Everything has a beginning…
and an end.
Life is just a cycle of them.
With unwanted endings, becoming an adult is to experience the inevitable finale.
It's been a fast trip for Bebop, with only two episodes left.
But make sure you pay close attention to how it ends.
The Real Folk Blues (Part 1).
Promo recited at the end of session 24
Much has been writen on the web about Spike's alleged death because people saw him getting slashed across his abdomen by Vicious in that final strike in Real Folk Blues part 2. I also thought he got slashed the first three times I watched the session even though I didn't think he died.
There is one shot in particular that people use to 'prove' his death:
During the course of the battle, their weapons are reversed, Spike has Vicious' sword held to the floor, Vicious has spike's gun held to the floor. Spike is at this point out of range of Vicious' katana. Spike tells Vicious that Julia's dead and "let's endit all". Vicious slides Spike's gun over to him as Spike tosses Vicious' sword over.
As they grab their own weapons and begin to rise for the final strike Spike is out of range of Vicious' katana. There is a cut to a view from behind Spike, his body blocking the view of Vicious.
For the next few frames, camera position moves enough so we can see Vicious winding up for a strike. He is still partially blocked by Spike, but check out the look in his eyes.
Next frame, we see the tip of the blade in the floor. The floor scraping takes 12 frames (having seen the floor in freeze frame - Vicious' hand on Spike's gun, it's obvious that's what we're looking at - it looks the same).
Next frame is a closeup of the barrel of Spike's gun, then flash when he fires, this takes 11 frames for the flash. Watching in normal speed, you can hear the sound of footsteps running. Next frame is view from behind Vicious and two blood sprays from his back and to the left of his kneecap. Look at the angle and placement of the blade and the position of Vicious' leg. It was involuntary, but it looked to me like his blade slashed his own leg. When the flaming hot 45 calibre slug hit Vicious' body, it jerked. When his body jerked from the bullet hitting him, the blade may have been just coming off the floor and he cut his own leg. I thought that's where the blood coming off the side of Vicious' leg came from (see photo below). Yes, from that angle, it was in front of Spike's mid section, but it's not clear if Vicious was close enough to Spike for the blade to even reach him. In the video, when the view was from behind Spike, it looked like Vicious had gotten close enough to damage Spike if he was able to complete the swing, but from the view behind Vicious after the shot, it looked like he wasn't.
Also consider the fact that Spike's bullet caused serious pain and damage to muscles involved in swinging the blade and would have interfered with his forward momentum. I don't think Obi-wan Kenobi could have hit Spike when shot that early in the swing, especially after it was dragging on the floor. Vicious had to run some steps to close the range to strike a fatal blow. Again, It's not clear here if he had closed the distance sufficiently by the time Spike shot him.
In this picture we see:
1. Blood spray from Vicious' back where Spike's bullet went through him.
2. Position of Vicious' knee
3. Blood coming from where it looks like Vicious' sword cut his leg. Color of the blood is the same as in 1, not darker if it was farther away (like Spike's midsection).
I initially believed that this was Vicious committing suicide by striking the floor instead of Spike. I've rewatched the session a number of times after first writing this and I realise I am most likely wrong on that. I have been told that samurai often sharpen or steady their blades on the floor or ground. I haven't found it yet, but I'm still searching for confirmation on this assertion although, watching Samurai Champloo (from Watanabe-san), there is a scene in "Hellhounds For Hire (part 1 or 2, I don't remember) where Mugen is charging another samurai with his blade dragging on the ground. I'm not calling that proof that this is a common samurai meneuver, but this director has done it twice in two different shows.
What I HAVE found independent of any anime is http://www.samurai-sword-site.com/How-to-Cut-With-a-Samurai-Sword.php where it says: Also, remember to follow through on your cuts, but maintain control of your sword so it doesn't swing wildly and strike your leg or the ground. This seemed to support my position that Vicious cut his own leg, since the blade was already on the ground before Spike shot him.
