While our full review of Cowboy Bebop (2021) is now out and ready to read, we thought it would be fun to do a first impression piece, too, similar to the ones we post each anime season as new series begin to air—and considered that it might helpful for you, too, as you either contemplate whether or not you should try the series or to look back to on Friday, after the series has aired, when you want to break episode one down.
So along those lines, seven of our writers watched the initial episode of the live-action adaptation, entitled “Cowboy Gospel,” and here are their thoughts.
1. The opening scene begins with a…wait for it…BANG. What were your impressions of the sequence?
Mecahawk: The opening sequence was a good introduction. It had a nice few callbacks for the fans and sets the tone as violent but not taking itself too seriously. Being on a big space casino with holograms projecting a virtual roulette while was an iconic moment of the start of Bebop, and they did it well enough. I am not a fan of the increased amount of swearing, but western audiences tend to relate to it more, I think.
KhakiBlueSocks: I have to say, this was, to me, THE perfect way to start the series. I’ve always liked the opening for Knockin’ on Heavens Door and to have that be the opening for this new venture really warms my heart. I also love the reveal that it’s actually a casino in space; it acts as a surprise for people who are both unfamiliar with the Cowboy Bebop anime, and it throws veteran Bebop fans off guard: “Oh, snap! Wait a minute! I thought they were supposed to be on a planet! They’re in space?! Whoa…”
MDMRN: That introduction was fantastic. It jumps you immediately into the story, immediately into the characters. It literally kicks it off with a bang really diving into the entire franchise. Even if you are unfamiliar with the source material, episode one gives a deep, quick introduction into the world with some amazing action sequences. And, as I kind of expected, both Cho and Shakir gave such great characterizations of Spike and Jet in that opening sequence that mirrored their original, anime counterparts.
Samuru: What a way to begin the show! It definitely has more violence and swearing than the original, which I suppose is to give that “shock” factor for first time viewers. A lot of people unfamiliar with the anime will be watching this, but it definitely gave the tone of the source. Spike and Jet are very alike to their anime counterparts and work well together.
Gaheret: It’s like Han Solo’s daydream come alive, paced with the jazz soundtrack and the jazz-like character dynamics. Powerful and stylish improvisations that keep pushing each other forward. It has a myriad of clever references to pop culture from “the world we knew.” It’s elegant, it’s funny, and it’s in perfect control of what it’s saying. And it has the cheerful, dazzling nihilism which was always there in the anime: I’ll confess that I admire Cowboy Bebop more than I like it.
Claire: That opener was a lot of fun! In film studies, there’s an understanding that title sequences serve as a microcosm of the film, conveying the key themes, tone, and conflicts of the work as a whole in a few brief minutes. If that’s the case for Cowboy Bebop, then this series is going to be like Tarantino-lite™: snappy dialogue spiced with wit, stylish action, generous heaps of intertextuality in what is a clear homage to 60s and 70s-era American television, topped off with a dash of brutality and crudity, but not so much as to compromise the vibrant aesthetic or compelling nature of the characters and their relationships with one another. In short, this looks really promising!
NegativePrimes: Very different from the opening of the original series. Whereas the anime opens with a sense of calm, here we have blood and gunfire from the get-go. And that to me sums up a lot of what I do not like in this first episode: The feel of the series is lost in the action.
2. Episode one of this adaptation is based on episode one of the anime, “Asteroid Blues.”If you’ve watched the original series, do you think the initial episode did a good job of blending THE original with original material?
NegativePrimes: The live action version actually followed the anime a lot closer than I expected. And some of the changes make sense: for instance, removing the fortune teller, who might have been seen as a racist stereotype. Other changes seemed less well implemented: Jet’s obsession with finding a doll for his daughter, to the point of risking their lives, seems insane and at odds with the cool Jet we know.
