The unique Cowboy Bebop anime was like a critically acclaimed band with a nigh-perfect profession of defining hits, and the 2021 Cowboy Bebop is a ska-funk cowl band enjoying via its hits. The gamers concerned with Netflix’s new blockbuster collection throw themselves into the fabric, and viewers would possibly even really feel a rush of pleasure in recognizing an previous favourite reinterpreted with colourful enthusiasm. However that preliminary allure can’t disguise the truth that the singer solely appears to find out about half the lyrics, and the guitarist can’t carry a tune.
The core premise of Cowboy Bebop stays kind of the identical: Bounty hunters Spike Spiegel (John Cho), Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), and Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) zip across the photo voltaic system in a retrofitted fishing trawler dubbed “the Bebop,” looking down criminals to earn a residing. Whereas assassins or mafiosos are sometimes on their tails, every of the Bebop’s crewmates additionally outrun, or attempt to reconcile with, the trauma of their respective pasts. Whether or not within the seedy underbelly of Mars or sunbaked bubble of New Tijuana, life is coming at them quick.
From its costumes and make-up, set designs and music, this live-action incarnation of Cowboy Bebop boasts a fastidious consideration to the floor particulars of the unique anime in an effort to go one step additional. Alterations to the backstories of characters make method for brand spanking new arcs that provide attention-grabbing developments and dimensions not seen within the unique. The present expands the character of Julia (Elene Satine), Spike’s former flame, in methods the unique Cowboy Bebop by no means did, affording her a way of historical past, presence, autonomy and motivation aside from merely being the thing of affection of both Spike or his longtime nemesis Vicious. Within the palms of Alex Hassell, Vicious continues to be a ridiculous antagonist, however rendered as extra impetuously temperamental and conniving than full-on sociopathic. There’s additionally larger consideration to the motivations behind his conquest for energy apart from energy merely for the sake of energy itself. The choice to deliver again composer Yoko Kanno to carry out the rating for this new collection demonstrates an understanding of how integral her music was to the id of the anime.
However the stark disparity between the exaggerated tone of the Netflix collection and that of the unique 26-episode anime (and interquel characteristic movie) looks like a choice by showrunner André Nemec to interpret the concept of what a cartoon would really feel like in live-action relatively than create a extra easy model of Cowboy Bebop. The choice stumbles hardest within the collection’ makes an attempt at humor, be it cringe-inducing puns about Jet’s Black manhood or a personality named “The Eunuch” boasting in regards to the energy that comes from castrating and devouring your enemies’ testicles.
The unique Cowboy Bebop anime, conceived and produced by screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, animation director Toshiro Kawamoto, key animator Yutaka Nakamura, composer Yoko Kanno, and director Shinichirō Watanabe was a piece of pastiche. The sci-fi western noir harkened to influences as far afield as Aerosmith, Bruce Lee, David Bowie, and Jean-Luc Godard, making a cool melancholy punctuated with moments of motion and levity. Nemec’s collection is extra a bricolage of the unique anime’s most notable scenes and moments than a point-for-point recreation, however any reference leaves it inescapably dwarfed by its predecessor. The brand new collection takes what was subtextual within the unique anime and renders it as textual content, all whereas leaning right into a extra unambiguously bombastic, crude, and comically targeted method.
That is significantly evident within the daring, however finally missing method the Bebop writers reorient the person trio’s personalities. Pineda’s Faye Valentine comes throughout as considerably much less assured. The amnesiac lady, as an alternative of reinventing herself within the wake of loss and trauma, appears caught within the midst of that means of reinvention, all of the whereas haunted by her mission to reclaim the previous and id that she misplaced. The live-action Faye is extra explicitly vulgar than implicitly morose, peppering her dialogue with profanities that really feel extra adolescent than real, and general appears extra keen to keep up a working relationship with Spike and Jet.
John Cho treads a high quality line in his rendition of Spike Spiegel, although one which leans extra visibly haunted and world weary than blithely resigned to his personal metaphorical and literal “dying,” à la Spike within the unique collection. Jet Black, the ex-cop-turned-bounty hunter who functioned as one thing of a unofficial father determine for the dysfunctional household dynamic of the Bebop crew within the unique anime, is actually a dad within the live-action collection, trying to fix his relationship along with his estranged daughter and ex-wife following a stint in jail. These aren’t the band of wayward souls within the anime who circled each other out of a shared sense of unstated loss, however communal co-workers who shoot the shit and go bowling with each other as they gallivant throughout the celebrities looking bounties. An understated sense of ennui and rumination over the previous, the standard that made the Bebop crew really feel multifaceted, feels misplaced because the actors are tasked with nailing their seems.
Some of the compelling elements of the unique Cowboy Bebop is its distinctive depiction of the long run. Whereas humanity had colonized the planets of the photo voltaic system within the wake of a catastrophe that had rendered a lot of Earth’s floor uninhabitable, these colonies themselves grew to resemble distinctly terrestrial locales like New York, Hong Kong, Tijuana, and Marrakesh. That selection on a part of the manufacturing crew imbued the anime’s world with an intriguing sense of anachronistic realism, permitting the present’s writers to riff on the genres of noir and western whereas nonetheless present in a science fiction mode.
Whereas the design of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop dutifully replicates a number of of the places seen within the anime, the units themselves usually really feel extra like caricatures than precise locations the place human beings congregate and dwell. For a live-action manufacturing, the locations the characters go to mockingly really feel flat and extra superficial than within the anime. As with the tone, Netflix’s Bebop emulates via exaggeration and never sufficient to genuinely probe and discover its universe. The scenes themselves find yourself feeling divorced from a lot context: The ten episodes bounce between so many various planets that it turns into tough at instances to recollect the place precisely these characters are throughout any given second or beat. Even house journey finally ends up being featured so sparingly all through the collection that the conspicuous absence of any dogfights involving Spike’s Swordfish II or Faye’s Pink Tail spacecraft itself can’t assist however really feel like a missed alternative for the season.
All through season 1, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop feels unmoored except for the soundscape of Kanno and firm returning to contribute a number of items of music, new and previous, to the live-action collection. However even that solely additional underscores simply how indebted the Netflix present is to the 1998 unique — for as a lot because the live-action Cowboy Bebop makes an attempt to create its personal id and tackle its characters and universe respective to the Cowboy Bebop anime, the strongest components of the present are usually not what it provides in, however relatively what it lifts wholesale from the unique. It doesn’t have to be the anime, it could actually’t be; however the essential component that the brand new collection lacks, and that the unique anime exuded in abundance, is a confidence in its personal voice. For all of the inspiration it took from different types of artwork and music, 1998’s Cowboy Bebop felt curated into one thing fully its personal. The brand new present simply turns up the quantity.
Tonally outlandish, neon-infused, and exaggeratedly acted, the live-action Cowboy Bebop collection is an formidable mission in its personal proper. The artistic crew has iterated on the personality-forward fashion and storytelling of Shinichirō Watanabe whereas trying to replace that story for a worldwide, binge-ready viewers. However in execution, the alternatives by no means discover their very own rhythm, and followers of the anime are pressured to dwell on comparisons. These divorced from reminiscences of the 1998 collection may even see one thing totally different in lighthearted-yet-excessively-violent interpretation of the fabric, however as a blip within the timeline of Cowboy Bebop’s legacy, Netflix’s first live-action collection is a failure, nevertheless noble and attention-grabbing. The reality is perhaps that, what works in animation usually doesn’t, or just can not, work in live-action with out self-consciously making enjoyable of itself at its personal expense. Cowboy Bebop is new proof.
Cowboy Bebop premieres on Netflix on Nov. 19.