I should also point out that there is no frame that shows the blade hitting either Spike or Vicious - I'm going by the weight and momentum of the blade, the fact that it WAS dragging on the floor and the simultaneous shooting of Vicious as he dragging it. Maybe the blade hit his leg, maybe it didn't. Check out this screen cap that someone showed me:
You can see Vicious' leg from this angle. There's no blood there either. There are other frames that would give a better view of his leg, but you can see that there isn't any sign of blood. When the leg IS fully in view, half of his thigh is in shadow. I didn't see signs of a cut or blood there.
Vicious falls dead. As gravity completes its work on his body, the camera angle cuts to a view from behind Spike's feet. He takes a hasty step back to avoid the final spray of blood that falls at his feet. That blood did not come from Spike, since once Vicious' body and the blood that was shed has completely hit the floor, no more blood was seen dripping or flowing at Spike's feet. Also, if that blood was coming from Spike, he would not have had to take that little step back to avoid it. Spike is standing erect, no blood pooling at his feet like we saw from other characters who were fatally wounded.
Camera cuts to a shot from what looks like the bottom of the stairs. Spike is standing upright, arms at his side (doesn't look like he's holding a painful wound to his midsection). He's not even breathing hard, like he did when he was shot in the stomach in "Ballad of Fallen Angels." This shot lasts 2 or 3 seconds, enough to know that he's not seriously injured. Closeup on Spike's eyes as he looks up into the night sky and revisits his memory of Julia's last words, everything bathed in white: "this is... a dream..." "Yeah, a bad dream... ."
The scene fades to white, then fades in to a closeup of Spike's midsection. Everything is still bathed in white, like his memory of Julia's dying words. He's holding his wounded arm across his stomach. There is blood on his arm and shoulder from where he was shot and stabbed, but his midsection is amazingly free of blood except for a little on his sleeve. He's not leaving a trail. He's walking painfully because he was slashed across his leg, and no doubt exhausted (who knows how long it's been since he's slept, and he'd just flown a dogfight to protect the Bebop, then fought his way to Vicious).
There is also the fact that the knife that Vicious threw at him is still in his shoulder. Check out the front of his suit below his arm. Where is all the blood? He has a little on his sleeve and some drips on the front of his coat, but if he had suffered a catastrophic abdominal wound, the front of his suit jacket and pants would be covered in blood. It's not. Also, notice that it's only his wounded arm that's held across his front. His uninjured arm is hanging loose. If he had been slashed, not only would the front of his suit be covered in blood, but I'd think he'd be holding BOTH arms over his stomach. He'd be able to get more pressure from both arms, or at least the uninjured one. He's holding only his wounded arm like one who had an injury to the arm and/or shoulder (which he did), who didn't have a sling. A sling holds the arm immobile across one's midsection, like spike was holding it here.
Assuming this is reality (see below), Spike would have had to have been standing at the top of the stairs for quite a while (a couple of hours at least). It was very dark with a hint of the beginning of dawn when the battle ended, now there is bright sunlight coming in. He would have bled a lot more than that if he had been slashed and it would have shown on his sleeve and front.
We see men at the bottom of the stairs, but nobody's pointing a gun at him. Only one of the characters was animated, sees Spike and actually lowers his weapon. Spike holds up his hand, points a finger and says "bang" then drops. No blood pooling under him. It wasn't a freeze frame because as the camera pans back we see the birds flying.
There is no evidence that Spike got slashed, so we can legitimately conclude he was not fatally wounded. Therefore we are allowed to believe he survived.
Speaking of Samurai Champloo, a character in that show DID actually get slashed across the middle. We saw it. It was on screen, the blade slashing the character's abdomen. The character bled. A LOT (the phrase "like a stuck pig" comes to mind). The front of his clothes were COVERED with blood, he vomited up blood and had a hard time standing upright (pretty much couldn't). When HE collapsed, blood pooled under him. None of that from Spike. Why would Spike be different from this character if it was intended that they both get slashed across the abdomen? (BTW, the Samurai Champloo character survived!!). I just watched it again, and in Real Folk Blues part 1, when Vicious is killing the elders, one of them throws up blood, presumably from a slash from the katana.
Here is something I found last night looking at this again. Look at the blood to the left of Vicious' knee. See whereit is in front of Spike's jacket? Below his lapel (inches below his lapel) about at the level of his upper hips or his waist. Now look at the picture immediately above this one. Look where Spike's arm is - it looks to be above where the blood is in this image, closer to his rib cage.
