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Cowboy Bebop ending explained: how the Netflix series sets up a different second season

Cowboy Bebop Netflix series
(Image credit: Netflix)

Cowboy Bebop doesn’t end how you think it’ll end. You may know the anime off by heart but, as becomes abundantly clear during the Netflix series’ dying embers, this is an adaptation that’s heading in a radically different direction.

It remains to be seen just how the passionate fanbase will react to the myriad changes made in the ending to Cowboy Bebop’s first season on Netflix, but one thing is for certain: it sets up a second season filled with intrigue and suspense now that’s it’s diverted from the source material.

Below, we’ll run through all the big talking points from the Cowboy Bebop ending including, but not limited to, that surprise betrayal, a welcome newcomer, the next Big Bad, and how the show sets up a second season that could take a big leap into the unknown. Let’s go, space cowboys.

Cowboy Bebop ending explained: your biggest questions answered

Cowboy Bebop Netflix series

(Image credit: Netflix)

 Is Julia head of The Syndicate now?

Cowboy Bebop

(Image credit: Netflix)

This was completely out of left-field, but not totally out of character. Elena Satine’s Julia spent much of the season being kicked from pillar to post by her abusive husband, Vicious. That blows up in his face spectacularly with Julia’s betrayal at the chapel.

Not only does she save Spike (AKA Fearless) from being on the wrong end of Vicious’ death blow, shooting him where he stands, but she’s completely striking out on her own. In the season finale’s biggest twist, Julia shoots Spike, who is sent tumbling through the chapel window. She blames him for leaving her with Vicious and strikes back in the most devastating fashion after he rejects her plea to rule the Syndicate together.

Anime fans will know this is a dark mirror of the series’ iconic Vicious and Spike clash that saw Vicious almost kill Spike. Now, the tables have turned: Julia has launched her own coup, kicked Spike to the curb, and has now got a seat at the head of the table.

That all sets up Julia as de facto leader of The Syndicate – and she’s also able to keep Vicious chained and locked up, away from where he might hurt her.

What will happen to Vicious?

Cowboy Bebop

(Image credit: Netflix)

Vicious’ prior coup of the criminal organization led to a power vacuum; Julia has now installed her ex-beau as an ‘Elder’, the faceless kingmakers of The Syndicate. Previous rules dictated that no one could speak to an Elder without prior permission. As Julia will now speak on Vicious’ behalf, that means no one will ever get to speak to him – as long as she has anything to say about it, anyway.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Vicious is going to be a complete non-factor moving forward. He’s still very much got friends in high places, and there’s every chance he and Spike could form a temporary truce once more if their interests align.

Did the Bebop crew break up?

Cowboy Bebop

(Image credit: Netflix)

It sure looks that way. In the anime, the Bebop crew – Jet, Spike, Faye, Ed, and Ein – were thick as thieves until the very end. This break-up, then, is widely unexpected – but places a few interesting wrinkles into a potential future story.

Faye is the first one to officially leave, heading off in search of the remnants of her previous, pre-frozen life. Prior to the finale’s showdown, she found an old video showing her as a child, complete with clues on where she might have grown up.

"You need to do that," Jet tells her, as she walks off. His next interaction, with Spike, isn’t quite as warm. While there’s still some begrudging respect between the pair after Spike helped save Jet’s daughter, he wants no part of him anymore because "death follows him" wherever he goes.

Jet leaves Spike with one final warning: "If I ever see you again, I will kill you."

That seems pretty definitive to us: the Bebop crew is no more – but that should make their eventual reunion all the more sweeter.

Who is the red-haired person?

Cowboy Bebop

(Image credit: Netflix)

That’s a Cowboy Bebop favorite: Ed.

In the show, Radical Ed is first mentioned as a hacker who tips Jet off about a bounty in the sixth episode, "Binary Two-Step." Anime fans, though, will know them as Ed, the hacker extraordinaire who forms a key part of the Bebop crew.

Their absence was a major talking point in the run-up to the Netflix series’ release, so it’s pleasing to confirm that they’re here, played by newcomer Eden Perkins.

Their function in the live-action series isn’t known just yet, but they’re set on helping Spike – for whatever reason – get back on his feet and taking down bounties again. The first target in their sights? The Butterfly Man.

Who is The Butterfly Man?

Cowboy Bebop

(Image credit: Netflix)

Ed makes pointed reference to Spike’s next bounty: The Butterfly Man, or "Volaju".

Don’t worry, you’ve not missed out on anything new – this is all setup for future seasons. The Butterfly Man – going by the source material, at least – is Vincent Volaju, the primary villain of the Cowboy Bebop movie, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.

We can only speculate at this point, but Volaju was a former soldier in the Titan War who was forced to undergo dangerous experiments. Presumed dead, Volaju ends up being unable to distinguish dreams from reality and continually sees butterflies in his field of vision. He then becomes a terrorist, with the key 'aim' of attempting to find the gateway to heaven. He’s a few Woolongs short of a cheap meal, let’s put it that way.

What’s next for Cowboy Bebop?

Cowboy Bebop

(Image credit: Netflix)

First up, it’s well worth pointing out that Cowboy Bebop’s future is up in limbo. Given the many, many cliffhangers we’re left on, we hope it’s renewed for a second season on Netflix but we’ll likely find out officially one way or another in the coming weeks and months.

In terms of its characters, their futures are faintly mapped out, but are liable to change: Spike is banding together with Ed and Ein in search of The Butterfly Man; Faye is searching for answers to her own past; Jet is likely set to reflect on his dangerous profession after his daughter’s near-miss; Julia will lead The Syndicate into a new age, and Vicious will likely be plotting from the shadows.

The dynamics are all new – and would surely enrapture anime fans and newcomers alike if a second season gets greenlit.

How the Cowboy Bebop season 1 ending compares to the anime

Cowboy Bebop Netflix series

(Image credit: Sunrise)

There are several differences compared to the anime, most notably Julia’s role.

In the anime, she functions more as a damsel in distress. In the Netflix series, she has far more agency – and has positioned herself at the top of The Syndicate. In the anime, it’s Vicious who becomes leader – albeit briefly – of the Red Dragon Syndicate.

The live-action series, surprisingly, is also more downbeat elsewhere. In the anime, Julia never betrays Spike and the Bebop crew don’t split, though Faye does head off on her own late in the anime’s run.

It also looks like the creative team will adapt the Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door movie earlier than it lands in the anime’s story. There, it’s situated around the final five episodes, whereas, if you’re still going by the source material and its usage of villains, we’re around the halfway point here. Chronologically, though, things are very mixed up now and almost impossible to compare 1:1 with its anime counterpart.

Saying any more could massively spoil what’s to come, however, so we’ll keep it schtum until then. It is worth keeping track of which villains have been used so far, though: The Teddy Bomber, Asimov, Maria Murdock, Hakim, and Pierrot are the notable names that have been ticked off early, though the likes of Wen still remain on the docket should the creative team need more villains-of-the-week for Jet, Spike, and Faye to contend with.

Until next time: so long, space cowboy – and be sure to check out more of the best Netflix shows.

Bradley Russell

I'm the Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.