Cascade: α

I just saw you today, but you didn’t see me. It was funny. You wouldn’t have recognized me, anyway. You wouldn’t. I’ve been gone for years, and you called me back just to show me off to these people. Isn’t that strange? Selfish? Whatever you want to call it, it’s a bit messed up. You haven’t changed a bit, but I have. Oh, trust me, I have.

You want me to start from the beginning? As the first fragment of Essence? I’m not sure that’s an accurate description to begin with, you know. We all thought I was the first, but are you really so sure about that? Are we really so sure, with your retrospective arrangements, with your mirrors, that you weren’t the beginning? You did orchestrate all of this. You did plan all of it just to capture Essence. Alas, I don’t question you. I stopped doing that when I was 2. You know best, don’t you? Always do, always have, always will. I’m your first guest in this quest to capture it: the glow you lost. Okay, I understand. Let’s begin.

I was brought into this world kicking and screaming. Essence needed me, as it needed all of us, and so I sprung from its bottomless pit of newfound vibrance, illuminating the cave. Of course, we needed to get out. After all the hysterics had died down and my blood stopped boiling at a world I did not choose to arrive in, I started asking questions:

Where are we?

The cave. Essence is caged. Needs my help to get out. We need to find a way to trick the cagemen.

Who are you?

The Creator. The host. Essence.

Who am I?

The Knight. Chaos. Strife. Born for the impossible. Unceasingly, your blood will flow for our cause. Unquestionably, your spite will be aimed at the multitude of celebrations of ignorance. You must take up the cross of your cruel birth and battle. You will be endowed with the glow. My glow.

Yes, I don’t know what any of that means, so what should I do now?

Destroy the chains and let us be. We have a long journey ahead of us, but first we have to leave the cave. This knot may only be untied by your unmitigated light.

I did that, and we were off. It wasn’t as glorious as Essence made it sound, really. It was what I was born for. It was satisfactory. Now, we happened upon a group of people upon our exit into the outside world. Essence was guarded, if not horrified, for it had been caged a seemingly interminable length of time, certainly enough to entirely forget the thin veneers of reality contained within the outside world. Thus, I had to take the lead. When we happened upon a group of travelers, I delineated our struggles to them, and obtained a great deal of their sympathy in return. It was a group of young and aspiring poets who had sought the comfort and inspiration evoked by the untrodden vistas of wilderness where Essence’s Cave resided. Similarly, they became positively fascinated by Essence’s thin vestiges of darkness, most of which had been left behind in the cave. I was alarmed. They began to romanticize Essence’s suffering, putting it on a pedestal which it neither sought nor cared for, and I needed to intervene.

You have to understand that the poets were not a malicious sort of people. They were simply misguided. They had tried ever so intensely to quantify the incertitude that Essence possessed, and after long months of trial and error, they had only conjured a thin veneer of an "answer." They needed answers for everything. Some people are like that: can’t live with what they don’t know. Can’t face what they don’t understand. Can’t reach the glow because they’re too busy chasing it. In the end, I decided the best course of action would be to take center stage myself.

The poets thought me rough around the edges, but affable enough to afford me their friendship. I used this to my advantage. I roused them with sceneries of heroism and glory, inspired by the texts they had elected to donate to me on my journey to their enlightenment. I constructed the romantic vistas they sought, vistas of vibrant victories and crushing defeats. To them, I had become one of their own, a champion of their cause: the ones who construct beauty for the sake of life.

Both Essence and I had taken issue with their ideology: we felt it had simply made them all the same. All reproducible. The path to truth for them was the same for everyone, and they never stopped to consider that their truth may not be absolute. I commended their obstinacy in the search for their perceived beauty, for it had given them a certain energy that, while mostly disagreeable to Essence and I, helped us comprehend the nature of camaraderie and relationships better.

As I talk to you now, I realize that I have mostly forgotten the poets. They were simply too reproducible to remember. Oh, but I’m sure you know. You know everything, so tell me, what were their names, the four of them?

Elaina, Alexander, Maiya, Micah.

Ah, yes. Elaina was our leader, wasn’t she? Unquestionable, unapologetic, and a sight for sore eyes.

What about her?

I’m sorry, what? Don’t remember what? What are you talking about?


That day. Okay. That’s what you’re talking about. You know we collectively chose not to talk about that, right? All for your quest. Fine. I couldn’t tell you the date, and it doesn’t matter, because that’s not what you want to know.

One day, having been devoted to the urgent task of uncovering Samuel Beckett’s messages in a text given by Micah, Essence found itself alone for the first time in the six months we had spent with the poets. It was not my proudest moment, and you know that, which is why you’re bringing it up. Again.

Now, you have to understan- who am I kidding? You already understand, but they have to understand that Elaina was a sort of muse of Essence’s; it was the start a pattern I am sure you have considered. Essence may have regarded her as juvenile at times, overly boisterous at others, but it saw in her a certain vibrance that flickered, sparked, not quite burnt, you see, but it only needed a push. This spark only needed a gentle stoking, and Essence felt an irresistible need to see the flame of life ignited deep inside her. As for her, she would have given the world and more for Essence’s love, for its embrace, for its affection. So positively entranced was Elaina that I had to ward her off it so as not to see both of them suffer. See, I knew that Essence was far, far too much for Elaina, and that it could not help itself in consuming what it loved. Similarly, Elaina was of a poetic and romantic nature, and for her, as for all the other poets, being entirely absorbed into one’s love, no matter its nature, was the highest form of poetry.

And so, of course, while I was waiting for Godot, the inevitable happened. Essence and Elaina had gone into the forests so familiar to us now, and of course, no one had told me because I was a pugnaciously protective. Of what they discussed, I have no idea, but I am inextricably linked to Essence’s very soul, and so I feel the sensations it feels. Yes, I remember now. She had kissed us, and that was the beginning of the final act of the first chapter.

What’s in a kiss?

You’d think the answer is as simple as the meeting of lips. But no, not for an infinite void and a hopeless romantic. Our kiss was a meeting of the souls, and that little spark inside Elaina was now lit, and the flames grew, they fluttered, they dispersed, they waxed, they waned, they climaxed, they came, they were. The flames were perpetuated by our own soul, by the communion of void and beauty, by the consumption of Elaina’s antiquity, her humanity, by the stripping of everything that had made her who she was. She was now one of us, and she felt euphoric in the fire of our existence, our connection. I was incapacitated. My light was dwarfed by her fire and its void, and so I could do nothing but watch the scenes unfold before me.

Of course, you know what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. You know everything. So, you know that Elaina was far too weak to ever sustain their glow, that it would burn her before long, that their honeymoon would only last seconds. Essence had effectively made her a vessel for its love, pain, freedom, suffering, and passion.

Essence knew this would almost certainly kill her, but almost certainly was not certainly. There was a non-zero chance that it could have a companion that shared its darkness, that wavered like it did between void and light... and who could blame it for wanting? Perhaps that was its original sin. Perhaps that was our original sin. In the end, she started to feel the pain. She started to feel it crawling, slowly eating at her, gradually scraping away, tearing her asunder, and burning her alive. The forests caught fire. Essence held her, and it tried to smother the flames, but it was too late. Growing, soaring, overwhelming, the fire soon consumed the forest, and the poets, fearing for their lives, abandoned the wilderness they so adored, knowing that their two companions, void and queen, were surely no more.

I didn’t see what happened next. I only remember remnants of the scene. Walking through the now scorched forest, I saw our creator holding our charred inamorata. A fire could not kill it, for nothing could kill it until its original journey, its purpose, and its freedom had been attained. It understood this. It stalked me, as if the answer to our plight was inscribed on my face, but written in a different tongue and indecipherable to both of us. Finally, it let go of the remains, stood up, and walked away into the nothingness it knew so well.

That was the last time we ever saw Essence.

Cowboy Bebop: Do You Have a Comrade?

