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Netflix’s insane new sci-fi action series is stirring up so much controversy

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For as much as this live-action adaptation of a beloved anime was anticipated by fans, Cowboy Bebop looks at this point more like Cowboy womp-womp for Netflix. Based on the early reaction from fans, that is, as well as reviews such as one from our sister publication Variety that laments the series is just the latest example of “Netflix bloat.”

Indeed, the early Rotten Tomatoes scores are pretty rotten. A 48% rating right now from critics, and a similar 53% aggregate score thus far from audiences. “Please don’t watch Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop,” one Twitter user pleaded. Remarked another: “It’s now somehow worse than CW quality.” Are people over-reacting? Is this really another example of an overly bloated streaming service that allegedly prizes quantity over quality?

One of the most highly anticipated Netflix releases

The more pressing question: What in the world happened here? This is the summary for the series from Netflix: “Based on the worldwide phenomenon from Sunrise Inc., Cowboy Bebop is the jazz-inspired, genre-bending story of a rag-tag crew of bounty hunters on the run from their pasts, as they hunt down the solar system’s most dangerous criminals. They’ll even save the world … for the right price.”

In an interview with Netflix, Cho acknowledged that making this was “scary as hell.” The cast and crew were nervous about messing up, since the world and the characters have so many fans already.

However, he feels like “visually, it’s a very faithful adaptation.” And what sealed the deal for Cho to participate in the series was hearing that the original anime composer Yoko Kanno was attached to this adaptation. So far, so good.

Cowboy Bebop Netflix trailer

In case you haven’t seen it yet, by the way, we’ve embedded the trailer for the new series right here in this post. To give you a good idea for the feel of the aesthetic, tone, and sound of the show. All of which, at least in terms of the packaging of the series, seems pretty faithful to the source material.

Variety’s argument is essentially that Netflix’s blank canvas — the fact there are almost no bounds for what a show can do or be — is not necessarily the formula for creative success that it might sound like. No commercials and no time constraints mean that some fans feel like Cowboy Bebop meanders and is a bit overlong. Whereas tighter ending and more control over the show’s chaotic energy might have served it better.

For now, though? I’m reserving judgment and still plan to check out the show myself. Regardless of what feels like almost universal criticism.

The final word

All of which is to say: I don’t know what I think about the series yet, nor how you feel about it. Ultimately, though, this review from The Daily Beast does a good job of summing up where it seems many fans’ heads are at regarding this new release from Netflix. “Unfortunately, the show’s only connection (to the source material) is aesthetic. It looks like the world and even sometimes — when the energy is high, bullets are flying, or new characters are introduced — can feel like it too.

“But as a whole, the new Cowboy Bebop is just so ploddingly inefficient and misguided, the idea that it could share the same DNA as its original is farcical. When it comes to stakes, the original is simply in another weight class.”

two men fighting in netflix series cowboy bebop
Alex Hassell, left, as Vicious and John Cho as Spike Spiegel in Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop.” Image source: Geoffrey Short/Netflix
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Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.