Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for Cowboy Bebop (1998) and Cowboy Bebop (2021).
Netflix remakes are usually a bad idea. It’s definitely not a good sign when the creators cancel the series after just the first season.
I’m talking about Cowboy Bebop (2021), a remake of the 1998 Space Western anime.
Both the original and the adaptation follow a group of bounty hunters on interplanetary adventures, each character with a unique personality and ghosts from their past. The anime features compelling stories, impressive animation, and a fantastic soundtrack.
It appears the Netflix team did make an effort to do the source material justice. Shinichiro Watanabe, director of the anime, is an associate producer and consultant for the remake. The 1998 show’s composer Yoko Kanno also does the music for the live action show.
Cowboy Bebop (2021) uses the same opening and ending themes as the anime, albeit with some janky live-action credits. The settings and costumes are amazing, and the main spaceship the bounty hunters use—Bebop—looks fantastic. There are some decent effects, although the fight scenes are largely forgettable, and there’s less space travel than in the anime.
The casting is a mixed bag. Daniella Pineda plays Faye with gusto, and Mustafar Shakir shines as the cool-headed Jet. They’re the best of the main cast.
John Cho’s Spike Spiegel is more serious than his cocky anime counterpart—too serious for me—and there’s no friendly chemistry between his character and Shakir’s. Elena Satine’s Julia is another disappointing shift from the original. She is scared and fragile instead of cold and determined.
The worst casting choice is Alex Hassell as Vicious, the show’s main villain and leader of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. Anime Vicious is menacing and deadly. Netflix Vicious is impulsive, whiny, and looks like a Witcher reject.
As for the more minor characters, Ein the corgi isn’t an artificially intelligent dog but an ordinary, underused canine, while Radical Edward (Eden Perkins) doesn’t appear until the finale. It’s a baffling decision, considering how important the latter is to the Bebop crew.
Faye’s character is overhauled. Instead of a sexy amnesiac gambler, she is a gun-wielding amnesiac badass. I didn’t mind this change or her new costume.
I disliked how her past is revealed, however. In the anime, Faye’s backstory is told through flashbacks. In the remake, it’s given through an exposition dump by Faye herself. This is insulting to me both as a writer, and as someone who’s seen the anime.
The remake’s foremost sin is Julia’s “character arc.” Originally Vicious’ girlfriend, she falls for Spike. They plan to run away together, leaving behind Vicious and the Syndicate.
Julia chooses to go into hiding in the 1998 anime. She and Spike reunite and reconcile just before her death at the hands of Syndicate members.
In the remake, she is tricked into thinking he is dead and, to protect herself, marries Vicious. Instead of running away, Julia looks to wrest control of the Syndicate by manipulating Vicious.
When Julia reunites with Spike, she attempts to persuade him to lead the Syndicate with her—the same group he wanted to leave in the first place. When Spike refuses to join her, she shoots him out the window, leaving him for dead.
These changes are a slap in the face to fans like myself. The original Julia is smarter and stronger. She wouldn’t have chosen to stay in the evil Syndicate. When she rejects Spike, he is left without a sense of purpose or hope for the future—not to mention bleeding out.
Netflix’s adaptation is grim, lacking in the anime’s humor and lighthearted moments. While both shows are rated TV-MA, the excessive violence and nudity in the remake makes the restraint of Cowboy Bebop (1998) easier to watch.
If you’re still curious about the remake, watch it. But for those unfamiliar with Cowboy Bebop, check out the original. It’s the least you can do for our space cowboy.
Cowboy Bebop (1998) and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001) are available on Netflix. The anime is also on YouTube.
Sophia Wasylinko is a third-year Creative Writing and Journalism student. She was the Entertainment Reporter for CHLY 101.7FM in winter 2020. Her favorite things in life are cats, the color purple, coffee, and books (mysteries or books about ghosts, murder, and crime in general). Sophia is excited to be back in Nanaimo and hopes to explore more of Vancouver Island this year.View all articles