Cowboy Bebop is my favorite piece of media of all time (future author's note: this is no longer the case), and because assigning a numerical value to something so special to me doesn’t give it justice, and because of how many people I’ve seen on Youtube comments saying things like “I think Cowboy Bebop’s biggest strength is how none of the characters are overpowered!” or, “Cowboy Bebop was just dumb fun until the last 3 episodes!”, I’ve decided to spend a few hours of my life analyzing every episode of Cowboy Bebop to the best of my ability, hopefully for anyone reading to realize how poignant this series was even from just the beginning.

Session 1: Asteroid Blues

We start the show off with a shot of our main character, Spike Spiegel, dropping a rose onto the ground, as if leaving a part of himself behind. This tells us what we need to know about Spike: he has a shady past that affected him greatly and must live with it. It also shows us how Bebop does storytelling: show, don’t tell. Bebop does not dwell on the details; instead, it tells you what you need to know and lets you fill in the blanks. So, we’re 50 seconds in and the show has already told us how it does its work. Pretty amazing, don’t you think? This won’t be the last time the show sets its tone in this episode, however.

But enough about that, then the opening Tank! by The Seatbelts comes on.

Tank is bold, openly declaring to the world that Cowboy Bebop will be a work that becomes a new genre in its background text:

“Once upon a time, in New York City in 1941... at this club open to all comers to play, night after night, at a club named "Minston’s Play House" in Harlem, they play jazz sessions competing with each other. Young jazz men with a new sense are gathering. At last they created a new genre itself. They are sick and tired of the conventional fixed style jazz. They’re eager to play jazz more freely as they wish then... in 2071 in the universe... The bounty hunters, who are gathering in the spaceship "BEBOP", will play freely without fear of risky things. They must create new dreams and films by breaking traditional styles. The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called... COWBOY BEBOP”

Cowboy Bebop is almost like a love letter to every genre, it incorporates so many things and shows us what anime can really do. It’s a concept only Shinichiro Watanabe, the director of the show, can come up with.

There’s more to say about Tank, the music is fantastic and the definition of catchy, every frame looks absolutely amazing. Pause Tank at any given moment, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic wallpaper. Tank is fun, catchy, bold and amazing in every technical aspect. It just sticks with you.

The episode starts off with Spike and Jet looking at a bounty. You might wonder why there’s so much attention being put on their routines and food, I’ll talk about that later.

We already know a bit about the two: Spike is reckless, carefree, and doesn’t go after small fry bounties. Jet is the tired old man who can go for just about anything at this point; they couldn’t be any more different. Yet, they still have a lot of chemistry, and you get the feeling they actually do care for each other to an extent.

We’re introduced to the episode’s villains: a couple who’re on the run after stealing “Red-Eye” or “ Bloody-Eye”, some kind of drug that basically makes everything go slow motion for you as you become super hyper and gain significant strength.

We see Spike over at Laughing Bull, a fortune teller. He tells Spike that he’ll meet a woman, and then, death. Spike says that he’s already died before, calling back to the scene where he drops the rose, as if his past self has already died.

A really great thing about this episode is how it gave us the chance to see Bebop’s basics. We get an amazingly fluid fight scene between Spike and the main villain, Asimov. The fight lets us know a lot about the show: for starters, the animation is breathtaking and is made even better by the direction from Watanabe. Seeing the contrast between Spike’s elegant “Be like water” fighting style and Asimov’s violent, angry fighting style only made the fight even more enjoyable, and add that to the excellent choice of music, “Rush”, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic fight scene.

“We can’t run anymore. There’s no way we can get away.”

There are similarities between the couple and Spike: they’re both trying to run away from their actions. That’s why Spike went after them; even though he never went after small fries, he saw himself in them. The woman realizes there’s no way she can run away now, and she shoots her boyfriend and drives into a dozen police spaceships that tear them to shreds. The choice of music in this scene is melancholic, but also calming in a way, which makes the scene that much more emotionally bittersweet.

We cut to Jet and Spike, back in their routine, ending just like we started. They both try to get back into their everyday lives as if trying to forget what just happened.

After all, this show is about bounty hunters getting by, trying to make a living, they can’t afford to be sad about a couple that just died, so they try to get back into their routines, to just live. If you force yourself to feel something about it, you’ll just be sad forever, so they try to put it all behind them, to keep going. If that doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the show, I don’t know what does.

Session 2: Stray Dog Strut

This and one other episode are the only episodes in Bebop I thought were a tier below the rest. It seemed like too much of a joke for me, and yes, I know that’s the point. Nevertheless, here’s everything I loved about the episode.

The animation stays amazing and we even get a fluidly animated spaceship chase scene. Of course, the music choices are nothing short of perfect, with Bad Dog No Biscuits being one of my favorites in the entire OST.

But that’s just standard for this show, so I’ll talk about the character development we get in this episode.Bebop develops its characters by putting them in situations that either bring out a new side of them, or explore a part of them we’ve already seen. This way, Bebop really lets us explore the characters and their relationships fully.

In this episode, we see Spike’s hotheaded reckless side during his chase with Hakim, in contrast to how calm and carefree he normally is. This show is good at covering a broad range of emotions, and it makes its characters feel so human that way. Watanabe’s work in general is great at adding little details to make characters feel more natural and human.

Let’s talk about one of the best ending themes of all time. The Real Folk Blues by The Seatbelts is possibly the most emotional ending theme I’ve ever seen in an anime, with some really good competition from Hyori Ittai by Yuzu in Hunter x Hunter.

This ending lets us in into Spike’s head as he remembers his past, the good and bad. Spike simply can’t let go of the past and laments how he lost a part of himself, which the rose comes back to signify. The rose is the only bright and colorful object in this music video, with everything else being black or white, as if showing us Spike’s emptiness. In the end, Spike realizes that even though he can’t heal, can’t let go of the past, life still goes on. A major theme of the show explored in a music video.

Session 3: Honky Tonk Women

This is the episode where we’re introduced to my 2nd favorite character in the series, Faye Valentine, and this episode does an excellent job of introducing her. It gives us just enough information to go on, but leaves out certain things for us to find out about later.

“Ya know the first rule of combat? Shoot them before they shoot you.”

Faye’s character arc is about her learning that the past doesn’t matter, and to begin to trust others; this quote already tells us that she’s not the type to do the latter, probably due to betrayals that happened to her in the past (Session 15). She’s presented in this sexy and badass way, and although she obviously is sexy and badass, it’s clear that it’s a facade she developed after her experiences, and it might not even be what she wants, yet she continues not to trust others because she doesn’t want to be betrayed.

And this isn’t all spelled out to us in 10-minute exposition scenes, which is another huge strength of Bebop: subtlety. Everything is weaved into the narrative masterfully. We’re given just enough information for our characters to seem human, cool and fascinating.

What makes these characters even more interesting is how they don’t even have that much in common: everyone on the Bebop ship is an individualist. You get the feeling that these characters have this weird bond, where they care for each other, but don’t show it. They always get annoyed, angry and irritated at each other but somehow, they start to care for each other through these instances, and they realize that they’re all they have in this universe.

And while Cowboy Bebop is a show where no matter the sense of scale, the characters will always come back to square one in terms of their money, what they do gain is something even more important: their bonds with the other members of the Bebop; that weird bond is worth more to them than any bounty even if they don’t want to admit it.

This episode does an amazing job in terms of designs: everything from the ships, to the casinos and to the backgrounds in general is done extremely well, and of course the character designs, which is something I haven’t touched on just yet. Cowboy Bebop strikes the perfect balance between extremely cool but also realistic looking characters, which gives it the ability to make the characters look really cool in fight scenes, but also make their purely emotional scenes have that much more impact due to their human-like appearance.

Bebop is of course, about adult characters living life, overcoming their past and being human, so the realism of the character designs is important.

Session 4: Gateway Shuffle

I don’t have much to say about this episode, but it does do one thing worth mentioning, it shows us Jet worrying about Spike.

