“Just a humble bounty hunter, ma’am.”– John Cho (Spike) from Cowboy Bebop
I have toyed with the idea of creating a podcast. Maybe Corinne and I would focus on American Dad, or Jeff and I might chat about films or the array of biographies we are reading. Perhaps I would go solo and reformat topics from this blog for an audio adventure. I also dream of doing voice-over work for some cartoon or even narrating an audiobook; one might enjoy my Massachusetts accent and vernacular. That last comment might be a stretch, but I enjoy speaking in front of a large crowd, although I am generally shy. While I have been writing on this blog for nearly two years, this was a big step in putting myself out there. It’s not as easy for me as it might appear, but it’s all part of a larger goal of being true to my best self.
That is why it took me so long to appear on my first podcast, a show about a topic I know very little about; anime. Luckily, my appearance focused on a live-action remake of a popular anime that first appeared in 1998. Today, I am focusing on that appearance on Weeb & Noob Watch Anime Podcast and diving into the show’s topic, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop. I enjoyed both tremendously, but Cowboy Bebop did not get renewed for a second season, a downright shame. The series was spectacular, one of my favorite shows of the year, but watching it and subsequently offering viewpoints as part of a podcast was an experience unlike any other. Let’s explore the podcast, the show that mesmerized me, and mourn its untimely demise. 3-2-1, let’s jam!
My Entrance to the World of Anime
“Fearless is dead. I go by Spike Spiegel these days.”– John Cho (Spike) from Cowboy Bebop
My brother-in-law Kyle created a podcast in the early days of the pandemic. In need of a creative outlet, Kyle, and his friend Garrett, designed and implemented a dream of hosting a podcast about anime. This is something I know little about, but each episode, nearly 90 of them, is hilarious educational, and slightly crude at times. I enjoy listening and learning about all the various shows Kyle, a weeb, has watched. Garrett serves as the noob, an individual with little knowledge of anime and who I relate to as each episode dives deep into the content. Kyle is proud of putting himself out there and building a podcast that showcases a long-held interest. I started my blog, primarily inspired by Kyle.
I like to think I am Kyle’s biggest fan, at least in terms of a podcast audience. I have listened to every episode, laughed so hard I nearly pulled a muscle, and often chatted with him afterward, exploring the content, technical aspects, and flow. Some are pretty wild, while others are culturally important, and others are graphic and descriptive. No episode is the same, but Kyle and Garrett explore lesser-known anime each week, and some focus on shows popular for Japanese and Western audiences. No matter what, I rarely know what they are talking about, but that’s why I enjoy it. Most weeks, it’s simply Kyle and Garett, bantering, back and forth, about a specific show; Fruits Basket, Samurai Champloo, Parasyte: the Maxim, High School of the Dead, and more. Various weeks Kyle invites a guest, some who know a lot about anime and others who know very little.
My favorite episodes are when Kyle and Garrett discuss bizarre aspects of some wildly entertaining shows. It’s all in good fun, but even as I belly laugh at the sound of Kyle’s laugh or Garrett’s absurd, or pointed, pop culture comparisons, the podcast strikes the right chord. At its heart, Weeb & Noob Watch Anime Podcast strives to simplify and explain the vast array of anime. Kyle is a fan; that much is clear, but he profoundly respects the medium, and Japanese culture, which is vital to gaining a clear understanding of the genre. Kyle, who studied Japanese culture, speaks Japanese, and lived in Japan for some time, educates listeners on these nuances through the array of shows they explore. He illustrates cultural details that often go unnoticed. It’s a task, but he’s successful, and Garrett perfectly plays the noob, painfully unable to recognize these details.
Kyle has tried to have me as a guest on his podcast for two years. I have anxiety, so I told Kyle that I wanted to but wasn’t ready. Kyle respected my decision, although he constantly texted me regarding which shows I could appear on. I wanted to join them in a rousing discussion of anime, throwing myself at the mercy of whatever series Kyle selected for me, no matter how ridiculous. But I couldn’t do it. At least not until Kyle approached me with a unique idea. He explained that their first episode focused on a popular and groundbreaking anime. Cowboy Bebop is a classic late-1990s anime with a sizable and loyal following. I remembered their first episode, and the premise was in my wheelhouse. I asked Kyle what he had in mind; was he doing a follow-up? No, Kyle had a better idea.
