Cowboy Bebop is the best anime I have ever seen in my life. But there is one thing in the show that irritates me.
And it isn’t that Spike dies at the end. I’m not that petty.
Session 14 (Bohemian Rhapsody) introduces us to Chessmaster Hex. In the episode, he and Edward plays a week-long chess match, and Hex describes Edward as “my first formidable opponent in ages.”
I’m not disputing that Ed is a genius, a tech genius that is. I do, however, find it hard to believe that a 13-year-old girl with seemingly limited experience with the game can hold her own against a Chessmaster. It’s just too unbelievable to me.
“But wait a minute,” you might be saying, “Magnus Carlsen, became a Grandmaster when he was the same age as Ed.” Yes, that’s true, but he practiced for a long-ass time to reach that level. I don’t know that much about chess. But I do know that just being smart is not going to help you against someone who has played chess for decades. This is particularly true if he also is a highly gifted individual, a.k.a: A smarty-pants.
Of course, since Hex is so old, I guess you could excuse this whole thing by saying, that his mind is so passed its prime that all that experience in playing the game is null and void. And that is the reason why Ed can hold her own. Yes, that is a (small) possibility. However, with the comment “[That Edward is] my first formidable opponent in ages,” it seems to me that he has been playing regularly with numerous people on the Internet since he quit his day job. And have beaten a significant percentage of them senseless. Thus, the idea that his seniority and her inexperience balance themselves out is faulty.
The episode is an example of something that has annoyed me ever since I became aware of it. That thing is the entertainment industry’s usage of chess as a shorthand for genius. Examples of this are Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and in the X-men movies. On the other hand, this is understandable. Because by now the general audience has been conditioned to recognize that a character who plays chess is brainy. In other words, chess as a shorthand for genius saves time for both the writers and the audience. And, more importantly, chess playing can also serve as a symbol of the conflict in the story.
This symbolism is also present in the episode. Hex wins in the end. Both with the chess game and the other “game” he played.
It isn’t like chess is a game for idiots. It’s all about having a strategy and outsmarting your opponent. But the treatment of chess by the entertainment industry, in which good at the game automatically equals genius and vice versa, gives a distorted view of reality. To somewhat disprove this sentiment, I can refer to the closest real-life example of what happened in the episode. A computer genius against a chess genius. I am talking about the time when Bill Gates played against Magnus Carlsen on Skavlan.
In this clip, Carlsen decimates Mr. Gates. This is because Carlsen has a lot more practice in the game. However, if they competed in the form of a programming competition, the result would probably have been different. I think Gates would have won. This is despite the fact that he probably has not been programming since the late 80s. In fact, anybody could most likely beat Magnus Carlsen if they could choose the medium of the match.
To sum up, being good at chess does not mean that you are smart, it means that you have practiced a lot and maybe are smart too. But I understand why the creators of Cowboy Bebop used it as they did, but I still do not like it.