On November 19, Netflix is set to launch a live-action adaptation of iconic anime series Cowboy Bebop starring John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda. As part of its recent Tudum event festivities, the streaming platform showed off its brand new, surprisingly good opening credits sequence for the series. Well, “brand new” might be overselling it, because the reason the Netflix intro is such a pleasant surprise is because it retains the original theme song (series composer Yoko Kanno’s “Tank!”) and the aesthetics are pulled straight from the original anime.
In another unexpected move, the new intro features direct references to a bunch of episodes from the original anime, meaning those episodes are either being directly adapted into live-action or are at least informing the kinds of stories that Netflix and showrunner André Nemec are aiming to tell. So, for Cowboy Bebop newcomers curious about where to start and experienced bounty hunters who are rightfully a little wary of yet another live-action anime adaptation from Netflix alike, here are eight Cowboy Bebop episodes referenced in the Netflix intro (in chronological order) and what they can tell us about the new version of the show.
Jan Uddin and Lydia Peckham as Asimov and Katerina from episode one, “Asteroid Blues”
What’s the reference? Cowboy Bebop takes place in the future, in a world where mankind has moved out into space and freelance bounty hunters who call themselves “cowboys” get paid to hunt down space-criminals. In the first episode of the anime, Jet and Spike take a job to capture a guy named Asimov who betrayed his organised crime syndicate and made off with a stash of a sci-fi drug called Bloody Eye. Spike ends up bumping into Asimov’s seemingly pregnant girlfriend, Katerina, and realises that Asimov has been using the Bloody Eye on himself and brutally murdering people who get in his way.
What does this mean? “Asteroid Blues” is as standard as Cowboy Bebop episodes get, to the point where if you were going to adapt one, this is the one to do. Including Asimov and Katerina in the credits indicates that the Netflix show is going to embrace at least some of the “bad guy of the week” format of the anime where the adventures themselves don’t carry over from episode to episode but the interactions between characters do.
Abdul Hakim from episode two, “Stray Dog Strut”
What’s the reference? Spike and Jet are tracking a man named Abdul Hakim who has stolen a suspiciously valuable lab animal: a super-intelligent “data dog.” Spike and Jet, not knowing or caring about the larger story they’ve stumbled into, just see Abdul as another bounty and the dog as wacky annoyance — until the job gets bungled and they decide to just keep the dog.
What does this mean? The dog, which Jet names Ein, also pops up in the Netflix intro and has been prominently featured in the teaser images (because the dog is very cute). Showing Abdul in the credits implies that we’ll get Ein’s backstory at some point.
Adrienne Barbeau as “Twinkle” Maria Murdock from episode four, “Gateway Shuffle”
What’s the reference? The Space Warriors are a group of eco-terrorists fighting to protect the environment of loveable space-animals like the Ganymede Sea Rat (which their masks are modelled after). Their leader is a woman named Maria Murdock who wants to set off a virus that will turn humans into apes.
What does this mean? This is another “bad guy of the week” episode in the anime, but “Gateway Shuffle” is probably better remembered for having a very cool space battle. The CG that would be required to make something like that look cool in live-action would be pretty pricey, but the Netflix intro does have a shot of Spike’s private spaceship, the Swordfish II, taking off, which hopefully means we’ll see some good space battles.
Alex Hassell as Vicious from episode five, “Ballad Of Fallen Angels”
What’s the reference? After avoiding any and all reminders of his life before becoming a bounty hunter, the past catches up to Spike when Faye falls into a trap and gets kidnapped by Spike’s old friend-turned-nemesis, Vicious. Their “final” battle happens in a very ornate old cathedral, the perfect setting for the operatic melodrama that ensues, and this shot — with Vicious pinning Spike to the ground with his katana and Spike holding Vicious at point-blank range with his gun in front of an enormous stained glass window — is straight out of the anime.
What does this mean? At the very least, the live-action show is going to try and bring the same level of operatic melodrama to the feud between Spike and Vicious. Seeing as how the show’s treatment of its enigmatic villain is going to be a major test for how successfully it evokes the spirit of the original, this seems like a positive sign that it just might have a handle on him.
Mason Alexander Park as Gren from episode 12, “Jupiter Jazz”
What’s the reference? Chasing a false lead on the location of his long-lost love Julia, Spike ends up with the Bebop crew on one of Jupiter’s frigid moons, crossing paths with a mysterious musician named Gren who also has a history with Vicious. Faye gets little teases of everyone’s backstory, including a reveal that Vicious and Gren fought together in a big space war.
What does this mean? Backstory for Vicious, at least, and maybe even an expanded or modified backstory at that. The depiction of Gren in the anime hasn’t aged super well (for reasons that may be a spoiler), but the character has been reimagined as non-binary for Netflix. Pre-release materials also suggest that they’ll have some history with Spike as well, though they never really interacted in the anime beyond their shared animosity toward their mutual friend-turned-nemesis.
Josh Randall as Mad Pierrot from episode 20, “Pierrot Le Fou”
What’s the reference? Mad Pierrot is a seemingly immortal assassin who was experimented on by mysterious figures, giving him the ability to repel bullets and (sort of) fly. While trying to execute the scientists who made him that way, he accidentally bumps into Spike and comes very close to murdering our bounty hunter hero. Other than Vicious, Pierrot is one of the most memorable villains in the anime — both because of how terrifying he is and because of the unnerving end to his fight with Spike.
What does this mean? “Pierrot Le Fou” comes deep in the original run of the anime, at a point when a lot of the storylines are starting to quietly set up Spike’s headspace for the finale. You can understand Netflix wanting to tell this story in its adaptation, but it’s a story that works to beat Spike down a little after a whole series where he’s generally super-chill and charming. It’ll be interesting to see if Mad Pierrot has the same impact when there aren’t 19 other occasionally dopey bad guys to be compared with.
Rodney Cook as Teddy Bomber, a.k.a. Ted Bower from episode 22, “Cowboy Funk”
What’s the reference? The Teddy Bomber is a terrorist whose targets are related to some kind of problem he has with modern society. He never really gets a chance to make his case, though, because the two bounty hunters trying to catch him are Spike and a guy named Cowboy Andy who looks and acts a whole lot like Spike but actually dresses like a cowboy.
What does this mean? “Cowboy Funk” is a full-on comedy episode of the anime, but one of the central jokes is that Spike’s all-consuming hatred for Cowboy Andy makes it impossible for him to see that they’re basically the same person. Like with the villain’s scariness in “Pierrot Le Fou,” the joke plays well because Spike’s character has been well-established over the course of the series. That would be a huge swing for Netflix to take right away, so it seems more likely that Teddy Bomber is going to show up in some other context.
Ira Munn and Lucy Currey as Punch And Judy from Big Shot
What’s the reference? Shucks howdy! Big Shot is an in-universe TV show that bounty hunters watch to get information on their targets. It’s basically a running background joke in the series, with hosts Punch and Judy eventually having their own minor storyline that happens on the sidelines. Bonus reference: The big pile of monitors is a reference to “Brain Scratch,” an episode where the Bebop crew investigate a vaguely Ghost In The Shell-flavored cult.
What does this mean? “Brain Scratch” seems like a solid choice for a straight adaptation, but at the very least, it’s good to see characters like Punch and Judy get a nod even though they don’t play a real role in the plot of the original series.