The Green Bird sequence, from Episode 5, "Ballad of Fallen Angels,” of the popular anime series Cowboy Bebop, is an excellent example to cite if it is ever necessary to justify animated film as a legitimate art form. In America, animation has been classically regarded as a method of entertaining children. In this single scene, Director Shinichiro Watanabe deftly demonstrates how animation can be used to revitalize visual concepts and create a style which is both sophisticated and unique, all while communication through a medium which many disregard as a petty diversion.

The scene is the climax of the episode, in which the battle between Spike, the protagonist, and his foe Vicious has reached a stalemate. They are the only two remaining after a furious gun battle in an on the balcony of an otherwise abandoned cathedral. Spike is on his back, pinned down by at sword point and bleeding from many bullet wounds which he sustained during the fight. Vicious is threatening to run Spike through with his blade; Spike is keeping him at bay with a handgun pointed directly at Vicious's head. After a brief exchange, the silhouettes of the two men held as stone in front of a massive stained glass window, they both strike. Both are wounded in the shoulder, and Vicious, in a rage, grabs Spike by the face and hurls him backwards through the stained glass window, plummeting towards the marble steps of the cathedral.

At this moment, the motion is slowed to a crawl, and Yoko Kanno's "Green Bird" begins to play. "Green Bird" is a choral piece which features the interleaving voices of children singing in Latin and English. They are accompanied by a simple piano harmony. This serene aural composition follows Spike as he falls, in slow, fluid motion, to the ground. The images are presented to the viewer like a dream: a grenade flying through the shattered stained glass window, shards of color following Spike to the ground like rain drops, murky memories of Spike's mysterious lover Julia, roses dropped into a puddle of rain next to discarded cigarettes, extreme close-ups of his eye as it watches the dark sky above pull away from him, a blue-soaked flashback of Spike's past with a focus on his wry grin as blood trickles down his cheek and he flips over the pin on a detonator, and, finally, a plume of flame erupting from the broken ocular window of the cathedral. As the sequence ends, Spike is hallucinating, asking the dream of Julia to sing for him. He blacks out only to awaken later on his ship, the Bebop, bandaged from head to toe.

The cinematic beauty of this sequence is impressive and strikingly original. By treating the subject matter seriously and fully exploiting the medium of animated film, Watanabe creates a strikingly human image. The characters in Cowboy Bebop are wildly stylized, with robotic arms and surreal martial arts skills, but they are ultimately believable as characters because they have emotional centers which are firmly based in reality. In sequences such as this one, nothing is explicitly explained. The viewer is allowed to experience a non-traditional narrative because of the mobility which animation provides. Combining unexpected emotional depth with unprecedented visual sophistication leaves the viewer stunned and with a new appreciation for the animated medium.

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