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Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop: Season 1 Review

Cowboy Bebop premieres on Netflix Nov. 19, 2021.

When I think of live-action anime adaptations, at least those made in America, I think about how they just seem so embarrassed by the source material. So much of an anime is changed during the adaptation process to make it more grounded, or seem less ridiculous. Or, if they must keep elements of the original anime, it’s transformed into something unrecognizable (I’m looking at you, Dragon Ball: Evolution).

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop feels like the first live-action adaptation I’ve seen from an American production company that not only loves the source material but does everything it can to bring the details of the anime to life. There’s no embarrassment from the Cowboy Bebop team, just a full-throated embrace of the 1998 anime.

Cowboy Bebop: Who’s Who in the Live-Action Netflix Series

That alone puts Cowboy Bebop in contention for the best live-action anime adaptation, but that bar’s so low you might as well ask me what the best video game movie is. Instead, what does Cowboy Bebop gain from going live action?

Surprisingly a lot.

3, 2, 1… Let’s Jam

The beauty of the original Cowboy Bebop is that it was never just one thing. It mixed speculative sci-fi, kung-fu, noir, crime thrillers, and so much more. Cowboy Bebop was, as it proclaimed during one title sequence, “a new genre itself.”

In a way, Netflix’s live-action Cowboy Bebop adaptation can be considered an extension of that free-wheeling, anything goes philosophy. After all, if the anime mixed and matched so many different genres already, why not flirt a bit with live-action and all the possibilities there that it entails? A real 3D space for actors to play around in has its benefits.

Take the sets, for instance. There’s something magical about seeing the Bebop world brought to modern life. This isn’t the sleek chrome space of Star Wars or Star Trek; Cowboy Bebop’s space was always full of broken junk and tech that looks like it’s either from 2089 or 1989. And the design team behind Cowboy Bebop has captured it in all its ramshackle glory.

Cowboy Bebop makes up for the lack of authenticity with audacity and personality.


And while there’s a certain unreality to the world, Cowboy Bebop makes up for the lack of authenticity with audacity and personality. If you can’t make the props from an anime look grounded and realistic, make them ridiculous and cool.

While it often succeeds in that respect, there are other times when Cowboy Bebop doesn’t go far enough and I wonder if the sudden COVID-19 pandemic move to New Zealand might have limited the production. One episode where Jet has to visit his ex-wife and daughter is set in an area that looks like it might be from a family sitcom rather than a sci-fi show. It’s out of place and cheap and looks like a decision forced by necessity instead of creativity.

This high-wire balancing act between endearment and ruin extends to the main trio too. There are moments when Spike (John Cho), Jet (Mustafa Shakir), and Faye (Daniella Pineda) look like they stepped out of a cosplay contest, but these moments of unreality are saved by how natural Cho, Shakir, and Pineda embrace the personalities of their characters.

Shakir sounds and acts so much like Jet Black he may have walked straight onto the set from a 1998 storyboard. It’s uncanny, and if you close your eyes it’s impossible to tell whether you’re hearing Shakir or accidentally put on the anime again.

Cho, too, channels Spike’s coolness, even if you can’t help but wonder if the role might not be better served by someone more youthful. But Cho’s experience, it turns out, adds a layer of world-weariness to his cool demeanor. You can’t accuse Cho of trying too hard and there’s humor (even kinkiness) there that you won’t see in the trailers.

Pineda, who has been the center of a lot of conversation ahead of the premiere, will likely shut up critics and garner fans immediately with her foul-mouthed turn as Faye Valentine. It is an honest crime when Pineda isn’t on screen, as the dynamic of the Bebop instantly improves when she’s added to the mix.

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop feels like a remix of the original series.


If I were to pick one critique of the series, it’s that Pineda needs to be in more scenes. But I have more than one critique.

Cowboy Bebop Remixed

The biggest question going into Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop was whether or not it would be a straight adaptation of the original anime or some kind of sequel series. The answer, it turns out, is neither.

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Images

Instead, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop feels more like a remix of the original series. You’ll see familiar story points and plots, but they’ve been mixed and mashed together into something not wholly original, but different enough.

In the anime, for example, the episode about the villain Teddy Bomber is about Spike’s newfound rivalry with another bounty hunter named Cowboy Andy. But in the live-action series, the Teddy Bomber episode is focused on Spike and Jet’s tenuous partnership.

The main characters are still mostly the same as you remember them. Spike is still a former Syndicate member who left his life of crime behind to become a bounty hunter, Jet is an ex-cop, and Faye lost her memories after waking up from cryosleep.

There is one big original element added to Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop series, but unfortunately, it might be the worst part of the show. As promised, Spike’s backstory is expanded upon and his former Syndicate comrade Vicious and ex-lover Julia receive an entire story arc all to themselves.

Cowboy Bebop was never just one thing, and neither is Netflix’s adaptation.


Unfortunately, this gangster drama starring Vicious (Alex Hassell) and Julia (Elena Satine) has neither the verve nor creativity of a typical Cowboy Bebop story. Instead, Vicious’ attempt to usurp the Syndicate crime empire while his long-suffering wife with a tragic backstory watches on plays out like a by-the-numbers crime plot. Not even the twist ending can save this from being a mostly boring affair that I’ve had to keep myself from skipping over.

Meanwhile, the best episodes in Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop have the same ingredients that make the best episodes in the original anime; namely, the Bebop crew together bungling their way through a standalone adventure trying to chase down their next meal ticket.

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Trailer – Screenshots

The undisputed standout episode comes towards the end of the season when Spike and Jet must help Faye smuggle her former con-artist partner across the galaxy. This episode alone justifies every casting and creative decision made for the live-action adaptation while moving along with the bounce and energy of the anime. Humor, action, sci-fi — it all blends together in a glorious episode setting the bar for Cowboy Bebop’s first season.

See You, Space Cowboy

What do you remember about the original Cowboy Bebop? For me, I remember the melancholy most of all. The thing I loved about the original series is how at the end of the day, this is a crew of lost souls filled with regret.

But, again, Cowboy Bebop was never just one thing, and neither is Netflix’s live-action adaptation. There are stories here that make the jump from anime to live-action better than others, and the original Vicious and Julia storyline aside, it’s an earnest adaptation, which is something I keep coming back to. It’s closer to a Japanese live-action adaptation, which are often faithful translations, than the recent American ones and it’s all the better for it.

Netflix doesn’t sand down elements from the anime that the uninitiated might think are a little too out there. Instead, it whole-heartedly embraces its source material and succeeds more often than it fails.

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