Hi, amigos! All 300,000 bounty hunters in the star system! How y’all doin’?
The thing I really enjoy about anime series, and Cowboy Bebop especially, is that they know they usually only have 26 episodes to tell their whole story. 26 half-hours in which to introduce all the characters, all their backstories, give them each a satisfying arc, have some funny, witty, or touching dialogue scenes, AND pack in as much action as 25 minutes will allow. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot. But Bebop takes its time setting everything up, allowing us to live in the world of the characters before we get into the nitty gritty of it. Last week’s first episode, “Asteroid Blues,” showed us a day in the life of bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, and for the second episode, “Stray Dog Strut,” we get more of that, as well as the introduction of the first new member of the Bebop crew: Ein the data dog.
This episode is just a good old fashioned romp, and one where, unlike “Asteroid Blues”, there isn’t an element of tragedy to the proceedings. There’s nothing even approaching sad times here, except for the fact that poor little Ein is kept in a suitcase for the first 10 minutes. I had also completely forgotten that there’s actually a fair amount of detective work done by Spike in this episode while he’s looking for his target. Spike’s not just a showboating whirlwind of destruction; he’s a smart investigator.
Anyway, so the plot of this one is that a master thief named Abdul Hakim has stolen a very precious thing from a research lab and ran off, getting plastic surgery to disguise his appearance. He’s worth a whopping 8 million woolongs (the intergalactic currency) and he was last seen on Mars. Spike gets an exclusive tip from the scientist from whom Hakim stole the package (it’s Ein, actually) and Spike sets off to look for him. Also looking for the dog are other research scientists trying to get it back. Hakim is a giant, easily over 7 feet tall, and doesn’t have qualms about picking on smaller people, which leads to his precious cargo getting snatched by a quick street urchin who tries to sell the dog to a pet shop owner when he discovers the case doesn’t have money or jewels. Spike heads to this pet shop thinking he’s found Hakim, but just walks off when it’s revealed it’s just a dog inside the case. Unfortunately, his instincts were correct and as he walks away, Hakim shows up to steal the dog back. The dog itself is only worth 2 woolongs, but what he knows is worth millions. Ein runs off and a mad scramble by all parties to get him leads to a huge crash, where Spike has the opportunity to either catch Hakim and get the massive bounty or save Ein from falling to his death. I think we know which one he picked.
While a lot of fans and critics don’t think very highly of “Stray Dog Strut”, I think it’s actually a great deal of fun. There’s some really great Yoko Kanno music in it, including a track fittingly titled “Bad Dog, No Biscuit”, which plays during the big chase at the end. There’s some really funny stuff between the two scientists in the research van, with one of them always asking questions and his partner responding “Seems that way” to each and every one of them. The main one, especially, is drawn incredibly seriously which makes laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing all the more fun. The idea of a big group of men, a couple of whom are dangerous tough guys, falling over each other to get a dog is always going to be funny to me, especially because Ein is smart enough to get out of the situation himself, which is evidenced by him figuring out the door controls in the “Just Married” car Hakim steals.
Ein is a great character because, unlike a lot of anime, he’s super intelligent but he’s still just a dog. A Pembroke Welsh Corgi to be exact. He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t do cartoonishly cute things; he’s just a dog who moves like a dog and looks like a dog. I really applaud the animators for nailing the very specific movement of a Welsh Corgi and their, to borrow a term, strut. Ein became the mascot of the show and the first of the new batch of crew members for Spike to grumble about.
There are a few interesting character designs here I wanted to mention. The first, of course, being Abdul Hakim. In the brief mugshot we see on the Big Shot program, we see that he used to be a blond-haired white person but he had his appearance changed into a darker-skinned guy with a big fro. Now, the odds of a blonde guy being named “Abdul Hakim” are pretty low, but the whole thing was done for a very specific reference, that being his look, size, name, and fighting style all resemble Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Bruce Lee’s unfinished (and later finished sloppily by other people) Game of Death. This of course balances with Spike’s obvious Bruce Lee fighting style and attitude. There’s even a brief moment when Spike’s swinging nunchakus.
There’s also this really weird visual cue that I’m not sure about. The lady who runs the pet shop seems to just be a regular older lady, albeit acting in a fussy upper crust manner and always talking about her “babies,” being all the animals in her store. But, for some reason, the animators decided to give her the coloring of the classic version of the Joker. She’s got green hair that points out, she’s got a pretty pale face with red lipstick, and she’s wearing a purple dress with an orange scarf. That’s the Joker through and through. Nothing else about her is Joker-like, but maybe they’re just implying that she’s clownish? I honestly have no idea, but it can’t be a coincidence I don’t think. It’s too specific.
Finally, I just want to mention another first in this episode, the first instance of the program Big Shot, the televised, Hee-Haw-like report where all 300,000 bounty hunters in the star system can find out what the big bounties are that week. This is often how Jet and Spike find their target for that particular episode and a recurrence of it at the end of the episode usually puts a comedic button on things. The show is hosted by a man and a woman, called Punch and Judy, who are irrepressibly upbeat. Judy is a typical ditzy blonde with nothing on under a denim jacket. Punch is clearly not a cowboy and, in the English dub, has a weird mixture of Mexican and Texan accents, which makes him a particularly peculiar character. He’s always saying “shucks howdy” with a very specific ethnic pronunciation.
All in all, while probably nobody’s favorite episode, “Stray Dog Strut” is a fun and enjoyable diversion and a fun way to introduce the little doggie fellow before we get two episodes to set up another new crew person, who is also sort of an antagonist because of how little she gives a crap. The highly interesting and complex femme fatale Faye Valentine shows up next week in an outer space casino. We review “Honky Tonk Woman” next time.
See you space cowboy… Bang.