John Cho Leading Netflix’s Live-Action ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Is a Victory for Fans and Inclusivity

Someone finally listened to #StarringJohnCho, and it's great news.
John Cho/"Cowboy Bebop."
John Cho/"Cowboy Bebop."

Sometimes, the casting for a fan favorite character is good, and sometimes it is great on an epic scale. Congrats are in order for the producers of “Cowboy Bebop” for this morning’s casting announcement of John Cho, who will lead the live-action adaptation of the anime space cowboy classic.

Cho plays Spike, introduced to new audiences by this Tweet from Netflix: “Haunted by visions of the woman he loved and lost, Julia, Spike’s criminal past slowly catches up to him — putting him and the Bebop crew in the crosshairs of the solar system’s most lethal criminal organization, the Syndicate.”

The rest of the cast reflects a notably inclusive casting approach: Mustafa Shakir (“Luke Cage”) as Jet, Spike’s partner and former cop (who in the original animated series had a badass scar and a robot arm), Daniella Pineda (“High Maintenance,” “The Detour”) as Faye Valentine, “a bold, brash and unpredictable bounty hunter,” and Alex Hassell (“Genius,” “The Bisexual”) as Vicious, Spike’s arch-nemesis.

Cho’s casting, though, remains the most exciting element. Not only is it fantastic that an Asian actor is starring as a character many feared would be white-washed in the casting process, but it serves as an answer to the popular #StarringJohnCho meme.

The point of #StarringJohnCho went beyond advocating for Cho to be cast in more roles — it made the point that lead roles rarely go to Asian-American men, despite how many actors are more than deserving of the opportunity. And those who know the original series know that Spike is a particularly rich role for any actor, thanks to the character’s tragic backstory and innate sense of humor, which Cho has proven himself more than capable of embodying over his career.

The original “Cowboy Bebop” ran for 26 episodes, beginning in 1998, and each of these characters in the series had dense and well-developed backstories, as the Bebop tooled around the galaxy in search of bounties. For those who question whether it might function as a live-action series, one only needs to look at another cult favorite series which debuted just a few years after “Bebop” — and also happened to be about space cowboys. Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” might have only lasted one season and a movie, but in the era of streaming it’s not impossible to imagine it thriving; something which this new iteration of “Bebop” has the chance to echo. (Of note: Both “Firefly” and “Cowboy Bebop” continue to be available for streaming on Hulu.)

As previously announced, original series director Shinichiro Watanabe is on board as a consulting producer, with Christopher Yost writing the pilot script and Alex Garcia Lopez directing the first two episodes. Running the show are Midnight Radio producers Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, whose upcoming projects include podcast adaptation “Limetown” and the Zoe Kravitz-starring “High Fidelity.” The Midnight Radio creative team has been working together for over a decade now, and this isn’t the first time they have gone to space, as they were behind the bonkers series finale for the U.S. adaptation of “Life on Mars.”

There are still several major characters yet to be cast in “Cowboy Bebop,” including goofy free spirit Hacker Ed, and Ein the hyper-intelligent corgi. (Yes, there’s a Space Dog, and Ein is sure to be a fan favorite.) No word on how the Netflix series might even begin to top the original opening sequence, which is just one reason why IndieWire ranked the anime series as #17 on Best Animated Series of All Time list. The expectations might be high, but the casting choices so far show strides in the right direction.

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