It is very hard to make a fandom happy and anime fandoms are notoriously hard to please when it comes to live action adaptations of their beloved franchises. Netflix’s announcement that it was adapting Cowboy Bebop was therefore met with a mixture of derision and some cautious hope that maybe, just maybe, they would get it right.
As the promotional art and trailer came out you could find discussions everywhere online as people dissected the outfits, the actors, the music, and literally everything else they could glean from bare minutes of footage and some interviews.
Through it all, I kind of remained on the fence other than my usual general cautiousness about any remake or adaptation given how few have ended well and I’ve learned from past experience that ignoring the rumour mill and watching the show once it is available is about the only way to make my mind up about something. And unlike so many other anime fans, I don’t have a long history with Cowboy Bebop or any particular emotional connection to the original anime.
See, the first time I watched Cowboy Bebop was during 2020 (otherwise known as the year that will not be named). I still haven’t gotten through a full rewatch and I haven’t even started drafting a review of the anime at this point. Largely because it does have a very strong fan base and I really want to make sure I get the review right when I finally put it out (mostly because while I enjoyed the series I’m not holding it up on a pedestal with all my other hopes and dreams and looking at it only through the lens of nostalgia).
So, the Cowboy Bebop live action came out on Netflix and I watched it from start to finish. And I’m going to say, it was a pretty fun viewing experience.
Others may not appreciate it, but I found Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop a fun romp through space.
I’ve already seen the headlines online and my twitter feed has run the negative reactions passed me, but honestly this is a series that took the characters and premise from an anime, narrowed the focus a bit, tweaked a few points and considered what to include, what to leave out, and made a few deliberate changes, and generally managed to produce a piece of entertainment that works in its own right.
Sure, if you want to do a scene by scene dissection against the anime it is pretty obvious that this Cowboy Bebop isn’t just a recreation. And in fairness, the ending of the anime is so much stronger emotionally than the half-hearted ending we have here with Netflix quite clearly banking on a season two rather than letting the characters run their course and providing a solid resolution for them and the audience.
But it is not a cautionary tale about adapting anime. For me, Cowboy Bebop was a triumph giving me a lot of what I had enjoyed in the anime series in a slightly different form and with different packaging, but by and large presenting great characters with a story to tell.
There were only two moments in the live action series when I really felt jarred from my suspension of disbelief. One was an early fight scene in which Spike Spiegel, played fairly gloriously by John Cho, is punching some random guy but there is almost no weight behind his punches. This happens in a few other fight sequences where the moves seem right but it doesn’t look convincingly like the blows are landing or that they would do any damage.
The second moment is unfortunately during the final act where Julia’s character ends up in a car crash for reasons almost too stupid to contemplate but it was directly caused by someone else sitting in the car and the whole sequence was just so mind-blowingly dumb that it nearly soured the final episode.
Anyway, if a series these days makes it nearly ten episodes with only one or two moments that genuinely make you sit back and ask ‘what the hell are you doing’ then usually that is a pretty good sign. Of course, the conclusion where Netflix is obviously gunning for a sequel will also have fans of the Cowboy Bebop anime shaking their heads but it is a sign of the times. Let’s be honest, creating an ongoing franchise is more or less the goal of every new release.
So what is there to like about this new version of Cowboy Bebop?
The characters are fantastic. Admittedly, there is very little subtlety in the script and exposition tends to just be dropped into conversation with key reveals coming earlier in the series than the anime may have leading to a different view on some situations, but if you aren’t locked into a pre-conceived notion of each of these characters, the live action ones are pretty good.
By Netflix live action standards, I’m going to elevate that to very good.
I’ve already mentioned that outside of a few fight scenes I loved John Cho as Spike. Jet, played by Mustafa Shakir, is very solid in the role pulling Spike into line, doing an excellent job of showing Jet’s frustration and sadness at his past dishonour being framed and the disconnect from his child, and also just holding the core cast together.
Though, if I’m honest, my favourite in this new adaptation of Cowboy Bebop is Faye, played by Daniella Pineda. A character who could very easily have become unlikeable manages to play her role with a lot of heart and she brings a real sense of fun to most of her scenes. And you know what, I don’t care that they changed her outfit.
Vicious is a little bit more hit and miss with some really over-the-top facial expressions and the script doesn’t help him out much as his dialogue comes off as either petulant, insane rant, or derivative. Admittedly, I think it fit the character quite well and Alex Hassell clearly put a lot of care into the role but it ends up a little too pantomime-like leaving him feeling less like a threat and more of a hassle the other characters simply have to deal with before they can all move on with their lives.
The live action Cowboy Bebop’s Julia, played by Elena Satine, is quite the departure from her anime counterpart which may be because of the westernisation of the adaptation, the modernisation of the story, or maybe they just wanted to give her something more to do than be the MacGuffin of the narrative. I suspect some people will not enjoy the changes to Julia’s character and the role she plays in the conflict between Vicious and Spike, but I know for the most part I found this version of Julia quite entertaining (until the aforementioned moment in the car).
The supporting cast vary in quality but largely work and there are some really fun one episode characters in the ten episode run here.
Cowboy Bebop also kind of got the length right. These ten episodes, most running just under 60 minutes in length, give time to make the world feel fleshed out enough but there isn’t enough time to drag or linger on any particular moment.
I mentioned before a lack of subtlety in character backstories and exposition, and honestly the plot does suffer from a similar issue. Everything is kind of spelled out, betrayals and motives telegraphed by obvious facial expressions when the characters don’t just outright explain their actions directly. It makes for a story that is easily binged and digested but leaves little to contemplate once it is over, other than whether a second season will actually drop.
I suspect, if anything will spell doom for this version of Cowboy Bebop, it will be that it asks nothing of the audience. It really is pop-corn viewing with stylised action, some bright pretty colours, memorable characters, at times excessive and gratuitous violence for an emotional jolt, and all of it wrapped together with a sound track that you could just listen to forever.
But there are no greater issues or questions. There’s no underlying motives to figure out or questions about where characters have ended up. There’s little to really make you question the morality of the characters either. Where Spike in the anime could be quite the grey character, here when contrasted with Vicious, there’s little doubt as to which character truly is a monster.
So I guess the question is, what are you watching for? If you are watching to compare to the anime, Cowboy Bebop’s live action adaptation is different. If you are watching for something a bit thought provoking, you probably won’t find it here. However, if you are wanting a bit of sci-fi entertainment, you could do a lot worse than this series.
For me, this adaptation was a solid effort. There’s clear love for the original but also a sense that the creators weren’t bound by trying to duplicate it exactly. Sure, there are a few key scenes and moments they’ve clearly tried to recreate for the fans, but they’ve told their story, their way, and now it is up to the viewers to decide if this was a good thing.
Honestly, for people who have never seen the Cowboy Bebop anime, this is a series that can very easily be enjoyed even if it isn’t all that memorable in its own right. And what is entertainment for if not to be entertaining?
Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
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