A Disappointing Ending

I finished Cowboy Bebop this weekend, and, I have to say, I was really disappointed by the ending. I won’t say what happens, except that’s it’s ambiguous and the writer has explicitly said that he wants people to make their own minds about it.

Well, I can do that. In fact, I might end up writing a fan-fic about it, because I felt so unsatisfied (though dang, this would be an intimidating tale to try my hand at). But that’s not really the point.

A story is a real, concrete thing. What is contained in the story is the sum total of its existence (with the arguable exception of supplemental material by the creator: e.g. Jane Austen’s letters detailing what happened to the characters in her books). I can write my own addition to it, but that will never be a real part of the story. At best, it’ll be a ‘might have been’, or a satisfying piece of work in its own right that can be imagined to connect to the original. But the ending we get is the end of the real story of Cowboy Bebop.

And, well, I didn’t like how it ended. It’s not so much the ambiguity as the fact that it just felt incomplete. What I thought were the most interesting and engrossing story threads were left largely unresolved and most of the cast doesn’t even take part in the climax. After all these characters had been through together, and after all I’d been through with them, I wanted something more. I wanted them to have some kind of closure, to bring their stories through to the end, or at least to feel that the progress I’d been watching them make had reached a point of completion. In a word, it didn’t feel to me like the story was over; it felt like it needed another chapter, or even a whole other season to really bring things home.

Granted, it’s deliberately meant to be an unconventional show, but again, that’s beside the point. Conventional or not, the question is whether it’s satisfying, emotionally fitting, aesthetically pleasing, and so on. Whether a story beat works or not is a completely separate question from how conventional or expected it is (I could give a well-known example of a writer who makes this mistake all the time, but it would be a travesty to even mention him in the same breath as Bebop).

It rankles even more because I loved just about everything about the show except the ending. Knowing now what it all leads to is going take some of the joy out of the experience. I just really don’t want to leave these characters there.