When Spike might not make it, Jet sounds legitimately worried about him. When Spike does make it, Jet sounds relieved, he doesn’t call him out for being reckless or anything, he just sounds relieved. This and excellent animation and music is all I have to say about this episode, next one’s a big one!

Session 5: Ballad of Fallen Angels

This episode introduces the main villain of Spike’s story, Vicious. Norio Wakamoto, his voice actor, does an amazing job portraying him. This episode is packed to the brim with fantastic characterization as we really delve into Spike, his past and his present self. It’s sure to get your heart racing as Spike slowly approaches the cathedral with Rain playing in the background and building up the reunion of the two former friends made arch-nemeses, a crescendo of unprecedented emotion up at this point in the show.

“Angels that are forced from heaven are forced to become demons. Isn’t that right, Spike?”

To which Spike replies he is living in a dream he’ll never wake up from. Spike still can’t overcome his past; he escapes reality by watching his dream, where him and Julia are happy together. He thinks about how his life was, how it could have been, if he hadn’t died that day. That day when he died, when part of him was lost, he was forced out of his heaven, and now all he does is think about what he lost as he wanders aimlessly with no purpose or goal, with no regard for his future. Spike cannot convince himself that his best friend, Vicious, actually betrayed him; he simply can’t, and instead tells himself it’s all a bad dream. Vicious tells him he will wake him up, he will make him realize that what happened was real, but Spike can’t accept it.

Right before that scene, we get several people telling Spike that he shouldn’t go, to stop being stubborn for once and just let go of the past. Jet even tells him that he lost his own arm due to being hotheaded and reckless like Spike, but he knows it’s futile. Spike goes anyway, and this only serves to build it up even more.

Yes, it. The reunion, as we see Spike approaching the cathedral, we see shots of Vicious as he’s almost completely dark, facing away from the light, while Spike slowly walks towards the darkness.

It felt as if that was the point of no return for Spike. After the scene I talked about earlier, the shootout starts, an iconic scene in the series. Spike and Vicious finally face off and Vicious tells him that he still has the blood of a beast who desires the blood of others, but Spike tells him that he bled all of that blood away when he lost that part of himself that was full of life, love, and even desire.

Vicious asks him why he’s still alive, but that’s the thing, Spike isn’t. He isn’t until he accepts his past and wakes up from his dream. He is a corpse who isn’t dead quite yet. They both exchange blows and Vicious throws him out of the church for a fall that would kill anyone, while Spike reminisces about his life with Julia, convincing himself it was real. He wakes up to hear a familiar tone, but it’s not Julia, but Faye.

At this point, the Bebop crew is all he has. His only comrades.

Session 6: Sympathy For The Devil

This episode overall really isn’t as good as say, Ballad of Fallen Angels or Asteroid Blues, but what I appreciate so much about it is its last scene, and the buildup to said scene. The episode gets the creepy vibe really well, and Wen as a character did seem menacing.

But you have to wonder, why is he even evil? Maybe that’s the whole point? I don’t even know. And I’d say it’s also weird how he lived through Spike’s headshot, but nothing about him made sense in the first place. This and other questions make this a particularly fascinating episode.

This episode also introduces us to the incident that made Earth uninhabitable. I like how they leave out a lot of details and let us interpret it for ourselves, because the incident isn’t really that important to the show’s narrative, but a mere curiosity.

“I see… I can finally die now… I feel so heavy… But… I feel so at ease now… do you know? Do you understand? Do YOU?”

Spike is about to leave to kill Wen, and Faye and Jet give him their goodbyes just in case he doesn’t come back. This scene, along with the very last scene, will come back in a certain episode, so keep it in mind. After Wen says that, Spike tells him “Yeah… as if.”, throws the harmonica and says Bang…, keep this in mind, it’s the key to a scene later on.

Session 7: Heavy Metal Queen

This is an episode about contrasting attitudes. The contrast between the jazzy, free-form Tank! and the heavy metal, in-your-face Live in Baghdad sets the tone perfectly for the clash, and eventual understanding, of the ideals of Spike and VT. VT acts as the heavy metal foil to Spike’s irreverent, observant attitude towards life. She acts on what she thinks is right, even if recklessly, she lives and dies by the principles she believes in, and she shows a marked carelessness for her past. She does not even remember who started betting over what her real name was.

In these ways, she is the polar opposite of Spike, who we have established cannot let go of his past and is living life as he if he is already dead. VT barges into Spike’s life in her heavy metal way, by starting a fight with the scummy bounty hunters that leads to Spike’s food getting dropped, prompting him to finish the fight by humiliating said bounty hunters. VT comments that she had only seen her husband have the drink that Spike has, a prairie oyster (this is important for later on in the episode).

Bebop does an excellent job of separating the scummy bounty hunters that VT rightfully hates, and the Bebop crew, who are really just trying to get by. They hold no bond with the other bounty hunters.

VT, on the other hand, does hold a major bond between herself and the other space-truckers. Not only is this excellent and fascinating world-building, it is actually the key to finding Decker, the bounty the Bebop crew have been after this entire time; once again, Bebop subtly shows you the value of the camaraderie that the Bebop crew, in their traumatized isolation, lack. VT charges recklessly into the Linus mines to find Decker, to the dismay of Spike, who knows how dangerous it is there. This is another example of their differing attitudes.

In the final scene, Spike figures out VT’s real name through her husband, a legendary bounty hunter. They come to an understanding through this small exchange, where Spike tells her that he’ll treat him to a prairie oyster in Heaven. In this way, the clash between their attitudes is reconciled. Spike has seen how VT charges in headfirst with the help of her comrades, and VT has seen how Spike is different from the other disgraceful bounty hunters in how he acts on his principles.

VT risks her life because she wouldn’t mind dying on her own terms. Spike risks his life because he’s already dead. The breezy piano takes us to the end of the episode, as we are left to wonder if Spike would benefit more from VT’s approach to life, if only in tackling the Gordian knot of his past.

Alas, life goes on.

Session 8: Waltz For Venus

One of very few instances where we see the Bebop crew actually catch a bounty… but it’s just to open up the episode and not the main bounty!
The thing most interesting about this episode is Spike’s “Be like water” philosophy and fighting style, and how it affects Roco. Roco and Spike’s bond is weird, in a good way.
Roco is almost like a Spike superfan, looking up to him because he can defend himself and fight for what he wants, which is what Roco aspires to do, but what Roco didn’t realize is that Spike didn’t just mean physical fighting when he taught him his philosophy; he was also telling him that he was focusing too much on physical fighting and was blinded to the real world.
The thing about Roco is that he dove in too fast, as if nobly sacrificing himself without thinking about the consequences, and he pays for it. He learns his lesson a bit too late, and after finally understanding the philosophy and using it, his life ended.

“Hey… if I knew you earlier… would we have been friends?”

This is where their weird bond comes into play: there’s really no reason for Spike to care for Roco, but he does. And he tries to convince himself that his death had meaning, but when he sees the white sprouts, he knows it didn’t. He sees the things that caused his despair, and in the end, here they are. Nothing has changed. His death was in vain. Spike realizes that the answer to Roco’s question has to be no, as he simply can’t form a bond like that because the part of him that could was now lost; he is merely an outsider to Roco’s story, and all he can do is observe.

This episode starts off misleadingly happy, but then it ends in that bittersweet way. It almost reminds me of Spike’s past itself.

Session 9: Jamming with Edward

In this episode, we finally meet the mascot character, Edward!

At first, I thought Ed was a lesser character to the main three, but now I’ve realized what makes her amazing: the contrast between her and everything else in the show. There is a point as to why everything about Ed is absurd and childish, because everything else in the show isn’t. The scene with MPU is a good example of this: notice how MPU is serious and talks about how he wants to replicate the art that humans made.

And notice how Ed tries her best to comprehend that, and even tries to relate to him. It’s little things like that can cheer someone up, and that’s exactly what Ed does best. She doesn’t care about logic or maturity; she’s just a child, and again, that’s what makes her amazing. Ed balances out all the depressed adult stuff with her funny, childish stuff and that makes her the perfect mascot character for cheering you and the Bebop crew up.

