Cowboy Bebop Newbie Review “Jupiter Jazz Part 1 & 2”

Vicious is BACK! I repeat, Vicious is BACK!
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Vicious is BACK! Back, and not totally integral to the episode, but back and continuing to further Spike’s background, even if getting from the Bebop ship down to Callisto takes a few plot contrivances. By that I mean Jet and Spike’s argument feels totally out of left field, especially how quickly it escalates. Jet is mad at Spike’s desire to chase after Julia (a woman he used to/currently loves) rather than searching for Faye, who has run off for undisclosed reasons. She’s also stolen the money from their safe, which increases Jet’s annoyance at Spike’s refusal to help. This turns into Jet telling Spike that if he leaves he won’t ever be welcome back, both men pretending that their partnership had been based around pity for the other.

It all seems like unnecessary drama for a two-part episode that hardly lacked for it. We know that Jet and Spike are going to re-team by the end of the episode, I was fairly certain it wasn’t the last we’d seen of Faye, and despite some greater stakes due to the return of Vicious, (including a cliffhanger in which Spike is shot,) I was never actually concerned for the characters. Despite the unnecessary drama that served as little more than a narrative foil to get the two characters where they need to be to arrive at the crux of the storyline, both parts one and two of “Jupiter Jazz” were excellent examples of storytelling. Scenes are spilling over with the smoky cinematography, and the animation gives us a clear gateway into the cold and frigid world they’ve found themselves in. Spike is there to find the mysterious Julia, with Jet on his own looking for Faye, who left with nothing but a note asking them not to look for her. Jet eventually succeeds in his task, but not until after she’s met Gren, a musician who knew Vicious as a fellow comrade when they were fighting on Titan. He admired Vicious and believed they’d grown close, until it appeared that Vicious had framed him for a crime he didn’t commit. Gren wants to find him to learn the truth and find solace in revenge. He leaves Faye tied up in his apartment, dejected, where Jet later finds her.

Spike meanwhile doesn’t fund Julia and learns instead it was a codename used for a drug deal by Vicious. Their fight is interrupted by Lin, a character we arguably should have learned more about to make his sacrifice later in the episode carry more weight, who steps in between the two and shoots Spike with a tranquilizer, knocking him out. While we don’t learn as much as we could hope for while the two are fighting, we see plenty in Spike’s flashbacks while he sleeps. The most prominent images center around fragments of his time spent with Julia, a key moment being when he asks her to run away with him. We still don’t know much about either of them, but it offers us yet another peak into the enigmatic lead. When Spike awakens he is immediately resumes his pursuit and runs into Gren and Vicious fighting. The animations for the fight scenes are always top notch but with “Jupiter Jazz” the show has a secret weapon in Gren, who we’ve genuinely come to care about over the two episodes. He’s a tragic character and was enormously screwed over by Vicious, the closest thing we’ve gotten to a consistent villain on the show so far.

After Gren is shot down Spike goes to him to help, only to realize that the soldier has already accepted his fate. Fatally wounded, Gren simply wants to go back to Titan, where he felt a camaraderie that gave his life purpose and peace. It’s my favorite scene of the episode, allowing a guest character to soften Spike’s nonchalant exterior. Watching him carry Gren into his ship and giving him the jump start on his final flight, along with his reveal of knowing Julia and speaking about Spike’s eyes, it’s a human moment in a show so often consumed by style over substance (and this isn’t a knock). It’s a sorrowful moment rich with regret from both characters and works well at creating a cinematic feeling to the two parter.

That being said..

I can’t say I was at all optimistic about Gren’s reveal at the end of part one, due to how the direction eroticized what appeared to be his breasts and the proceeding conversation, especially Faye asking “which one are you?” in terms of Gren’s gender when she realizes he has male genitalia. Luckily (and this is in an episode where early a transgender side character was used as the butt of a joke so my relief is warranted) it turns out that Gren had been forced to endure trial medicinal injections while in prison, something that screwed up his hormonal balance. It was a turnout that was better than I would have expected, which again, is better than how the transgender character Julius was portrayed earlier.

My favorite part of the episode doesn’t lend much in the way of progressing storylines, and that was Spike losing his cool over being confused for Vicious. Have we ever seen his character lose it so spectacularly before? His entire characterization up until this point has been super suave and  unshakeable and it only takes being mistaken for being someone he loathes to unleash his anger. It’s great. I want more of this Spike.

The two parter might not be my favorite episodes the show has done up until this point, but it was a storyline that deserved the amount of time it was given. I’m sure that we’ll Vicious again and I’m sure we’ll learn more about Julia before the abbreviated series is through, and this episode proved that we need more background information for these characters. Also, more Ed. Always more Ed. Spike returns to the ship and Jet lets him on, no questions asked; a nice, subtle moment to end on. In an episode that flourished so completely throughout due to smaller, background details such as the expansive scenery, the smoky, red hued bars, it lands on a perfect note with a small, well drawn characters moment between the two we’d known the longest.

Also, the music was beautiful (as per usual) and other shows should take note on how series like Cowboy Bebop utilize music to heighten scenes and character development.

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