So what the hell happened? Beats me. The only thing that's for certain is that Spike shot Vicious. There was a lot of blood in the air, but other than the bullet going through Vicious, there really isn't any sign on screen that either one of them was cut with that thing. I would be tempted to say that blood to the left of Vicious' knee is from that gun shot, but it's in the wrong place if that's what it was. Just one more inconsistency that to me points to the probability that Spike didn't get slashed.
Watching the animation of that blood hitting the floor - Spike having to step back to avoid it - I thought the way it landed suggested that it came from Vicious. Can't prove it with what's on screen. Can't prove it came from Spike with what's on screen.
Right now, I'm looking at what we can see of the arc of the blade. It's rather ambiguous, but I'm still trying to see if I can tell if it looks like it's following a track from the floor or from Spike. I think it looks like it was coming up from the floor, but I'm not positive at this point (if it's even going to be possible to be positive).
There's more that's not on the screen but in print that should be factored in as well.
Check out Tokyopop's anime guides for the series (you can get them at http://bookfinder.com, ebay.com and I think amazon.com sells them as well). In book 6, I was looking through the art files and saw these little nuggets:
pg 63, "Cowboy Report, Part I - Art Board Introduction (3). Showed numerous art boards that were drawn for the final episodes. There were excerpts from an interview with art director Junichi Higashi, where he says: "For the last scene, when Spike finally collapses, I used the imagery of a world covered almost completely in white, and tried to create the impression that this may or may not be reality. This is what the director requested" [emphasis mine] It says when he collapses, doesn't say when he died. Hmmmm.
"May or may not be reality?" Well, let's ponder that for a moment. The battle is over, Vicious is dead. Spike is standing there, looks heavenward and revisits his memory of Julia's last words:
Look at how covered with white and washed out everything looks (very much like Wen's flashbacks in Sympathy for the Devil).
Compare this with Spike's image on the stairs:
Interesting, no? Also - when Julia died in RFB part 1, we saw her lips moving, but couldn't hear what she said. NOW we hear her words: "This is... a dream..." Then Spike's response, his face reflected in her eyes, "Yeah, a bad dream...." Is that Hajime Yatate trying to tell us something?
WAS that scene on the stairs reality? Or was it just something going on in his mind? Or something else? Don't forget the lyrics to the song "Blue" that was playing at the end: "Things have turned a deeper shade of blue / And images that might be real / may be illusion..."
Here's another question I have about this scene. Take a peek at the picture as the camera pans back, just before the birds fly by:
I'm leaving it as it's original size to make it easier to see. Look at the landing at the top of the stairs... where is Vicious' body? I see debris, but nothing resembling a man's body. Also, if you scroll up a little to the shot of Spike standing there after Vicious is dead, you'll see a white spot on the floor a meter or so from Spike's feet that I took to be Vicious' face on the floor from where he fell dead. It might not be, that's just how it looked to me. I don't see anything like that here. I have a hard time believing that they forgot to put a body there in this picture, since that was the whole point of that battle. I just don't know. It's just one more question about the whole ending of Cowboy Bebop. Completely visible if it were there would be the pool of blood under Spike's body. No blood. Hmmmm.
One thing that's been suggested is continuity error. Someone pointed out that it's happened at least once, at the end of Ballad of Fallen Angels - in one shot Spike's hand is bandaged, in another it's not. Is this possible with this scene (probably the most important in the series, IMHO)? If they "forgot" to put the body at the top of the stairs, is it possible they forgot to include a wound on Vicious' leg if it was intended that he cut himself? It's also entirely possible that they intended to not put the body there, because this may not be reality.
Also, from the same book:
pg 64, picture of the final scene on the stairs, but from a distance (similar to above, but from farther away), it says "The Red Dragon building from the final scene, when Spike loses his strength and collapses. [emphasis mine - again, notice they don't say 'when he died'] From this angle, the camera pans up to the sky , leading into the ending credits. Among all the numerous final chapters that use gloomy scenery, this is a uniquely bright art board."
pg 70 in "The Story Behind the Story" box:
Quoting Watanabe-san: "There seem to be people who think so when they see Spike pale white in the last scene, but... that's wrong. (laugh) Spike goes down the stairs and then the camera follows flying birds up into the blue sky - and it's not until then that it is complete..."