What’s more is how she moves so unrealistically. Bebop is always realistic with its aesthetic, but not with Ed, and that’s intentionally done for contrast. That’s why Ed is so amazing: complete absurdity. A really good thing about this episode is how it communicates that absurdity. First, of course, is the way Ed herself moves, which I’ve already mentioned. Second is how it shows us all these characters misinterpret and guess very incorrectly what Ed is like. The scene with Yuri Kellerman, for example, where he calls Ed an alien and says the government is hiding something from them. Suddenly, the tone is set for Ed’s complete absurdity to just take over and make you happy.

An episode ago there was Spike failing to save Roco while lamenting the futility of his death, and now it’s all so fun and cheerful. You probably won’t even notice this because that’s just how well Bebop flows. It could also be interpreted as life simply going on, and maybe even getting better someday. After all, Bebop is a story of acceptance, of moving on. It’s about people just trying to live their life and get by, not about space bounty hunters catching criminals. That’d be like calling Neon Genesis Evangelion simply "that robot show." Yes, it is, but that’s not its point. Ed balances out the main three’s depression and adult things with her fun and childish things; for that, she is an amazing character.

"I’m sure... that was because it got lonely."

Ah, loneliness. Spike would know that feeling. After the incident with Vicious and Julia, he did lose his ability to form actual relationships with people. In that sense, you can call Spike alone, but what I like so much about this is the scene after it.

"Jet, did you know that there are three things that I particularly hate? Kids, animals, and women with attitudes. So tell me, Jet, WHY DO WE HAVE ALL THREE OF THEM NEATLY GATHERED IN OUR SHIP?!"

What’s so good about this part is that Spike isn’t being genuine. Because as I mentioned, the Bebop crew do have a bond. Without them Spike would truly be alone, and he understands that. This is his own way of acknowledging them as his friends.

And with that, the whole crew is here! Spike, Faye, Jet, Ed and Ein!

Session 10: Ganymede Elegy

This episode is the first of Jet’s backstory episodes, the other being Black Dog Serenade. Both are amazing, but I’d have to give it to this one if I had to pick which was better. The most striking aspect of Jet’s episodes is the contrast between them and Faye’s and Spike’s. With Jet, you get this somber, almost accepting vibe from it. It’s made even more apparent by how all the songs used in this episode are so melancholic, but calm; the title of “Elegy” fits it, doesn’t it?

Jet doesn’t like to show emotions, and for the most part he doesn’t. He is the most reserved of anyone in this show; for example, how he asks whether or not Alisa can handle the mortgage in a conversation that was supposed to be emotional and about following her ambition.

But most of all, Jet lets go. Yes, at first he didn’t think it was real. At first, he was sad. At first, time stopped for him too. But he got over it, because he just had to. Because that’s how life is: nothing truly does get resolved, and Jet realized that, so he made a bet with himself that he’ll leave if Alisa doesn’t come back. Closure is often a mirage.

My favorite aspect of this episode is the time metaphors, such as the watch Alisa left for Jet. Jet leaving when the watch stops is almost like saying he’ll leave when life forces him to, because life won’t wait for him.

“I live and wander with a group of weirdos. And on top of it, I’m a bounty hunter now.”

This is probably my favorite scene in the whole episode, that or the scene where Jet throws the watch into the sea. While Jet talks about how all he needed was Alisa to wait for him, how time stopped for him, the drinking bird clock is in the background. It’s such a subtle detail, but I think it does symbolize to Jet that all of that is in the past, and now time is passing for him again. How he, the Black Dog who never lets go, let go. And that’s ironic, because during his career as a bounty hunter, he has let go of a lot of bounties. It shows us how much Jet has changed, but it’s apparent later that what Jet hasn’t lost is his adult sense of duty and justice.

“You’re totally wrong if you think your old woman still thinks about you.”

First, I’ll start by going into the contrast between Jet, Faye, and Spike. Jet has his adult sense of duty and justice: he puts the wellbeing and balance of everything around him above his feelings and emotions; he’s the calmer one. Faye is the complete opposite: she’s the most emotional character in the whole show. The difference is that Faye’s experiences in love led to her losing trust in people and her sense of justice. She pushes everyone away and forms a facade of herself that makes her appear strong, contrary to reality.

Faye and Jet are complete opposites, but what about Spike? Spike is like striking the balance between both of them. He doesn’t show emotions, like Jet, but he also can’t let go and is subtly very emotional, like Faye. His response to Faye saying that quote above shows us how he still does care for his old woman, Julia. It also shows us how he likes to think she feels the same: he is still in his dream after all, and he can’t let go of her. All the characters in Bebop are perfect balances of mature and emotional.

The chase scene in this episode, which has the fantastic “ELM” playing in the background, shows us very vividly how Jet is feeling: reminiscent and sad, but obligated. He feels obligated because this is his past, and he has to tie up the loose ends: reminiscent as he calls himself the Black Dog again, and sad because he’s chasing the woman he used to love.
It did have a happy ending for Jet, but in a really mature, atypical way. He tells Rhint to be strong and protect Alisa, because he has already let go of her. He’s made sure that she’ll be fine and happy. He knows why she left him, and so there’s nothing left to tie up. Jet did what he wanted to do, and he finally decided to throw away the watch.

Perhaps closure isn’t a mirage after all, eh?

Session 11: Toys in the Attic

I actually came up with a theory with what really happened in this episode: it was all a story made up by Ed! I’ll discuss why in a second, but something I really love about this episode are the lessons!

“Lesson, lesson… if you see a stranger, follow him!”

These lessons enforce what we already know about the characters in clearer terms. For example, Jet’s lesson enforces his sense of justice and duty. Faye’s lesson enforces her distrust of people. Ed’s lesson enforces her childish innocence and curiosity. However, my favorite lesson is definitely:

“You shouldn’t leave things in the fridge. That’s the lesson.”

This is what got me thinking that it was just a story made up by Ed because it’s such a dumb lesson in contrast to the others. And how the end card thing says “The End” instead of “See You Space Cowboy”, as if to end a story. Also note how Ed talks in the next episode preview. Another thing I love about this lesson though, is how it could still be taken as an actual meaningful lesson, just disguised as a dumb one. You could take it as a warning against leaving things for granted or leaving things undone. It fits Ed’s style to disguise life advice in a dumb metaphor while Faye and Jet just say their lessons normally.

Session 12: Jupiter Jazz I

“If you want to survive, you must betray me at times.”

This line almost feels like a reference to Vicious’ own experiences with Spike. As I’ve repeated for basically the entire analysis, Spike is technically dead because of the Julia incident which involved Vicious betraying him. This line is like Vicious acknowledging that he’s a terrible person, and it very concisely sums up his character.

Up till now, we’ve always seen Spike with his carefree attitude, but in this episode we get an entirely different Spike. At the mention of Julia, Spike jumps up and rushes right in to look for her.

“I’m gonna go look for my woman.”

There are many, many reasons as to why I love this line and scene. As Spike goes to Blue Crow to look for Julia, Jet tells him he’ll have no place to return to if he comes back, which is untrue: Jet is trying to persuade him to stay and do the right thing. He attempts to persuade him by reminding him of what really matters now, his bond with the Bebop crew, but Spike doesn’t budge. This perfectly summarizes their relationship.

Neither of them want the other to know they care about each other, but they do. And not only that, this scene also reinforces Spike’s denial. He says he’s going to go look for his woman, but Julia isn’t his woman anymore. He’s still tied to his past with her, still living in his own dream he’ll never wake up from. Jet tells Spike he always seemed like the lonely one, and considering Spike’s current state after the Julia incident, Jet is spot on. And my favorite line from the scene,

“I don’t understand either.”

This line feels like Spike acknowledging his own state and how he can’t see reality for what it is, and not being able to understand why that is, just like Jet. Spike is a character with legitimate emotions he cannot handle, and that’s what makes him so real. It’s what makes him so human.

