Chi (土), Ka (火), Fuu (風), Sui (水), and Kuu (空) in Cowboy Bebop

Ok, so I’m starting to figure out my schedule for this Summer Academy 2011 in Seattle, and it looks like I may be able to blog weekly. I’ve had time to catch up on some anime series, so there’s no issues with my anime backlog thus far. I have yet to finish most of the current anime series (have any of them ended yet as at this time of publication?), so reviews may come soon afterward, mostly likely on the weekends or whenever I have free time. I’ve also added a new page (long overdue, methinks), which lists my anime recommendations for those interested. But enough of myself; here’s an analysis post by yours truly about the appearance of the Japanese classical elements in an old favorite series, Cowboy Bebop. This post was inspired after reading a certain part of hearthesea’s post on the 10th episode of Cowboy Bebop (I know it’s been nearly two weeks since that post, and I must confess that I had started this post soon afterward, but real life interfered and all…).

Chi (土 or Tsuchi), Ka (火 or Hi), Fuu (風 or Kaze), Sui (水 or Mizu), and Kuu (空 or Sora) are the Japanese classical elements. You may know these famous elements very well, as they are in order respectively, Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, and Void (can also be translated to Sky or Heaven, but for this discussion’s sakes, we’ll stick with Void). I’ll start by giving an explanation of the affinity of each element, and then hand the stage to Cowboy Bebop.

Chi (土), known as Earth, represents the solid, hard objects in our world. One strong example of this is a stone, which is unmoving and unchanging. Earth is the most stable out of all the elements, and represents stability, certainty, and simplicity. It is also the one element with the most resistance against change. In the mental realm, it represents confidence, and in the emotional realm, it represents a desire to have things remain as they are.

Ka (火), known as Fire, represents the energetic, moving objects in our world. Animals are prime examples of this element, full of forceful energy and actively moving. Fire would be the most unpredictable element, giving warmth of life or flames of danger. In our mental state, it is the drive and motivation that spurs us on, and in our emotional state, it is the fiery passion for all that we love or care for.

Fuu (風), known as Wind, represents the out-lying, free objects in our world. Air, smoke, and the like, are the prime representations of this free element. Wind is the most liberating of all the elements, allowing us to grow and expand to wherever the winds takes us. This element shows up in our mind as a wide open-minded attitude and in our emotions as a carefree feeling.

Sui (水), known as Water, represents the flowing, formless objects in our world. Rivers, lakes, and seas are the prime examples, since the rivers always eventually leads to a lake or an ocean. Water is the most flexible element, allowing us to adapt to the change all around us. Mentally, it elusively shows up as our way of adapting, and emotionally, it shows our defensiveness and flexibility.

Since there isn’t really anything in anime that could represent ‘Void’, I’ve opted for the kanji instead…

Kuu (空), known as either Void or Heaven, represents objects composing of pure energy. Our spirits, minds, and energies are the representations of the Void. Void is the most complex and important element out of all the classical elements, allowing us to connect to the quintessential energies of the world and our surroundings, a sort of enlightenment if you would. The mind sees this as our creativity, and spontaneity as an emotion.

And, that’s all of the classical elements. What do all these have to do with Cowboy Bebop, some of you might wonder? Well, take another look at the four main characters and stars of the old favorite plus a surprising character, and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

First up is the gravelly, rough Jet Black. By all appearance and personality, his affinity is that of Earth. His clothes show a simple, unchanging fashion style in the time period of Cowboy Bebop, and he has a tough, but gentle personality as seen with his interaction with the bounty hunter gang. In his defining episodes of Cowboy Bebop, it is shown that Jet has had a hard time letting go of his past, and he has remained steadfast in his intentions since then. Jet is by far, the most stable well-rounded character I’ve seen, and the element, Earth, certainly does fit him.

Next up is the fiery, hot Faye Valentine. It is quite obvious that her affinity is Fire, and her bold, flamboyant clothes certainly do reflect that. Her seductive and passionate personality matches her own taste of lively pastimes, gambling and thieving. Throughout Cowboy Bebop, she has shown a strong variety of reactions, making her unpredictable and aggressive. But like fire’s nature, she also has a mild temperament and a warm side to her, as seen in her defining moments of Cowboy Bebop.

Third up is the free-spirited, carefree Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV. Her shabby, simplistic clothes shows her free nature, unchained by anything and unwilling to conform to others. Like her affinity, Wind, she enjoys expanding her horizons and mind to include all the possibilities and ingenuity of the universe. In her moments, she has been shown as a wanderer and a genius, who is unmatched by the limits of her intelligence and travels wherever the winds may take her (along with the crew, of course).

Now we come to the cool, flexible Spike Spiegel. His clothing style feels seamless and smooth, a blue leisure suit with a yellow shirt; very much like the element, Water. His main philosophy is “Be like water and move as naturally as possible.” You’ll notice that his fighting style is also fluid-like, with very little wasted movement. He also has been shown as being, like water, calm as a still lake and quick as a rushing waterfall. Throughout the series, he has shown a remarkable adaptability in dire situations and strong defensiveness for his own personal space and history.

