Cowboy Bebop: What Netflix's Live-Action Series Brings to Anime Lore

The much-anticipated live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop had mixed reviews with much of the pushback coming from those loyal to the original anime version from Sunrise released over 20 years ago. The thing is, a lot can change in a span of 20 years culturally and those elements combined with the source material are what we got in the Netflix version. Here is my breakdown of the main elements of the series and if the creative liberties afforded by its hour-long format benefitted the new series. Just as an FYI, there are minor spoilers ahead for the series so consider this a fair warning.

Cowboy Bebop OG Japanese Voice Actors Dub Netflix Live Action Series
Image courtesy of Netflix

Cowboy Bebop: Live-Action Spike Spiegel

The reception for John Cho as Spike Spiegel was strong initially, though some now are saying that the actor's not as suave and debonair as his anime counterpart. Personally, I think Spike's that way in the anime to unrealistic proportions. Keep in mind there's tons of stuff he's seen in his life as Fearless, the Syndicate hitman and it didn't get that much better knowing the terrible people he ran into as Spike, the bounty hunter. I would credit Cho for humanizing him more since he's allowed to have something and as the audience, we can empathize with him in his relationship with Julia (Elena Satine)- which benefits from a series take since it was allowed to be fleshed out much more than it was in the anime. Cho's Spike exhibits similar charm and wit. The only physical difference is that he lacks his afro. Cho's emotional range enhances the character in a way that some James Bond actors will occasionally exhibit their own vulnerabilities, and in this case, it works and works well.

Cowboy Bebop: What Live-Action Series Brings to Anime Lore Part I
John Cho, Mufasta Shakir, and Daniella Pineda in Cowboy Bebop. Image courtesy of Netflix

Jet Black

Mustafa Shakir is pretty spot-on casting for Spike's partner Jet Black, the disgraced former cop living his new life as a bounty hunter and "captain" of the Bebop. As the heart, soul, and conscience of the crew, Jet's the venerable straight man and glue of the crew just like the anime. One advantage of the live-action series is that they actually expanded his backstory more by giving him a family. As with Spike, we do get parallel storytelling that aligns with the anime that periodically addresses their pasts. The added layers of empathy do more to enhance his character and give audiences more to care for, yet another character improvement upon the anime.

Faye Valentine

Daniella Pineda's arguably the best casting the series had to offer as the amnesiac bounty hunter with a chip on her shoulder. While the character was already charming & witty, and could more than hold her own to the men of the crew, she ends up being quite an invaluable wildcard member of the team. Adding to her indelible charm were what could be argued were the series' best one-liners, with the addition of her having a female love interest (at least for one episode) a nice added touch. Another aspect of Faye's character (and most of the female characters) that both the series and anime share is that "love" never becomes the cliched default motivator for them. Just like the male characters, they're also allowed to have layered and varied reasons to do the things that they do- for good or ill.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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