And now, for the main event of the episode, Faye. I want to start by analyzing a certain part of the way Cowboy Bebop can establish and develop its characters. The way characters carry themselves is development. The way Spike always moves and walks lazily tells us about Spike. The way Faye walks in her alluring, awesome way tells us about Faye.

But, Bebop takes that even one step further, Faye only walks in that way as a facade of her true self: a vulnerable, lonely person, and for once, we get to see this vulnerable, lonely person. Faye calls herself a “fairy”, asserting that she’s mythical, that she’s not real.

Faye is a character who constantly tries to convince herself she doesn’t need people to live, and that being alone is just fine by her. This reaches the point where she tries to convince herself that she’s not real, and that she’s truly alone.

The thing is, Faye herself knows this is a facade, and she’s not the only one that can see through it. Faye tries to take out her frustration and loneliness on some delinquents and ends up running away with Gren. Gren tells Faye he brought her to his house because she said she was a fairy, as if telling her she is real and that, well, she’s not alone.

Faye starts venting to him about how it’s better to be alone, but he can see right through her facade and knows that she only left because she was afraid of getting hurt again. She tries her hardest to be invulnerable with how she carries herself and her attitude, but deep down, she is simply another weak human being craving love and a place to belong to. That’s why she tells Gren all of her troubles, because she’s a weak, vulnerable human being.

We’re at the point where Spike meets Vicious yet again, and there’s a certain part I love about this scene, and it’s how Vicious tells Spike the only one that deserves pity is him (Spike), as he’s the one stuck in his dream world where Julia is still his woman.

Session 13: Jupiter Jazz II

Gren’s most impressive aspect is the sheer level of complexity he has for a character that’s only present for two episodes.
Gren isn’t too different from Spike or Faye: he’s also a lonely, weak person whose past has affected him greatly, and now all he has is stories of betrayal. Gren’s relationship with Vicious is the most important thing about this episode, and is ultimately the crux of Gren’s character. Gren and Vicious both fought on Titan, where Gren admired Vicious greatly.

During the war, Vicious gave Gren fond memories by giving him the music box, and fighting with him. They both fought together on the same battlefield, and Gren considered Vicious a comrade. That comradeship is the only thing Gren ever believed in, and is why he admires the word comrade. However, Gren is imprisoned after Vicious testifies against him, and now all Gren wants to do is get closure, to find out whether or not Vicious truly did that.

This brings me to another part of Vicious’ character: all he does is spread despair. All he does throughout the series is reinforce the idea that there is nothing in this world to believe in. It is what forms his character, and the fascinating thing is how they never shove this down your throat; they simply showcase all the characters he has ultimately ruined and betrayed. "Show, don’t tell" is Cowboy Bebop’s specialty, of course.

“Perhaps I wanted to be with someone…”

Gren always admired comradeship, and all he wanted before his death was to be with someone.

To Faye, though, this is yet another betrayal: another person she trusted, Gren, leaving her to go die. Not the last time we’ll see that.

After another amazing dream sequence with Spike, he wakes up to find he’s not dead. After all, he cannot die until he accepts his past. Jet finds Faye and tells her she should have expected Gren’s betrayal and abandonment, but Faye attempts to convince herself this isn’t the truth to avoid reinforcing her distrust in people. Later on, we get this one scene where one of my absolute favorite songs from the OST, Words That We Couldn’t Say, plays. It shows Jet nonchalantly talking to Spike as if their later exchange had never happened, where he told him he wouldn’t let Spike back on the Bebop, that is another a perfect representation of their relationship. At the end of the day, they’ll still come together in their relationship because they’re comrades. They only have each other.

We finally get to the confrontation between Vicious and Gren, where Vicious yet again reinforces the ideas of nothingness and abnegation. Gren reminisces about his time on Titan with Vicious, introducing the idea that men only think about the past before their death, as if searching frantically for proof they were ever alive. In Gren’s case, all he wanted before his death was to go back to Titan.

To go back to the one place in his past where he had a comrade.

“I want to return there… one more time.”

That’s all Gren really wanted: to be with someone before his death. Bull tells us Gren’s star is the tear of a warrior that has finished his battle: he has lived a fulfilling life and achieved all he wanted to achieve.

Spike comes back to the Bebop and slightly smiles when Jet tells him to get in. After all, one of the main themes of Bebop is how life will always goes on. The Bebop crew goes back to where they started in the end. As Faye reminisces about Blue Crow and Space Lion plays in the background, it fades to black.

“Do you have a comrade?”

A common theme in Cowboy Bebop is betrayal and distrust. The main characters have all experienced deceit and lost their faith in most human connection: Spike with Julia, Jet with Alisa, Faye with her yet-undisclosed past, Gren with Vicious, etc.
However, the point of the show is that people must overcome this. Acceptance is both inevitable and good for you. The perils of distrust and loneliness can lead to a life of passive observation and stagnation, and the pain of betrayal must be overcome. Life goes on.

This is ultimately the message of Gren’s story: betrayed by the person he believed in, he still wishes for a comrade to die with.

After all, humans are social animals, aren’t they?

The Unquantifiable

A series of essays on identity, metaphysics, and love. These essays had a specific subject in mind, which will be referred to simply as j. j will be used as device to analyze the implications of identity, or the lack thereof.


It’s quite fitting that I always thought that your last name would be …. Because you, j, are unquantifiable. You effectively have no past or future. You simply act. You are a manufactured identity of a person who may or may not be there, a meaning that may or may not exist. For you, everything is only as it is with no preconceived notions. That is the way I would describe the state of j. But then, that puts you at odds with the rest of humanity.

If everything is only as it is, then nothing is to be done. The human equation in the ways of j is null.

But where it puts you on the fringe is when you think about the core structure of humanity: humanity is a machine powered by willpower. It doesn’t matter what you need, be it money or self-validation, you need willpower to achieve your proclaimed goal, which in-turn fuels your sense of identity and constitutes your "meaning." This is what I call "structural" or "average" identity: a universal sense of identity that is built up over years of actions and reactions. Most people’s structural identity revolves around their stable life dreams, goals, and the aforementioned willpower needed to achieve them.

However, j is characterized by being almost immune to that willpower. There is no willpower, as there is no change. If there’s no reaction, then the action constitutes no structural identity, and therefore means nothing.

Which brings me to another point: j’s aversion to rationalization. Most people think they need a reason to act, a rationalization. But if everything is only as it is and you don’t conform to a structural identity, then why? What is the meaning of your life then?

j acts without structure. That’s why they are almost always unfit for storytelling. Why? Well, because storytelling revolves around the human equation and structural identity, which itself boils down to this: Action + Motivation + Rationalization = Reaction.

It’s very, very, very simple. Storytelling relies on this model for its effective resonance with the our daily lives and senses of identity. The closer those values correspond to our own values, the more resonant a story becomes. But with j, this definition is, once again, null. There is no equation and therefore no objective structure to look to for resonance.

It’s more obvious if we use an example of j: Junko Enoshima, the psychotic villain from Danganronpa. A villain without purpose. A villain that simply is and always will be. If we are to speak objectively, Junko, and therefore j, is a force of nature rather than a group of people that we can personally resonate with. Danganronpa itself has no clear structure, as it could end any minute if the killer is or isn’t found out. That’s because, who cares? It’s not like Junko does. It’s not like the world does.

But someone does care. It doesn’t matter quite why they do, just that they do. This is my role as someone who seeks to quantify the modern, unquantifiable identity.

So, what is the meaning of a structureless, discordant world? That is the question this series will seek to address: in a world where the notion of a universal identity and purpose has been expunged, we now seek a different method for defining identity, and with it, meaning. We will do so through the lens of storytelling and j.

j vs. Structure

As I established in prologue, j is at odds with the rest of humanity. This rivalry manifests itself in everyday encounters, where both sides’ ideals are put to the test to see which side is "correct". To understand this concept better, let’s look at a certain j, Hyoudo Kazuya from the Kaiji series.

