For a number of reasons, I’ve found Cowboy Bebop #3 hard to review; mainly due to its episodic nature, I have to be weary not to repeat what I wrote before.
By now, we should have established several of the key aspects of Bebop- ultra stylish animation, inventive science fiction setting, iconic characters and of course, Yoko Kanno’s outstanding jazzy soundtrack. The thing is, Cowboy Bebop hasn’t suddenly developed these notable traits over the last few episodes, it’s been this good since the first damn episode and there are only so many times I can proclaim Bebop as “excellent!” before even I get bored of reading such unconditional praise! But it’s true though, Cowboy Bebop #3 is almost too good for words; effortlessly covering our emotional spectrum with episodes that stray widely between comedy to intense drama. This is a show that defines my love of Japanese animation.
The third volume grabs us immediately with a delightful comedic episode that warns of the dangers encountered by leaving dead lobster in a broken fridge… floating in space for too long! By setting itself up as a parody of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror “Alien”, “Toys in the Attic” turns out to be a wonderfully executed, off-beat and surreal 25 minutes of tension filled comedy that will leave many wondering whether or not its surprising twist of an ending is a premature conclusion to our adventures with the Bebop crew.
Any fleeting moments of laughter are quickly lost however as the two-part “Jupiter Jazz” story throws our favourite characters back into their cold, harsh realty with a bang.
Spike’s arch-enemy Vicious and the androgynous Gren have arranged a rooftop drugs transaction, while at the same time a discontented and confused Faye flees the Bebop; stealing all of Jet and Spike’s hard earned money along the way. As they decide whether or not to chase after Faye, a fast moving spaceship known only as “JULIA” hurtles past the Bebop and towards the same planet where Faye has run to and Vicious and Gren are meeting; amidst much arguing, Spike recklessly goes out alone and chases after the ship called JULIA and Jet eventually resolves to reluctantly hunt down Faye.
Jupiter Jazz is a reflective, downbeat tale of desperate revenge that both mirrors Spike’s own grudge against Vicious and tests the strength of the close relationships building between the Bebop crew. As Yoko Kanno spell binds us with a particularly sombre collection of blue melodies, we also get our first extended look at the imposing figure of Vicious, a bitter and completely heartless loner who is driven solely by murderous ambition; he appears to hold nothing but contempt for his fellow man, treating even his loyal subordinates with utter disdain.
The outstanding Jupiter Jazz concludes with a memorable mixture of tragedy and warm sentimentality; revealing the depth of friendship growing between the Spike, Jet and Faye but also the bleak price of ultimate revenge. We also get a rare glimpse of an emotionally unguarded Spike, someone who is desperately searching for his ex-lover but also harbours a reckless hatred of Vicious.
Volume 3 closes with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a much more straight forward if rather strange and uneventful science fiction episode that explains one slighted man’s long planned revenge against his arrogant former employers.
Having been the creator of the interstellar “gate” travel system, the man known only as “Chess Master Hex” seems to be giving random people instructions to execute high tech robberies using the gate system; suffice to say, a massive bounty is soon placed on his head and with the Bebop mavericks on the case, his days are surely numbered.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” works well as a conceptual science fiction story but comes off as the weakest episode of this volume due to lacking the superlative innocent charm of “Toys in the Attic” and the engrossing drama of “Jupiter Jazz”; it works more as an episode full of interesting futuristic ideas – the concept of a space-bound floating mass of scrap metal becoming a safe haven for intergalactic law dodgers and hippies is a particularly fun invention. It also retains Cowboy Bebop’s core components of a gritty, dirty future and the type of honourable “cowboy” morals that are often embodied by the actions of Spike and Jet.
Four more episodes of Cowboy Bebop down and three of which maintain the consistently high standards of this great science fiction series. If “Toys in the Attic” is full of quirky parody and offbeat comedy, then the two-part story “Jupiter Jazz” throws us straight back into the deadly drama surrounding Spike and Vicious. The marvellous interactions between the Bebop crew are a constant highlight, with even Ed and Ein providing us with several inspired moments of incidental comedy. And of course; Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack continues to be so good that I could close my eyes and still love Cowboy Bebop.