Mecahawk: They certainly paid a great deal of attention to the plots, the pacing, and the design for the first episode. Any casual fan of Bebop will remember the bounty, his lover, the trio of old men, and the bar fight. It’s as stylistic as it could possibly be, but hard to match with live actors and sets the aesthetic of the painted canvas, even with computers. The twist at the end hits the mark it needs to hit, and you sympathize with the plight of the couple well enough. I could ask for little more, but it’s hard to exceed one of the best starting episodes of any anime ever made.
KhakiBlueSocks: I went back and watched “Asteroid Blues” after watching this, and I have to say, they did a great job blending in all the original material with the established story. Especially when it comes to integrating Faye into the mix, and the little scene with Vicious and Julia.
MDMRN: I think so. It was a good blend of new and classic materials. What it did remind me is that it has been way too long since I’ve re-watched the anime and I definitely need to watch it again. And that ending, just hammered it home to make me want to see more.
Gaheret: I’d say it feels natural. Part of it may have to do with the anime’s Asteroid Blues foreshadowing many of the themes that we are told here (or, as regards to the changes, the ideas which probably inspired them). Asimov was always a more naive Spike. The theme that you can’t escape from your dangerous past was there, now in the form of the Syndicate. Jet’s frustrated calling to be a family father was there from his first complaint about the bills, and the woman with a trick up her sleeve and the general state of the world were also there.
3. What about the casting and characterizations of the three leads—Spike, Jet, and Faye? Well done? Did you have problems with any of them?
NegativesPrimes: This is another area where I felt the LA let me down. Spike and Jet are reduced to a stereotypical “partners-who-can’t-get-along” pair. The original Spike and Jet have their differences, but most of their dialogue is delivered in a “I-know-you-know-I-really-care-for-you” kind of banter that is missing here. Surprisingly, Faye’s character struck me as closest to the source material, which is odd given that anime!Faye doesn’t appear in episode one. I enjoyed her “Go team!” monologue(?) at the end in particular.
Mecahawk: Jet is great as the hard nosed former cop playing things by the book. I feel he is the easiest to write, but it’s weird they decided to give him a daughter at this point. He doesn’t strike me as someone worried about a Christmas gift. Spike’s pretty good. He’s more emotionally dead than Spike in the anime. He’s far less animated. I am used to his more expressive anime character, but that body language probably doesn’t translate as easily into live action. Speaking of things that are hard to translate into live action, Faye is a conundrum. I don’t know if they had a hard time adapting her style, but she feels a bit too much of a comedian with snarky jabs and beats played for comedy in the dialogue. I feel like in the anime, part of her humor was her stuckup vain attitude and then seeing her plans get foiled just slightly enough. I really do miss Steve Blum and Wendie Lee in those roles as their delivery of lines and chemistry are unparalleled. I’ll have to see more episodes as their time together was brief in the first episode, but it likely means I won’t be seeing the normal episode where Faye and Spike normally meet in the Casino.
Samuru: I’m not someone who knows much about acting or even remember who played who in what, so I am not familiar with these actors but I’m glad because I can go in fresh without any bias. John Cho does a fantastic job as Spike, Shakir couldn’t have played Jet any better and Ms. Pieneda gave her own spin on Faye’s character. It was nice to see a Hispanic play her character, as Faye is a character with a lot of emotion and spice that we Latinos have. As already mentioned, I would have liked to see Spike a little less serious and more playful, but that’s OK because I’m not watching the anime and I appreciate the artistic freedom used. They definitely give the feel of a team and work well together, like when Spike and Jet are involved in shoot-outs or discuss their next hit. I hope they flesh each one of them out more as the show progresses as was done in the anime, and we get connected to them more. For an introduction, I feel this was very well done and honors the original.
Gaheret: The anime Jet, Spike and Faye hid a lot more behind their cool or comical facades before we got to see their game. Those moments of reveal were some of the best in the series. Here, most cards are on the table from the beginning. Spike is a dead man walking, laughing in the face of darkness, and Jet is a failed family man. Their dynamic from the anime is preserved, though. Faye Valentine suffered from this early introduction, and from being a bounty hunter like Spike rather than an adventuress or a scammer and a master of her own trade. She has less glamour or “Queen of Hearts” persona, and she seems to lack most of the abrasive or self-destructive aspects of her character (which were fun). On the bright side, we’re spared the extreme sexualization, and she has the playfulness. So, time will tell with this new Faye.