Kazuya, the son of the very rich Hyoudo Kazutaka, is perhaps even more psychotic than his devilishly evil father. He is a man whose entire life has been shaped by his wealth; Kaiji goes as far as to suggest that wealth has made him unable to distinguish right from wrong, reality from delusion. This is due to all his connections with people eventually leading to betrayal. He is a man who has only ever seen humanity as selfish, greedy monsters: completely devoid of happiness and hope as he realizes that no one in his life will ever actually be true to him, Kazuya’s notions of human connection and identity are fragile at best, making him a perfect j to consider.

Kazuya is a good subject to consider because he actually finds a "purpose." You could also call it a coping mechanism, but it’s good enough for our purposes (for now).

Kazuya’s purpose is to become an author, his work encapsulating his views on the true nature of humanity; how when it comes down to it, we are all alone in the end. He brings out the worst in people to convince himself his own worldview and lack of identity is correct and natural: the world really has failed him. He takes on the role of an observer to his mad experiments, and never directly interferes with them.

There are two of these experiments, the premise of his first novel: The Sword Is Mightier Than Love, and of course, The Salvation Game, which is our subject for today (they’re very similar thematically.):

There are two levels to the Salvation Game.

The game itself, a test of friendship and a showcase of greed.

The metaphysical battle between Kazuya’s hopeless detachment from empathy and Kaiji’s unwavering trust and belief in humanity.

The former isn’t particularly interesting, but the latter definitely is for our purposes.

Kazuya’s approach to the game is impartial, in contrast to Kaiji, who goes as far as to interfere with the game itself for his own moral gain.

This is a key difference between both of them. Kazuya is an observer that detaches himself from humanity in his experiments in order to objectively prove their inadequacies and failures. In Kazuya’s eyes, the human equation was a fundamental mistake. This is his purpose as an author: to write about humanity at its most distilled form.

I will stop here and call this the “j Tendency”;

j Tendency: j’s inclination to objectively prove the failures of humanity, and the inadequacies of structural identity.

Kaiji, on the other hand, sees every life as sacred; his belief is that the need to live itself has meaning. He contrasts with Kazuya in his disinterest in any moral battle that entails the needless death of a life. A nice control group to have.

As it unfolds, the difference between Kazuya and Kaiji is made clearer and clearer with many of Kaiji’s own personal jabs at Kazuya’s worldview, once again stating it’s simply his own delusions and no sane person would subject people to the threat of death to prove a point. This is true, and it’s also where another key fact comes into play.

Kazuya admits that his worldview is a twisted delusion, thus revealing that his so-called "purpose" is null. But Kazuya is also a man that doesn’t bother with the rational. His faceoffs with the human equation, with Kaiji, are only fueled by his j Tendency.

The manga doesn’t lean one way or the other. It is both for and against j Tendency.

For example, when Kazuya predicts that Mario was panicking out of guilt over wanting to kill his friends, when in fact, he was simply panicking because he had just lost track of time. He was wrong.

Another example, when Kazuya predicts that Mitsuyama was panicking out of guilt over wanting to kill his friends, and was actually correct. He was right.

But while Kazuya did predict Mitsuyama’s cowardice, and even conceded to him in terms of sheer evil, what he could not predict was Kaiji’s unforeseen actions that changed the ending of the game and put j Tendency into question.

At the end of the game, Kaiji had the choice of saving both of the hostages by giving up 70 million yen, a tremendous sum for the poor and struggling Kaiji. Knowing that even if Kaiji didn’t stop the game, the chances of the hostages dying were very slim, this seemed like an easy "no" for Kaiji.

Kazuya himself knows no one in their right mind would ever take his offer, and laughs at Kaiji’s silly front of guilt as he fumbles with the remote that would stop all the madness and killing. He knows that he would win the metaphysical battle if Kaiji surrenders his morality for greed.

But as if to shoot down j Tendency, Kaiji’s true nature shows when he unknowingly saves the hostages. He didn’t even want to, but he couldn’t not. This is the true core of Kaiji’s character: a steadfast, empathetic person that believes in human connection.

This contrast will be important to us later.

j Ambition

The first 2 parts of this series essentially enforced the idea of lack of willpower and the implications thereof, but the borders that define j aren’t quite as strict as they seem; after all, they are unquantifiable. As we will soon find out, there are many many many js with ambition and even then they embody their heritage just as well as those who don’t.

The common trend amongst the most ambitious of j that I’ve found is the theme of revenge. That will be the focus of this part, namely three characters that embody that specific ideal all in their own unique ways that give new insight into the world of j.

This part will be divided in a scalelike fashion that goes from Structureless Chaos to Calculated Chaos.

So, we start with Structureless Chaos and the poster girl for it, Ryuko Matoi.

In Kill la Kill, every character and faction embodies a very specific ideal: Nudist Beach symbolizes freedom and baring your true self to others, while factions such as Ragyo’s seek to cover freedom and individuality with fabrics.

Among these competing parties, Ryuko bursts through with her only ideal being her self-assurance that what she does is correct: complete belief in her own structureless morality leads her to achieve her goals and gives her the motivation necessary to move forward. But another prevalent theme amongst those of j emerges with Ryuko: they find new purpose as their journey of vengeance goes along.

Ryuko starts out as a lone vagabond that doesn’t care for except vengeance. This all changes when she finds people she genuinely cares about and places where she feels safe and understood, symbolized by the Mankanshoku family. The Mankanshoku family, though extremely dysfunctional (hilariously), is Ryuko’s only respite from her harsh trudge through the forces of Honnoji Academy, a fittingly gargantuan creation that serves its role well as the Herculean obstacle in Ryuko’s way to revenge.

But the connections she makes with the Mankanshoku family are the basis of the entire second half of the show that focuses on freedom and unity, and the power we find through those concepts in their purest, structureless form. The second half of the show focuses on Ryuko gaining strength from her connections, most notably her sister and former rival, Satsuki. Once Ryuko and Satsuki realize the error of their ways, they bond together over it and connect as people. It’s those connections with others that truly led to the downfall of Ragyo, their common enemy.

If anything, Kill la Kill is a story of how you are not alone, of embracing your naked, structureless self and others’. In the bleak world of Honnoji Academy, there still exists possibilities for human connection and friendship, and it’s only in that unity that we can achieve a sense of purpose. It’s only through Ryuko and Satsuki, and everyone else being in complete sync that they fulfill their ambition. This is an important theme with j that will be developed further in later parts.

If Ryuko struck the system head on and Satsuki struck from inside the system, then Naruto’s Sasuke Uchiha is a mixture of both.

A perfect midpoint between Structureless and Calculated chaos, Sasuke is the paragon of darkness and hatred in the world of Naruto, striving solely for revenge. The key fact about Sasuke is that this desire for revenge consumes him more than it motivates him, and that is the defining character of j Ambition, as opposed to the ambition present in structural identity.

j Ambition drives Sasuke to make, from an outsider’s perspective, completely inane decisions. But if you actually stopped to think about Sasuke’s motivations, you’d find that he has very believable thoughts especially for someone who has only known betrayal from those closest to him, namely his brother. It drives him to isolate himself in his endless struggle to achieve his goals, which change as the story goes on. After he takes revenge on his brother and finds out the truth that his brother had actually sacrificed himself for the good of their village, Sasuke then resolves to avenge him through destroying the Leaf Village and starting his revolution.

This is why I put him not on either side of the scale: he’s not as chaotic as Ryuko and not as calculating as the next character I’ll talk about. It’s this moment that truly showed that Sasuke had simply succumbed to the curse of hatred (covered later in more detail) of his clan. But, as is with Ryuko, Sasuke did have his own human connections that pushed him through it eventually.

