"Grounded" might not be the right word for a show that regularly featured lasers, cryogenic freezing, half-exploded moons, and martial arts fights on the outsides of spaceships, but Cowboy Bebop nonetheless made a habit of playing things straight. While the anime certainly wasn't without humor, the threats were always real, the damage was always bloody, and the pasts were always shadowy and complicated. This makes it all the stranger that the toughest opponent ever faced by the Bebop crew was spoiled seafood – an idea potentially cribbed from, of all things, a "Weird" Al Yankovic song.
"Toys in the Attic," the 11th episode of the series, finds our heroic space cowboys bickering and starving aboard the Bebop, as per usual. But then! Suddenly! The crew is being systematically hunted down by an unknown entity – a malignant alien blob that, despite their best efforts, takes them all out, one-by-one.
The episode is a tense horror-thriller in the vein of Alien, with Spike doing his best Ripley impersonation, right down to the flamethrower. He does his best, but, by the end, every member of the ship – including Ein, the intrepid corgi – has been knocked unconscious by the mysterious intruder.
Notably, this is the only time in the full run of Cowboy Bebop that the entire crew was incapacitated at once – this mysterious alien blob did something that neither Vicious, Teddy Bomber, nor even super-assassin Pierrot Le Fou could accomplish. Clearly, this malevolent, John Carpenter-ian thing was a threat on a whole new level.
Or, y'know, not.
The final moments of the episode revealed that the blob was, in fact, spoiled food – a rock lobster that Spike squirreled away in an old fridge a year earlier. Between letting the seafood go extraordinarily bad and forgetting to clean the fridge, the lobster became a dangerous, poisonous, ambulatory goo – one that was ultimately defeated by Ed eating the thing in her sleep.
All told, it's a sudden about-face and strangely slapstick reveal for an otherwise taut, tightly-paced episode and a strange moment for a show that regularly gave trust-fund space cowboys, disgruntled furries, and unstoppable murder-clowns their due credit.
Unless, of course, the whole thing was an elaborate homage to a "Weird" Al Yankovic song.
Cowboy Bebop's creators are obviously fans of music, mostly classic rock and jazz, but by labeling their evil space goo as a mutated rock lobster, they're showing their hand. "Rock Lobster" was, famously, a song by the B-52s, and even more famously, a nonsensical bop. Shinichirō Watanabe can talk about John Coltrane and Sigur Rós all he wants, but we know he's into the goofy shit, too.
"Toys in the Attic" may have been named after a classic Aerosmith song, but, clearly, it drew its inspiration from the parody version of another Aerosmith tune – Weird Al's "Living in the Fridge."
You know, the one where a hapless narrator opens his fridge and discovers "something weird," a "food that he can't recognize," and then it turns out it's alive and evil and, at least according to the shrieks that end the song, might even be trying to murder him?
Hell, the ending of Cowboy Bebop's "Toys in the Attic" might as well be a music video for the song – and, in fact, is, thanks to at least one intrepid YouTuber.
Let’s hope the new live-action Netflix version has the courage to lean in and make this official.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and booger monsters, and recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.
Top Image: Sunrise