It doesn't say what he's responding to, but it's not hard to guess the general nature of the question. The show is complete when the birds fly up in the air (but not when the star fades?). It's still maddeningly vague.
In Jupiter Jazz, Bull and the child see a shooting star, and Bull tells the child that a warrior has finished his battle somewhere. That is what the shooting/falling star means. In Real Folk Blues, Bull tells Jet that Spike's star is about to fall. Then he offers hope:
“Do not fear death. Death is always at your side. When you show fear, it will spring at you faster than light. If you do not show fear, it will only gently look over you…”
The star at the end of the session (and the series) faded out. It didn't "fall." Something to consider. Also, he told Jet that if you do not show fear [death] will only gently look after you. Spike certainly showed no fear as he was storming the Red Dragon headquarters or facing Vicious.
But let's think about this before we get into 'play time' - Let's grant that Bull's star "falling" = star "fading." AND for the sake of argument, let's say Spike died. Why did only one star fade? Vicious was certianly significant in this story. He and his actions and the result of his actions drove the events of Real Folk Blues as well as other sessions in the series and he was also a warrior. GREN got a FALLING star in Jupiter Jazz, so wouldn't it stand to reason that Vicious should get a star going out when he died? It's universally assumed that Vicious died. But only one star faded. If two significant characters who were warriors died and if Bull's words were to be heeded, we'd see two stars going out, wouldn't we? We didn't.
I provide the following to show that there are other theories about the ending than what has already been published. These are theories and possible explanations - I have no insight into what Watanabe-san was thinking when he ended the show the way he did (other than it was some major kickass imagery). I'm not even sure how much I believe these, but they do occur to me as possibilities (something to play with).
First and most important, Bull is a mystic. I know a thing or 12 about mystics, enough to know that they don't think or speak in a purely materialistic point of view. Ask yourself, how would Bull the mystic define an 'organism'? A purely physical life, or a spirit that has a physical body? Living bodies have spirits. Bull, a Native American mystic seems to pay as much attention to the spirit world - if not more - as he does the physical. His speech in the movie, talking about seeing all things conjoined, past, present (and probably physical, spiritual).
My theory is that it could be argued that Spike and Vicious together could be considered an 'organism' in Bull's point of view. Vicious even said to Spike in "Ballad of Fallen Angels" that "the same blood flows through you and me." Two men who were once very close, now joined at the heart by Julia. They were both in love with her, and there was so much emotion between them that there could have been a spiritual bond of unity between the two men and Julia. With Julia and Vicious being gone, that (spiritual) organism could be said to be gone . Spike was no longer bound to them, and now was just Spike himself the way he was meant to be. Star fades.
Second: Julia was dead. Spike killed Vicious. With the death of Julia and Vicious comes the REAL end to his previous existance in the syndicate. He faked his death to get out of it (in a flashback he is heard telling Julia "I'll let them say I'm dead" - maybe that's what he's doing here). That past life wasn't completely "dead" because of his ties to Julia and Vicious. With them alive, there would be always something to tie him to a life he tried to escape. That old life is now finally over. Star fades.
Another thought, similar to the last one: Spike had told Jet that Julia was his other half that he had longed for (speaking mostly in the past tense at the time, but that's a subject for another blog entry). Julia was still attached to Vicious and Vicious to Julia, spiritually speaking. Julia died, Spike told Vicious about her death, then HE died. Maybe on a spiritual level, the death of Julia was the death of Spike's "other half" and that's what we saw collapse on the steps - Spike's spiritual/emotional "other half." Maybe we weren't looking at a physical reality there as art director Junichi Higashi's comments above SEEM to suggest, but a spiritual one. Star fades.
Here's another thought - that figure of Spike coming down the stairs at the end: What if that was the ghost of Spike's old life that has finally been put to rest? He was certainly ghost-like. I'm being only half sillly here. Oh yeah, and star fades.
