Cowboy Bebop Newbie Recap: “Mushroom Samba”

Cowboy Bebop shakes off the backstories and, in a smart move, focuses on Ed.
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Ever since Ed has been introduced to the series, I’ve been waiting for her to have a big moment episode, or at the very least be let off the ship. Instead, she’s been rather contained, acting more as an eccentric background character than someone who get’s an episode based around them. “Mushroom Samba” one of the shows more strictly fun episodes yet, the show rectifies this by making Ed an integral character to the episode and getting her off the Bebop ship, while also shifting the tone from last episode into something a little lighter, with some moments of eye popping style, and an action sequence unlike any other on the series so far.

The storyline overall is rather bare bones, but if offers up a lot for viewers by highlighting the style that has made Cowboy Bebop such an engaging series thus far. The idea is that once again, our rag-tag group of bounty hunters are starving and a long ways off from being paid enough to purchase food and supplies. After crash landing on Io due to being hit by another ship, the group gets to work on fixing their once again damaged ship, while tasking Ed with going out and finding mushroom. However, after trying and failing to get a watermelon and after accidentally incriminating another bounty hunter by catching a ride in their trunk, she steals some mushrooms and is off with it. Before she get’s to taste on, Ein gets to one first and reacts oddly, so much so that Ed lays traps for her three other crew members to see if they react similarly so she’ll know if they’re safe or not.

Reality tips on it’s head for the three, and Ed has her answer, and instead is forced to track down a bounty on her own, the one who is believed to be growing the illegal mushrooms and transporting them across the galaxy.

It’s as trippy as the series gets, from the loose and fluid animation of Ed, particularly in the fight sequences or when Ein first eats a Mushroom and shakes then hops away, to the hallucinations that Faye, Jet and Spike all experience, Mushroom Samba throws away typical narrative convention, and instead puts itself in the mind of Ed and let’s us wander for a half hour.

Here are three reasons why this episode is one of my all time favorites that the show has ever done.

Screenshot 2015-11-02 16.09.46

  1. More Ed (and Ein) is just what the series needed

After last episodes dreary and gray episode “Black Dog Serenade” the show needed to be brought back to life, and Ed being the central character of an episode does just that, giving the episode an electrifying buzz as she cartwheels her way from one situation to the other. Highly intelligent and clever, she masks these facts with a goofy, aloof personality, so that she can go from skillfully capturing her bounty in one scene, to happily letting him go in exchange for mushrooms in the next.

It’s a nice reminder of who this character is and why she’s so instantly likeable. Despite the differences between Faye, Jet and Spike, they’re all very similar in terms of basic structure. They all have their mysterious pasts and people who did them wrong, they have the common goal of wanting to make quick money with a sense of adventure, and can be alarmingly selfish, while also always hinting at their being more to them than meets the eye.

Ed it 100% different then the three of them in every way, from stature to style to the way she conducts herself, and she makes a fantastic foil for some of the shows more serious moments.

  1. The hallucination scenes

After ingesting the mushrooms, Jet, Spike and Faye all must deal with their minds turning on them in hallucinogenic madness, which luckily keeps them all within the confines of their ship. Jet speaks to his bonsai trees as if they were old friends and comes to his senses while painting lipstick on his face. Faye believes she’s gone swimming in the toilet, and Spike believes he’s climbing a never ending staircase while in reality he hasn’t even taken a single step. After two backstory episodes (for Faye and Jet respectively) “Mushroom Samba” grounds the core three with a bit of silliness.

Screenshot 2015-11-02 16.10.59

  1. The style

There’s a roughish quality to this episode, with certain aspects seeming larger than life compared to usual, and it fits with the storyline being centered on Ed, where everything is already larger than life. With the funk inspired music and the vignette style of the episode with the story being singular but fractured in pace, the episode has fun with a low impact, little substance episode by making sure that turns the spirit of the series up all the way, and coasts on the gorgeous animation and chaotic energy of Ed. The mood is unapologetically psychedelic, and each hallucination that the crew faces is different in tone, showing just how diverse the series is when it comes to animation. 

If I were to recommend an episode of the show to get someone to watch who was totally unfamiliar to the series, this might be it. It may not be the outright best (something that’s obviously subjective) but it’s accessible, beautifully animated, hilarious, and it focuses on a fan favorite character.
Quick note: Next week I’ll be talking about the 2001 Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. It seems like a good place to hit pause on the series, with no officially less than ten episodes left before I’ve completed it-a scary thought. I haven’t been as thoroughly impressed with the past few episodes as I’d hoped I would be, but “Mushroom Samba” is a great reminder of what makes the show such an enjoyable and interesting watch. 

Allyson Johnson is a twenty something writer and a lover of film and all things pop culture. She’s a film and television enthusiast and critic over at who spends too much of her free time on Netflix. Her idols are Jo March, Illana Glazer, and Amy Poehler. Check her out at her twitter @AllysonAJ or at The Young Folks.

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