Netflix was releasing a live-action version starring John Cho as the central character, and Kyle wanted me to be a guest as a super noob. The only issue, Netflix released the entire series on Friday, and we would record the podcast on Sunday night. Any nervousness I had during previous requests by Kyle was absent. I was downright giddy. I have written numerous times about movie chats with family about Trollhunter, The Princess Bride, The Raid: Redemption, or films I used to illustrate points about bad travel, camping, or traveling to San Diego and San Francisco. In this podcast episode, I would discuss cinema, not anime. That was the slight nudge I needed to do the podcast. I told Kyle, yes.
Come Friday; I started watching Cowboy Bebop at 6 AM, with a cup of coffee at my side. I rarely moved from the couch, other than to take Mr. Tuttles, our dog, out for strolls in the backyard. I texted Kyle as soon I awoke, with an image of the television paused on Episode One, “Cowboy Gospel,” and the short comment, “Let’s go!” I loved the show. I watched nine of the ten episodes by the end of the day, Friday, and saved the finale for Sunday afternoon. Once done, I listened to the first episode of the podcast to remind myself of the anime’s main details. I am not opposed to, nor was I avoiding anime. I find it entertaining, even if I don’t feel at home watching it. The fact I could participate on the podcast with a live-action series, rather an anime, was pleasing.
On Sunday night, with ZOOM readied and an intro prerecorded, Kyle took advantage of my Massachusetts accent, and we began. After Kyle and Garrett kicked things off, I was introduced and had a wonderful time. While I envision a future where I get the chance to do some voice-over work, in some capacity, I am pretty embarrassed by the sound of my voice. It always sounds so much better in my head. For an hour, I chatted with Kyle and Garret and offered my opinion of the Netflix series. The flow of the podcast was smooth, and we dove into so many vital parts of the series. We could have bantered back and forth for hours. We laughed, we dug deep and offered audiences, I hope, an entertaining analysis of Cowboy Bebop.
I enjoyed Kyle’s evaluation of how and where the live-action series changed or deviated from the popular anime. Participating was exciting, and it was lovely sharing in a creative outlet Kyle has maintained for nearly two years and almost 90 episodes. I look forward to joining Kyle and Garrett again, and I promised to join them for an anime-based chat rather than a live-action remake of said anime, but I started in the proper place. With my first podcast appearance out of the way, I will discuss the series and explore some of my favorite moments, episodes, and performances. I might make callbacks to the podcast, but this is my opportunity to inspire you to watch the show.
Cowboy Bebop Overview
“I’ve traveled all across the solar system and I have never, never found anyone who makes me feel the way that you do.”– John Cho (Spike) from Cowboy Bebop
I debated writing this post simply because Netflix canceled Cowboy Bebop, so I won’t see the story continued. Even so, I couldn’t contain my desire to discuss the podcast and eagerness to share my thoughts about the show. So, I started writing. It was a wonderful whirlwind, one I didn’t give enough thought to at the time. I will not discuss every aspect of the series, nor do I want to upset the dedicated fandom of the anime Cowboy Bebop. While I listened to Kyle’s first podcast episode, which tackled Cowboy Bebop, I hadn’t, and still haven’t, watched the anime. That fact is why Kyle asked me to join the podcast conversation. He wanted to provide the anime knowledge while I offered thoughts and opinions on the live-action series, maintaining independence. Though I might reference the anime, I won’t analyze it.
Here is the IMDb breakdown of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop; “The space Western story follows Spike Spiegel and his rag-tag crew of bounty hunters, or Cowboys, as they try to capture the galaxy’s worst criminals and survive the unexpected dangers they encounter throughout space, sometimes saving the world in the process but always leaving millions in damages.” Rated 6.6 on IMDb, Cowboy Bebop is a mixture of jazz music, with a dash of 1920s noir grit, a heap of 1950s technology and Hollywood western throwbacks, a sprinkling of 1970s vibrancy, an abundance of sci-fi style that mimics Firefly, and brings to mind Dog the Bounty Hunter. The last one is a stretch, but the series mixes perfectly, refusing categorization. It offers plausible commentary on social issues, regret, loss, friendship, and betrayal. I was mesmerized by how the series could occur in an alternative 1998 multiverse or a distant future.
I gravitate towards series and films when dialogue and creativity flow flawlessly. Cowboy Bebop is not a lackluster experience. Instead, it’s quick-moving and with charm represented in the main character. John Cho is Spike Spiegel, our leading man and bounty hunter. He is a former syndicate member, or Yakuza-style assassin, who went by the name Fearless, and is presently hiding from a life where his best friend and colleague betrayed him. He’s a smooth talker, has flashy clothing, and walks with a sense of bravado that wreaks self-assurance. John Cho perfectly exudes this style and truly owns the mantra of Spike Spiegel. I was already a fan of Cho going into Cowboy Bebop, so I am not surprised he crushed his performance. His dialogue is spotless, his choreographed fights are perfectly detailed, and his mannerisms show his confidence. Anything less would have been a disservice to the anime.
