How Netflix’s ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Will Expand on the Original Anime, ‘Star Wars’-Style

     June 3, 2020


I love Cowboy Bebop. The 1998 26-episode anime series is a benchmark of television sci-fi, of style co-mingling equally with substance, of case-of-the-week storytelling co-mingling equally with serialized narratives, of various tone shifts handled beautifully, of a soundtrack that utterly slaps. How do I feel about the upcoming Netflix live-action take on this perfect object? Cautiously optimistic, to be sure. But after hearing writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach explain to io9 what the new show might look and feel like, my optimism levels just got up to “N.Y. Rush” levels of intensity.

Firstly: It’s not going to be a hard reboot of the show, nor a casual riff on elements of the original with newly assembled characters. You’re gonna get Spike Spiegel (John Cho), you’re gonna get Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), you’re gonna get Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), you’re gonna get Vicious (Alex Hassell), you’re gonna get Julia (Elena Satine), you’re gonna get Ein (a sure-to-be adorable corgi). Grillo-Marxuach assured fans that this version of Cowboy Bebop will adhere to what fans love about the original Cowboy Bebop, name-checking another popular serialized sci-fi work in his comparison:


Image via Bandai Entertainment

You can’t look at Cowboy Bebop and say, “Well, it’s just a take-off point. We’re going to give them different hair and different clothing, and we’re gonna call it something different. And it’s just sort of gonna be a loose thing.” If you’re doing Cowboy Bebop, you’re doing Cowboy BebopYou know? It’s kind of like doing Star Wars.

Now, certain folks reading will likely have, um, let’s call them “a lot of different opinions” on recent Star Wars properties. Will Grillo-Marxuach and his team deliver a mythology-examining, fresh-and-fierce Last Jedi? Or will they fall into an overstuffed fan service-laden Rise of Skywalker? Time will tell, but one thing’s for certain: This Cowboy Bebop show will feel like a Cowboy Bebop show. Or, as Grillo-Marxuach succinctly phrased it, “We ain’t playing Bebop, Bebop is playing us.”

Even before the coronavirus quarantines went into effect, production on the new series was placed on hold, due to Cho’s accidental injuries (and we are all wishing for a speedy recovery). But Grillo-Marxuach has seen a cut of the first episode. And what did he think? He raved about it all, especially the performances of the cast and the production design of the live-action world. He also got into why this show has permission to be “weird.”


Image via Funimation

Being a sci-fi nerd in the ‘90s meant you’d sit there and watch a show, and for the first act, you’re usually just getting information you already know. Flash forward to like almost 30 years later and TV is weird now, like TV is batshit crazy right now. It is hard to tell people how weird Game of Thrones is to me, having grown up in a world where the thing most like Game of Thrones was a show called Wizards and Warriors that was on CBS in the late ‘80s. We can be weird. We can look at anime and take design cues out of anime.

A live-action show that promises to be weird and take design cues from its anime source materials? Very, very exciting!

But for those fans who may want something new from a live-action Cowboy Bebop, rather than a retelling of the same 26 episodes with flesh-and-blood performers: Fear not. Some of the original, self-contained bounties will appear, yes. But the creative team also wants to expand out the lives of their main characters, exploring them with new stories, hopefully resulting in a best of both worlds final product:

We’re not going to go one-to-one on all of those stories because we’re also trying to tell the broader story of Spike Spiegel and the Syndicate, Spike Spiegel and Julia, Spike Spiegel and Vicious, and all that. But we are looking at the show and saying, “Who are some of the great villains in this show, and how can we put them into this into this broader narrative?” So that we are telling both of the big stories that Cowboy Bebop tells.


Image via Funimation

Grillo-Marxuach also made sure to mention that the broader stories of his show will include broader, more inclusive cultures being represented, saying quite bluntly and rightly that “you can’t Scarlett Johansson this shit… We are making a show that takes place in a future that is multicultural, that is extraordinarily integrated and where those things are the norm.”

While we don’t know exactly when the show will be completed or aired (2021 is Netflix’s current plans), the network is excited enough that the writers have already started working on season two. And Grillo-Marxuach is excited enough, that he’s sure the fans will be too — because he is one.

Everybody has a different idea of what the best version of a show is, and a lot of Cowboy Bebop fans believe that the anime is the best version of that show. We hope that we can convert them to look at our version of it, and think that it’s a wonderful translation, a wonderful addition to the original canon. We’re deep enough in a world that where fandom is important to the existence of shows, that people like me don’t ever really lose sight of that. I think that there are always going to be tone-deaf reboots of things and all of that, but we’re fans. You know, we come at this as fans. We love genre, we love science fiction, and we love Cowboy Bebop.

For more on the wonderful world of anime, check out our very own Dave Trumbore’s starter guide to the form.