Based on reactions from fans of the OG 1998 neo-noir western anime directed by Shinichirō Watanabe, Netflix’s new live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop may be a worthy mixed bag or a forgettable cash-in. But those who binge the series to the end may have questions after the flesh-and-blood iterations of Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, as played by John Cho and Mustafa Shakir respectively, part ways due to personal rifts. Season 1 ends on Spike wandering drunkenly in an alley until he collapses to the pavement. Then we hear a voice chirp his name.
[Ed. note: The rest of this post contains major spoilers for Cowboy Bebop season 1]
When Spike cracks open his eyes, he finds an oddball kid dispensing some gibberish about assigning Spike a possible bounty. Subtitles identify the person as “Ed” and viewers of the anime can identify the quirky figure as the one and only Radical Edward.
Having debuted in the original anime’s ninth episode, “Jamming with Edward,” Ed, short for Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV, is a loopy 13-year-old hacker who joins the Bebop team in exchange for helping the crew attain a bounty that turns out to be an AI. (Technically, they upload the AI’s original personality to safety elsewhere and gives the Bebop a copy of the AI.) Ed’s famous for her kiddish one-liners, a loopy lens on life, and cartoony mannerisms (based on the dancing movements of series’ composer Yoko Kanno).
After a conspicuous absence in Netflix marketing and theories about the iconic kid hacker’s appearance, Ed, along with Ein, the corgi who was abandoned by the Bebop crew due to his hackable brain implants, pops up in the live-action show with their white crop top, black pants, green-tinted goggles, and red hair lifted from the anime. The character is not listed in the credits, but Netflix noted in a tweet that this Ed is played by newcomer Eden Perkins, who uses they/them pronouns. (Netflix could not confirm to Polygon whether the character uses the same.)
When Ed should enter the picture of the live-action series was a point of discussion, since they weren’t part of the anime’s original lineup either. “I wanted to make sure that we were giving enough dramatic real estate to the character of Ed, because Ed is the great disrupter,” says showrunner André Nemec. He wanted breathing space to establish the world with Spike, Jet, Faye, and Vicious before “dropp[ing] the atom bomb that is Ed into that world to create chaos.”
In Ed’s big ending scene, they inform Spike — through hard-to-decipher glee — that the bounty is “Volaju,” known as the “Butterfly Man.” And so another Cowboy Bebop season 2 plot thread is spun...
Who is Volaju aka the Butterfly Man?
In the original anime canon, Volaju is the antagonist of 2001’s Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, or known in the U.S. as Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, a side story set between episodes 22 and 23 before Spike’s fateful mission to obliterate the Syndicate. Like the series characters Wen (a man trapped in a child’s body) and Mad Pierrot (the clownlike assassin), Volaju was an antagonist on a tragic tier: a guinea pig for wartime experimentation, forced through bodily abuse to mold him into a supersoldier.
Which brings us to the live-action script referring to its yet-to-be-seen Volaju as the “Butterfly Man.” In the anime movie, Volaju’s brain was drugged with nanomachines, which entered his brain as shapes of light that resemble butterflies, “the most beautiful butterflies imaginable.” Whenever people are injected with his blood, they can see the butterflies as well and become immune to said nanomachines. He ruminates, “Countless in numbers, butterflies cannot exist in this world, but I have lost memory of the world in which they belong.” The hallucinations of butterflies are sprouted from his war and laboratory trauma, reminding him that he’s in a constant nightmarescape, a limbo. (Spike trying to grasp an imaginary butterfly at the post-end credits scene of the movie illustrates his own imprisonment in a dreamstate like Volaju, surrounded and mocked by seemingly reachable beauty yet unable to feel it.)
Volaju is about to commit “spooky bad things” according to live-action Ed. In the anime movie, a vengeful Volaju sought to infect entire populations with nanomachines—which he’s immune to—on Halloween. Whether live-action Ed’s rambling about the Butterfly Man is a homage or foreboding for the live-action universe is up in the air. If Vincent Volaju pops up in the flesh, it’s likely he’ll get a character revamp or his story altered like the other bounties in Part 1. But it would likely still involve butterfly imagery.
You might ask too: How does Ed even know Bebop? In “Binary Two-Step,” they seem to have been a source of bounty tips for Jet for an amount of time who never met them face-to-face, which fuels Spike’s mistrust. (“The hacker? Making [the tip] super reliable,” he replies sarcastically.)
The ending text “See You Space Cowgirl, Someday, Somewhere!” (the end credit text used when Ed departs Team Bebop in the old anime) points to more Edward weirdness in the future if the series continues onwards to Part 2 for better or worse. A follow-up may clarify live-action Ed’s motives to send team Bebop on their mishap of a mission after the AI.
Nemec shares that they timed Ed’s last second appearance as Spike is undergoing a downward spiral because “it felt like after the weight of episode 10 that a little breath of Ed fresh air was really right to remind the audience that: and things will go on, and probably in a way that you can’t even begin to speculate on.”
And if the live-action Cowboy Bebop is not your jam, good news: you can always watch the original Cowboy Bebop: The Movie.