Maybe, maybe not. Series creator Shinichiro Watanabe never specifies that he does, leaving it up to interpretation. Spike has survived unbelievable battle wounds and bounced back, so the possibility is there. Ultimately, this scene was the end of his story arch. He finished his personal business with Vicious, ending his honor-bound duty to avenge his lost love.
Cowboy Bebop is naturally a sad story. The show is based on cowboy movies and noir detective stories (among other influences). These genres explore dark, painful parts of human nature: revenge, retribution, redemption, death, betrayal, infidelity, and more.
Early on in the series, we’re introduced to Spike’s katana-wielding nemesis and old friend, Vicious. Poor Spike is shot and thrown out of a window off the rip. Along with the rest of the carnage of this show, we realize right away that our hero could die. He is vulnerable. Somehow, Spike survives with a full-blown mummy bandage job from his friends on the ship—but I’ll get back to that.
Spike’s conflict with Vicious is the center of his story, ending in what appears to be mutual mortal wounds. Spike smiles, points a finger gun toward the security detail that’s recently arrived and passes out. Roll credits. So, is that how the story ends? Is Spike Spiegel dead?
The Dead Man’s Walk
When I say Spike finished his story arch, I should note this classic influence from old gun-slinger westerns: the dead man’s walk.
The dead man’s walk was a term created by literary critic Peter A. French, describing a code of honor between outlaws that often leads them to die by the gun. This is generally used to great effect with an antihero who must make one last stand. The concept was made famous by movies like Unforgiven and Shane in the movies. The gun-slinging hero usually dies but also acts as a one-man army against his enemies. Oddly enough, westerns like these are similar to samurai films, complete with duels, honor and fate.
Spike and Vicious have old-fashioned warrior honor, a sense developed from the outlaw lifestyle. They both knew that one or both of them were going to die, but their business would be settled, one way or another. Vicious killed the woman he loved, and nothing else has ever really mattered to him since. He needs his revenge.
Genre Bending and Bebop
All that said, Cowboy Bebop isn’t purely a western—it isn’t beholden to strict genre guidelines. So, the question is: does Spike need to die to play this story trope?
Cowboy Bebop set out to be something original. It’s a part of why the show was so successful and still beloved today. The crew became a family, bouncing around the cosmos on wild adventures. There was a bond of outsiders formed, a refuge from the otherwise cold universe.
Besides, with the science fiction elements, there’s room for more extraordinary story turns. If a cowboy in the desert is shot in the chest, he’s probably going to die. But Cowboy Bebop is a world of advanced medicine, cybernetic upgrades and strange phenomenon.
We could arguably think Spike is ok. We could us anime rules and slap a bandage on that cut.
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Spike is a Survivor
Also, can we talk about the absurd beatdowns Spike has endured?
Firstly, the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate is absolutely sure Spike is dead. He was supposed to be long gone, betrayed and discarded. For an advanced organized crime entity dealing in assassins for hire, they should be hard to deceive. So, how could Spike survive like this?
I hate to say it, because Spike is one of my favorite antiheroes of all time, but he’s a bit of a cockroach in that way.
As I mentioned before, Spike’s first encounter with Vicious in Ballad of Fallen Angels, ended in him sustaining a bullet wound and falling a few stories to the ground. Faye rescues his poor busted body, wraps him up and they move along with life. The show creators nearly kill Spike in the episode that established his backstory. Talk about foreshadowing.
Is Spike Enhanced?
We’re introduced to the deadliest assassin to ever come for Spike in Pierrot Le Fou. This inhuman assassin seems like a supernatural monster, utterly insane and nearly unstoppable. The fat, top-hat-wearing man can fly and has uncanny fighting ability, all built into him as a cyborg killer.
Spike takes a massive beating against this assassin, enduring unreal amounts of punishment. It got me thinking, is Spike enhanced in some way like Pierrot? Or, is he the most ultimate, Jeet-Kune-Do kicking, eagle-eyed shooting, ex outlaw enforcer of all time?
We already know one of his eyes is cybernetic. So, is more of his body cybernetic?
He could be. But unreal amounts of grit are common among westerns. The fact is, it doesn’t matter if he is superhuman out of aesthetic or in-story. He’s just that tough.
Ultimately, It Doesn’t Matter
Cowboy Bebop is full of noir and cyberpunk elements, which often have dark themes. Yeah, classic nihilism. Turns out it doesn’t matter to the ending if Spike lives or dies. He could survive the sword slash with that tough cowboy grit all the way until a medic pumps him full of stem cells. Maybe his enhanced body can just take the damage. However, the poor guy deserves break from the chaos.
Spike’s final showdown is over. The dream he found himself floating through has ended. Spike’s arch is complete.
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