“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”George Santayana
Cowboy Bebop. Cowboy Bebop is one of the most beloved animes of its generation. It was a trailblazer in the world of anime. Its unique, multi-dimensional characters, stories, and plot lines have captivated generations of anime lovers. For those who’ve never watched it, Cowboy Bebop becomes an example of the difference between anime from the 90s and the anime of today. For those who enjoyed it in the past, it is a reminder of how things were when anime was still a niche genre in entertainment.
If one were to discuss the core themes or philosophy behind Cowboy Bebop, one would say that there are numerous themes due to the way the series is written. Cowboy Bebop is several stories within a central story and theme. That philosophical theme will be the center of this discussion as far as the main characters and their plots are concerned. The first place to discuss the theme of Cowboy Bebop is to describe its setting.
The Setting of Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop is set in 2071 where humans have colonized other planets and moons due to the Earth being destroyed by a meteor shower rendering it nearly uninhabitable. In this universe, government and syndicate corruption runs deep. It is a dog eat dog atmosphere where there are no true heroes or villains. The majority of the scenarios the protagonists run into often revolve around them taking on assignments in order to get themselves out of dire financial situations regularly.
Life is hard, cruel, and cheap. Almost every episode of the series has a different story within the main arc through the lens of the protagonists. Seeing is how the protagonists are crime fighters, there’s always a situation involving corruption, theft, or other various crimes in the galaxy they inhabit. Some of the assignments they take on make the heroes question their own moral stances on certain issues dealing with the targets they are assigned to hunt down and apprehend as well as their own lives. In later episodes, the heroes are forced to confront ghosts from their own complicated pasts. Describing this later development into the series will help us confront the core philosophical questions and elements of the series as a whole.
The Characters and Philosophical Focus of Cowboy Bebop
“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”Cormac McCarthy
If one is to dive deeply enough into the moral and philosophical aspects of Cowboy Bebop as a series, one needs to look no further than the major characters of the anime to find it. Although there are are numerous stories within the series, the most important stories are those that revolve around the bounty hunters themselves. Their pasts eventually catch up to them as the series gets closer to its conclusion.
The audience eventually finds out that Spike, Faye, Jett, and other characters have pasts that come back to haunt them as they go through their missions. Without going into spoilers, the protagonists eventually confront their past demons that they either didn’t remember or were trying to run away from.
In the case of Jett Black, Jett’s past comes back to haunt him when he finally gets to right the wrongs done to him. He confronts those who made him suffer in the past and ties up any loose ends with love as well. He eventually comes to terms with loss, betrayal, and acceptance on his journey until the end of the series. In this sense, Jett was able to redeem himself of past failures. Redemption is a powerful motivator to confront one’s failures and fears. We could all take the time to try to forgive and redeem ourselves as well.
In the case of Faye, she realizes that she starts to regain memories from her past. Faye makes a trip to Earth to discover what she lost in the past. Upon finally confronting her past, Faye realizes there is nothing to go back to. Faye’s lesson was to stop looking so hard towards the past. Faye realizes the best thing she could do is move on and go forward with her life since the past cannot be revived. Moving on from the past is hard for any of us to consider because we often romanticize it longing for better days than the ones we currently live in. Faye learned the lesson of moving on harder than most of us can imagine, but the lesson is the same.
Finally, in the case of Spike, confronting his past was something that was thrust upon him by fate. As opposed to righting wrongs or trying to discover his past, Spike did everything he could to run from it. Spike’s sins were chasing him down for years and eventually caught up with him. Without spoiling the plot, Spike ends up dealing with loss and having to confront his past. By the end, he understands that he may end up in a point of no return and his every action will determine the rest of his life from here on out until the final confrontation. For all of us, there will be a point of no return. There will be a time where we are forced to confront whatever we run away from. The best thing anyone can do is accept what is right in front of us regardless of the danger and face it.
If there was to be any final message I could add to this philosophical interpretation of Cowboy Bebop, it is a reminder of the importance of our actions. The message I received from the series is that the past has a way of catching up to us. The show reminds the audience that there is no deed left unpunished whether good or bad. It also tells us of the importance of concepts like acceptance, redemption, and facing fears. The sooner one can forgive themselves of the mistakes of their past, the better off one can be in the future.