Cowboy Bebop Review: The Netflix adaptation has heart, style and some edges

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The live action version of Netflix Cowboy Bebop comes with a lot of expectations.

Many of these come from existing fans, of course, those who loved the original anime with its jazz and corgi-infused mix of noir and sci-fi and hope the new series does it justice. Then there are those who come to the show with no existing expectations, who are just looking for great space capers. Other than that, Netflix’s Bebop it’s also the latest in a growing list of attempts to turn classic anime into live shows or movies. For the most part, these have been an unqualified disaster, be it Americanized death Note film or the unforgettable version of M. Night Shyamalan The ultimate airbender.

Cowboy Bebop, however, it offered glimmers of hope ahead of its debut. there is the painfully elegant opening title sequence, a promising cast featuring the likes of Daniella Pineda, John Cho and John Cho’s hair, and the all-important news that Yoko Kanno would be back to compose the main theme.

In order to understand whether or not the series will satisfy any of these viewers, we have signed up for a long time Bebop fan Ash Parrish and newcomer Andrew Webster to gorge on all 10 episodes and report. Come on, space cowboy.

Andrew: I have to admit that the show didn’t catch me at first, which was amazing. It has many things I love: great music; a retro-futuristic world; elements of noir, western and even a hint of samurai movies; and characters defined by the mystery. The Netflix series centers on a trio of bounty hunters – called cowboys, in this universe – who form a difficult alliance. There’s Spike (Cho), the tough guy with a dark and mysterious past. Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), his serious partner who was a cop and is doing his best to be a good father. Soon enough, they are joined by Faye Valentine (Pineda), an amnesiac trying to find out who she really is.

It’s a great setup, but something about it seemed … off, at least at first. Part of it was the aesthetic: Jet’s weird beard which is obviously a wig or Spike’s weird suit. The action felt stiff and the CG felt cheap. Meanwhile, they all acted like a flat caricature in the first few episodes. It seemed like the show expected me to know and understand these characters already.

But things changed the more time I spent with them. The highlight of Cowboy Bebop for me it was the family dynamic found between Jet, Faye and Spike. The way Jet can’t help but be a dad, taking everyone out to bowling and forcing them to have fun, or like Spike search for do the right thing, but continue to get involved in his old life. I’ve gone from not caring about these characters to crying when Faye finally gets the tiniest clue about her past. It took some time to look past some of the corners of the show, but I got there.

Ash, what was it like coming to this from the anime?

Ash: I heard what you first felt. Cowboy Bebop It was such a formative experience for me as a teenager, covertly watching the anime long after my bedtime. I can definitely say that I would not have become the person I am now without this show. Its aesthetic, from noir-style storytelling to its jazz soundtrack, has become the foundation from which most of my tastes, style and ambitions come. But instead of recoiling in horror when the show was announced, which is understandable whenever an anime is brought to life by the action, I was cautiously optimistic. If the show failed, at least I would have new Yoko Kanno music. If the show was successful, I would finally have an anime adaptation worth a damn, Other I would receive new music by Yoko Kanno. I couldn’t lose.

But my cautious optimism deflated after the first two episodes. I already didn’t like that the opening credits were a shot-for-shot replay of the anime’s credits, and the first few episodes felt amateurish – as if Netflix was putting on a Cowboy Bebop community theater show rather than a seemingly million dollar production. It wasn’t the actors’ fault; I just felt they were doing their best with anything but stellar dialogue.

John Cho (and his hair) can’t go wrong, and he perfectly embodies the kind of easygoing and wise that I know is Spike Spiegel. You’d be forgiven if you heard Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black and thought you were hearing Beau Billingslea from the anime dub. However, Pineda’s Faye was the prominent figure. Not the Faye Valentine I knew, but a better one, updated for the sensibility of the modern audience. She is funnier than her anime counterpart and her sensuality is transformed to make her feel more competent and less like an object to behold.

