Cowboy Bebop TV Review

Plot: An action-packed space Western about three bounty hunters, aka “cowboys,” all trying to outrun the past. As different as they are deadly, Spike Spiegel (John Cho), Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), and Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) form a scrappy, snarky crew ready to hunt down the solar system’s most dangerous criminals — for the right price. But they can only kick and quip their way out of so many scuffles before their pasts finally catch up with them.

Review: After over ten years in development, the live-action take on Cowboy Bebop is finally here. From a big screen iteration starring Keanu Reeves that never came to fruition, this Netflix series has been one of the most anticipated events for anime fans since the Wachowskis adapted Speed Racer as a feature film. Like that movie, Cowboy Bebop takes the bright colors and exaggerated world of Japanese animation and turns it into something completely unique. Led by the brilliant and pitch-perfect cast comprised of John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda, Cowboy Bebop is not only a faithful interpretation of the source material but easily one of the best shows ever made based on a manga book. This is a pulpy noir adventure with a blisteringly cool soundtrack and the best visualization of a comic book since Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs The World. In short, Cowboy Bebop is as damn cool as it is brilliantly distinct.

Released in 1998 as two dozen manga stories and twenty-six anime episodes (split over two volumes), Cowboy Bebop is set in the near future of 2071 where humans have colonized most of the Solar System. With advanced technology melded with noir elements like guns, fedoras, femme fatales, and a jazzy score, this series maintains the hallmarks of the brief run of the anime with each episode a re-imagining of major stories from the animated original. Updates have been made to some elements of the criminal plots and the order in which the stories occur is different than the 1998 series, but the main narrative remains the same. Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter known as a cowboy. Partnering with ex-cop Jet Black, Spike teams with fellow cowboy Faye Valentine and a Welsh corgi named Ein to hunt down escaped criminals. All the while, Spike is hiding out from the criminal organization, The Syndicate, and his former friend turned nemesis Vicious.

The 2021 version of the story keeps everything intact from the anime series, including the visually iconic bad guys like Asimov Suleman (Jan Uddin), Abdul Hakim (Cali Nelle), eco-terrorist Maria Murdock (Adrienne Barbeau), the Teddy Bomber (Rodney Cook), and the creepy Pierrot Le Fou (Josh Randall). Fan favorites like Radical Ed also make appearances in what feels like a dark and violent twist on the old Adam West Batman series. There is a dramatic core to this story that is punctuated with a comic book sense of humor that will be instantly recognizable to anime fans. For newcomers to the genre, Cowboy Bebop is going to be an exciting, if jarring, experience. In any given episode or “sessions” as they are called, the tone can shift from the rat-a-tat dialogue reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film to the pop-culture savvy of Edgar Wright or the films of James Gunn. The action is brutal and shifts between gunplay and sword fighting with the Japanese influence on the set, character, and costume design faithful to the source material.

But where Cowboy Bebop succeeds as an adaptation is the masterful casting of the main trio. A lot has been made about the color-blind casting with some criticizing that most of the main cast are not Asian along with Jet being played by a Black actor and Faye looking nothing like her physically impossible anime counterpart. To that, I say just watch this series and you will know these are the perfect actors for their roles. Mustafa Shakir, who made impressive turns in HBO’s The Deuce as well as Marvel’s Luke Cage as Bushmaster, is wonderful as Jet Black, the former police detective wrongfully convicted of a crime and working as an honorable bounty hunter. With a code of conduct and a daughter to impress, Shakir imbues Jet with the classic qualities of noir cops and private investigators. On the opposite end, Daniella Pineda is great as Faye Valentine, a cryogenically frozen woman with amnesia trying to find her identity. Faye is witty and full of energy and raring to go toe to toe with the big boys. The relationship between Jet, Faye, and Spike is the root of this show and works really well over the ten-episode season.

By far the best aspect of this series is John Cho. No longer the guy from American Pie or Harold and Kumar, Cho takes his action experience from Star Trek and his dramatic chops from Searching and blends them as Spike Spiegel. Spike will likely go down as Cho’s trademark role and one that should earn the actor a hell of a lot more leading roles from now own. This is a brilliant performance that is equal parts wise-ass one-liners as it is an action star with a leading man swagger. Whether it is tracking down the criminal of the specific episode or going against his nemesis Vicious for the hand of the lovely Julia, Cho constantly elevates his game with each episode. The best thing about this character is he is so complex that by the time we get the standard penultimate Netflix flashback episode, you will not be sure whether you love Spike or hate him.

Developed by Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol scribe Andre Nemec along with Thor: Ragnarok writer Christopher Yost, Cowboy Bebop‘s first season is helmed equally by Alex Garcia Lopez and Michael Katleman who give each episode a distinct feel that fits into the future-retro style of the series as a whole. Anime composer Yoko Kanno resurrects her iconic soundtrack for the series that is as good as it ever was. I could not get through these ten episodes fast enough but there are one of the most rewatchable Netflix series I can remember. This series is non-stop fun that is going to be as much fun for young viewers as it will be for long-time fans of the original series. The series plows through the majority of the storyline from the anime in the first season which means the next batch will be uncharted territory, but if the writers and cast are game to continue exploring this richly developed universe of characters, there is no limit to where the story could go next. For now, strap in because Cowboy Bebop is going to blow you away.

Cowboy Bebop premieres on November 19th on Netflix.

Cowboy Bebop




About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.