Since there’s so few wallpapers for Ein, here’s a substitute… Will try to find a better one.

As for the last element, Void, after much thought and research, it turns out that there’s actually a surprising character who fits this, and I’m pretty sure that none of you would realize this, considering that he has such a minor role in Cowboy Bebop. Why, it’s none other than our Pembroke Welsh Corgi genius dog, Ein! If you think about it, Ein is an extremely smart dog who’s able to achieve many things by himself, such as answering a telephone, steering a car, or playing Shogi. Clearly, he is able to sense his own surroundings and is able to respond to them as a human. Ein has a distinctive human consciousness, and this is a strong representation of Void.

Reusing this wallpaper for the third time. I love this wallpaper so much and it really fits this post as well with the natural elements’ colors!

And, so this wraps up this post. All the main characters are remarkably emulated by the classical elements. The classical elements all have a strong interaction amongst each other, no matter whether they be simple or complex, and the characters of Cowboy Bebop do certainly have a strong interaction as crew members and as friends. I have no idea if the creators borrowed the elements’ traits and used them to create these wonderful colorful characters, but it seems too much of a coincidence that the cast has an underlying relationship similar to that of the classical elements, and for that I applaud them whether intentional or not. I wonder, have any of you noticed similarities in the classical elements motif in other anime series?



Filed under Anime, Cowboy Bebop, Editorials

13 responses to “Chi (土), Ka (火), Fuu (風), Sui (水), and Kuu (空) in Cowboy Bebop

  1. This is a great post. I really like the idea of looking at the way personality can be allied with the classical elements, and I think it does strangely fit very well in regard to the Bebop cast. That wallpaper almost looks like it was made with that concept in mind, very nice find.

    In regard to other Anime series’, I did notice potential personality-through-colour devices in ‘Evangelion’. (Although I don’t know if it applies to the actual elements.)

    • Hmm, now that I think about it, the colors of the EVAs do match their pilots’ personalities, e.g. EVA Unit 02’s red color fitting Asuka’s aggressive nature. The personality-through-color device works very well in this series in my opinion, and as for the elements, it’s actually quite hard to see if there’s certain elements, but I must rewatch it again to refreshen my mind. It’s been a long time since I rewatched it (or I could just watch the Evangelion movies). 😛

  2. Hmm Interesting post. I never thought about looking at the series like that. Although, the elements do fit naturally with each of the members (especially Ein). I am sure this concept may apply to other series as well, but seems like for Cowboy Bebop it is better. Lupin the 3rd perhaps?

    And also congratulations (read your post) on the three months passed. Hope we can continue to write. ^^

    • I’m pretty sure that there are plenty of series that uses these elemental concepts, though I just can’t specifically match it to any others…

      BTW, I have not watched Lupin the 3rd yet, so don’t know if it would fit. I’ve been hearing good things about Lupin the 3rd, so I really should give it a watch. 🙂

  3. Yi

    Ooh this is a really good analysis. I always found the characters to balance each other really well, perhaps because of their “elements.”

    I’m trying to think of other examples, and all I can think of right now is Naruto, which is much more blatant about the elements.

    • Yeah, it’s actually been real tough finding other series that uses the elements device! I wonder if there would be anyone who would use this device to help balance characters in an anime series. It would most likely be very successful!

      Naruto certainly show the elements quite a lot, and I suspect that ninjas are usually frequently associated with the elements frequently due to their tactics used (smoke bombs, walking on water, moving swiftly and silently, etc.).

  4. Really interesting perspective! Feel like you’ve hit the nail on the head here. Randomly, I noticed that you’re also a fan of Shinkai Makoto. Isn’t the artwork and storytelling just breathtaking? 🙂

    By the way, I run a Cowboy Bebop essays and analysis site (please refer to the link). Would you be interested in having this as a Guest Essay? I’ll of course link to Ephemeral Dreamer so people can come over to read more essays.

    Let me know either way!

    • Ahaha, I do love Shinkai’s artwork and storytelling; it is just to die for! I have yet to see Hoshi o Ou Kodomo yet, though. ^_^

      I checked your website, and it looks really nice and interesting. I would be honored to have this post as a Guest Essay! Would you mind waiting a bit so that I can change some minor aspects? I will email you the essay shortly this weekend, and do please link back to me as well.

      Also, if you like, you can decide on whether you’d like to use the pictures I have on this post or come up with better ones, since back then I didn’t really have much time to look for better pictures.

      Thanks for reading my post!

  5. Wow, so clever! Haven’t ever looked at the characters like that! Good job spotting this concept in Bebop.

  6. I think the first thing that comes out to me is immediately one of my all time favourites, Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin. Which contrary to its name, is as hard boiled and epic as they come. The characters though have such distinct and extremely strong personalities that it makes them ever so engaging.

    Now you’ve got me pondering on who would be what… I definitely think they’d match this kind of quadchotomy, even though there are more than 4 main characters. Another thing I’d want to write about one day ^^

    • Oops, overlooked this comment. Sorry for the late reply!

      I’ve heard good things about Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin, but never got around to watching it. I would certainly read about it if you write about it someday!

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