An episode of Cowboy Bebop where many would say very little actually happens—no action sequences, murders, bounties, or scores settled—turns out to be one of the more crucial episodes of the series. The loop is finally closed between the past and the present with the former reasserting itself, making it clear that, despite the strange and scrambled surface, the past is always an integral part of the present.
Session Eighteen: Speak Like a Child
The episode begins with an amusing juxtaposition: Faye (Megumi Hayashibara) trying her luck at the horse races intercut with Spike (Koichi Yamadera) trying to catch a fish from the deck of the Bebop. Just as it seems both are about to succeed, both ultimately fail: Faye’s horse narrowly loses and Spike’s fish breaks free of the line just as he’s reeling it in.
At the same time, while hanging up laundry behind Spike, Jet (Unsho Ishizuka) is telling a story to Edward (Aoi Tada), the Japanese folk tale Urashima Taro. This is interesting on a couple levels; here we have Jet, the eldest member of the crew, passing a tale along to the youngest member, Edward, not unlike the way in which folk tales must have been handed down for generations. Then there’s the content of the story itself; similar to “Rip Van Winkle”, it’s about a man who’s taken to a fantastic dream palace after saving a turtle and in the process he skips over many years. He’s given a strange box called a Tamatebako when he returns home and he’s told not to open it. We don’t find out what’s in the box in the Cowboy Bebop episode but in some versions of the story the box causes the man to transform or instantly age.
In a sense, this is the story of “Speak Like a Child”, which ends with Faye finally getting a sense of her past. For the first time she becomes, in a way, the old woman she is. We learned earlier, in “My Funny Valentine”, that Faye had been in stasis for decades, that she’d had a life before the hyperspace gate explosion that forever altered the solar system, but she had no memory of that life. Like many episodes in the latter half of Cowboy Bebop, an item from the past turns up and has an important role in this episode, in this case a videotape which turns out to be Faye’s own Tamatebako.
But she runs away from it without seeing it because she can’t pay Jet back for the cash on delivery charges. Instead it’s Spike and Jet who go on the journey to discover its meaning, to find an antique Betamax that will actually play the thing. After an amusing scene with an antique technology dealer, the two decide to go all the way to Earth, which, when Edward mentions this to Faye, leads Faye the conclusion exactly opposite to the reality—she thinks they’ve run away from her. As Gren told her in “Jupiter Jazz”, she thinks she can lightly run away from this new family of hers but she cares more than she thinks she does. She’s indignant and hurt that Spike and Jet have left her so far behind. Little does she know they’re doing it for her.
We’re not told this directly, likely the men aren’t even admitting it to themselves. But when we know they’re broke, it seems hardly cost effective to spend fuel going all the way to Earth just to find out what’s on a videotape, however valuable it might end up being if they somehow found the right dealer. Nonetheless, when Faye does come back and they finally have a player for the tape, Jet won’t let her watch it unless she repays the delivery charges and Faye, once again, assumes she can just walk away from debt she’s incurred through no real fault of her own. But she can’t resist watching in secret so she sees the extraordinary time capsule she made for herself.
It’s not just footage of the girl Faye once was, it’s the younger Faye actually speaking to the older Faye. The young Faye asks questions about who her friends will be, what kind of life she’ll be leading. She doesn’t realise just how vast a gulf of time and memory there’ll be between her past and future selves. But that gives her words an unintended, remarkable potency: “I am no longer here. But I’m here to-day and I’ll always be cheering for you right here. Cheering for you, my only self.” The past is gone but the past is also always present, just like the story of a Tamatebako that inevitably repeats itself.
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:
Sessions Twelve and Thirteen