Netflix’s Live-Action Cowboy Bebop Misunderstands What Made the Original a Classic
Cowboy BebopIt is an emotion. One of Japanese anime’s most distinctive creations, the 1998 series is set in the year 2071 and follows a colorful crew of bounty hunters—and a corgi—as they pilot their spaceship, the BebopTo search for fugitives, he traverses the galaxy. Shinichiro Watanabe’s vision of a postapocalyptic world with casinos and dive bars is a scene in which Earth refugees have settled on other planets and mixed cultures while clinging onto pop-cultural remnants. It’s film noir and Blade RunnerJazz and Westerns are a love letter for ramen, martial arts, and classic rock.
It is this immersive world that draws in the most irritable, tantrum-prone fans. Some protested John Cho was 49 years old and too old to portray Spike Spiegel, a 27-year-old antihero, in live-action remake of the movie that will be available on Netflix starting Nov. 19. Some complained that Daniella Pineda was too young (The Originals) didn’t look sexy enough as Faye Valentine, an animated character so curvaceous as to be structurally unsound. (“Six foot, double-D sized breasts, two-inch waist,” Pineda cracked in a video responding to the kerfuffle. “You know, they looked everywhere for that woman and they couldn’t find her, it was kinda weird.”) But as it turns out, the casting isn’t the problem at all.
Neither is the plot, which combines deep dives into the characters’ pasts with a lightly serialized chronicle of the Bebop’s intensifying conflicts with a powerful interplanetary crime syndicate. We learn more about Spike’s heartbreak over time. The fiery Faye is Spike’s crewmate, but he can also be an enemy or an ally. Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), are his rivals. The Deuce(Retired police detective) and have embarrassing backstories.
What’s missing from this gratuitous adaptation, which credits Watanabe as a consultant, is the atmosphere. Although it has a certain pulpy, shoddy chic, Doctor WhoA jazzy and dynamic original score will enhance your visual style. Bebop composer Yoko Kanno, it can’t match the collage of aesthetics, vibes and cultural references that made its predecessor feel more like a dispatch from the future than an attempt to simulate it in the present. Showrunner André Nemec has said he aimed “to mine the archetypal nature of the characters and dig out deeper histories.” Maybe that explains the otherwise baffling decision to adapt a 25-minute cartoon into episodes of up to an hour. Unfortunately, the show’s core appeal is lost. Cowboy BebopIt is a deep resonance that can only be found in richly texture surfaces.