Here's yet ANOTHER thought - that figure of Spike coming down the stairs: Assuming that it was Spike in the flesh walking down the stairs, and he collapses out of exhaustion. Who knows how long it had been since he slept? He had a busy, exhausting day or two, had just defeated his nemesis without serious injury. The thought that he died because he either couldn't live without Julia or was slashed across the abdomen is not supported in the series and I'm not buying either explanation.
Those were possible explanations to the star fading at the end. As such, they are speculation and I throw them out there for an alternate perspective for those who think Bull was thinking and speaking from a strictly materialistic point of view, that when he said "his star is about to fall" that it means that Spike is about to (physically) die. Never assume that with mystics. In the end, only Shinichiro Watanabe and Hajime Yadate have the final say on what it means (and they ain't talking :). I'm not saying I subscribe to any of these theories. Personally, I think if both Vicious and Spike died, we'd see two stars going out. If Gren warrants a star falling/fading, then so would Vicious.
Back at the top of this page, at the beginning of their final strike, I made a comment to notice the look in Vicious' eyes. I thought I saw fear there. Bull said if you show fear death will spring on you faster than light. Well, I saw fear in Vicious' eyes. He died. Didn't see any fear on Spike. Maybe he DIDN'T die, because death, who is always at his side, only gently looked over him.
There is also the fact that statements from the director, Shinichiro Watanabe (the man who would know) do not confirm Spike's death. Quite the opposite.
In a panel discussion in Detroit, in response to a question about Cowboy Bebop being dark (where Samurai Champloo being light), he finished his comments with “I’m surprised you think the ending of Cowboy Bebop is dark. I mean, Spike might just be sleeping.” What's most fascinating is, the question didn't specifically refer to the shows' endings. Either this was on Watanabe-san's mind, or he wanted to head off the inevitable Question.
He also said "I've never officially said that he's died. At this point, I can tell you that I'm not sure if he's alive or dead." And that people were more upset that he might make a continuation than they would be if he killed Spike. I think he's absolutely correct there. Frankly, I'd LOVE a Cowboy Bebop 2.0, but don't expect it will ever happen (and I'm not sure it could possibly be as good as the first 26 episodes, so never mind :). In the same interview, he said he had the ending in mind but was opposed by his staff, who were upset that they wouldn't be able to make a continuation. The way the final clash was filmed (and maybe WRITTEN), it looks like he lived, yet his collapse on the stairs and the fading star at the end make it look like he died. Maybe they left it deliberately ambiguous so we can make up our OWN minds. The promo said "But make sure you pay close attention to how it ends." Pay close attention to what? The fading star? No. You just needed to watch it through the credits. The brightest star in frame had a definite "hey look at me" twinkle before it faded out, so you couldn't miss it. That wasn't it. Or maybe it WAS the star. If both Spike and Vicious had died, wouldn't we have seen two stars? Gren got a falling star and he wasn't nearly as significant a character as Vicious was. Why wouldn't Vicious get a star too? Or would people suggest that it was VICIOUS who survived?
There is ALSO the possibility that Hajime Yadate had a surprise ending in store for us. The entire two part session was heavy with doom and dread that Spike was going to die. What if they had a stunner of a surprise ending where Vicious failed in killing him, allowing Spike to shoot him? There he was, confronted by Spike the beast with fangs intact and bared. Whatever was going through his head at that point is unknown, but WHAT IF they had a twist at the end that people seem have been missing all these years? Thinking about what Bull said to "Running Rock" about death (if you show fear it will spring at you faster than light. If you do not show fear, it will only gently look after you) I thought I saw a moment of fear on Vicious' face as they were rising for the final strike. Maybe that's not what they intended, but that's how it looked to me.
There is also an interesting caption in "Cowboy Bebop Illustrations - The Wind" that character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto attached to a picture of the final shot of Spike's face at the very end of session 26 (and the series). He said "Should I draw 'ZZZ' here?" Then laughed and said he was joking. I'm sure he was, but I have to wonder if he would have said that if there weren't conversations to that effect at Sunrise while making the episode. My guess is that they were going to leave it deliberately ambiguous.
