Netflix’s latest hit Cowboy Bebop is a live-action reboot of a popular anime from the 90’s that follows the bounty hunting adventures of Spike Spiegel, Jet Black and Faye Valentine as they travel across the solar system chasing gigs while Spike tries to stay ahead of the vicious Syndicate that is hunting him.
I’m not too big a fan of anime so I haven’t watched the original show this is based on though I’ve heard its good so I might give it a shot, especially seeing as I enjoyed this live-action version. I was a big fan of Syfy’s Killjoys which also involved three misfits and a boat load of bounties so this sounded right up my alley.
The biggest draw of the show for me was the characters. While Vicious and Julia were largely ineffectual and inconsequential for the first half of the season, the other three characters shone consistently across all their screentime. Honestly, it’s criminal that Daniella Pineda was missing from episodes 2 and 3 because she brought a fresh kinetic energy to the show that played really well off of John Cho and Mustafa Shakir. The three of them were consistently good and whenever one of them stole the show, another would steal it right back.
There’s a fantastic three episode block in the middle of the season which focuses on each of their individual arcs in turn and is really where the show started to come into its own and start to become great instead of simply good. There’s an interesting push-and-pull between upholding expectations and subverting them. Jet Black’s backstory trying to root out a dirty cop and it turning out to be the partner who worked the case with him? It’s a classic. The con artist who conned Faye into thinking she was her mother turning out to be engaged in one long piece of foreplay with her arms smuggling boyfriend? Completely unexpected.
It was a great way to keep the show balanced while also matching each character’s personal arc wonderfully. Jet doesn’t like corruption, lies, betrayal and his showcase episode is set up with the predictable ending. We all knew his partner was going to be the bad guy which was as tragically predictable as figuring out he wouldn’t take the truth about Spike’s past well. It’s the inevitability of it all. We can see what’s coming in Jet’s episode and we can see what’s coming concerning Spike no matter how much we hope to be wrong. Jet is a man of honour and a man with a code. It’s a strict one but it’s played beautifully. He was equally furious with Faye’s lies in the seventh episode which only served to hurt Spike because he was now more sure than ever he would lose someone he cared about if his secret ever came out.
Spike’s old life was expertly depicted in a virtual reality simulator contrasted sharply against his new life. This evil AI wants to literally consume his memories in some kind of crazy symbolism of his old life falling away or at least serving as some kind of narrative warning that if he doesn’t choose a life – let go of the old one – everything will end up falling apart. In the end, it was true. He couldn’t get in that ship with Faye and the others at the church (though I’m not sure there’d have been enough room anyway) and he had one final showdown with Vicious before being betrayed by Julia who decided to take control of her life. He survives, obviously, and drags himself all the way back to his new home, the Bebop, only to find he’s lost that as well.
Meanwhile, Faye’s arc is all about discovering her identity, never knowing what secrets she will discover about her past which is reflected amusingly with the aforementioned surprise twist of Whitney and the arms dealer engaging in foreplay. It’s unexpected, it throws Faye for a loop and it represents perfectly the kind of chaos she feels because of not knowing who she is. She ends up finding an old home video tape of herself as a child and I’m not gonna lie, I cried right along with her. It was one of the most touching scenes in the whole show and it’s a shining spot of hope in the last few episodes when everyone else’s storylines are imploding.
Over in the villain side of things, Vicious gets his turn in the spotlight in the penultimate episode, adding some much needed emotional weight to the main narrative running throughout the show. Before this, he was a mad-eyed cookie cutter antagonist looking to overthrow the Elders and take over the Syndicate. I didn’t really care about any of this and I ended up just treating his and Julia’s scenes as a waiting game before the show got back to the good stuff.
The ninth episode slightly changed the game for me though. One of my favourite relationship tropes is the unhinged murderous villain having one person they truly love and care about who would do absolutely anything for them. Spike (Fearless) and Vicious fit this to a ‘t’. I’m a sucker for a good tragedy and this episode had it in spades. Fearless felt indebted to Vicious and was always trying to either fix his mistakes or take responsibility for them.
This eventually broke him because instead of killing Vicious like he’d been ordered to, he decided to wipe out the Neptune Cartel to remove the threat and make it unnecessary for Vicious to die. He killed dozens of people to avoid killing one person he loved and he even forwent his mercy code when he killed the innocent woman who witnessed it because he couldn’t risk not protecting Vicious entirely. It’s a shame it all went to hell after that. There’s some kind of tragedy in the fact that Fearless did everything for Vicious but the one time he put himself first everything fell apart.
Episode nine’s endcard reads ‘you’re gonna carry that weight’ and I think that refers to both Spike and Vicious and the parts they played in their shared tragedy. I almost hope there’s some kind of reluctant team up in a possible Season 2, though I don’t think there’s any redemption available for Vicious. Like Syndicate Capo Stax said, it’s highly likely the now imprisoned Vicious is rotten in his heart.
Overall, I was impressed with this season, though it took till episode 5 to really get going. There’s a great supporting cast in Ana and Gren as well and the ending scene introduces an iconic character from the anime, Radical Ed. I hope there is a season 2 of the show, if only to see the reunion of Faye, Spike and Jet and to witness the latter two’s reconciliation. I love the world design as well. It’s the kind of retro style that worked so well for PS4/Xbox game Outer Worlds. As for criticisms, a potential season 2 could do with fixing some slight pacing issues and not wasting major characters like Julia and Vicious for half a season.
What did you think of Cowboy Bebop? Are you a fan of the anime? Think the show is a good adaptation or is there room for improvement? Sound off in the comments below!