Kyle told me that one character significantly altered from the anime was Faye Valentine, played by Daniella Pineda. She was fantastic and probably my favorite character and acting performance. I know I spoke highly of Cho, but Pineda was superb with her comedic banter and facial expressions. She offered her character depth that, in lesser hands, might have been butchered. Pineda brought charisma to her performance, allowing Faye to be imperfect but independent. She has a tragic past, one she cannot recall, and has been burned by those trusted, yet needs support from those willing to see her for who she is. She is a bounty hunter who brings a flair for the dramatic and exudes quirky confidence but helps shield her emotional journey. Faye is a skilled fighter, but a simple eye wink can quickly disarm an opponent. She was the most quotable character, and her clothing – artistic, powerful, and thankfully, unlike the anime, not exploitive or unrealistic.
The last of the crew, or moral center, is a man keeping everything intact, figuratively and literally; Jet Black, who, according to Kyle, show writers changed slightly, but he still has one robotic arm! Played by Mustafa Shakir, Black is a relatable hero. Jet is stoic, although perceived as grumpy or uncaring. Wronged in his former life as a cop, he brings terrible individuals and organizations to justice while seeking out those who set him up. He is funny, reserved, and dramatic. He cares about his daughter but can’t seem to be there for her when she needs him. He supports his crew but can’t see them for who they are. Spiegel enters a room with a self-assured sense of greatness, and Valentine is comfortable going at it alone, but Black gets down to business. He is the good guy in a deeply criminal world where alliances shift. Shakir shined as Black, and it was a departure from his villainous role in the second season of Netflix’s Luke Cage.
In this sci-fi/western/noir world of crime syndicates, space cowboy bounty hunters, and tantalizingly badass guns, action is a constant, and moments without fighting or conflict are rare. Sure, there are solid episodes where content and dialogue far outpace and outmatch any action/adventure moniker, but this is a fast-paced and wonderfully detailed show. Its style is vibrant and flashy, the music is jazz, but it isn’t bound to any specific sort. Instead, it mixes multiple music tones offering a fresh and “futuristic” feel. The entire series feels expensive, which might be why Netflix chose not to continue it. Cowboy Bebop felt alive. It offers audiences an adventure in a world that is classy, sexy, weirdly similar, and vastly different than our own.
Ten Episode Breakdown
“I’m 100% sure that you being an a**h*le has nothing to do with noodles.”– Mustafa Shakir (Jet) from Cowboy Bebop
Like how I set up my post detailing Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass, I will explore my favorite moments, those scenes or sequences that worked incredibly well and remained with me since my initial watch. In so doing, I will include a few outstanding heat check moments, instances when the main actors, Pineda (Faye), Cho (Spike), and Shakir (Jet), brought down the hammer of badassery. There are a lot of those moments, far more than scenes where I was left disappointed. While I enjoyed Elena Satine’s performance as Julie, seeing far more agency, strength, and perseverance, this contrasts with popular opinion and the podcast hosts. I did agree with Kyle and Garrett that Vicious, Alex Hassell, was not a stellar villain.
When thinking of cinematic villains, Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber from Die Hard, Josh Brolin as Thanos from Avengers, Heath Ledger as Joker from The Dark Night, and David Tennant as Kilgrave from Netflix’s Jessica Jones – all come to mind. Those characters left me unnerved and believing their ruthlessness. When watching films or television shows centered around good/bad, hero/villain, I require believability from both sides and expect the actor/performer to satisfy the status of their characters. In Cowboy Bebop, my hope for a perfect villain came up short. The last episode offered a compelling villain design in a character swing for Julia, who illustrated far more depth, and excited me, as a viewer, to possible prospects. The lack of a compelling villain is an issue for Cowboy Bebop but doesn’t take away from a thrilling series.
In Episode One, “Cowboy Gospel,” the opening scene is one of the series’ best moments. Drama, suspense, comedy, and incredible action sequences with tongue-in-cheek hilarity. This scene has spectacular cinematography and design. At this point, I discovered the show was based in space, forgetting that plot point, much to Kyle’s dismay. Here Cho, along with Shakir, laid down the gauntlet for the entire series. An action-packed joy ride filled with crazy weaponry rivaling District 9 and Borderlands 3. Include a stellar soundtrack composed by Yôko Kanno, who wrote the music for the Cowboy Bebop anime, and you have the ingredients necessary for a delicious treat. Filled with quick one-liners, like “I mainlined God,” the first episode remained pretty faithful to the anime. Much to Kyle’s delight, the opening credits are a perfect remake of the anime.
