Netflix's new take on Cowboy Bebop is now streaming worldwide and new fans to the series and fans of the original anime have been debating quite a bit over whether or not it sticks the landing. While these two audiences have wildly different opinions depending on how beholden they are to that original material, what many of these mixed reviews agree on is that there are some aspects of the series that could stand to be fixed and improved for the highly likely, and almost inevitable second season of the series.
A second season has yet to be officially announced as of this writing, but the fans of this new Cowboy Bebop have definitely made Netflix aware that they want to see a second season. There were many spinning plates to balance with this debut season, many hurdles to overcome, and a high bar to meet for fans of the original anime, but that's all out of the way now. Netflix's Cowboy Bebop could do well with a clean slate for the second season, and should use this opportunity to iron out some of the more noticeable wrinkles.
Much of the complaints from fans of the original anime can be boiled down to the fact that this live-action version often doesn't "feel" like the same Cowboy Bebop from before. Oddly enough, this is actually the Netflix series' biggest strength. The main characters here have wildly different characterizations than before that fit the new tone for this new kind of world. It's a much less gritty representation of the future, and the bounty hunter "cowboy" career is far more glamorous and seemingly "fun" than a career Spike, Jet, and Faye were forced into because of so little options.
It's a heightened world and presentation that fits a whole new kind of series that should honestly distance itself further from the original anime. The main Bebop crew have had altered characterizations that range from the subtle (such as Spike's Eastern Religion philosophies and medicinal techniques being lost in the live-action version) and more noticeable (such as Faye losing the mountain of debt and gambling problems that the original version of the character has), but it all fits this new kind of universe.
This new Cowboy Bebop emphasizes the "fun" inherent in the base premise of the original, and therefore gets bogged down unnecessarily when it decides to go back and directly adapt the anime. The best episodes of the first season are ones that take inspiration from the original anime and use those roots to tell a new kind of story. Episodes such as "Gallileo Hustle" and "Binary Two-Step" change much from the original stories they are based on, but add in a dash of original content that fits this new kind of tone.
The second season should lean into this far more. The episodic adventures that highlight the strengths of these new characterizations are too few and far in-between, and when the series is firing on all cylinders, there's a palpable energy and breezy dynamic between John Cho, Daniella Pineda, and Mustafa Shakir. It's a shame that the binging model of the streamer means every episode needs to tie into each other too, but the second season should choose to have more of these individual stories that let the characters shine in random situations.
The series oddly feels bogged down when it decides to directly adapt something from the anime beat for beat because it's established its own tone and style so well. It becomes such a completely different experience that when it tries to do the same thing as the anime, it often falls flat on its face. The best example of this is the premiere episode actually. It takes Spike's casual fight in a convenience store (from the movie) and shifts it to a casino heist in the middle of space. It's a heightened opening that's somehow even more cartoonish than the original, but works far better than the ending.
The end of the premiere episode directly lifts from the original's "Asteroid Blues" opening, and while it changes some things, it also fails to capture the same heartbreaking spirit the original has because it's a much different Spike and Katerina. It's not like this new series is absent of emotionally striking moments (such as Faye's watching that VHS of her younger self, Spike's virtual world loop with Julia, or Jet attending his daughter's show), but they're such a different kind of sadness, a different kind of emotion, that going back to the tone of the anime for a scene or two really throws it all off.4comments
The first season of Netflix's Cowboy Bebop proves that the team is willing to make decisions that make it dramatically different from the original anime, and the series needs to keep doing that for Season 2. It's not going to be the anime, and never will be, but that doesn't mean it can't be a more effective project in its own right. It just needs to lean into that uniqueness more, and going by that cliffhanger, that seems to be the idea.
But what do you think? What would you want to see in Cowboy Bebop Season 2? What did you think of this debut season? Let us know all of your thoughts about it in the comments! You can even reach out to me directly about all things animated and other cool stuff @Valdezology on Twitter!