For the past eight weeks, Cowboy Bebop has brought us into the world of hapless bounty hunters, conniving femmes fatale, weird hyperspace nonsense, and action on multiple planets. One thing it hadn’t yet brought us is the final main character. That’s right; as weird as it is, for eight full episodes, a whole character, who’s been in the opening titles sequence the entire time, just hasn’t been there. Who introduces a lead that late into a limited run? The answer is Shinichiro Watanabe and company do, and it’s that sort of laconic approach to storytelling that helps to make this one of the best anime series ever. They take their time; plus when you have a wrecking ball of a character like Ed, you need to ease people into things. This is “Jamming with Edward.”
Ed is the familiar name of a character who has named herself (yes, HERself) Edward, or Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV to be exact. Like all of our heroes in Bebop, we don’t know a whole lot about her history yet, but we know right away what kind of energy she brings to things. We heard her doing the intro for this episode on the “Next Time” trailer at the end of “Waltz For Venus” and even then we could tell she was different. She brings a completely loopy, spacey brilliance to the ship and the show. If Spike is the outwardly-cool, inwardly-tortured hero, Jet is the tough-as-nails softy, and Faye is the out-for-herself wildcard, then Ed represents the fun and slightly more spiritual side of everything. The animators even draw her much more fluidly, her lines are much less defined, her features are much less defined. She’s sort of androgynous and it’s only a throwaway ADR line at the end of the episode (where Faye exclaims “Hey, you’re a girl!”) that establishes that she is, in fact, female. She refers to herself in the third person, but only when the pronoun game can be used to confuse people (Spike: “Do you know Edward?” Ed: “Yes. Because Edward IS Edward.”). She’s also easily the most caring and intelligent, but intellectually and emotionally, character on the show. I mean, maybe Ein is smarter, but who can say?
Ed is also very distinctive because of her “theme,” which is actually a piece of music called “Cats on Mars.” While the other characters have bluesy cowboy or legato saxophone music to underscore them, Ed’s signature music is youthful, upbeat, electronic, and weird: perfect for her. Ed is a hacker, and probably the best one there is. She makes friends with computers and talks to herself a lot, so it’s pretty easy to see that she’s probably a bit nutty and this music speaks to that 100%.
The plot for this one is pretty light, but it’s important to establish the character. There is a bounty placed on a hacker called Radical Edward on Earth because someone is causing a large satellite with laser capabilities to “vandalize” the surface by drawing large images in the ground. Ed herself, in a weird compound on Earth (by the way, Earth is now horribly desolate and basically everyone there lives in poverty) finds the bountyhead on the net and decides to see what the Bebop is going to do about it. Spike wants nothing to do with finding a hacker, since he sees it as terribly boring, but Jet and Faye decide to investigate. They only find stories about how Radical Edward is either a 7-foot-tall former basketball star, a transvestite, or some kind of ghost. Unhelpful. Unbeknownst to the crew, Ed has been keeping tabs on the Bebop for quite a while, and she knows all about their often-fruitless bounty hunting adventures. She offers to help them catch the REAL person doing the laser-beaming for a favor. Faye agrees to this favor.
However, Ed has learned that there is not PERSON doing the land carvings; it’s the satellite itself, which she has named MPU, pronounced “Empew.” The AI tells Ed that it used to marvel at the land carvings it used to see before the nuclear war and wanted to see them again; basically, it just wanted friends to look at. Ed wants to copy the computer mainframe so it can be turned into the authorities but that MPU won’t actually be gone. In order to do that, though, they’re going to have to get close to it, and unfortunately, it can detect computer action a long way away, so Spike (who is now very interested in the mission) has to float in his ship to get close enough to fire his laser at the satellite’s laser, or MPU will sick all the military drones on them. Uh oh, that’s exactly what happens. They do succeed, however, and Spike and Jet are able to turn in the copied MPU to the authorities. However, they later learn on an episode of Big Shot that the ISSP has decided that only living creatures can be considered bounties and refuse to pay for an artificial intelligence. Faye also wants Jet to leave without fulfilling her promise to Ed, which they do, but Ed won’t let that happen and quickly hacks into the Bebop and uses her universal controller to pilot it back. Her wish is just to be a member of the crew! This leads to Spike’s immortal line: “There are three things I can’t stand: kids, animals, and women with attitudes…so why are all three safely aboard our ship?!?!”
I think it’s really an interesting thing to note that Edward is the only Earthling among them yet she’s the one who seems by far the most alien. As we’ll find out in subsequent episodes, she really just wants a family, and she’s sort of become a fan of Spike, Jet, and Faye so joining them seemed like the perfect thing for her. Plus, now that she’s on the ship, Ein will begin to feature a lot more; they become like a weird double-act, sort of like R2-D2 and C3PO, only Ed’s waaaaaaay more useful and less complainy than Threepio.
While not the most exciting episode, “Jamming with Edward” finally brings together the last of the crew. It only took a third of the series to do it. That’s the way Bebop seems to go: the first act (first 9 episodes) of the show is about bringing the characters together, the second act (eps 10-20) is about them all working together and slowly learning about each other, and the final act (eps 21-26, plus the movie) are about them slowly coming apart again. It’s a sad arch, but a worthy one. And we start that in earnest next week with our first episode to focus on former policeman Jet Black, “Ganymede Elegy.”