Episode Two, “Venus Pop,” included a fight with a guy wearing a teddy bear head and only military-style boots and “tighty whities,” ones only John Cena in Peacemaker can rock during an epic fight sequence. We also observed Spike trying to get a noodles dish, something I enjoyed watching. Episode Three, “Dog Star Swing,” introduced viewers to a Corgi named Erin and a rooftop fight that had everything fans could expect. Good drama, choreography, and a perfect blend of fighting styles, with a badass score and vibe that mixes and matches the 1920s and 1970s, with a futuristic flair. At this point, Cowboy Bebop started moving with deliberate and detailed precision. Having fun with subplots like Jet seeking a “sally doll” for this daughter, Cowboy Bebop could take a hard left and examine severe issues like domestic violence. In Episode Four, “Callisto Soul,” Faye Valentine takes center stage and never relinquishes it. The chemistry between the three main characters grew more apparent as the series unfolded. This bond is evident when Jet and Spike discuss real food versus fake food, and Faye calls them “dickwads,” multiple times.
In Episode Five, “Darkside Tango,” we peer into Jet’s backstory, a trope often used in television. We follow his return to his old life and attempt to uncover the conspiracy of who set him up years before. But, as Jet explores his law enforcement past in Noire style, Faye and Spike remain back on the ship, comparing battle wounds and debating who is the better space cowboy/bounty hunter. Of course, Spike relays story after story of his triumphs, as random bounty ads play on a circa-1960, yet futuristic, television. I love how the series plays with time periods, and the props fit smoothly into that world. A remarkable scene, it included Faye retelling Spike of her apprehension of a high-value bounty; one Spike refused to believe she caught. To recount the tale, she used the corgi, Erin, as a stand-in for the criminal and tangoed to illustrate how she got the drop on the bad guy. The scene concluded with neither getting any work done, the corgi playing dead, and Spike impressed.
While Episode Six, “Binary Two-Step,” was a far more cerebral, or meta, experience, with Spike center stage diving into the recess of his mind, and therefore trauma, it was Episode Seven, “Galileo Hustle,” that caught my attention. Sure, I enjoyed Faye coming out of her self-guarded shell and her partially discovering who she is and was. I laughed at the comedy surrounding her new “too good to be true” gun and her, along with Jet, rescuing Spike, thus cementing their team status in Episode Six. Still, Episode Seven developed the crew’s relationship further and offered Faye an opportunity to explore her past. In so doing, Pineda drilled home her character’s arc. It helped that Faye/Pineda brought the heat constantly. She was on fire, with line after line that was either hilarious or impactful.
We were introduced to Christine Dunford as Whitney, playing a con artist. She had pretended to be Faye’s mother but lied for years and stole everything, including her identity. A subplot here is that Faye used to be frozen, for how many hears, we are unsure, but no one claimed her until Whitney woke her up pretending to be her mother. Faye doesn’t trust her. This relationship soured Faye’s ability to trust others, as one can imagine. Faye confronts her past and trauma, and Pineda shines with her acting range. Her sadness comes out as dislike, yet she finds compassion and forgiveness for Whitney. Whitney, for her part, by the conclusion, seeks reconciliation with Faye. This relationship is infectious. I was eager to see a spin-off focusing on Faye and Whitney’s hijinks and manipulative fun adventures.
As a subplot in Episode Seven, viewers observe a wild fight scene between Spike and several unknown criminals, all while Jet is, virtually, watching his daughter’s dance recital, no clue there is a fight taking place behind him. Truly outstanding as both actors offer humor, charm, and action. As the series continues, my favorite parts are those subplots dealing with Spike, Faye, Jet and their space adventures. My least favorite is the main plot centered around Julia, Vicious, the Syndicate, and Spike’s dirty past. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but I preferred the various episodic storylines moving in conjunction with the main plot. They offered so much opportunity, so much content and excitement; maybe the show’s survival could have rested on those laurels.
Even so, the main storyline is necessary, and Episode Eight, “Sad Clown A-Go-Go,” focuses on that plot. Vicious brutally and maniacally consolidates power and destroys the syndicate. Meanwhile, Spike takes on a madman, sent by Vicious, terrified of dogs. One of the best moments was when Jet concocted a battle plan. At the same time, Spike and Faye unsurprisingly took nothing seriously. Humorously, our heroes create a rhyme to remember Jet’s plan to face off against an enemy at a futuristic amusement park on Earth’s moon, called Earthland. The live-action series does not explore why Earth is no more, but the fight was fun, with over-the-top villainy by the maniac but wonderful charm from our heroes. With Episode Nine, “Blue Crow Waltz,” Cowboy Bebop does what most television series do in their first season. They use the penultimate episode to establish the backstory of the main character, Spike, whose past is a mystery.