Claire: a) Spike: I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about John Cho in the lead. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some John Cho. In fact, I’ve been watching him longer than I’ve been watching anime (thank you, Badlands). He’s a fantastic wire fu and martial artist who has brought much-needed flair to small screen English-language martial arts programming (did this even exist before John Cho?). But he’s not the most expressive actor in the world, and doesn’t quite have the charm of a Keanu Reeves in order to pull off the mono-expressiveness. BUT I loved him in this premiere! I am not familiar with the “original Spike”, having not watched the anime, but I thought to myself by the end of the opening sequence that here was a match made in heaven: a character that fit Cho like a glove. It made me happy to see.
b) Jet feels like a fully-formed character right off the bat, and the perfect foil for Spike—or maybe it’s the other way around!
c) Faye gets the least development, so still remains a bit of a mystery. But Daniella Pineda does a great job of bringing the sass and kickassery in a believable way.
KhakiBlueSocks: Honestly, I don’t think you could’ve done any better with the casting. Everyone embodied their characters perfectly. Honestly these guys even SOUND like the english dub actors from the anime, which makes me wonder if the actors consulted with their dub counterparts before filming. If you were to tell me that Mustafa Shakir was dubbed over by Beau Billingslea, I would totally believe you; his voice and mannerisms are PRODIGIOUSLY in line with what we see in the anime. Also, I love the fact that the creators went ahead and cast a black guy for the role of Jet. It just feels right for that character to be African-American. Daniella Pieneda brings Faye to life, and gives her that attitude and pop that Wendee Lee brought to the role all those many years ago. And can we talk about John Cho? This guy really has the “Spike Swagger” that I was afraid wouldn’t translate from the anime. From his lumbering walk, to that quirky smile, to that very slight rumble to his voice, Cho IS Spike Spiegal, and it can only get better from here.
MDMRN: When I heard the casting I said to myself, “This cast is going to be perfect.” I remember some people on staff disagreeing with me. Now that I’ve watched the first episode, I feel that I have been entirely vindicated. Shakir was perfection as Jet and got the nuance of the original character well. Adding in the subtle sub-plot of him having a child with his ex-wife was interesting and, honestly, I thought it added some additional character depth that I was not expecting. Cho was just absolutely perfect as Spike. I do not think I could have picked a better person in the role now that I finally see him on the screen. My goodness, so good. Pieneda was absolutely great as Faye. What she brought to the role was fantastic energy that really fit the original character well. And to those complaining about the costume not being exactly like the original anime, I say – whatever. This one matches the feel of the character and is definitely making it easier for her to do her own stunts. I will end with this thought—the chemistry the cast had was fantastic and I loved how they all interact with each other. Did I mention that I loved this cast?
4. What do you think of the look and art direction in the series—the worlds, the tech, the ships, etc.?
NegativePrimes: The art and look seems very on-point. Really well done, in fact, and one of the things I enjoyed the most. In fact, in those moments when the LA version shut up and focused on the visuals of the world and the ships, the spirit of the anime broke through beautifully. The contrast with the rest of the episode, alas, made the other parts feel even more jarring in their dissonance from the original source.
Also, some of the scenes seemed shot too dark to me. It’s like somebody said, “Let’s make this show dark and gritty,” and the film crew took that literally.
Mecahawk: The look and feel of the show at this point is solid. The Bebop is a rustbucket constantly breaking down. It’s got the couch. It’s got the bathroom. It’s got wide open inner corridor. Spike’s ship and the Bebop exterior are a near perfect replica. Landing in the town and having some cool down time before the action was good with Jet and Spike going around. It’s hard for series to pace themselves these days as fans require more action and content at every moment. I appreciate that the first episode took its time and hit the plot points, turns, and twists when it needed to so as to not overwhelm the viewer but keep them still engaged. It feels in tone and flavor just like Bebop or as close as one could get given the transition requirements
KhakiBlueSocks: One thing I’ve always loved about Cowboy Bebop is the fact that the future is not shown as being this squeaky clean, all touch screen, Star Trek-esque environment where everything works perfectly. Bebop is set in the world of 2071, only 50 years from where we are now. I highly doubt that the world will go from what we know now to the Gene Roddenberry utopia we see on “Star Trek ” that quickly. The world of Bebop is grungy, dirty, worn and sometimes you have to use a bit of “percussive maintenance” to get things to work. Even though faster-than-light travel is a thing, we still use old fashioned keyboards, switches and push buttons. This adaptation does an EXCELLENT job of portraying this. It’s a future, but it’s a worn future that has known its share of catastrophes, as hinted at in the first episode when Spike talks to the old guy asking if he’s seen Asimov. I love that they’re not telling us what happened with the “Gate Incident,” but that little scene did hint that it was a highly destructive event that caused long-lasting damage.
Another thing that seems to have been added to the Bebop world is more profanity. While the swearing might not be everyone’s cup of tea, earl grey hot, I think it adds to the realism of the world that we’re watching. The anime couldn’t really get away with it because of Standards and Practices, but now that it’s on Netflix, the writers can take a few more liberties and make the dialogue sound more natural. Thankfully, not every other word is a swear, so the dialogue doesn’t sound like a bunch of teenage boys wrote it. (No offense to teenage boys)
MDMRN: This tech hit all the vibes I was expecting. It hit a lot of the same vibes that you got from Firefly – it’s rough, it’s cheap, it’s not perfect. That is exactly what I was expecting to see in the Bebop.
Gaheret: I agree. It’s just perfect, a great sci-fi setting and vibe which is both parodic and very believable. It’s all here, and that’s a great achievement.
Claire: I love the seedy brightness and colorful griminess of it all! As a sci-fi viewer (rather than re: anime, since I haven’t seen the original), Cowboy Bebop brings a very welcome new lease on life to the artistic direction in a genre that tends these days to default a little too slavishly to the bleak, dismal, dark aesthetic that was so revolutionary when Blade Runner hit the big screen…nearly forty years ago now! All that dreary industrialism is getting a bit tiring today. But so too is the classic Star Trek: Next Generation slickness. Enter Cowboy Bebop sporting the cheerfully dirty and well-worn look pioneered by Joss Whedon’s criminally short-lived Firefly, but with the color saturation and lighting cranked up to eleven. It feels like a pair of well-loved flower print bell-bottoms, and though I wouldn’t be caught dead in them myself, they are admittedly refreshing.
5. Did you like the tone of the first episode? (Note: You might comment on the humor, irreverence, “coolness,” violence, sexuality, etc.)
Claire: The tone was good! Though it be a tried and true tactic, the humorous banter tempered the violence and brutality effectively, so that you laughed more often than cringing or flinching. Here I’m thinking particularly of the opening sequence, where Spike uses a flamboyant strike to make an enemy thug stab himself twice for good measure, then executes the next in classic Indiana Jones deadpan-style. (Apparently, Indie was meant to execute some fancy foot and fist work against a swordsman for that scene but Harrison Ford was so sick with malaria or similar that he begged Spielberg just to let him shoot the guy. But I digress.) I also appreciated that all three leads were given quippy punchlines at various points, so that no one was made to be the dull one. The flashbacks to Spike’s lost lady love were a tad hokey as the filter that was used for them turned them into a kind of sexy noir sequence that sounds better in theory than it was in practice. Cringe. Overall, as I mentioned before, it hits a kind of Tarantino-lite™ vibe: not as good as the source, but pretty decent!
KhakiBlueSocks: You know, a good sign that I’m gonna like a show is if it makes me laugh within the first five minutes or so. Bebop did that with no problem. I really liked how fast paced the whole thing felt. It didn’t fell like 45 minutes, that’s for sure, and on that same note, it didn’t feel rushed. I like that the creators were careful to keep some of the core aspects of what the fans love about the original series, while giving their own creative spin on certain aspects. If this were a shot-for-shot, line-for-line recreation of the anime, it would be boring—”why am I watching this when I could just be watching the anime?” I found this first episode did a great job of both maintaining the continuity the fans are looking for, and introducing new, fresh ideas that old and new fans will like.
MDMRN: Yes. Yes. Yes Yes. Did I say, yes? I get it, it’s a Netflix series so there’s a bit more cursing than the original series. That said, the violence, the coolness, the tone, the aesthetics just fit so well that it matched up with the original series. I just could not get over how much it matched the feel that I felt watching the original series.
Gaheret: Tragicomedy is a very hard sell for me, and from episode one, the Cowboy Bebop anime may have been the greatest and most explosive tragicomedy I have ever watched. I think it’s a must-watch show, a foundational work and a peak achievement, and I respect it, but under the bright surface, it’s darker than King Lear. In this adaptation, there’s more overt sexuality, but much less fanservice, the darkness is about the same, and I think the tone matches the anime show perfectly, so I likewise respect the enormous achievement. But, it would be a ‘no’. I enjoy the great character moments, though.
NegativePrimes: As indicated in my other answers, I am conflicted about the tone. The humor is often “swing and a miss”, and there were entire lines (not from the anime) that I predicted word-for-word before they were spoken—too predictable, in other words. In some ways, the episode didn’t feel bad in itself; it just didn’t feel like Bebop.
Mecahawk: The tone was pretty spot on for Bebop though they ramped up the swearing and sexual innuendo more than I would expect given that Bebop had that fairly subdued. It didn’t seem to want to push any other boundaries than this and wanted to play into being as close as it could to the feel of the show otherwise, and I am grateful for this.
6. The episode ends with a sequence involving Vicious that gives the audience a good look at him, and a shorter look at Julia. What did you think of their introduction to the show?
NegativePrimes: Ok, I guess? Honestly left me feeling kind of flat.
Mecahawk: The scene with Julia and Vicious was unexpected because it was my impression from the anime that Julia cheated on Spike which was one of the reasons for Spike’s sorrowful memories of her, causing him to walked away, but then Julia broke up with Vicious at some point and decided to go on her own way months or years before the events of Bebop took place. This series shows Vicious and Julia in an active relationship, so it’s nearly impossible to have the relationship reflect the emotions of the original.
KhakiBlueSocks: I was surprised that they introduced Julia into the mix this early and especially that they made her and Vicious…I guess you would call them lovers? I mean, I never got the feeling of them being an item in the anime, so maybe this is a new thing they’re introducing, but it was…interesting. Elena Satine plays Julia PRODIGIOUSLY. There’s just something in her eyes when she’s looking at Vicious in the last scene that just screams “I’m terrified of you.” It’s very slight, but it’s there. Either that, or I need to put my glasses back on. With regards to Vicious, I’m getting some Lucious Malfoy vibes from him with the messy long white hair and just his overall presence, but otherwise, I think he got it down pretty well. His line “And you will cry tears of scarlet” (taken from the anime) was very nicely delivered. He might need a few more episodes to really get into the role, but so far so good.
MDMRN: The ending was just so well done. It teased you in such a huge way, especially if you had seen the original series. Just such a solid ending.
Gaheret: In my view, this is the aspect of the adaptation that could go terribly wrong. Any bad move with either Vicious or Julia will affect Spike’s character greatly. If Julia, in particular, does something jarring, or if his image of her is blurred in our minds, this will probably be a disaster. For now, they haven’t, but (again, for now), they aren’t the larger-than-life archetypal characters they are in the anime.
