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SYFY WIRE Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop: What to know about the series before it hits Netflix

Here's your handy guide to the anime-inspired, bounty hunt-driven new sci-fi series ahead of its Neflix debut.

By Matthew Jackson
Cowboy Bebop Showrunner Digs Into How 'Cowboy With a Broken Heart' Tale Drives Netflix Series

This fall, one of the most anticipated sci-fi stories of the year will arrive, but it's not a new story, or even a classic story on the page coming to the screen for the first time. This story is one of the greatest anime series ever conceived making its way to live-action after years of development, fan skepticism, and anticipation. Now, with trailers and first look images that all point toward it being on the right track, Cowboy Bebop is almost here, and we're more than ready to head back out into its Wild West version of a colonized solar system. 

But let's say you haven't been following the whole development saga that brought this live-action project from idea to hot casting item to the release of its internet-breaking trailers. Let's say you've only kept one eye on it, or you heard it was coming but didn't pay attention, or you followed it for a while and now you want a refresher of what to expect. That's where we come in. From the story to the ensemble cast to the tie-in stories, here's what you need to know about Cowboy Bebop ahead of its Netflix premiere.

When will Cowboy Bebop be released?

Cowboy Bebop was first announced as a live action adaptation of the beloved anime (created by director Shinichiro Watanabe and writer Keiko Nobumoto in 1998) way back in 2017, when Netflix revealed it had begun developing the project with Tomorrow Studios, writer Christopher Yost, and eventual showrunner Andre Nemec. It wasn't until nearly two years later, in the spring of 2019, that the show's cast was announced, launching the adaptation into production for what was originally planned as a 2020 release. 

Then, a few complications arose. First, series star John Cho suffered a knee injury in the fall of 2019 that delayed the remainder of shooting on the series for several months. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, putting a hold on virtually all film and TV production around the world for quite some time. Eventually, though Cowboy Bebop got back on track, and Netflix slotted it for a final release date of Nov. 19, 2021. All 10 episodes of the series will hit the streaming service that day. 


What's the story behind Cowboy Bebop?

Based on the anime of the same name, Cowboy Bebop is set in the late 21st century at a time when humanity has moved out into the wider solar system and the crime rate has steadily risen. To combat the increase in outlaws, the government sets up a bounty hunting system in which licensed hunters (known as "Cowboys" in the anime) track down targets for cash. It's within this system that we meet Spike Spiegel, a bounty hunter and former member of a criminal syndicate who spends his time catching collars with his partner, ex-cop Jet Black, in Jet's ship, the Bebop. Along the way, they cross paths with a con artist, fellow bounty hunter, and amnesiac named Faye Valentine, a young expert hacker named Ed, and a genius Corgi named Ein, as they work together to corner targets and earn a living. 

But it's not all bounty hunting adventures and wild space chases, because Spike's past ultimate catches up with him. In his syndicate days, Spike had a major falling out with his former partner, Vicious, over a woman named Julia who they both fell in love with. In the years since leaving the Syndicate, Spike has managed to steer clear of his past and its dangers, but these things only stay hidden for so long, and eventually the two men will be on a collision course. 

Cowboy Bebop Trailer Still

Who's who in Cowboy Bebop?

When it comes to Cowboy Bebop, many fans agreed that the casting of the show all hinged on who the producers would choose to play Spike Spiegel, the wise-cracking bounty hunter with the dark past. The fandom was seemingly delighted when Star Trek star John Cho was cast in the role, though some wondered what that would mean for the relative age of the characters. Here's what showrunner Andre Nemec told SYFY WIRE about that:

“I can't imagine anyone being Spike Spiegel but John Cho because John brings a depth to the character. He's incredibly facile with humor. He's quick-witted. He can be laconic like Spike Spiegel. I think the anime had true moments of ennui, and true moments of dramatic pain that really did require someone, again, with that depth that John brought. While in the anime, it's okay to sort of play the younger version. But in today's world and in live action, the actor needed to be able to bring that essence as well. And that just required a more mature actor.”

For the rest of the Bebop crew, Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage) was chosen to play Jet Black, and Danielle Pineda (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) was the pick for Faye Valentine. As for Ed...well, Ed remains a mystery that hasn't been revealed in any announcements or trailers just yet. The rest of the main cast features Alex Hassell playing Spike's former friend turned rival, Vicious, while Elena Satine plays Spike's former lover, Julia. 

But it's not all new players in the Cowboy Bebop franchise. Composer Yoko Kanno has also been brought onboard to provide the score, just as he did in the original series, and the original Japanese voice cast for the anime has been recruited to dub the characters in Japanese. 

Cowboy Bebop #1 Cover

Will there be more Cowboy Bebop?

The original Cowboy Bebop anime series tells a complete story over the course of 26 episodes, incorporating episodic bounty hunting narratives into the longer overall arc of the characters. Though it eventually was followed by Cowboy Bebop: The Movie in 2001, that story is actually an interquel set in between episodes of the anime, rather than a full-on sequel. All this means that there's a finite amount of source material for the live-action series to adapt. 

But that doesn't mean the live-action series won't live on beyond its initial 10-episode order. Executive producer Jeff Pinkner noted way back in 2020 that a second season was already being developed, though we have no idea when that might actually arrive on Netflix. Even so, you won't have to wait until then to get more of the story. In conjunction with the debut of the live-action series, Titan Publishing has announced two new tie-in books. A prequel novel, Red Planet Requiem, will arrive in November, just in time for the show's debut, while December will see the launch of a new comic, appropriately titled Cowboy Bebop: The Comic Series, which will follow the crew as they work to take down a target. 

Cowboy Bebop hits Netflix Nov. 19.