The protagonists of Cowboy Bebop are bounty hunters, a profession popular among writers of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Westerns because it represents a blurred line between law enforcement and crime. For Cowboy Bebop, it also provides another way to explore its overall preoccupation with a changing world.
Session Sixteen: Black Dog Serenade
The second and final episode to focus on Jet (Unsho Ishizuka) reveals the story behind his mechanical arm. At the beginning of the episode, Faye (Megumi Hayashibara) casually asks him why he hasn’t gotten a real arm to replace it, medical science now apparently being up to the task. He tells her that the Bebop is his ship and his arm is his arm, implying he doesn’t like anyone telling him what to do.
This is immediately followed by a scene where a hostage is shot by the most erratic man in a group of criminals who’ve taken over a prison ship. The shooter tells the others that he doesn’t like people telling him what to do. He’s immediately executed by the gang’s de facto leader, a quiet killer named Udai Taxim (Kosei Hirota).
As a former member of a crime syndicate, it makes sense Udai wants to enforce rules but, at the same time, like Spike, the syndicate expelled him long ago. So Udai is adhering to a way of life that has already rejected him.
Jet used to be a cop, a past we’ve seen something of in “Ganymede Elegy”. We see some flashbacks in “Black Dog Serenade” of Jet wearing a traditional American detective’s outfit, a suit and fedora (something that also makes him look even more like Jigen from Lupin the Third). It was in tracking down Udai that Jet lost his arm and somehow this led to him turning his back on the police force and becoming a bounty hunter.
And we meet Fad (Masashi Hirose), Jet’s partner at the time, which gives the episode an arc partially similar to Faye’s in the previous episode. Whitney Hagas Matsumoto established himself as a friend in her past, Faye re-encounters him in the present to learn he’d betrayed her back then, and the end of the episode makes it seem like he might have really had some affection for her after all. Similarly, Jet harbours only pleasant memories of Fad and is still loyal to him, we learn at the end of this episode that Fad had betrayed him, but finally we see that Fad did have some genuine loyalty to Jet after all.
A jarring part of the strange present is that it seems to not just kill the past but to deny it. The friends we thought we had weren’t really friends—except maybe they were. Jet had sought out a livelihood that was more independent and required him to interpret morality more than when he worked for the police and now that decision seems even more justified. But Jet remains the “black dog who never lets go”; of all the Bebop crew, loyalty matters to him the most, which makes him the perfect subject for a story of betrayal.
This entry is part of a series of entries I’m writing on Cowboy Bebop for its 20th anniversary. I’m reviewing each episode individually. My previous episode reviews can be found here: