Cowboy Bebop is a fan-favorite anime from the late 1990s about a makeshift crew of bounty hunters who live paycheck to paycheck and become a functional team, despite being dysfunctional individuals. It features high-quality animation, an outstanding soundtrack, amazing character designs and one of the best English dubs in the history of anime.
With Cowboy Bebop's live-action adaptation set to debut November 19 on Netflix, expectations are naturally high. From the promo photos revealing anime-accurate costumes to the return of legendary composer Yoko Kanno, fans of the classic anime are hungry for more details. But to truly stand toe-to-toe with the original, there are five essential details the live-action version needs to get right.
Cowboy Bebop Needs To Blend Genres
Cowboy Bebop stands the test of time thanks to its ability to mix unlikely genres in a way that feels organic and augments its storytelling. For the most part, the anime is a space opera set in a distant future where the characters primarily reside in space and travel to various planets and satellites in the solar system. Visited planets include Earth, Venus and Mars, but also moons like Titan, Ganymede, Europa and Io. While these places are uninhabitable in real life, the anime depicts them as having been successfully terraformed with Earth-like qualities, lending to outstanding visuals.
In terms of story and character development, this is where Cowboy Bebop blends in other genres. Prior to becoming bounty hunters, both Spike Spiegel and Jet Black have backstories that borrow heavily from the noir genre. Spike was involved in organized crime, while Jet used to be a police officer with character traits associated with the hardboiled detective. Faye Valentine similarly has character developments that borrow from the femme fatale archetype in noir stories. Not only do the characters all work as bounty hunters, but many of the outlaws they capture tend to subscribe to western archetypes as well.
The Bebop Crew Are All United By Tragic Pasts
Cowboy Bebop's main characters have significantly diverse backgrounds that make it unlikely they'd ever get along, yet they're able to work together because they all have one thing in common: they found each other after experiencing personal tragedies. The Netflix adaptation will do well to preserve each of these backstories.
Protagonist Spike is seemingly an orphan who was taken in by crime boss Mao Yenrai of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. While Spike respected him as a father figure, he ultimately had a falling out with his family after falling in love with a woman named Julia, who was also the girlfriend of his crime brother, Vicious. Spike had planned to leave the Syndicate with Julia but was found out by Vicious, who nearly succeeded in murdering his brother.
In contrast with Spike, Jet Black had an ordinary life prior to his life as a bounty hunter. He was a police officer staunchly dedicated to justice -- but it cost him his relationship with his girlfriend Alisa, leaving an emotional scar in his heart. He especially hit rock bottom when he was betrayed by his former partner, resulting in the loss of both his job and his left arm.
Faye Valentine is perhaps the most tragic member of the Bebop crew. Born in 1994, Faye originally came from a wealthy family in Singapore before she was the victim of a space shuttle accident that put her in suspended animation for over 50 years. Upon waking up, Faye had no memories of her life prior to the accident and was quickly exploited by a con artist. After being saddled with a lifetime of debt, Faye struggled to trust others and was forced to fend for herself in an unfamiliar future with no living relatives.
Julia's Disappearance Needs To Remain A Mystery
One of Cowboy Bebop's bigger mysteries that will require careful navigation is the disappearance of Julia, whose status isn't revealed until near the end of the series. This is an important development for Spike's character arc in particular. Prior to the events of the present storyline, little is known about Julia, who she is or where she comes from. All that's revealed about her is through brief flashbacks of Spike's and Vicious's past relationships with her.
The lingering questions visited throughout the course of Cowboy Bebop include: What happened to Julia? Did she run away? Was she murdered by Vicious? Why did she not meet with Spike at the time and place they agreed? Where is Julia hiding if she's still alive? Each of these is touched on in various episodes, frequently leading to more questions than answers. This helps keep Julia an intriguing character, even though she doesn't appear in the present timeline until the story's end.
Vicious Needs To Be Spike's Former Crime Brother
Another important preservation in Netflix's adaptation will be Spike's past brotherhood with Vicious, when both were members of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. In many ways, their relationship is the driving force of Cowboy Bebop's overarching storyline. Many of the conflicts are informed by Vicious's own coup of organized crime, while his betrayal of key figures endangers the lives of people who are important to Spike.
In addition, their character arcs parallel each other. They were the favorite sons of Mao Yenrai and the strongest candidates to succeed him as leader of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. Both are highly skilled fighters, and as a duo they were truly a force to be reckoned with. Prior to their fallout, Vicious was an important person in Spike's life. What ultimately drove them apart was not their love for the same woman, but a difference in character -- Spike being more loyal to the people he loves and Vicious being perfectly fine with murdering them in pursuit of his own goals.
Spike's Relationship With Faye Is Not Romantic
Cowboy Bebop's Netflix adaptation should also work to preserve the platonic partnership between Spike and Faye Valentine. As tempting as it is to see the lead man and woman fall in love, Spike and Faye really do not work as mutual love interests on multiple levels. While Faye has some respect for Spike as a fellow bounty hunter, his attitude toward assertive women is largely misogynistic, which Faye finds off-putting. As Spike himself once expressed in a conversation with Jet Black, he doesn't like "women with attitudes."
While Spike has some sympathy for Faye's unfortunate circumstances, he (for the most part) doesn't respect her all that much. He often scolds her for every mistake, expresses annoyance when she asserts her boundaries and rightfully demands her share of a bounty, and tends to keep any relationship with Faye at arms' length. While the Netflix series can certainly improve some aspects of their relationship so Spike doesn't come off as misogynistic, it should still avoid pairing them off in a romantic capacity as it wouldn't benefit either of their individual storylines.