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The Bebop Affinity

Published on 24th September 2019

There are probably more suitable analogies I could use to illustrate the life of an IT contractor, but I favour that of the bounty hunter. I enjoy picturing myself in the same situations as the characters from Cowboy Bebop, despite spending most days firing words rather than bullets. I think the 'professionals' would call my fictional wanderings a vain attempt to escape the mundane. They'd be right, but I can't help what exposure to this series has done for me. For one, it helped me get through 6 months of work-based travel during an out-of-town contract. My Wednesday evening routine was to open a wheat beer and let one or two instalments seep into my travel-worn brain. I feel an affinity with the characters and their somewhat self-imposed plight. Since finishing the final episode I've been unable to forget the cast, with their mysterious and meandering stories.

Setting and atmosphere

Shinichirō Watanabe directed this animated series between 1997 and 1998. It's set in the year 2071, at a time when earth is close to being uninhabitable. Most humans are living on the remaining rocky planets and moons in our solar system. Nothing wholesome appears to survive. It was almost inevitable I fell for the whole thing, as it taps into my obsession with the poetry of abandonment. Most if not all of the characters are emotionally or physically damaged, venting their continuous dislike of the world by being violent, reckless, calculated, vindictive, or a combination of all of these.

Style and point of view

Cowboy Bebop is heavily stylised, with each character's movement seemingly telling its own story. The mixture of outlandish people and sudden bursts of action feels unique. I feel that animated features carry this off more successfully than their traditional live action counterparts. Episode 1 gave me the impression I'd stumbled upon a story that's always been there. I felt like I was watching everything unfold through the eyes of an unnamed and silent narrator whose purpose is to casually observe.

There are many references to popular American culture, mainly film. Episode 1, 'Asteroid Blues' references Desperado, directed by Robert Rodriguez. Episode 17, 'Mushroom Samba' references Sergio Corbucci's Django. Most appealing to me is Watanabe's nod to Ridley Scott's 1979 movie, Alien in Episode 4, 'Toys in the Attic'.

The attractive analogy again

A running joke in Cowboy Bebop is that the characters barely ever get the bounty. I often wondered how the hell they managed to pay for anything. For most IT contractors, the choice between hunting people through space and being a mercenary of many desks would be clear. The characters also flit between jobs at a speed that would make earthbound contractors want to go permanent.

A running joke in Cowboy Bebop is that the characters barely ever get the bounty. For most IT contractors, this would make the choice between hunting people of ill repute and being a mercenary of many desks clear. Having watched this series, you might find yourself wondering how the hell the characters manage to pay for anything. They flit between jobs at a speed that would make most IT contractors want to go permanent.

Despite their failure to cash in as one unit, they seem almost spiritually bound to exist this way. I suppose that's why I don't relate to any one of them in particular, but all of them. On one day I might be channelling Jet, whose paternal instincts are at odds with his occupation. On another day, I might act in a way that recalls Spike's sudden desire for immediacy.

This need for an internal fictional reference speaks back to my earliest years in front of cinema screens. It was a time when I ran up these stairs, full of desire for escape.

Maidstone ABC Cinema (credit 28DaysLater.co.uk)

Bleary-eyed, I'd stumble back down, fearing a world that could never offer the promise of the last two and a half hours spent in intermittent darkness.

Maybe not much has changed, except age and subject matter. 

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