Faye’s transformation is the first proof of Cowboy Bebop being a faithful representation of the spirit of the show and not a mere recreation to the letter. Many characters have received refreshing updates that translate better to a 2021 live-action show than a simple copy / paste of a 1996 anime. Most notably, Cowboy Bebop the anime wasn’t particularly nice to queer characters, framing them as jokes to be ridiculed or cheaters to be dismissed from. Gren, of the two episodes of Jupiter Jazz, was a man who became intersex after being subjected to experiments in prison. There is a particularly bad exchange when Faye catches him naked in the shower and asks him, “What are you?” in a disgusted and alarmed tone. Gren live, played by a non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park, keep theirs same gender queerness but he does not suffer from the same queerphobia and is instead an integral member of the cast (while also being the best dressed).

When the story failed for me in the beginning, the characters kept me hooked. So we talked a lot about the cast, but what do you think of the world? Cowboy Bebop?

bebop cowboy

Image: Geoffrey Short / Netflix

bebop cowboy

Image: Kirsty Griffin / Netflix

bebop cowboy

Image: Geoffrey Short / Netflix

Andrew: I don’t understand how they made this universe work. There is so much to do, all drawn from so many obvious inspirations, yet it feels cohesive. We have seen shows like Firefly struggle to make it, for example; the western and science fiction elements of that show worked together, while the attempt to add aspects of Chinese culture seemed forced. But here, everything seems seamless. When the main villain, Vicious (played by a wonderfully menacing and manic Alex Hassell) wields a katana, she doesn’t look out of place, even if she’s a blonde with an English accent.

I think the reason for this is the sheer attention to detail in world building. The universe looks like a real place, lived with history. You can see it in the gloomy and dirty streets of New Tijuana or in the old Macintosh computers and pager-like cell phones that everyone has. (Between Cowboy Bebop Other Loki, it’s been a good year for retro hardware.) The Bebop itself looks like a battered space truck on the outside and a dorm room on the inside. You can see various cultures on display everywhere: Jet relaxes with a bonsai garden, lists in Coltrane, maintains a supply of Jamaican rum, and is always on the hunt for new dumpling recipes. I also liked some of the more unusual world building elements, like the clunky infomercial-style show that cowboys watch to keep up to date on new sizes.

The only thing that disappoints him is the erratic work of the computer graphics. The sets, props and costumes in Cowboy Bebop they are almost uniformly good (I also warmed up with Spike’s suit), but the various effects looked mostly cheap and out of place. This is especially true of almost any scene that takes place in space. Go from a gritty western noir to a sci-fi movie for TV very quickly.

However, there is something undeniably elegant about this, even when the show’s reach sometimes extends beyond its reach.

Now about that music …

Ash: Has anyone mentioned? Cowboy Bebop music ?! When this project was first announced, I remember saying out loud in capital letters that this endeavor would unequivocally fail without Yoko Kanno’s music. If he refused to participate or the show’s producers neglected to consider his involvement, then the project should stop, full stop, because Bebop it is not Bebop without his music. The soundtrack, produced by Kanno and performed by his jazz band The Seatbelts, is Bebopthe sixth man. Music is an integral part of Bebopthe decisive moments; Spike approaching the church in “The Fallen Angels Ballad” doesn’t have the same impact without the blaring organ of “To rain“Accompanying him.

I was happy, jazzed if you like, to hear my favorite songs in the world remixed and re-proposed for a new show. I had the biggest smile when Spike first appeared and “Spokey Dokey“He was playing with his headphones. One of my biggest concerns at first was that the new one Bebop it would be a hit-by-hit recreation of the anime. I’m so glad it’s not like that at all, but there’s a moment I don’t want to spoil when the show is a frame-by-frame recreation with music, and it works so perfectly that I stood up and screamed. In that moment Cowboy Bebop including his job.

I wish the show would bring out some of his lesser known songs such as “I want it all back“- that would have been a great song in chase sequence – instead of relying on old standards. I’m also very annoyed that I didn’t hear.”What planet is this?“Once during the whole show. Missed opportunity. There is a new song appearing in the penultimate episode that exudes Kanno. I felt his moody, synthetic vibes and I recognized Kanno at his best immediately. It will be a crime of first order. order if Netflix doesn’t release the soundtrack. Better yet, a North American tour of The Seatbelts sponsored by Netflix. A girl can dream.

Andrew: The best thing I can say about the show is this: despite the occasionally bombastic action, clunky wigs, and erratic CGI, it finally convinced me to gorge on the anime. It only took 23 years.

Cowboy Bebop begins streaming on Netflix on November 19th.

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