Starting today and leading up through Easter Sunday, Beneath the Tangles will be running a series of posts based on a theme with the hopes that it will lead our readers to consider the meaning of this week and especially of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our theme this year is loneliness, as we kick things off with a favorite anime, and one that’s been in the news lately—Cowboy Bebop.
Loneliness is a peculiar thing. I’m an only child, and spent countless hours playing, studying, gaming, and watching TV on my own. But rarely did I feel lonely—it might sound sad, but in complete honesty, me and my imagination were an adventurous duo. And so I had a hard time really understanding the immense loneliness that many feel, especially for the famous, who I judged to have everything they could possibly want. As a youth, I was obsessed with pop culture, and wrestled with this seeming contradiction quite often. However, as I grew and matured, I understood that many celebrities buy something unexpected with all their resources: a life of regret.
Spike Spiegel isn’t famous or rich—in many an episode of Cowboy Bebop, he complains about how little food the crew has—but he does carry a lot of regret. One of the famous phrases for the series, used in an ending card, is “You’re gonna carry that weight.” The pressure of Spike’s yakuza past is indeed heavy—the sins he’s committed, the evil men he’s helped, the relationships he’s left behind. As the series comes to a close, and Spike decides to face Vicious one final time, it seems he’s unable to let go of his past. It has finally caught up with him for good.
But I think there’s something more here. Spike feels compelled to face the past not because he’s unable to run away, but because he desires to kill it, and along with it, the solitude he’s felt all these years.
As with a celebrity life full of both adoration and loneliness, there’s a dichotomy to Spike’s journey in Cowboy Bebop: he is both a solitary anti-hero and one of a gang of of companions. In a more superficial series, those comrades would help the hero overcome and realize he needs friendship and the power of love to overcome some evil monster and, the biggest obstacle of all, himself. But in Cowboy Bebop, the others generally make Spike uneasy. Though he does grow to care about them all, Spike doesn’t really want their companionship, and, “Toys in the Attic” aside, neither do they do offer any obvious lessons to help him grow.
Still, as Jet, Faye, and Ed (we’ll exclude Ein in this illustration) each consider the past and find some resolution with it, Spike is encouraged to do the same. There’s a scene in “Hard Luck Woman” where Spike stands looking out a window as Ed’s goodbye message, smoking and contemplating—with its proximity to the ultimate events of the series and connection to Faye trying to break out on her own past and Ed and Ein actually leaving, I imagine that he’s considering what he must do now. Each character is together on this team, but as they begin to depart, it becomes painfully obvious that each must walk his or her own path alone.
Spike is the last to face his past, I believe, because he has a lot of resistance to it. He’s built a life away from crime, and he doesn’t want to return to the violence that meeting Vicious would entail. Unlike the others, facing his past means paying the consequence for his sins. It means pain and conflict.
In my family, we recently had a conflict, too, one that put family members at odds with each other. Because of this, the discomfort was enormous—no one wants to deal with the difficulty of resolution, but the nervousness of an elongated fight was even worse. Eventually, we came together to begin working things out. It wasn’t easy, but it brought us peace.
Tired of always looking to the past, Spike ends up going to Vicious out of his own free will. And though their duel ends in death, Spike collapses with a smile on his face. He took a difficult path, but in facing his past, he becomes whole.
The thing is, I feel like I’m a whole lot like Spike. I don’t flow like water or have some insane criminal background, but I do carry regret. I do have sin. And at the end of the day, I believe I have to pay my due to complete the journey, to meet its wholeness—or I would have to do so if not for Christ, who makes me whole without the punishment.
We each walk alone in our sin, tied to a past that often comes with regrets, and which relegates us eventually to a punishment we cannot escape. Like Spike, we can choose to run, to never be free, or we can face the consequences that we all eventually must. But rather than face Vicious alone, Christ takes our place, stands in front of us and takes the blade—we are brought forgiveness and peace because he incurs the penalty for us, because he pays the price. And so the ending in our lives, too, is different from Spike’s—at peace, we are no longer alone. We have life.
Featured art by GB (reprinted w/permission)
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6 thoughts on “Easter Week, Spike Spiegel, and the Loneliness of Running from the Past”
Ahhh, is that why your profile pic on Discord Spike? 🙂 Great read!
Haha well, Spike was my first real Internet avatar, and I’ve used it consistently since. A lot of nostalgia attached to it for me!
This is a really good article, and I think you nailed Spike’s character head on. I don’t think he’s ever really up front with his emotions and inner thoughts except for in a few moments. Everything he says it either said in jest or in anger. He’s quite flippant and has lost compassion a long time ago. He’s not explicitly evil or uncaring, but he’s extremely jaded. When he loses the one thing he cares about, Few other things motivate Spike in Cowboy Bebop beyond fulfilling his basic necessities but the lost of his only love is trigger for his last violent actions.
There’s certainly internal struggle there—but as you say, his comments are often flippant or angry. It’s difficult to comprehend what conflict is going on within, but the final actions certainly go a long way toward explaining the struggle he’s going through.
In a lot of ways, Cowboy Bebop is somehow a classic bit of pulp noir fiction despite being created in the 90s. It invokes the same kinds of characters and situations, to a degree, and makes you feel the same way. Spike in that sense is a man who’s in entirely the wrong country and genre. This is the world of the nakama – the world of the power of friendship – and Spike is a grizzled antihero of a protagonist more at home in black and white. In that latter world, his resolution – and tragic solution – aren’t out of the ordinary. But that, then, is the reason it *is* truly affecting – the fact that he can’t escape that fate despite all that he has learned and all who love him.
“However, as I grew and matured, I understood that many celebrities buy something unexpected with all their resources: a life of regret.”
In many senses, they do so because they are able to. A rich man has the ability to betray those closest to him, destroy whole relationships, change career paths and ideas about the self, move across state lines…Power corrupts because power grants immunity from consequences. I *can’t,* for my own survival for instance, decide I’m “done” with those I love and manage on my own. And so, given this, it’s easier for them to fall into despair and loneliness. For when you aren’t obligated to owe a thing, nothing seems real, and eventually you understand that you’ve lost sight of what actually matters.
That’s a wonderful analysis of Spike’s unique position—I don’t know if I’ve heard that before, but placed in the context of what kind of anime Cowboy Bebop is, I imagine Watanabe must have been thinking just that when he wrote it!
And yes, I can certainly see that from those in a position of power. I wonder, though, if in this world where increasingly fame and riches come to more people and more who suddenly gain it, if the regret they buy isn’t rather accidental, done without realizing and by those who don’t have the support, both within and without, to make good choices or withstand and grow through the consequences of bad ones. It’s a glorious life out there for celebrities, but a challenging one as well. :/