the theater, throw away our bucket of popcorn, take a whiz, and drive home. Stories that mean something. Stories that say something about who we are and why we are here and why we do what we do. Stories that make us think about who we want to be and how we want to be. Stories like Cowboy Bebop

For now, at least we’ve still got the old stuff.

Author: Dhalbaby

I like big Bigbooté, and I cannot lie.