Cowboy Bebop

A man holds a dog while another points a gun at a woman in Cowboy Bebop series





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

They call ’em cowboys, but they don’t deal in cows. Instead of rounding up stray longhorns, these cowboys rope criminals—the law’s lost little doggies. It’s not an easy job, what with the solar system’s law so tenuous and the crime so tenacious. Every cowboy has a story. And most times, it’s a weeper.

Take the crew on the Bebop, an old converted fishing trawler turned bounty transport. Jet Black, its captain, lost an arm long ago. And without a big payday in the future, he might lose everything else. The Inter Solar System Police nickel-and-dimes cowboys for each bounty, charging for expenses incurred on the case. And when you might have to half destroy a casino to bring in a terrorist … well, those expenses add up. Some weeks, Jet can barely afford food—much less the walking dolly his daughter so wants for her birthday.

Faye Valentine’s a purple-haired, wise-cracking newcomer who has her own chilly past. See, she was born on Earth way back when—back when people still lived there—and was tossed in a cryogenic freezer for around 50 years. She doesn’t remember much of her past, but her time on ice honed her tongue as sharp as her knife. And as many a mark could tell you, her knife’s plenty sharp.    

But when it comes to mysterious pasts, few have anything over Spike Spiegel, once one of the most lethal criminals in the much-feared Syndicate. He fell in love with the wrong girl and had to leave the only way he could—by dying. Now his nemesis, Vicious, knows Spike’s not as dead as he hoped. And Vicious is out to finish the job.

Of All the Joints in All the Solar System …

Cowboy Bebop began its own rollicking jaunt around the entertainment solar system way back in 1998 as a Japanese anime series. Mashing up elements from noir fiction, American Westerns and, of course, sci-fi, the original Cowboy Bebop was widely praised for its depth and originality. Some say it’s a big reason why the world is seeing so much anime today: The show was just too good to stay in Japan.

But it was also criticized at times because of pretty mature content for a series that was ultimately rated TV-14. In fact in Japan, just 12 out of the show’s 26 episodes were originally aired because of its psychosexual themes and violence. And Netflix, in its live-action adaptation of the original, has pushed the content meter into hyperspace.

The show is bloody and gory, with some scenes featuring more dead (and mangled) bodies than live ones. Language is of the type you’d hear in R-rated films. Characters smoke often and drink frequently, and drug use isn’t unheard of either. The entire arc is built on a messy romance, too, with skin and sensuality coming into play. And while I’ve not seen any explicit nudity yet, Netflix’s own warning tells us that it’s coming.

Cowboy Bebop is a creative, stylish and wildly exuberant ride into a unique sci-fi solar system. But for many—especially many families—the show’s turbulence won’t be worth the trip.

Episode Reviews

Nov. 19, 2021: “Cowboy Gospel”

After a disappointing bounty run, Spike and Jet turn their attention to what they think will be an easy job: tracking down the minor-league criminal Asimov. They don’t know (yet) that Asimov is affiliated with the Syndicate, the solar system’s most feared crime organization—and he’s selling a potent drug that he stole from them. Asimov’s girlfriend also just happens to be the daughter of one of the richest people in the system, and he’d desperately like to see her return home.

The drug Asimov sells is called Red Eye. When one person takes it (the substance is ingested as a mist to the eye), Asimov describes it as “mainlining God.” The drug turns the user into a violent juggernaut: He kills several people, including beating one victim to death. (He thumps the doomed man’s head several times, eventually coating both the victim and himself in the victim’s blood.)

Several people get gunned down in that scene and elsewhere, often leaving massive blood stains on walls or pools of blood on the floor. A man dies via sword slash to the neck; the corpse displays the gaping wound. Someone’s spaceship is peppered with bullets. It eventually breaks up in the frozen void, with the corpse of the pilot floating (bloody and covered in ice crystals) with the wreckage. Others are sucked out into space to die. Someone’s stabbed in the gut. Another man is shot gorily in the neck.

Corpses also litter a casino floor in the aftermath of a terrorist act and bloody robbery. A pregnant woman seems as though she’s shot in the belly. Characters engage in stylized fights. Someone kicks another person’s ankle, apparently breaking it. Jet adjusts his fake arm. (He lost his real one some time ago.) A criminal says he was once fired from a casino for stabbing a pit boss in the eye. Someone has a nasty-looking wound treated and painfully cauterized. We see bloody, meaty, dead tuna—presaging a bloody execution.

A pregnant woman walks into a bar and asks for water. When given tequila instead, she asks if she looks like someone who should be drinking it. “You look like you should be drinking nothing but tequila,” the bartender smirks. The woman also tries, unsuccessfully, to light a cigarette. Spike offers to help, but then smokes the cigarette instead—telling the woman that he’s heard that smoking is bad for you. (Spike is a heavy smoker himself, judging by how often we see him light up on screen.) People drink beer.

Men and women kiss passionately at times. In a flashback, we see Spike and a woman engaged in intimate contact. (We see plenty of skin, but nothing critical is shown.) A man accidentally grabs a female criminal’s breast—earning her special ire. (They get back to business and punch each other in the face.) We hear references to bathroom habits. One woman—handcuffed in the Bebop’s bathroom—snidely asks if there’s not a bigger, more disgusting toilet to be chained to instead.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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