Sometimes when you’re just walking around thinking about nothing you think of something. Like, I mean, think about Ed from Cowboy Bebop, right?
What a great character!
Why is a character that really doesn’t do anything such a great character?
I mean, you know that Ed doesn’t really do anything, right? She’s not involved at all in the meta-plot. Apart from Ein she’s not even especially close to the other Bebop crew. Cowboy Bebop is a cooler show with her there, but would still be cool without her. So why the hell does Ed work?
Naw, this isn’t one of those Brains-Looks-Personality things.
One reason Ed works is that she is a mass of contradictions.
For instance, she could be treated as any of a number of tropes, but she routinely violates the boundaries of each. She’s a Gamin, a free-range, street-wise child, for instance, except a) she’s not street-wise, b) she has a loving, if disengaged father, and c) she was raised by nuns in an orphanage, not on the streets.
She’s an Admiral Baby, a child with skills well-beyond her age. She sure is great with those computers, right? But she’s not an Admiral – no one pays an attention to Ed and Ed returns the favor. Can’t be an Admiral if you’re not in charge.
You could say she’s a Tomboy except that she’s more gender irrelevant. She’s a girl with a boy’s name, but being prepubescent she is physically indistinguishable as to gender. Ed could have ANYTHING in those compression shorts, and whatever it was you’d say, “Yeah, okay, that works.”
Oh, yeah, she’s from the future. Spike, Jet, Faye – they all wear futuristic clothing and fashions. Ed wears compression shorts and a baggy tee shirt, a genuine 1990’s outfit. Trust me on this; I lived through the ’90’s. All she needs is leggings. Oh, and no shoes, because apparently in the future children don’t wear shoes.
She’s even stylistically different in terms of her animation. The other characters in Cowboy Bebop look realistic. Spike’s moves, Faye’s posturing, Jet’s looming: They all look like real people, not animated characters. Ein in particular is realistically animated. Ein LOOKS like a real Corgi, doesn’t he? (She? Whatever.)
But Ed is drawn in an old animation style called “rubber-hose.” She – particularly her arms and legs – she moves as though she has no bones, no knees or elbows. It’s a style Disney beat out of his animators by 1930 and was gone, except for retro or ironic use, by the mid ’30’s.
This bizarre set of trope violations is what makes her interesting. Just when you think you have a sense of who she is, she does something out of the blue…and once she’s done it you say, “Y’know, that makes perfect sense.”
But here’s the problem with Ed: Now that they’ve built Ed as a character who really is unique because she really isn’t anything, how do you USE her in the plot?
Yeah. Um. Oops.
We talk about protagonists being having a major strength or quality with at least one flaw. Ed has a major strength, being a computer hacking prodigy.
The problem with THAT is that it’s really an uncinematic skill. Spike is a martial artist, Jet is good with a gun, Faye pilots her own fighter spaceship. They are all active, and visual, in skills.
Ed programs a computer. There’s a limit to the number of shots you can frame using a computer hacker as the focus. You’ve got the shot where the audience is looking over her shoulder at the screen, and the shot where one or more other characters are looking over her shoulder at the screen. Yeah, that’s about it.
And if Shinichiro Watanabe is anything, it is a visual director. The guy has a great eye. How can he get something dynamic out of Ed?
Not by Ed being the hero. By Ed being random. She walks around oddly, balances things on her head, crawls up to look at what people are doing like a kitten stalking her prey. She does all sorts of things that make you wonder, “What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is Ed doing now?”
But when Ed’s being random, she’s not being a protagonist, not driving plot. She can’t. The way she’s constructed prevents it.
It’s instructive to me as a writer to see what happens with Ed. The tropes exist because they WORK: you can use them to tell stories, even if the stories look clichéd. Take the Admiral Baby trope: the conflict between Admiral (person in charge, preternaturally skilled) and Baby (immature) creates tension in the story. Will the Admiral make them win or the Baby make them lose?
But Ed routinely violates the tropes. She’s none of the things she could be, and that’s really, really cool.
But that leaves her in a position where she can’t be relied on to contribute to the plot. It’s not an accident that she’s the last to join the crew and (tied for) the first to leave: they don’t need her. Not just the Bebop crew. The writers don’t need her.
Except that she’s really, really cool. She’s a great character who doesn’t do anything except be cool.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.