Who’s the true samurai?

Only a true samurai...

Foreshadowing is a wonderful thing. Often not recognised until much later, the discovery of this foreshadowing adds extra delight in the viewer upon its realization.

Of course, Cowboy Bebop made use of foreshadowing, the most obvious being from the shot I’m using as the iconic picture for this posting. “Honky Tonk Woman” is the session where we meet Faye. Jet and Spike are in a casino, Spike building up his chips, wandering the place offering assistance, taking a chip as reward. He walks past a wall-sized screen where an old samurai movie is playing. He pauses to look at the caption printed in Japanese, English, Chinese nd Korean: “Only a true SAMURAI can kill him like th” the rest of the line obscured by Spike. One can only assume that the important part of that caption is visible.

I had heard that people were using that as foreshadowing of Spike’s death at the hands of Vicious at the end. Very recently someone tried to tell me that too.

Is it foreshadowing? Oh HELL yeah. Big, flashing neon foreshadowng. But foreshadowing what, exactly? We now know (what we didn’t know when first watching Honkey Tonk Woman) that it was foreshadowing the final showdown between Spike and Vicious, who we hadn’t met yet when that shot was done.

This shot can be taken in a couple of ways: If one wants to consider Vicious to be a true samurai because he carries a katana, then one would think that it’s foreshadowing Vicious killing Spike. If another takes it that Spike is the true samurai, then they would think that it’s a foreshadowing that Spike is going to kill Vicious, which would make it essentially neutral regarding Spike’s ultimate fate.

So who IS the true samurai in Cowboy Bebop? Vicious because he carries a katana, the weapon closely associated with samurai? Or Spike? Who are they foreshadowing is going to kill whom?

Vicious carried a katana, the ‘soul of the samurai’ as it was called by Inazo Nitobe in “Bushido, the Soul of Japan.” BUT… does the mere carrying of a katana make one a ‘true samurai?’ I could buy a katana online tomorrow and learn how to wield it. Would that make ME a true samurai? Is the mere owning and using a katana enough for someone to be considered a ‘true samurai?’

I started researching this and I’m finding a bit of a disconnect between the reality of what many samurai were like and the bushido “way of the warrior” image the samurai have. There is a popular image of the samurai, what they were like, what they were supposed to believe and how they were supposed to behave. There is a LOT out there about samurai and what they would (maybe) popularly be considered to be. Not all of it applies, obviously – Cowboy Bebop ran only twenty-six twenty minute sessions so not everything could be covered – but some of it does indeed apply.

Aikido World – Bushido-Code of the Warrior, the Samurai: The unwritten Samurai code of conduct, known as Bushido, held that the true warrior must hold that loyalty, courage, veracity, compassion, and honor as important, above all else. An appreciation and respect of life was also imperative, as it added balance to the warrior character of the Samurai. He was often very stoic with a deep and strong philosophical passion. He could be deadly in combat and yet so gentle and compassionate with children and the weak.

Looking at what they showed us in Cowboy Bebop… Spike with Stella in Waltz for Venus – he had the Grey Ash that Rocco gave him to hold, then he discovered the seeds in the music box Stella showed him. The Grey Ash died when the globe that protected it was shattered, but he had the seeds. He didn’t tell Jet that he had them, but he held riches in his hands. Rocco died and Spike used those seeds to pay for the treatment needed to cure Stella’s blindness, which was Rocco’s goal.

Rocco was a character who annoyed Spike greatly, but when he discovered his annoyance’s true motivations, he took his annoyance’s goal upon himself and out of compassion, fulfilled it. And he told nobody, not even Jet – he let Stella think that Rocco arranged her cure, which by proxy he did. Definitely gentle and compassionate there.

Let’s not forget about Wild Horses. Spike used the last of his fuel to intercept those virus-laden barbs that were heading towards the Bebop, effectively ruining his chance of rescue. He basically would have sacrificed his own life for the protection of the Bebop and its inhabitants, had Doohan not had the means to rescue him.

There is also Jupiter Jazz. Jet, still pissed off at Spike, told him to bring in Gren for the bounty or don’t come back. Of course, Spike went after Gren, but Gren was connected to Julia. Gren was dying and wanted to die on the way to Titan. Spike got the information he needed from Gren, and instead of bringing him back to the Bebop to turn him in for the bounty, fulfilled his wishes and set him in his ship on a course for Titan and sent him on his way. Benevolence and compassion. There was a real possibility that he’d lose his home, best friend and livelihood because of this, but he did it anyway.

Spike as a stoic? Oh yeah. He longed for Julia but never told Jet about it until Real Folk Blues. He had pain but never spoke of it and almost never showed it. Deadly in combat? OMG.

Samurai Archives, culture category confirms the previous:

The one who does good deeds and expects to be appreciated, does something better then committing a bad deed. However, he does so for his own benefit and not for others. A truly righteous man does good deeds without letting his beneficiary know of his deeds. He does good deeds freely and does not expect that in the future someone will recognize his deeds. A monk must have resolve far greater then this. In treating all sentient beings, he must not discriminate between those who are close to him and those who are scarcely known to him.
Dôgen (1200-1253)
[emphasis mine]

What did they show us of Vicious that would make us consider him a samurai besides the fact that he caried a katana? Not much. Certainly no examples of benevolence, unless you count him not killing Shin for returning without ‘the target’ being killed.

Also, is it a characteristic of a true samurai to kill his master? Or is it more characteristic of one to kill the one who killed his master? Just asking.

Vicious carried a katana, the samurai’s most famous weapon, but other than that, as a true samurai, based on what they showed us, I just plain don’t see it.

Spike wins in the ‘true samurai’ test here.

3 comments to Who’s the true samurai?

  • Spikeface130

    I thought it was a “Yojimbo”, “Sanjurio”, “Seven Samurai”, “Ninja Scroll” refrence, but after reading this i can now see what it has to do with everything. I also think that spike being loyal like a samurai is one of the reasons why it took him so long to kill vicious, i dont know if you have seen “Ghost dog: Way of the samurai”(i dont like it but that doesnt matter) but there is a scene involving ghost dogs charater having to go up against his master who he swore that he wouldnt kill because he saved his life. I think that the same goes for spike and vicious, as far as i know, vicious saved spikes life, therefore it was harder for him to kill vicious.

    • I haven’t seen it. I’m not into samurai stuff myself. I have a friend who IS though, in a big way. I should talk to him.

      I think it’s a safe bet that Vicious saved Spike’s life on maybe more than one occasion, and vice versa. I really think Spike probably didn’t want to kill Vicious, at least when he went to that cathedral in BoFA. After that, all bets were off.

      That shot COULD have been just a reference. If it was, I didn’t get it. It did look like foreshadowing to me (and to a lot of people), but you raise an interesting point, maybe it was just a reference.

      • Spikeface130

        You have a point with spike not killing vicious during BoFA, he could of easily moved his gun to the left and shot him in the face. Spike must believe in loyalty, or this is just a foreshadowing of Champloo.