One of the things I really hoped when this show was announced was that it wouldn’t be a shot-for-shot remake of the anime and right out the gate Cowboy Bebop establishes that, while this show is true to the spirit of the source material, it’s its own thing. Even though we get several storylines from the original series they’re just different enough that I truly didn’t know how anything was going to go down. This allows the show to feel like the original but as if the characters, and how they come to be a found family, are from an alternate universe.
From a purely visual standpoint, this show looks so good. Just visually stunning, bright and colorful with smart uses of different styles for different moments, the Londes episode comes to mind, that really makes this look like an anime come to life while still obeying the laws of physics and reality. The fight scenes are choreographed so well and immediately made me think of old school kung fu movies and that is exactly the vibe I should be getting for this show.
As for the cast… I have been ready for the John Cho supremacy to happen for years, and seeing him in this part was not a disappointment. He gets Spike Spiegel in all his shades, from the goofball, to the assassin and everything in between. You fall in love with Spike from the moment Cho enters the scene in the iconic suit, smiles that megawatt smile and starts beating the brakes off of everyone in sight. He is Spike Spiegel and his ease in the role makes it hit even harder when we realize just how terribly Spike screwed up and how his actions have hurt everyone he’s cared about, past and present.
Mustafa Shakir’s Jet Black is heartbreaking. This is a man who, through no fault of his own, has lost everything and no matter what he does he can’t seem to get it back. One of the biggest changes on the show is making Alisa his former wife, instead of his girlfriend, and giving them a child together. This makes the tragedy of his fall from grace as an officer of the ISSP even worse. Shakir nails a man who is still a damn fine detective, an aspect of his character that gets expanded on in the series in a great way, and a family man, who is floundering without both of those touchstones. Shakir makes Jet so layered, both melancholy and judgmental in equal parts yet weirdly naive, this is someone who always wants to believe the best in people and is inevitably disappointed when those he cares for don’t live up to his ideals.
Danielle Pineda is downright adorable as Faye Valentine. I have to be honest Faye is a character who, until about halfway through her storyline in the original anime, I could give or take but Pineda imbues Faye with a vulnerability and competence from the get go that makes you see why Jet immediately takes a liking to her and why she gets on Spike’s last nerve. The dynamic between the three is very sibling-esqe and a lot of that goes to how well Pineda meshes with Cho and Shakir. Everyone’s story is a tragedy but Faye’s, whew, it hurts man, and Pineda makes you care so very much. And her comedic timing is glorious. There are so many moments that her delivery of a line had me stopping the show, I was laughing so hard. I can’t wait to see more of how her storyline from the anime plays out in Season 2.
While I love the casting of everyone, I have to be honest: Vicious is not as terrifying as he should be. Vicious is supposed to be the darker side of Spike: just as calm, cool and collected, just as charming so that when he does show his insanity, it’s so much more terrifying for its unexpectedness. In the show, while Vicious is an utter psychopath he’s out of control almost from the first episode and frankly that undercuts his mystique and the fear he should inspire in both Spike and the audience. Alex Hassell does a great job, and at certain points I genuinely felt sorry for Vicious because, with the change in his backstory you realize he never had a chance to be anything but what he is, but I think he would have benefited from more subtle writing.
The writing for the show is overall pretty spot on but, and I know I sound like an old lady, the excessive cursing is distracting and feels forced at points. We know that this show is going to be even darker than the anime, due to it being on Netflix and not Adult Swim but the language doesn’t feel adult, instead coming across as if children who have heard ‘bad words’ and are now repeating them outside of their parents earshot because they can.
Julia, Julia, Julia. In the original anime Julia isn’t a person, sorry, guys, she’s not. She’s an object that Spike, Vicious and the audience project their fantasies onto. We literally never have her described as anything other than ‘one hell of a woman’ and variations on that theme. So, giving Julia more to do is smart, it makes her more than the lost Lenore and an actual fleshed out character. Just like in the anime, there’s a fair amount of blame to go around between Julia, Spike and Vicious for why everything goes sideways and Elena Satine takes you every step of the way on her journey, showing you exactly why this woman is the key to the entire plot. Where she goes in season 2 will be very interesting.
Expanding Ana’s part and the casting of Tamara Tunie is genius. She is utterly fantastic and you believe the maternal love she has for Spike, Julia and Gren and just how far she would go to protect them. Then there’s John Noble, who is everyone‘s worst dad, I swear. Every time he shows up he’s a good time but it’s almost never for anything good. Last but not least, Ein is every bit as adorable as in the anime and a little badass to boot.
The characters created solely for the show are fantastic as are the guest stars like the legendary A Martinez and Adrienne Barbeau. However, I do wish the three characters whose relationships with Spike and Vicious are almost as complicated as Julia’s: Gren, Shin and Lin, had been given more to do and allowed their actors to be more than just background noise.
Watching the crew of the Bebop find each other in this universe was a delight and when Spike’s past comes roaring back to destroy his future it is a gut punch. Especially knowing that, while the terrible things that happen would probably always happen due to the players involved, so much of it could’ve been prevented had Spike just… told the truth.
Overall this season is almost everything I hoped for, with room to grow into something not just good, but great and with the way the season ended, I think big things are coming.
4 out of 5 Bullets
P.S. Stay tuned to our podcast where we’ll do a spoiler filled deep dive into the show next week!