Live-action adaptations of animated favorites are always a risky endeavor. For the standout gems out there like the Wachowskis’ underrated Speed Racer, there are even more duds, like Dragon Ball: Evolution and Ghost in the Shell. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise when Netflix‘s announcement of a live-action Cowboy Bebop show was met with some vocal skepticism online.
But the streamer has pulled it off, thankfully. Cowboy Bebop is a solid new show.
1998’s Cowboy Bebop is a beloved anime classic. And for good reason. It’s smart, weird, cool, funny, moving, and gleefully genre-bending. What the live-action Cowboy Bebop does well is to capture that spirit and the general energy of the original while carving out its own space as a fresh new show.
You can check out the live-action Cowboy Bebop on Netflix on November 19. Read on for why we think you should.
Netflix is still the leading premium streaming service, with over 200 million worldwide subscribers. It offers thousands of movies and TV shows to binge watch, including its always growing list of original films and series, including Stranger Things, The Witcher, Bridgerton, and many more.
1. A great premise: What is Cowboy Bebop about?
Cowboy Bebop follows the crew of the Bebop, a spaceship of bounty hunters hopping from planet to planet looking for work and their next targets.
The crew is made up of Jet Black, a former cop; Spike Spiegel, a former gangster (but don’t tell anyone, he’s trying to keep that on the down-low); and a Faye Valentine, a young woman with amnesia and a mysterious past. They’re also joined by Ein, a genetically altered Corgi with his own doggy secrets.
Read: The best streaming originals from every service
Each episode sees the team chasing down a new criminal, all while they come to terms with their pasts. Jet was kicked off the force under suspicious circumstances, Spike has old ties to a vicious killer named, uh, Vicious, and Faye is looking to find who’s responsible for the blanks in her memory.
2. Beloved source material
If you’re a fan of anime, the live-action synopsis probably sounds familiar.
Cowboy Bebop has the advantage of being pre-sold to the fans of the original, which is consistently ranked among the best anime series of all time, and for good reason. That means the pressure is on for the new show too. Hardcore aficionados can be tough critics, as well as obvious crossover fans.
Check out: The best anime apps for Android
The original show‘s legacy extends far beyond the new Netflix title, too. In addition to inspiring trends in later anime, Cowboy Bebop’s influence is visible all over the place. Director Rian Johnson has said that he drew from it in making his 2006 neo-noir debut feature Brick, about a teen sleuth. It’s not a huge stretch to assume it informed his vision for Star Wars: The Last Jedi as well.
Most of the show’s influence can be found in science fiction. Sci-fi has often crossed over with westerns, but Cowboy Bebop was one of the first mainstream shows to be so literal about it, borrowing costumes, musical cues, and aesthetics most obviously from spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Fox’s short-lived Firefly feels like a direct riff on Cowboy Bebop, on this level. It makes sense that the live-action version draws in turn from Firefly (the design of the Bebop’s interior may be familiar to Firefly fans).
3. Let’s jam: A snappy update
A lot has happened since the original Cowboy Bebop launched in 1998.
The original anime already mixed genres, so it’s only fitting that the live-action Netflix take would keep that tradition alive, sometimes even ramping it up. The noir elements especially feel cranked up to 11 in the new show, and that fits well with the fleshed-out backstories of Spike and Jet in particular.
Cowboy Bebop does its own thing while staying true to its source material.
The imagery often evokes the French comic book tradition, with sets, costumes, and technology looking like they could have been lifted from Barbarella or The Fifth Element. This fits well with the show’s (mostly) successful attempts to reinvent itself without straying too far from its source material. Episodes are stretched in length, with runtimes closer to an hour than the original’s half-hour outings (including ad breaks). That extra time allows for an episodic structure combined with the streaming age’s focus on ongoing, season-long narratives, and it’s a welcome shift.
There’s also a brutality to the bounty hunting work of Spike and Jet early in the season that gives the pair a compelling moral ambiguity. They’re rough with their marks, and they’re not too concerned with who wants them for what. They’re good at what they do, and they need the money, and that’s pretty much as far as their professional honor goes. They fit well into the tradition of Han Solo (who famously shoots first when he’s in a tight spot — unless he’s in a silly special edition cut).
Related: The best anime on Netflix
Netflix rather bafflingly advertised the show on Twitter with side-by-side comparisons of shots from the original with their newer counterparts. Setting aside that they often picked desaturated moments to give a false impression that the live-action show is blandly colorless, the strategy also flew in the face of one of its great strengths: that it’s more than just a shot-for-shot remake.
4. A solid cast: Bringing Cowboy Bebop to live-action
John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda help bring the anime to life by pumping charm and charisma into the show’s three main anti-heroes. These characters are larger than life and would be easy to dull down into more grounded, everyday people. It’s to the show’s credit that it doesn’t try to shy away from the absurdity of its protagonists and just lets them be the cartoonish versions seen in, well, the cartoon.
You might also like: Speed Racer is one of the best anime adaptations around
After years of whitewashing controversies and just plain bad choices, it’s clearly easy to get anime casting wrong. Cowboy Bebop even had its run-ins with fans with casting grievances. In one case, fans were concerned with John Cho’s age. And at 49, he is a little far north of Spike’s spry 27 in the original. He’s also a dead ringer for the look and swagger of the character, though, so I’d say pick your battles. In more embarrassing corners of the fandom, some were disappointed that Pineda didn’t match the physically impossible proportions of her animated counterpart. She responded with appropriate snark in a video on her Instagram.
You can be the judge of whether the three main actors look and feel right. But they certainly have the acting chops to make the Bebop crew a pleasure to watch either way.
5. An ending that leaves you wanting more Cowboy Bebop live-action goodness
Always leave them wanting more, as they say. And Cowboy Bebop certainly does. It ends on a cliffhanger, with the introduction of some major plot points from the original series.
The original anime never made it to a second season, unfortunately, but it did last 26 episodes. The live-action Cowboy Bebop has just 10 episodes. And while they run about an hour in length, twice the runtime of the originals, they don’t manage to cover everything. Netflix’s take isn’t really trying to recreate every episode as we already know it, but it’s nice to know there’s plenty of source material left for them to go through. If the streamer does greenlight another season, that is.
Fingers crossed for season two.
Netflix hasn’t yet confirmed whether we’ll get more, and they admittedly have a bad habit of canceling shows before they get a chance to pick up steam. Having said that, the series’ creative team does have plans for a second season. And the finale all but begs for more.
So, see you next season, space cowboy — hopefully.