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thought-dump from a conversation i had with the boy last night:

The parallels between Firefly and Cowboy Bebop are bleedingly obvious, he said, but he could easily see someone liking one and not the other. The style of humor is different, for one.

I said, well, is the style of humor or just the presence of humor? Bebop isn't a very funny show (one or two gag-ish episodes aside).

He mentioned the whole "data dog" thing with Ein, and I started laughing, because the running quirky stuff with Ein is very funny—the ridiculous circumstances they capture him under, the subtle nods here and there that Ein's smarter than he seems, that final bit in Brain Scratch where he finally does... something... and the fact that we never really learn wtf a data dog is, it's cute, it's funny.

But it's not Firefly humor. The humor in Firefly is much more situational and character-driven, more laugh-out-loud, more sitcom-y in nature. Mal does an embarrassing thing and {Inara wittily derides him, River says weird shit, Jayne exploits to the situation to some amusing petty advantage, etc} and we all laugh.

It gives me the instinct that it'd be much easier to write Firefly fanfic than Cowboy Bebop fanfic—take any 2-3 characters in Firefly and do some fun twist on their standard interactions and, bam, you have a fanfic. Whereas I've never quite known where to start with a Bebop fanfic. You can do some overwrought Spike backstory, and AO3 indeed tells me that's been done, but honestly I think Spike's backstory is better left mostly-unsaid (and given how my entire jam is writing backstory fanfic I feel this is a strong statement). You can do some kinda sweet post-show Jet/Faye, which I think may be the most fruitful avenue, but that still doesn't feel quite right. You could do a monster-of-the-week-style interlude-episode, but I'm not really into fanfic that doesn't do an interesting development/change on the source material, and—well, I think the problem is, as much as people complain about Bebop's main plot dragging, I think it proceeds exactly as fast as it needs to. All those "filler" monster-of-the-week episodes show the crew growing closer, bit by bit. And then, once they've become close enough, once Spike inevitably goes back to face his past, the crew drifts apart—because they don't need each other anymore, and because that's how it had to be. I wouldn't want to fanfic it any other way.

Anyway, back to characters. Here's an interesting thing—Firefly desperately wants us to believe Mal is this stoic, badass, brooding personality, but it's just not true.1 He's far too pleased with himself, his "snapping at his underlings wah i protect my people" thing isn't so much as badass but a little insecure and controlling, his whole "wah I remember the rebellion wah" rings absolutely stupid and hollow given that he's just running a petty smuggling operation, etc.

Spike, on the other hand, is a dude with some damage. He's way closer to the stoic badass that Firefly is looking for. And you can tell it not from some sort of Heroic Old-School Principles he's always rattling on about, or his snapping at the crew, or anything like that. It's the moments when he seems to care just not quite enough about his own self-preservation, the thing where you look at the biographies of extreme sportsmen and notice a lot of them got hella depressed at some point in their life and you think, did they just decide they didn't really care whether they live or die anymore?. And it's in the subtle way he distances himself from people—not deliberately putting a distance there, really, but how in moments his smiles seem to only go skin-deep, how it seems like in his falling-out with Jet in "Jupiter Jazz" that, somehow, after being bounty hunters together for so long, this had never ever come up before.

There's similar things going on with the other folks on the ship. Like, Jet's a grump, I guess he could also be the stoic-badass ideal Firefly's going for, but he comes across as actually grumpy/stodgy rather than snappish, he's got these charming soft edges to him, and yet still there manages to be so much unsaid between him and Spike. In general, rather than an aggro-Mal-type thing, folks on Bebop tend to retreat inward.

So yeah, it's not that Cowboy Bebop doesn't have characters. But they're quieter personalities. And by that I mean: more reserved, more guarded, a little more damaged. Which means that Bebop ends up with wry, dry, understated humor, and if you're never gonna like that as much as sitcom-y big-personalitiy humor then you probably won't like Bebop that much.

Which also got me to wondering if Cowboy Bebop could be successful in another medium. When your characters' personalities aren't big, you need the setting to do a lot of work. I can't tell you the difference between one setting in Firefly and the next. Whereas the setting is all I can remember of some Bebop episodes—and the setting does so much speaking for the characters. The blue shores of Ganymede, the yellow mists & floating isles of Venus—okay, yeah, that would be a whole separate essay, so just consider the thought thrown out there.

in conclusion i still really love cowboy bebop

1 I'm pretty sure, last time I rewatched Firefly, I wrote a Tumblr-rant about how Mal is just kind of a dick and the other characters are way too reverent toward him and why the hell is he calling Inara a whore in every other scene, but I can't find that rant, so, y'know, just know that if you've heard me bitch about this before, you're not just experiencing deja vu :P

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