REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Lacks the Spark of the Anime

Netflix’s live-action take on Cowboy Bebop often lacks the spark of the anime, however, John Cho is a perfect Spike.

Note: The below review contains no spoilers for the Netflix adaption, only mentions of plot points from the anime.

Cowboy Bebop is often considered one of the best animes. A rag-tag group of misfits that seek to find someone among one another? It’s a common trope, but one the original anime executed perfectly. The idea of seeing that in live-action was exciting, especially with John Cho leading the way. Unfortunately, however, the live-action adaption of Cowboy Bebop often feels rushed and as though it’s unsure of how to bring about this group of misfits.

Cowboy Bebop is a story of a rag-tag team of bounty hunters in the year 2071, approximately 50 years after an accident that made Earth nearly uninhabitable. The series focuses on Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Edward and Ein as they try to build their futures while running from their pasts. As the anime will tell you, though, this is not a happy story, and the live-action adaption does not try to turn this into a story with a happy ending.

Trying to adapt a title for live-action is a hard task. Writers are expected to pay homage to the original, if not mirroring it closely, while still making the story feel fresh and unique. It’s a fine line that even the best of writers often fail to maneuver. This is Cowboy Bebop‘s biggest issue. Rather than try and make the live-action take feel unique, the writers often pull from the anime, leaning on the original far more than needed. An action that would have been fine had the writers adequately used the anime as a reference for the series. Instead, it feels like a mishmash of highlights from the anime being adapted with a slight alteration here and there. It never quite feels like a proper adaption, yet it never feels like its own story, either. There was a chance to make a new story with Spike and crew here, one that could still capture the spirit of the original, yet become its own entity.

In the end, though, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop wanted to try and replicate the anime too much; a decision that would ultimately be its downfall. While it’s not terrible, the series does not capture that spark and excitement of the anime. A fair amount of the episodes drag, and some of the performances feel subpar. John Cho, however, gives his all in the role of Spike and steals the spotlight every moment he’s own screen.

The family dynamic between these characters we all know and love is nearly nonexistent in early episodes. Once the gang does get together, though, the banter flows almost naturally. It’s just a shame it takes so long to reach this point. With just 10-episodes for its first season, Cowboy Bebop often feels as though it’s trying to rush through callbacks to the anime while failing to fully flesh out its characters.

The final episode of Cowboy Bebop‘s first season is where things completely fall apart. The episode pulls from “Ballad of Fallen Angels,” the fifth episode in the original series, even going as far as to see Vicious and Spike battle in the church. It’s stunning just how well the set production captures the look and feel from the anime. However, what follows is such a departure from the source material that it’s hard to understand what the writers were trying to do. 

Perhaps the episode wanted to right some of the wrongs in the anime, it’s hard to tell. It’s as though, at the very end, the creatives decided to finally try to make the story their own by drastically altering some of its main characters. It ends up feeling as though Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop doesn’t understand its source material at times.

Overall, the live-action take on Cowboy Bebop isn’t terrible. In fact, despite all of its flaws, there are some positives in this take on Cowboy Bebop. Episode six, for example, is a well-written episode that truly captures the feel of its predecessor while still feeling fresh. And while not all of the episodes are as strong, there are fun moments sprinkled throughout.

It’ll be interesting to see where a second season goes, as the first season did pull bits from the anime across numerous episodes. One thing seems certain, this is not the last time we’ll see Spike and company.

See you soon Space Cowboy.

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