As a result, the premiere of the new “Cowboy Bebop” serves two purposes. First and foremost, it must persuade die-hard anime fans that this new version captures the essence of the original series. Second, it has to persuade viewers who haven’t seen the anime but would be interested in a new sci-fi/action series starring John Cho that this is a standalone TV show worth watching.
When it comes to established anime lovers, “Cowboy Gospel” makes every effort to convert skeptics. The entire look of the show — the opening credits, the main character’s hair, and attire, the interiors and exteriors of the Bebop — is meant to convey genuine respect for the original. The plot is based on the anime’s first episode, “Asteroid Blues,” and some of the original’s most memorable imagery have been nearly reproduced shot for shot. Most crucially, the soundtrack includes songs by Seatbelts, the Yoko Kanno–a led band whose music was so important to the original show’s style and tone.
All of this adoration, however, comes at a price: “Cowboy Gospel” is a touch shaky as a stand-alone episode.
To be honest, the first episode has a lot of ground to cover in terms of establishing the characters, premise, and setting of “Cowboy Bebop” (though to be just as fair, the original series did the same job in an episode that was half as long). Tanaka, a gun-toting mobster holding a casino hostage, is presented in a cold open. “Corporations that are scumbags. “They have complete control now,” he grumbles. (I’d like to think this sentence, which comes just after the Netflix logo, is a self-aware, sly wink at everyone who sneered at a live-action “Cowboy Bebop”, but that’s probably reading too much into it.)
Spike Spiegel (John Cho) and Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), two bounty hunters who riff while blowing up a half-dozen of Tanaka’s goons, interrupt Tanaka’s huge anti-capitalist tirade. When one of them finally pulls out a BFG-style rifle and smashes a hole in the wall, it’s revealed that this casino is really a space station — designed like a big roulette wheel, of course — Spike and Jet manage to capture Tanaka at the cost of significant collateral damage to the architecture. “Cowboy Bebop” is here to tell you what to anticipate from “Cowboy Bebop”: blood, banter, and enormous bangs (of both the firearm and celestial variety).
Aside from that, the main message is that our colorful heroes have no qualms about shooting their foes in the head. Jet’s objections to Spike’s kill-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out gunplay are based on the fact that they can’t collect a bounty on a corpse. The program is informing the audience that this isn’t a show about virtuous guys; it’s about morally questionable characters killing badder characters.
But it’s never that straightforward, is it? The casino segment is really a stunning prelude to the episode’s main action, which transports Spike and Jet to a galactic community known as New Tijuana and eventually exposes that Spike still has a heart someplace. Spike and Jet travel to town in search of a profitable target: Asimov Solensan, a fugitive who stole a large quantity of the drug Red Eye from the Syndicate, a Mafia-like organization. The drawback is that ingesting Red Eye significantly boosts one’s physical strength and endurance, which means that anyone who approaches Asimov risks being ripped to shreds.
Jet pokes around the bar where Asimov was last seen, while Spike — who, granted, has the added benefit of looking like John Cho and wearing a really well-tailored suit — chats with Asimov’s pregnant girlfriend Katerina, who has no idea Spike is a bounty hunter on their trail. However, Spike’s wheedling is interrupted by a purple-haired, gun-toting woman named Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), who is on the hunt for a separate bounty on Katerina.
Spike’s sardonic, devil-may-care persona is revealed to be a cover for the romantic underlying in this scene, the first of numerous. Spike chooses not to fire at Katerina and Asimov’s escape car despite having a clear shot when his quarrel with Faye allows them enough time to flee. Later, when they catch up with Asimov and Katerina — and it turns out her “pregnant belly” housed the rest of the Red Eye vials — Spike tries to persuade her to surrender, but she refuses, knowing she’s doomed and is killed by the ISSP instead.
Why is Spike so concerned? The hot recollections may provide some hints, but the most simple response comes when he tells Katerina that she reminds him of someone. Spike’s grief is compounded by her death, which occurs at the hands of space cops as she attempts to leave. When Spike tries to reason with her — and she tells him it’s time for her to wake up, sadly parroting his own wisdom earlier — he can’t really argue with his own advice about-face the world’s dismal facts head-on.
But, if Spike, Jet, and their new foe Faye want to put this tragic, failed bounty behind them, it appears that the consequences may not be that easily forgotten. Spike was identified as “Fearless” by a surviving Syndicate member, despite the fact that the whole organization thought he was dead. They don’t seem likely to let him slip away now that they know he’s out there.