Despite being a wide-encompassing medium, Anime has always been burdened with an unfortunate reputation, one that despite an ever-growing mainstream, just can’t seem to shake. Yet even among the most reluctant fans, one show rises head and shoulders above the rest. In 1998, Cowboy Bebop revolutionised the genre: stylish to the max, cool animation, a host of genre-bending stories, and a killer soundtrack. Suffice it to say, it is a show that means a lot to me. In 2021, Netflix decided to go big by finally adapting the acclaimed animation into a live-action offering, provoking fan controversy and curiosity from skeptics.
Cowboy Bebop follows the exploits of two bounty hunters aboard the Bebop: Jet, the former detective missing an arm, and his expensive ex-family., and Spike, who died but got better, keeping his previous life in the syndicate a secret from the former cop, Jet. In the ten chapters, we come to understand their backstory, as their bounties link with Spike’s syndicate past, and murky dealings involving Jet’s past as a police detective. Along with the occasional run-in with Faye Valentine, an unfrozen with no memories but a knack for hunting the Bebop’s targets. From trying to track down an expensive doll for his daughter, to scraping ends meet, from hunting deadly criminals. Just how long can the crew of the Bebop keep their pasts in the past?
Transitioning from animation to live action is always tricky, as you have to deal with the limits of reality. Cowboy Bebop tries its best to show that said issues will not be much of a concern in the first three minutes, dedicated to a Zero-G hostage situation full of gunplay, wordplay and Zero-G stunts. While it tries to be spartan with its budget, demonstrating that it can create some unique real-world settings equatable to the show. The callbacks are all here, especially Big Shot with Punch and Judy. On the soundtrack side, Jump returns, but the new compositions for the show feel like they could have come from the original soundtrack. Much of the first season does follow the over-arching plot of the original rather well. Yet with some variations, a lot of fresh episode ideas, and a general reworking of the established (and future) story make Cowboy Bebop interesting, even if you’ve seen the original.
The ultimate question is whether the tone can also be translated to the third dimension. Netflix’s Bebop boasts a very distinctive style, it might have been in the anime (it’s been a while since I watched it), but it is very noticeable here. It is stylish, but not exactly in the same way as the original. The slapstick and silliness feel a tad more on-the-nose and yes, some subtle innuendo feels a tad more overt, and your mileage will certainly vary on what will land. Jet and Spike are comparable to their animated counterparts, with the cast doing a fantastic job capturing their likeness. Faye feels a lot more contemporised than her original characterisation, with a lot of her quips feeling like they’re ripped from the latest blockbuster, yet still retain a lot of her character.
Adapting Cowboy Bebop was always going to be an apprehensive gamble, but the show’s sole ten episodes, do demonstrate a keen understanding of the original material and a bold vision to make this reboot largely its own thing. A lot of the charm does remain, even after translated into live action, some moments don’t land as well, and others hit flawlessly. Regardless, the live-action recreation feels much less of a perversion than first imagined. While audience reaction remains polarised to this day, Cowboy Bebop showed it was willing to carry the weight.
If you want more positive reviews delivered to the e-mail box of your choice, you can click on that little text bubble at the bottom of the screen. Do you agree or disagree? or have a suggestion for another pop-culture artefact that needs a positive light shone on it? Leave a comment in the comment box below! But remember to keep it positive!