Cowboy Bebop is one of the most influential and popular anime series of all time. First airing in Japan in 1998, then being the first anime to be broadcasted on Adult Swim, it is praised for its good animation, existential themes, unique jazz soundtrack, and legendary English dub. Cowboy Bebop follows bounty hunters Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, and Faye Valentine, the hacker Radical Edward, and the smart “data dog” Ein as they hunt bounties across the Solar System and escape their own respective pasts. It’s no surprise that Netflix would reboot the beloved series into a live-action show.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop (2021) stars John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine as they hunt bounties similar to the ones in the original series. Some of the episodes follow similar plots to the original, with the first episode’s ending being a direct remake of the anime’s first episode ending. While the show is pretty strong in the beginning, after a couple of episodes, the pacing and story start to fall flat.
There were some things that I personally enjoyed about this show. The actors do an excellent job with the script that they are given. The effects are passable, and it was cool to see ships like the Swordfish ll or the Redfin (two of the main spacecraft in the show) in live action. In my opinion, the actors were cast really well, because they all seemed to fit their role and they were really passionate about this project. The costumes were well adapted for live action, with most of the actors looking identical to their anime counterparts. Overall, there are some good things about the show, but the negatives outweigh the positives.
The main issue lies with the writing. The writing in Cowboy Bebop (2021) is extremely problematic because it tries to replicate the charm of the original anime and its own retelling of the story. In Cowboy Bebop (1998), each character has their own focus episodes that explain their backstory. Spike Spiegel is a former hitman who worked for the Syndicate (which is a powerful crime group in the Bebop universe), alongside his former colleague, a hitman named Vicious. After a falling out between the two over a woman named Julia, Spike fakes his death and escapes the Syndicate, while Vicious hunts for him. Both Vicious and Julia get less than 30 minutes of screentime combined because they aren’t important to the overall story of Bebop–they’re only important to Spike’s story. That’s why they only appear in Spike’s focus episodes. In the remake, however, Vicious is a main part of the story, and he is married to Julia. There are multiple scenes with Julia and Vicious in every episode, and all of them drag the main story down because they focus on two of the least important characters from the original anime. They also aren’t written very well, with Vicious being changed from a mysterious cold blooded killer to an antagonist who fails at almost everything that he does.
The second big problem is the pacing. Some of the episodes don’t really focus on the main conflict, so it can be hard to get invested in the story, especially with the addition of the Julia and Vicious scenes, which are already hard enough to watch. Every episode is about 40+ minutes long, and each one is filled with extra scenes, adding more exposition to the original story. Since the episodes were adapted from the anime’s stories, they follow a similar plot, but in most of the new episodes, there are too many side plots, to the point where it can feel like a chore to watch. Episode 9, for instance, is all about Vicious and Spike’s past: their friendship and what caused the break between them. It’s placed very awkwardly, right before the finale and right after an extremely dark episode. Accordingly, it takes you out of the story because it doesn’t focus on anything that is immediately relevant at that moment in the show’s narrative arc. Overall, the pacing isn’t very good, and the episodes feel very long.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop had some problems from the beginning, as it had a troubled production and controversy even before the release. Production started in 2018 and had to take a hiatus because John Cho suffered an injury. In August 2021, Netflix revealed promo images showcasing the main characters in various scenes from the show. There was controversy surrounding the casting, from Faye Valentine’s costume not being accurate to the original, or John Cho being too old to play Spike. Then, the opening for the show was released in late September, which was equally dividing. Recently, the show was canceled by Netflix, not being renewed after ending on a cliffhanger. Not only is Cowboy Bebop (2021) not as good as the iconic anime of the same name, but it also ends on a sour note in denying its audience a resolution.