Massive spoilers for Cowboy Bebop. Like. Right away.
I’ll never forget the first time that I finished Cowboy Bebop.
I watched in complete silence, Spike stagger down the steps of that building, blood running down his face.
And then I sat there, on the floor of my bedroom, for a long time. Just thinking.
Spike Spiegel is a broken man.
But this isn’t neccesarily evident just by looking at him when he is in action. Let’s just look at the first episode.
We see Spike hunting a target, we see him using wearing wacky disguises, we see him involved in both a cool gunfight and a martial arts battle, both times looking like the coolest thing around. We see him in an intense chase scene in his cool red spaceship, and then we get the ending of the episode. Spike is just alone in a room on his ship, practicing kung fu and gazing off into the cold expanse of space. And we know that there is something wrong with him. Somewhere, deep inside, Spike is hurt.
And this becomes a trend. We see Spike Spiegel throwing around Bruce Lee kicks, and trading witty remarks and taking crazy risks just to catch his targets. When Spike is out in public, he is the coolest person literally imaginable.
But when we see him alone, whether it is eating his green peppers, or training, or just looking out into space, we can feel his pain. We know something is wrong.
Because despite being this slick, cool, guy; after each of his adventures, Spike still has to go back to his ship, and sleep alone at night, and once again carry that weight.
And yeah, this post is about “What Makes Spike Spiegel great,” and I could just spend the whole thing talking about how cool he is, and how much I like his kung fu, and joke about how much conditioner he puts in his hair, but that wouldn’t really get to the bones of what makes Spike great. All of this surface level stuff is just cosmetics. Is it much appreciated cosmetics? Absolutely. But that isn’t neccesarily what makes Spike a great character to me.
Because behind the facade of cool that he has erected, he has this dark past, this overwhelming pain, this heavy weight that he has to carry.
But Spike doesn’t wallow in this pain.
He doesn’t crumble under this burden.
He carries that weight.
He puts on a brave face so that no one worries, and he pushes forward.
To me, what makes Spike Spiegel “great” is that he continues on. Pushing forward with his life despite the pain, because he knows that living in the past won’t alleviate the darkness.
And in the final moments of the show, as Spike stumbles down the stairs of the crumbling building, and says his iconic last word, it can be met with sadness, but also with relief.
Because if even for these final moments of Spike’s life, we can know that he has finally dealt with his past, and thrown aside the weight that he had been carrying for so long. And as the song “Blue” plays over the final credits, and Mai Yamane sings about being free, we know that Spike has finally experienced this.
He has finally found his freedom, even if for only a few fleeting moments.
Quirks don’t make great characters. Nor do character designs. Those things can certainly help, but at the end of the day, truly great characters are made through the connections that they make with their audiences, and the emotions that come with seeing them struggle, fight and grow.
Spike’s story spoke to me. And that is what makes him truly great.
See You Space Cowboy