When I first envisioned writing this blog, I knew that, one of the first things I wanted to write about was “Toys in the Attic”.
I’m not talking about the Aerosmith album (there’s nothing wrong with Aerosmith, and I like a few of their songs myself), I’m talking about Cowboy Bebop. Episode 11 is entitled, “Toys in the Attic”, and it’s one of my favorites because it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the show.
Up to this point, most episodes revolve around a bounty, with our heroes trying (and failing for the most part) to cash in. While most shows follow story arcs that span several episodes, Cowboy Bebop hardly ever does this and instead is more episodic, with each episode telling a story that can stand on its own. When it was originally aired in Japan, this structure led to the show being shown out of order and cut in content, which led to its original failure and cancellation. Later on, when it was shown in its entirety and in order, it took off and became what we know and love today.
“Toys in the Attic” breaks this ‘bounty of the week’ structure with a bottle episode that works surprisingly well.
The episode starts with an unknown creature moving through a dark tunnel, with red streaks thrown in the background. Jet begins to narrate, explaining the fact that most of the time, when there are no jobs, they’re broke, and bored. Such is the beauty of being freelance, so the urges grow to make quick money. Spike is trying to cook, and Faye is conning Jet out of whatever he has left, having already lost a good amount of his possessions.
Ed is asleep, dreaming of food, while Spike has clearly overcooked whatever it was he was making.
“Humans were meant to work for their money, those who try to get rick quick or live at the expense of others all get divine retribution” says Jet.
He climbs into a dark room, looking for a blanket, but is summarily attacked by…something.
“Survival of the fittest is the law of the land, to fool and to be fooled is the reason we live. Don’t trust others” says Faye, her contribution to our lessons.
Spike chastises her for swindling Jet, though he’s not serious about any of it.
They quickly respond to an alarm set by Jet, though they find nothing, only a few rats running around the room.
Something is definitely watching them, that’s for sure, meanwhile, Jet is looking for some sort of medicine from Spike, though his non-traditional remedies are far from pleasant.
He drinks the disgusting concoction, and falls ill to the ground. A purple spot appearing on the back of his neck where he was bitten. A fever? Whatever it is now has them spooked. Spike investigates and theorizes it could be some sort of rat that was mutated while Ed says it’s a “mysterious space creature”.
Faye proceeds to go take a bath, and is also bitten by the “mysterious space creature”.
Spike has Ed try out their thermal equipment, and she runs off after Ein. Spike gets a glimpse of the creature but he is interrupted by Faye, who tells him she was bitten, and begins to worry she might die.
“I haven’t committed any major crimes” she says.
She passes out, and Spike sees the same purple spot on her leg.
Ed and Ein are walking around the ship, searching for the “mysterious space creature”.
“Lesson, lesson, if you see a stranger…follow him!” she says.
Ed and Ein get separated, while Spike searches for them. Ein is attacked by the creature, and Spike runs to the screams, only to find Ein down, same purple spot.
He spots creature in the distance with the thermal visor, he picks up Ein and runs away.
Now determined to track it down, Spike dons his weapon, which include a net launcher, flame thrower, and motion sensor radar straight out of Aliens. He programs the ship’s autopilot to go to Mars.
He battles the creature that relentlessly pursues him, and burns it to a crisp after cornering it.
He remembers the fridge, the lobster that he hid in there so no one would eat. He returns there and finds full of moss, mushrooms and fungus.
He goes to open the air lock and throw out the fridge, into the coldness of outer space, but the creature surprises him and bites him. The fridge is seen moving away from the ship, mimicking the end of Alien.
“Don’t leave things in the fridge, that is the lesson” he says.
The creature scampers, but is captured by the sleeping Ed, who eats it.
The ballad at the end is soothing, anti-climatic, and very much Cowboy Bebop.
One of the more interesting things about this particular episode is that we get a rare look at how our heroes spend their time off, though this is not by choice as most of the time when they’re not working , they’re starving, we see an intimate look at how they work, how they function, what drives them and what we can expect from them in the future. Despite the fact that the show is self-contained, and the creators wanted each episode to play out like a movie, we do see that each episode requires the previous one in order to make our characters grow.
Is this a failure on the creator’s original intent? Dunno.
I don’t want to start a mental discussion with myself on the subject cause it will probably drive me crazy, but if, if that was the case, then, the audience is the one that came out as winners here, and I want to explain why I think that’s the case.
A few years ago, I saw Eureka Seven, and while it’s definitely going to get it’s own category, posts, and tags, it was a beautiful and poignant story, to say the absolute least on the subject. A few years later, I saw the movie they produced.
I’m not gonna go on a rant about that movie.
That deserves its own post.
Do you see where I’m going with it though?
“Toys in the Attic” is the epitome of their failure to contain our characters to episodes, and instead, shows us who they are when they’re not out there, and thankfully, their personalities are pretty consistent with what we know and love about them. Faye is the trickster, always trying to get away with something, especially when it benefits her. Spike is Spike, and he exists simply to exists…(at some point, I’ll write whole posts about each of these characters, as it is one of my favorite series, but for now, this will do) Jet is the philosopher, and he believes his way, his method of doing things is something he has earned or deserves, whether it be from the good he has done or the bad he has done. Ed is Ed and what she says is a reflection of her age, curiosity.
The episode is also a great homage to the Alien franchise. The way the monster moves through the vents, the fact that it attacks the crew one by one, and even the end sequence where Spike decides to track it down and kill it, using the motion detection radar. It’s all references to Alien/Aliens. On this point, I have to admit, I didn’t make the connection originally, as I saw this episode first, before I really saw those movies. I’m sure there’s more references to it, that I’m missing.
While my only gripe is that we never see what it is, or how the whole thing is resolved, that’s pretty typical of Cowboy Bebop itself. The next episode is always a new adventure, with the events of the past mostly forgotten or ignored.
I wouldn’t use “Toys in the Attic” to introduce the series to someone new to it, let alone new to Anime as a whole. It’s so very different from the rest of the series that it wouldn’t do the show proper justice, still, it’s one of my favorite stand alone episodes of any anime.
Maybe you saw the anime as a kid, maybe it’s been awhile.
Cowboy Bebop is the kind of anime that makes more sense the older you get.