What's most interesting to me is, the "Answer Guy" column on animenewsnetwork.com has stated that Shinichiro Watanabe said that Spike is dead, and Mary McGlinn, ADR director of the English dub and the voice of Julia, stated that when she asked him, Shinichiro Watanabe told her he died. I'll get back to this in a moment.
He told The Daily Texan that "I never officially said that Spike died..." I thought, 'what gives?' Then I recently found the transcript of a panel discussion held at Anime Expo in NYC in 2002, right after the English dubbed premier of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. Here is the relevent bit:
Audience member: Did the movie really take place, or is it just a dream?
Watanabe-san: What did you think?
Audience member: I don't know
Watanabe-san: For people who say it's a dream, I say it's not a dream. If they say it isn't a dream, I answer it's a dream.
This sounds exactly like how he's been answering questions about the end of Cowboy Bebop. The Answer Guy doesn't give any context to his statement that Shinichiro Watanabe said that Spike is dead. I have to ask, "What was the question?" Did someone ask him or was he referring to what Ms McGlinn said? And when asked what he thought, said they thought Spike was alive? Based on the above transcript snippet, "He's dead" would be the answer I would expect. All the interviews I've seen of his where the end of Cowboy Bebop is mentioned, the question or statement is made with the assumption that Spike is dead. He responds by saying he's probably just sleeping.
Red Carpet News TV caught up with Watanabe-san in London in May of 2013 and talked to him about Cowboy Bebop, Kids on the Slope and a scifi comedy he has coming out in the fall of 2013, as reported by Crunchyroll.com. The subject of the end of Cowboy Bebop came up around 7:30 in, so you will want to watch the video to hear his own words. His comments were very interesting, and in fact he expanded a bit on what he's been saying all along.
Based on this, objectively, I would have to say that probably Spike is neither alive nor dead. We reach whatever conclusion we are most comfortable with. I've heard from people who think it's a better ending if Spike died. I and many others, including Watanabe-san obviously disagree. Since he's neither, we can draw our own conclusions.
My whole point in this page is not necessarily to prove Spike lived, but to point out that there are many reasons to believe that he didn't die and that the ending is deliberately ambiguous. Personally, I did not see him die and I have been able to document why. The first time I started watching the show, I got spoiled. People were saying that Spike was dead until one person said it was ambiguous. I didn't know how it could be ambiguous, so I watched it and when he fell I had to laugh. I couldn't understand why everyone was saying he was dead, and in fact I think there are more reasons to believe he's alive.
My take on the images from the end of the series:
- They broke the fourth wall with that 'bang.' Took a long time for me to see it, but it looked like he was looking at us when he said that (someone pointed this out to me months ago and I'm just now seeing it).
- Spike collapsed on the stairs: People collapse for numerous reasons that don't involve death.
- Birds flew: When Jullia died, birds flew all around her as she fell. The birds flying at the end were quite removed from Spike and didn't look like they had anything to do with HIM so much as signaling the end of Cowboy Bebop.
- Star faded: The very end of Cowboy Bebop. No More.
- "You're Gonna Carry That Weight...": That's the name of the song that the Beatles wrote and recorded to tell their fans that they were breaking up. No more Beatles. In fact, it was the very last song on their very last album, Abbey Road. Fitting that a show with so many music references would end with this.
Even the promos for the final three or four sessions were talking about the show coming to an end. They were getting sadder and sadder until the promo for Real Folk Blues 2 was almost just sad ramblings. Based on this, I don't think what I said in the previous paragraph is much of a stretch.
Without the high definition ofDVDs, freeze frame, frame by frame and screen caps (and someone goofy enough to do it), there wouldn't be any way to know for sure who shed that blood. I STILL don't know for sure. I'm positive Spike did not get slashed. I'm almost as positive that it wasn't Vicious, but it had to be one of them. Heck, I'll go with Vicious, it looked more to me like that blood came from him.
Everyone will have to reach their own conclusion, but that conclusion should be informed. Pay close attention to how it ended with an open mind and see what you think. :)
Congratulations for making it this far, especially with how I can belabor a point! :D Want to talk about it? Let's discuss in my blog.