Episode Nine gives us Spike, Vicious, and Julia’s moment of truth. In that case, Episode Ten, “Supernova Symphony,” wraps up the story with Jet recognizing Spike for who he is, a criminal assassin. Julia gets revenge on Vicious for his abuse, and she, in turn, takes out Spike for having left her in a madman’s claws for several years. It was an ideal character swing for Julia, taking out her abuser Vicious and, as she perceived it, cowardly hero, Spike. While not necessarily turning into a “villain,” Julia took the reins of power, a twist alluded to throughout the series. Unfortunately, Faye, who helped rescue Jet and Spike, leaves on a journey of self-discovery while Jet disavows Spike for his lies. The crew is broken and splintered, jazz music plays in the background, and our hero Spike, wholly lost.
Who Won & Stole Cowboy Bebop
“A girl with no memory’s got nothing to lose.”– Daniella Pineda (Faye) from Cowboy Bebop
Sadly, there will be no season two. You will have to turn to anime or manga where, luckily, there are plenty of fully established space cowboy adventures to ease the pain. Yet, am I saddened I watched? No. It was fantastic. I became invested in the characters, even Julia, who I felt improved as the season went on, much to the disagreement of Garett, although he didn’t openly disagree. Kyle and Garrett offered some overall thoughts as I sat on the podcast panel. They agreed that Faye was better in the hands of Pineda than depicted in the anime, that Vicious was not the villain they and I wanted or desired, that Jet was precisely the leader they imagined, and that Spike in the hands of Cho was flawless. Cho was the perfect badass, had a dark past, and a perfect line for every situation. Kyle saw in Cho the living embodiment of Spike Spiegel.
It makes sense that John Cho, as Spike, won Cowboy Bebop. It was his to lose, and he did nothing to let go of his leading position. He had a look, style, and mannerisms necessary, including the cigarettes, hair, and suit, not to mention an athletic build ready for the fight scenes. Kyle and Garrett agreed with my sentiment. If Cho easily won the movie, was there anyone who made a run at dethroning him? Kyle expressed support for the composer, Yôko Kanno, who successfully turned her incredible anime score into a Netflix live-action classic. Garrett offered Mustafa Shakir, Jet, seeing his range as a wild departure from previous acting gigs. He had an excellent ability to seamlessly move from drama to comedy and offer witty one-liners with perfect timing. I argued for Daniella Pineda, Faye, but no one could dethrone Cho, so I nominated Pineda for a different category; who stole Cowboy Bebop?
Daniella Pineda stole Cowboy Bebop. Every time she was on the screen, she was electric. Pineda personified everything that made Faye special. Her clothing was on point, her humor adorable, as was as any scene with Erin, the corgi. When Faye stole Erin and winked at Spike and Jet from a ship stolen mere seconds before, her charm was on full display. She was the perfect nuisance to Jet and Spike but did not merely become one of the guys or play into cinematic stereotypes or gender/sexual tropes, but instead was an equal, a family member. She, like the rest, sought answers in ways that were not patronizing. Pineda held her own, often elevating a scene or episode, and I could easily watch a movie centered around Faye with her in the lead. As Kyle told me, Faye had strength and agency missing in the anime. Pineda helped to correct that wrong. In doing so, she stole the series and our bounty hunter-loving hearts.
Not Ready to Say Goodbye
“What are we toasting? Getting our a**es whooped?”– Mustafa Shakir (Jet) from Cowboy Bebop
I am not ready to say goodbye to Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop. It was a thrilling show. The blend of styles, the over-the-top comedy, and incredible music and action sequences – all worked perfectly. Watching Cowboy Bebop offered me my first opportunity to be a guest on Kyle’s podcast and immerse myself in a world populated by anime. Maybe next time, I will watch a few episodes of a thought-provoking anime, but Kyle was justified in believing that Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop was a perfect introduction for me. In that, Kyle chose Cowboy Bebop for his podcasts’ very first episode indicates the anime’s enormous popularity. Now, after enjoying this version immensely, I might be willing to watch the anime. As far as Kyle’s podcast, I look forward to participating again. The only condition is no anime that is too outrageous or “ecchi.” For now, thank you, Cowboy Bebop, and Kyle and Garret at Weeb & Noob Watch Anime Podcast. It was a wonderful experience, and I hope this post indicates that truth.