We’re reaching the home stretch here with Cowboy Bebop which, if you’ve seen the show previously, you know means we’re in for some heartache and farewells. But, we’re not quite there yet, and luckily the show gives us one more silly-fun action romp before things start turning serious. And what could be more ridiculous in a show called Cowboy Bebop than an actual cowboy being part of it?
Director Shinichiro Watanabe, writer Keiko Nobumoto, and the rest of the crew were obviously inspired by westerns and western iconography for their genre hybrid series, but with the exception of some pieces of Yoko Kanno’s equally eclectic score and a few visuals, Bebop hadn’t really gone full-Cowboy. That is, of course, until Session #22, “Cowboy Funk,” in which the very Cowboyness of our own Spike Spiegel is put to the test.
Like a lot of Spike episodes, it’s all about the guest star — the one-off foil who helps and/or hinders our main character in the catching of bounties. Usually, this character is a friend or a soon-to-be friend, but in this case, it’s the biggest rival he could face, without it being an actual enemy. This character is Andy, a bounty hunter who is apparently infamous (though Spike’s never heard of him) and takes the whole “Cowboy” moniker a bit too seriously. There’s a lot of humor to be mined from just how dense yet somehow capable Andy is, and just how exasperated Spike gets in the process.
Spike, through most of the series, is cool as a cucumber in just about any situation and nothing particularly phases him, but this episode shows us that he’s just as irritable and quick to freak out as anyone, in the most delightful way.
At the beginning of the episode, a man in a security guard outfit nervously sets a teddy bear on a railing in a giant, multi-floor shopping complex. He begins going down an escalator when the teddy bear suddenly appears behind him…it’s held by Spike who also has a bag of groceries and who says “I think this is yours.” It doesn’t take long for Spike to reveal he knows the man is the infamous Teddy Bomber, a bounty who blows up buildings by leaving teddy bears stuffed with explosives. The Teddy Bomber says he’s heard of Spike and that he’s the most feared bounty hunter in the solar system, next to Andy. Spike is at first proud of his infamy, but then is confused about this Andy person. The Teddy Bomber reveals that he has three bears in total, and Spike’s only just found the one. Just then, whistling starts, and a blonde man in white chaps and hat riding a horse comes walking over. The bomber bristles… Andy!
Andy quickly proves himself to be an idiot by pulling his guns on Spike, saying a man in a security guard outfit couldn’t possibly be the bomber. The actual Teddy Bomber gets angry neither of the bounty hunters are listening to him and runs away. Spike gives chase, but Andy lassos him around the neck. Finally, the Teddy Bomber blows up his other two bears and the building comes toppling down. Spike yells at Andy that he let the real bomber get away and the two begin to run out of the crumbling building, Andy’s horse trampling Spike in the process.
Back aboard the Bebop, nobody really believes Spike’s story about a cowboy-cowboy, saying they’d have believed samurai for sure. Spike’s getting irritated with Jet and Faye when Ed suddenly says she’s found him. Andy wasn’t easy to track, but Ed found his picture on the website for the YMCA — the Young Men’s Cowboy Association. They remark how much Andy and Spike look and act alike, and Spike’s, of course, mad about this. Why wouldn’t he be?
Spike, Jet, and Faye track the Teddy Bomber to a masquerade ball in a fancy high rise, in costume, of course. They easily find the Teddy Bomber, who’s conspicuously dressed as a giant teddy bear. They’re about to take him in when they hear that familiar whistling, and up struts Andy and his horse again. Spike gloats to them “I told you he had a horse,” but he’s soon angry when Andy pulls his pistols on him again. “I just met you yesterday!!!” The Teddy Bomber is upset at being ignored a second time and blows the bomb. A mad dash for the exits ensues, and Spike gives chase in his Swordfish while Andy (the idiot) shoots at Spike’s ship while riding his horse. In the aftermath, Andy chats with Faye a bit before riding off again.
Back aboard the Bebop, an episode of “Big Shots” reveals that the Bomber is calling out Spike and Andy and wants them to meet him at a certain place at a certain time so he can finally tell the world why he’s bombing these buildings. Faye and Jet are done with this case, but Spike can’t let it go, more for pride than for anything else. He meets the Bomber at the location, late of course, to the Bomber’s chagrin, and refuses to listen to the man until Andy appears, which he eventually does. They don’t care one bit about the Bomber or his motives; they just want to beat each other. Angrily, the bomber sets off his last bomb and Spike and Andy eventually make it to the roof of the crumbling building for a fight.
This is probably one of my favorite fights in the series because the sky and surroundings are red-orange like a desert and the characters are drawn slightly less defined, making it look like it’s so hot that there are mirage lines obscuring them. The two engage in a sweet gunfight-turned-fistfight. Eventually, Andy wins and realizes he’s not cut out for the cowboy life, since he was just a trust fund kid looking for a hobby, and gives a confused Spike his hat before riding off into the distance, turning only to say “See you, Space Cowboy.”
The end of the episode finds the Bomber in the back of a police wagon, finally able to tell the policeman with him that he blew up the tallest buildings as a protestation against the waste resulting from practicing capitalism without philosophy. The policeman is sympathetic and pats him on the back, but out the window they see Andy, this time dressed as a samurai, on horseback following the wagon. The Bomber shouts “Andy!” and he replies “Call me Musashi!” a reference to famous wandering duelist Musashi Miyamoto.
“Cowboy Funk” is just a fun and enjoyable episode which allows Spike some much needed levity and consternation. Andy is such a funny character because in many ways he’s exactly like Spike, but he’s also dumber than a bowl of mice. At the end of the episode, when the two come face to face for their duel, we get a shot from behind Andy and we see that, under his chaps, he’s wearing jean shorts. This guy managed to be a pretty good bounty hunter, at least infamous, without having any sort of natural skill or innate need to catch bag guys. It’s such a funny shot and reveals so much about the character.
Next week, I’m going to be putting the series on hold to do the feature film Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, a/k/a Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. While the film was made a couple of years after the series, in continuity it takes place in between Sessions 22 and 23. This is mainly because I just can’t fathom having to watch the movie, as good as it is, after watching the perfect two-part finale. So! We’ll have the movie next week and then there will only be four episodes left. We’re nearing the end of the line, folks.