When adaptations come up, there will very obviously be changes. Especially when there are two different media at play or years passed. Of course, this happened in the Netflix live-action version of Cowboy Bebop. Things like the story and characterizations are bound to shift. But in the case of this version? That’s when I felt the show most fell apart. Many major Cowboy Bebop characters — like Jet Black, Ein, and Faye Valentine — experience changes that go beyond what you’d expect. The result is a sense that the people preparing this adaptation either didn’t feel confident enough in who they were in the original to let them be themselves.
Spoilers for Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop follow.
This first comes up with Jet. While he starts out as the character we remember, a notable change comes up as an aside in the first episode. Rather than simply having “dad energy,” as he did in the original series, he is now an actual father. He has a daughter named Kimmie. She ends up being a recurring concept and character. It left me feeling like they didn’t trust Jet’s original motivations to be compelling enough for the Netflix Cowboy Bebop adaption. So they felt a need to create new ones with a sudden daughter.
Likewise, the inclusion of Kimmie seemed like a fabricated excuse to provide a different “reason” to add another cast member. Netflix’s version of Cowboy Bebop brings Ein on board in an episode that showcases none of the dog’s intelligence. Instead, the character happened to be among a few dogs there. His importance to Hakim, introduction to Spike, and importance in the moment isn’t there.
To make things worse, once the show establishes Ein, it isn’t for his intelligence. Rather, more robotic elements come into play. Which again ties into my thoughts that when preparing the show, Ein “wasn’t enough.” A dog that was as smart as the humans around him? Perhaps even smarter and more intuitive? That wouldn’t be compelling or as interesting as one that displays messages.
Faye suffers from this in the Netflix version of Cowboy Bebop as well. It feels like there’s this rush to introduce her to the cast and dynamic, rather than letting the relationship between Jet and Spike Spiegel develop. She shows up right in the first episode. And in so doing, the show abandons elements of her character and personality.
An intensely flawed and powerful woman, with nuanced appearances that hinted at her true intentions and offered commentary on how desperation and loss can shape a person? Nope! Instead, we have annoying, crass, and in-your-face behavior. This is a Faye who will resort to foul language, rather than the crafty, even subtle, behavior we knew. There was always some element of “we don’t know everything about her, because she doesn’t know everything about herself.” Not to mention the absence of any mention of her debt removes major motivations for her.
The only one of the major Cowboy Bebop characters who seems to be more of “himself” is Spike. This isn’t to say it is a perfect take on the character. Rather, it seems like the show preserves more of his anime personality. Important facets are gone. For example, his eyes aren’t the same, removing more wistful commentary on his past and present. There’s also a new reference to him being fearless. Not to mention the dynamic between Julia and Spike feels different here, due to new story elements with them and Vicious.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is its own thing, and people watching will have to expect characters, stories, and elements will change. But there are times when the approach can feel questionable. Decisions seem like they were made because of a lack of understanding or perhaps a concern about how characters might be received. The result is this version of Cowboy Bebop might leave someone feeling like Faye is rushed or without nuance. Or that characters like Jet or Ein needed “more” to be interesting.