‘Cowboy Bebop’ Premiere: 3, 2, 1, Let’s Jam (RECAP)

John Cho as Spike, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, Daniella Pineda as Faye in Cowboy Bebop
Spoiler Alert
Netflix

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Season 1 Episode 1, “Cowboy Gospel.”]

In the lead-up to Bebop’s November 19 release, showrunner André Nemec said in interviews that he was determined to keep the “spirit” of the anime alive, without necessarily doing a one-to-one adaptation. And that’s not inherently a bad thing: An adaptation doesn’t need to be, and in fact, shouldn’t be, a direct translation of the original. That remixed approach is evident throughout “Cowboy Gospel,” which is a version of the show’s original premiere, “Asteroid Blues.”

The major question for longtime fans is, of course: Does it work? The answer: Results are mixed. The jazz score, composed by Yoko Kanno of the original anime, is excellent. John Cho does quite well in translating Spike to flesh and blood; he nails the character’s posture, mannerisms and iconic, smooth-as-jazz voice. Mustafa Shakir is good, too, as the straightforward, kindhearted Jet. Daniella Pineda plays Faye with an energy it’d be impossible to dislike. But on the whole, the script is uneven: The dialogue is stilted, and exposition lands with the subtlety of an asteroid. Plus, there’s an addition of a storyline that might baffle fans of the original—more on that below.

COWBOY BEBOP (L to R) JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL in COWBOY BEBOP

KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021

The episode opens with Spike (John Cho) and Jet (Mustafa Shakir) going after a group of baddies holding a space-casino hostage. Narratively, it allows the show to set up a few beats — Spike and Jet’s friendly banter, the show’s overall offbeat tone, and the unglamorous life of a “cowboy”: They get the guy and turn him in to the police, but because the casino was also hugely damaged in the fight, they don’t get paid much and are still looking for ways to make money. That, at least, is true to the original.

The need for some quick woolongs — so they can eat, but also so Jet can give his daughter, who didn’t exist in the original, a gift for her birthday—sends them on a quest for gangster Asimov (Jay Uddin) As in the original, Asimov is involved in the dealing of a drug called “Red-Eye,” which, as the script so eloquently puts it, is like “mainlining god.” Asimov’s problem is that he keeps getting high on his own supply to get out of scrapes, which is having nasty side effects on him. And the problem for his wife, Katerina (Lydia Peckham), is that she just wants them to start a new life together on Mars.

COWBOY BEBOP (L to R) JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL in COWBOY BEBOP

KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021

So, Jet and Spike manage to track the duo down after Asimov gets into a bar fight with what looks like a rival gang; Spike has a conversation with Katerina about love, which gives us our very first glimpse into his ultra-tragic romantic history. He says that the love he had “was a dream” and eventually, he “woke up.” But he’s clearly not over this blonde-haired, rose-tattooed woman who surfaces in flashbacks — and in another potentially controversial change, on the live-action adaptation, she appears in the flesh early on, too.

But before that, Spike and Jet rather bungle their quest to take in Asimov. They track him and his girlfriend to a shipyard, knowing that they’ll try and steal a ship to escape. They’re sabotaged by Faye (Daniella Pineda) another early addition, but not an unwelcome one—who’s after Katerina to hand her back to her ultra-wealthy father. More gangsters show up, chaos ensues, Faye shoots Asimov, Katerina gets him and herself onto a ship and flies away, Spike goes after them, they wind up being killed by forces stationed at the ring-gate portals. “It’s time to wake up,” Katerina tells Spike over the radio before she flies toward them, knowing it’ll mean her death. Again, this is a change: Katerina kills her love and then herself in the original, saying “we will never make it to Mars now.” Either way, Spike is saddened.

In what is undoubtedly the largest change from the source material, a storyline is introduced at the end of the episode involving Julia (Elena Satine). Turns out, those baddies after Asimov weren’t run-of-the-mill gangsters — they were from the Red Dragon Syndicate, Spike’s former employer, and they worked for a white-haired man named Vicious (Alex Hassell). They tell him “Fearless” is alive — a name change introduced for the live-action version—and, furthermore, we discover that Julia is currently (and unhappily) married to Vicious, which she certainly was not in the anime.

Cowboy Bebop, Season 1, Streaming Now, Netflix