Netflix's Cowboy Bebop: Everything We Know About The Live-Action Adaptation
While anime continued to grow in popularity in the West throughout the '80s and early '90s, for the most part it remained a cult genre with dedicated fans in the US served by releases on small video labels. It wasn't until the late '90s that several titles helped break anime to a much wider audience. Pokémon was one show of course, and Cowboy Bebop was another.
Cowboy Bebop was created by director Shinichirō Watanabe, and began life as a sci-fi show designed to promote a Bandai toyline. But when this deal fell through, Watanabe developed a more adult series alongside writer Keiko Nobumoto, that focused on a team of intergalactic bounty hunters who travel through space in their ship the Bebop.
The show combined many influences, from epic space fantasy and dark cyberpunk to comedy, westerns, and film noir, and made frequent reference to classic movies and different musical genres. And while the show delivered plenty of exciting action, it also put equal emphasis on the characters and their relationships with each other, and dealt with a variety of philosophical concepts. Plus, it had an amazing, eclectic musical score by Yoko Kanno and her band Seatbelts.
Cowboy Bebop premiered in Japan in 1998, but it took three years to reach the US. It first screened on Cartoon Network's late night programming block Adult Swim in September 2001, and was an immediate success. Adult Swim repeated the show in its entirety four more times over the next few years, and together with subsequent home entertainment releases, helped confirm its place as an anime classic that drew a new generation of western fans to the genre.
In June 2017, it was reported that an American live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop was in development, with original Japanese producers Sunrise Inc. involved. Netflix confirmed that it was producing the show in late 2018, with the first cast members announced a few months later. While it's not surprising that such a popular and influential series is getting a live-action makeover, it remains to be seen if the new show can recapture the unique blend of elements that makes the original so special. But with Shinichirō Watanabe acting as a consultant on the series, plus a talented cast and crew on board, there's reason to be hopeful. So here's everything we know so far about Cowboy Bebop.
What's the release date?
Cowboy Bebop doesn't have a release date yet. But with production underway for several months now--in two stages--a release towards the end of 2021 seems possible.
Cowboy Bebop will star John Cho (Star Trek, Searching) in the main role as bounty hunter Spike Spiegel. Cho was first announced in April 2019, alongside three other main cast members--Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage) as the Bebop's captain Jet Black, Daniella Pineda (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) as amnesiac bounty hunter Faye Valentine, and Alex Hassell (The Boys) as hitman Vicious.
More names were added to the cast in 2020. They were Elena Satine (Strange Angel) as Julia, Geoff Stults (12 Strong) as Chalmers, Tamara Tunie (Better Call Saul) as Ana, Mason Alexander Park (Acting for a Cause) as Gren, Rachel House (Thor Ragnarok) as Mao, Ann Truong (Romper Stomper) as Shin, and Hoa Xuande (Top of the Lake) as Lin.
Who's the showrunner?
The Cowboy Bebop showrunner and main writer is Javier Grillo-Marxuach. His previous TV credits include writing for shows such as Lost, Dark Crystal: Age of Extinction, Charmed, Helix, and Medium.
Who else is involved?
We know that Alex Garcia Lopez is directing the first two episodes, while Christopher Yost has written the first episode. Lopez previously directed episodes of Daredevil and Cloak and Dagger, while Yost wrote The Mandalorian Season 1 episode "The Prisoner," as well as co-writing Thor Ragnarok and Thor: The Dark World.
Is there any footage?
No Cowboy Bebop footage or images have been revealed yet. However, a short behind-the-scenes video was released in December last year. It didn't exactly reveal anything but had the novelty of being shot from the perspective of Ein the Corgi, the Bebop's super-smart canine crewmember.
Were there any production delays?
While every major TV and movie production was delayed in 2020, filming on Cowboy Bebop had already been suspended prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In December, Cho injured his knee while shooting a "routine and well-rehearsed scene" which required surgery and extensive rehabilitation. At the time, it was reported that this could take as long as seven months, and production was paused; but of course, by mid-March this year everyone was stuck at home anyway. New Zealand's successful handling of the pandemic meant that it was one of the first countries to restart TV and movie productions, and in September, work resumed on Cowboy Bebop.
How will it differ from the anime?
If there's one thing we've learned from previous adaptations of much-loved books, comics, and anime, it's that fans are very protective of the source material. Grillo-Marxuach has stressed that he won't be making radical changes to what Cowboy Bebop fans love about the original show. As he told Slashfilm in June: "You can't look at Cowboy Bebop and say, 'Well, it's just a take-off point. We're going to give them different hair and different clothing, and we're gonna call it something different.' And it's just sort of gonna be a loose thing. If you're doing Cowboy Bebop, you're doing Cowboy Bebop. You know? It's kind of like doing Star Wars."
Nevertheless, Grillo-Marxuach did stress that the show wouldn't be a direct adaptation of the anime, and would expand on characters and their individual stories. "You've got a show where you have 26 episodes that are full of very colorful villains, very colorful stories, very colorful adversaries, bounties, and all of that," he said. "We're not going to go one-to-one on all of those stories because we're also trying to tell the broader story of Spike Spiegel and the Syndicate, Spike Spiegel and Julia, Spike Spiegel and Vicious, and all that. But we are looking at the show and saying, 'Who are some of the great villains in this show, and how can we put them into this into this broader narrative?' So that we are telling both of the big stories that Cowboy Bebop tells."