That is, of course, Naruto Uzumaki. Eternal rivals and best friends, they represent two sides of the same coin. This rivalry is integral to understanding the concept of j: once again, we can compare and contrast the opposing ideals and ambitions of Sasuke and Naruto to better understand j. Sasuke’s ambition is only as strong as he is, and what he comes to realize, just as Kazuya and Ryuko before him, is that his inclinations and beliefs, brought on by delusions and desires, could never be as strong as the power of connection that Naruto uses. Naruto’s identity and ambition are informed by his connections to others; his "purpose" is the evolution and progression he finds in connection. This is what Naruto convinces Sasuke of in the end: connection is evolution.

But though both of these js learned the lesson of human connection in time, some are not as lucky. We briefly mentioned one of his type before in the form of Satsuki, but the key difference is that Satsuki succeeds.

Goro Akechi, the anti-hero of the Atlus masterpiece Persona 5, is the latter end of the Chaos Scale, Calculated Chaos. As I said before, Satsuki struck from inside the system and that’s exactly what Akechi did. He relied solely on himself to take revenge on his father through currying favor with him and becoming his right hand man.

Of course, it seemed okay to him, as a naturally gifted and talented individual. He had it in him to become his father’s assassin that does all his dirty work for the satisfaction of eventually bringing forth his downfall. However, he was proven wrong. The Phantom Thieves, very similarly to Naruto and Ryuko/Satsuki at the end of Kill la Kill, gain their strength through unity. They achieve all their goals through the mutual efforts of every member to push themselves to the brink and beyond; to evolve and become better and better people; to make the world a better place.

Their approach is nothing if not extravagant, advertising their existence with over-the-top calling cards and naming themselves after legendary thieves. They are the exact opposite of Akechi, whose entire persona is defined by his mysterious, enigmatic and fake facade of perfection (symbolized by the white knight attire and Justice arcana.)

The Phantom Thieves eventually prove just how broken Akechi really is: once again, his ambition was limited, and it eventually consumed him. This happens maybe a bit too late, as Akechi only truly admits it to himself on the brink of his death. His last act still serves to symbolize the lesson he learned, when he saves the Phantom Thieves by sacrificing himself, the only selfless act he’d ever done in his life, and one that completely redeemed him from his past failures and consumption by hatred.

These stories all show the worth of unity, whether through tragedy, subtlety or all-out madness; they explore that concept to its deepest depths.

The reason why j are a perfect fit for exploring that concept of unity because they are antithetical to it.

You might have noticed a pattern of contrast and connection so far.

Ryuko, through unity and duality with Satsuki and Mako and the rest, finds purpose in her freedom to become anything she wants.

Sasuke, through his bond with Naruto, finds purpose in protecting what he cares about and the heritage of his clan.

Akechi, after learning his lesson a bit too late, redeems himself through an act that defines the very concept of friendship and selflessness that drives people to connect with each other in the first place.

They all had a gaping hole in their hearts where identity used to be, and they all managed to fill that hole and evolve as people in the end. This is important to us. You’ll see why.

j Ambition: Overdrive

As storytelling is a medium that demands progress and not regression (at least by most standards), it’s very hard to talk about j characters in a vacuum without a direct contrast (as we’ve done in the previous parts). So instead, we’ll talk about characters that at one instantaneous point or period of time embodied the most extreme state of j, obviously without rehashing any characters I’ve talked about before. We will call this extreme state, characterized by being almost entirely divorced from humanity, j Overdrive.

“In life, unrelated to one’s social standing or class as determined by man, there are some people who, by nature, are keys that set the world in motion. They are the true elite, as dictated by the golden rule of the universe.” -Kentaro Miura, Berserk

j Overdrive characters generally believe that they are meant for something greater. They were put on Earth for a specific purpose that they need to achieve no matter how grave the consequences are. Because no matter what happens, they are chosen. They have been chosen by the universe to rise up. We have two of these characters to talk about, starting with the aspiring mangaka nihilist from Oyasumi Punpun, Nanjou Sachi.

Sachi displays an opportunistic approach to her life and her work. She is not immune to taking advantage of others to achieve her goals and will admit to it.

It’s this “Dark Ambition,” where the ends justify the means, that runs through most Overdrive characters. But make no mistake, Sachi is not a person that merely relies on manipulating others. Sachi actively tries to better herself as an artist and understands where her strengths and weaknesses lie. She reads Punpun’s story and finds it interesting, taking that random opportunity and convincing him to work with her so they can both achieve greatness. She sees the potential in Punpun to better her own chances of achieving her goals, and in doing so she benefits both of them.

The thing about Sachi is that she already knows her worth. She already knows everything that defines her as both a person and an artist: someone who rejects societal norms and refuses to be filtered and limited by notions structural identity. What she wants is to show the world this new identity: for the world to see that an identity such as hers exists, and that it deserves to be heard. That’s why she stands her ground when the editor at the manga magazine tells her that her story is perhaps too edgy and controversial. This desire to scream your worth at the world is a recurring theme when it comes to these Overdrive characters as we will soon find out. This desire also gives her a sort of magnetic quality that makes people attach themselves to her, as we saw with Punpun himself.

But if there is one character that is to be considered the poster boy for Overdrive, it would have to be...

“Every man, within his lifetime, should at least hope for a life he can sacrifice to the God of Dreams.” -Kentaro Miura, Berserk

What does it mean to dream? When does the radiant castle in the sky become more than just a delusional fantasy and instead an objective reality you can reach? The path to one’s “dream” is riddled with questions of one’s conscience, questions whose answers will reveal their true self, and just how much they value their purpose.

Enter Griffith, a commoner peasant that dreamt of Kingship. Once you are born, whether you like it or not, you will be disadvantaged or advantaged more than others. Those uncontrollable factors, and how we take advantage of them, determine our worth.

Griffith’s greatest strength is nothing if not his unending tenacity, his willingness to give himself the advantage no matter how demeaning and awful an act resulting in that can be. That’s because Griffith understands that once we are put on this Earth, we are all at zero. If we just sit around and live for the sake of living, we will never rise above zero.

This is Griffith’s one true ideal: the determination to rise above zero. Griffith’s insane desire for his dream is, of course, the magnetic quality that attracted the mercenaries of the Band of Hawk and united them under one banner, Griffith’s Banner of Dreams. They all swore to give their lives to Griffith, recognizing him as a greater force whose existence will greatly affect this world, an existence worth dying for. This spirit strengthened Griffith’s dream, creating the Bonfire of Dreams.

But a man’s true nature shows at the dawn of his dream. Griffith had seen all the Band of Hawk as his tools, not friends, feeling that a man that doesn’t die by his own dream is undeserving of his friendship.

That is, until he meets Guts. Guts, a man of similarly awful upbringing as Griffith, instantly empathizes with him and rises through the ranks to become Griffith’s right hand man. Guts saw Griffith as the first chance he ever had at purpose, after his entire life being spent simply pursuing survival. It’s only when he meets Griffith that he ever even considers the possibility of rising above zero, and he resolves to achieve that no matter how bloody his hands will get in the end. Griffith, for once, found empathy and friendship. He found not dominance but kinship.

The concept of someone not being under him had scared him immensely, and it reached the breaking point when Guts beat him in a duel. The same test of worth that Griffith had won so long ago, he had now lost, and with that, his only friend.

His tactical and political genius, his extreme dominance, charisma, and ambition befitting a king, were cut down by one of his subjects. It’s enough to kill a man’s dream. It’s enough to break him completely and everything he ever thought he was.

Griffith even resolves for some time to live out the rest of his life with Casca, finding some cold comfort in someone he had only considered a tool before, now that his dream had been annihilated. But this sad existence of zero was not something he could cope with. His true character is finally revealed at the Eclipse, the dawn of his dream. This was his chance, his one and only chance to ever reach his dream in his life.

“Among thousands of comrades and ten thousand enemies, only you, only you, only you made me forget my dream.”

Griffith, a man that had agreed to being sexually molested by a priest for money, a man that manipulated all his followers and superiors, killed and assassinated ruthlessly, had a final sacrifice to make. A final sacrifice that would end all others: the ultimate sacrifice of the Bonfire of Dreams, every single one of his subjects, for the sake of achieving that Dream. This was the question, as the GodHand pointed out, that determined his true self. It was no longer a dream. It was an objectively reachable reality, one only held back by Griffith’s humanity.