Claire: Yikes. This was the weakest part of the episode for me, and the moment where it started to feel like an adaptation of an anime rather than a work inspired by the series but reinterpreting it in a Western science fiction mode. (I was going to write American there, but let’s be honest, most American sci-fi these days is made in Canada!) I swear I could hear Yuta’s chunibyo voice echoing in the background… In my opinion, the ending sequence revealed far too much, and felt like it was either spoon-feeding the viewer (“it’s her, you guys, it’s her! And oh no! She’s with him! She’s with HIM!”) or in a hurry to get somewhere with this subplot fast, and so letting information dictate the pacing rather than developing the drama more organically. In short, it felt like a visual infodump and left me with a lingering taste of cheese. Just a hand reaching for her rose tattoo–no faces–would have been far more dramatic and intriguing, leaving it open as to who and when exactly all this might be.
7. The modified “Tank!” opens the show, which we figured would happen, but no “Real Folk Blues” at the end. What did you think about these choices?
Mecahawk: I am disappointed that there is no “Real Folk Blues.” They have to have it somewhere in this anime even if it’s the final credits scene of the last episode. It was one of my biggest worries before the start of the series was that they’d pull in too much influence from “Tank!” and not enough from “Real Folk Blues.” Both set the tone and the pace. You start out energetic and ready for some outer space cowboy bounty hunting action, but by the end you are left a little melancholy because of a twist or the loss of a life or a hard lesson learned which gives some time for reflection. It doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most beautiful credits songs of any show ever. I see a picture of the gray streets and the rain and you can feel the emotion the director and artists wanted to covey.
NegativePrimes: “Tank!” is excellent in its new incarnation!
KhakiBlueSocks: I’ve fallen in love with “Tank!” all over again thanks to this OP. It’s just so amazing and the title sequence is just PRODIGIOUS. As for their being no “Real Folk Blues” at the end…well…I’m not going to complain too much about that. I think they’re going to use it at the end of one of the later episodes when it really counts. Heck, the Daniel Craig era James Bond movies didn’t get a gun barrel to start the films until Spectre, so there is a precedent for remakes and reboots of established properties not giving the fans ALL the goodies. It’s like when you go Trick-Or-Treating; you don’t get ALL the treats at one house. You gotta go down the neighborhood, house by house to get all the goodies, and if they’re not good, then you break out the toilet paper. (Disclaimer: Beneath the Tangles does not advocate throwing TP on peoples houses. We are not responsible if your dumb butt gets caught red handed throwing Charmin up in trees. You did that, not us. You gotta carry that weight…)
MDMRN: I loved the modified “Tank!”; however, I have absolutely no memories of “Real Folk Blues.” The ending of the episode was fine by me and, let’s be real, I am likely to skip the ending every time as I binge episodes on Netflix when it finally drops in full. Honestly, I think I did the same thing when I watched it originally as I borrowed a friend’s copy of the series to watch it then. And the last time I watched my Blu-Ray copies of the series. So, yea, the ending change was fine by me.
Gaheret: “Tank! “feels great, and the opening animation is intriguing, even more groundbreaking than the anime’s (come on, what live action show does that?) and very, very enjoyable. And yes, there’s no “Real Folk Blues.” As another song sounds, you may remember that melancholic feeling melancholically, I guess, and be a little more in tune with Spike.
Claire: The OP was great! I enjoyed the OST throughout, despite not being a huge jazz fan. It sucked me in and suited the visuals and costuming so well.
I hope you enjoyed our sneak peak into episode one of Cowboy Bebop (2021)! As you’ll have noted, the first episode was a mixed bag—there were lots of high notes, lots of promise that got many of our writers excited. Also present, though, were some of the more worrying elements that would continue through the series, or other alarming features that could make us think that by episode ten, we might not have the same feelings as in episode one.
Still, the overall reaction to Cowboy Bebop has been decidedly mixed. Some people hate it, and especially those that loved the original series, but many have found the series to be good fun. I think you see from our staff above how both of those could be true, depending on your perspective.
We hope you’ll check it out regardless and determine on your own how Netflix is. And let us know your thoughts, both one episode one and the series as it whole, once it airs! See you, space cowboys!