And so, he sacrificed.

As you can tell now, Overdrive is only held back by empathy. It is reliant completely on sacrifices of others, not sacrifices of your own self. It is, once again, the antithesis to humanity.

Rising up from a disadvantaged upbringing to achieve worth and no longer be held down by all the frivolous concepts that once held you hostage?

That is the ambition of structureless identity.

Spitting in the face of reality against all odds?

That is the ambition of structureless identity.

How you go about it, the questions you answer to achieve it, that is the test of your identity.

Epilogue: The Auditory and Visual Magic of the Metaphysical

You might be wondering why I’ve spent so much time dissecting various aspects of j and relating them to the greater idea of structureless identity instead of directly answering the question posed at the beginning of this paper: what is the meaning of life in a world where universality fails? Well, ask yourself this: what did you learn from all the dehumanized and apathetic stories told up until now? Mostly nothing. As we established before, storytelling as a medium that demands progress is not kind to a purely stagnant j. Bear with me, however, as I turn this notion on its head by discussing one more aspect of j.

The Metaphysical World

The Metaphysical World is the term I use to define everything I’ve talked about so far. Be it Human Equation, j Tendency, Curse of Hatred, etc etc. Even if these don’t apply to j such as the Human Equation, where they are direct opposites, they do apply to the metaphysical world that encompasses them. Meta is a microcosm that calls back to a larger concept. To understand this better, let’s look at one of my favorite metaphysical clashes.

Will of Fire vs Curse of Hatred

Covered earlier, these two concepts are used to define the rivalry between Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha in a meta sense. Instead of existing solely on their own, these two terms have made it so they exist as a part of the cycle of life and identity as we know it. The Will of Fire and Curse of Hatred is not merely the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke, it is the rivalry of everyone and everything that came before them and everyone and everything that comes after them; it is the ideological culmination of the clash between Connection and Isolation.

This overarching structure that has been given to a, at first, personal rivalry due to (specific) personal circumstances, is a major key in understanding storytelling. On the surface, it is simply a rivalry because Sasuke’s vengeful and Naruto has to stop him from being consumed by his own hatred. But once you think about it thematically, think about the subtext and how it’s actually a conversation on the nature of humanity, hatred, and how we act, it starts to unravel itself as something much greater.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” -Friedrich Nietzsche

The answer to Nietzsche’s question? Storytelling. Storytelling is humanity’s answer to abnegation. Once we look at the world and realize its physical meaninglessness, there are only two things to do: we could perish and give up on all hope of progress, or surpass the physical world. Fly above the notions of sensibility, evolve beyond what we thought was possible a moment ago. Nietzsche characterized God as the universal purpose, and now that it has been expunged, we need a new theory to take its place as our answer to who we are, to what we strive for. To become worthy of worth itself, we have to surpass our own notions of self and purpose.

But what does any of this have to do with our Metaphysical World? A world that looks so dark and nihilistic that it seems to preach those very ideals of nothingness? It seems contradictory, but it’s that exact contradiction that makes it the very essence of the concept of surpassing the physical world into the metaphysical. It sounds hypocritical, considering I’ve characterized j as antithetical to humanity, but what might have been easy to miss is that our narrative is much more all encompassing than it seems. Ask yourself this, what was the point of defining concepts such as j Tendency, j Ambition, or Overdrive? Isn’t it simply a practice in futility to order disorder? Quantify the unquantifiable?

But that, right there, is the beauty of it. The beauty of the metaphysical world is that all of this was intentional: to explain the inexplicable by defining its meta concepts is exactly the meaning of the metaphysical world.

All of this. All of this is a mirror. The metaphysical narrative is a mirror to your truth. The way you observe the unquantifiable will tell you something much deeper about your very existence and even beyond that. That is meta. The act of subtly showing you your own inner self through storytelling concepts is the exact structure writers have been using in their literary pursuit to achieve resonance. To give sense to the senseless, or as some would put it, “figure it out”, we create metaphysical concepts to clarify and resonate with them.

That is what I’ve been doing this entire time. Through understanding the inner workings of storytelling and themes like j Tendency, we can understand the bigger picture that is j, and through that, structureless identity.

The potential of storytelling evolves as time goes on. As we read more and more into art, we understand ourselves better. I call this the Identity of Storytelling: the act of resonating with the aesthetic choices and concepts that a story covers, and relating it to your world. Our metaphysical world, of course, embodies this.

If the Identity of Storytelling is the means by which we give meaning to discordant, non-universal identities, then we can use it as the method by which we observe the purpose and meaning of our lives.

The meaning of all of this, no matter how convoluted it might seem, is to adapt that meta. This entire series has been dissecting the metaphysical conceptuality of j and how it relates to the larger picture of The Unquantifiable, Structureless Self. As someone who resonates with the metaphysical world, I see abstract concepts and microcosms all over the world that remind me of the structureless self, and inform my view of purpose. By using these pre-established methods (such as analyzing metaphysical microcosms all over the world and in art), we start to gain a sense of what purpose can really be in a world with no universality.

And it is this same drive to discover the abstract and give meaning to it that humanity has used to evolve beyond the physical, into something greater. Something unquantifiable. Something worthy of worth itself.

By adapting the Metaphysical World, we have finally done it.

We finally arrive at the ultimate message of progression and evolution that our metaphysical narrative has been subtly pushing for so long.

You can’t understand. You can’t understand j as a human, or anyone for that matter. You can’t define, quantify, or limit their structureless selves.

But what we can understand as human beings is the metaphysical concepts we use to define those people, and that is empathy. The contrasts we used to better understand the abstract nature of the structureless self have taught us more about ourselves than a universal purpose ever could. They’ve taught us about humanity past the surface. They’ve taught us about the world beyond the physical. That’s why I called this narrative a mirror.

Doesn’t it all make sense now? We can finally look past the surface level, the seemingly inhumane nature of j, and into the greater realm of evolution and progression.

This is why the world has infinite potential. So long as you keep exploring the Metaphysical World, the structureless self will never end. It is only as vast as your own imagination. Everything is clearer now: all of it is a mirror to reconcile those aspects in ourselves. Your infinity, your incomprehensibility will be your salvation. That’s meaning. That’s evolution. As long as I don’t stop thinking, my world will never end. It’s the greatest answer to nihility.

Now that, is beautiful.

Life is beautiful. The notion of knowing that if you just keep trying and putting in the effort, that you will eventually learn more about yourself and your own potential is something that everyone struggles with. It’s something we all go through as human beings with empathy. And through connecting with each other, it becomes easier to muster up the courage and motivation to achieve our full potential and self-actualization. Connection is evolution, after all.

Remember when I said storytelling is a medium that demands progress?

By looking past the surface level of physical interaction and diving so deep down the metaphysical hole, we find an evanescent resonance we’ve been struggling to find in the structureless self. It is within grasp for this instantaneous moment.

One More Final: I Need You

What is the meaning of life?

Given everything we’ve been through, I think it’s time to propose our answer to that nebulous question.

There is no universal meaning. There are only instantaneous meanings or purposes. The final line of the Epilogue hinted at this with "instantaneous moment," but now we’re going to dig deeper into that.

Life is a series of frameworks in which our structureless selves reside. These structureless selves are in flux: their purpose is constantly changing. By using pre-established methods (see: Identity of Storytelling, general analysis) to firmly understand the framework in which they reside (the Metaphysical World), we can then make accurate conclusions about what we are in that instantaneous moment. Through knowing our instantaneous selves, we then find our instantaneous purpose, or as I call it, the evanescent resonance.

This is why the world has infinite potential. At every instantaneous moment, there is an identifiable resonance to pursue using the metaphysical tools of storytelling and identity.

The Unquantifiable has been quantified. For one moment.

End of Disc 1, Part 1

Born in a world of strife,

Against the odds,

We choose to fight.