The original title for this review was going to be “The Right Soul For The Wrong Source.” My thinking was that Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, a 10-episode live-action series from Tomorrow Studios, had an enticing presentation and soul, but ill-fitting for the material it was adapting.
After all, Cowboy Bebop is a certified classic. I can’t really call it a cult classic because if you know anime, you know Bebop. It carries a cultural footprint and critical acclaim in the anime sphere akin to the likes of Breaking Bad or The Sopranoes.
In 24 episodes, Shinichiro Watanabe created an eclectic character study of some of the most lovable, deep, and iconic bounty hunters in fiction. They might suck at their job, but they’re good when it counts. How could anyone adapt this show and NOT come under fire?
And really, why adapt a series like Bebop when it itself is inspired by the cinema of the western and noir genres, with a healthy balance of martial arts for good measure. It’s the same reason that people are boggled by a game like Uncharted getting a movie adaptation. Why make a movie out of a game that’s literally Indiana Jones.
Regardless, I watched the live-action Bebop, even after early reviews damned it early on. I got spoiled on the Ed reveal that EVERYONE knew was coming (more on that later), and my Twitter feed was angry people pulling out the Voldemort tech and not even saying the show’s name.
But something fascinating happened after watching three episodes the day it was released.
I enjoyed it. I was having fun. But why though?
At first, I started thinking about how different this version of Bebop was. It wasn’t that the adaptation felt pointless. It wasn’t like the visual style of everything was one-to-one. If anything, it was too clean. Everything was bright and colorful. It was vibrant, even. A far cry from the filmic grainy style of people and places seen in the original anime.
But that anime was paying homage to cinema. Some of the best works of art take inspiration from other mediums. In return, directors from around the world pay it back by taking cues from tentpole anime. The Wachowski’s borrowed heavily from Ghost in the Shell. Aronofsky paid tribute to Satoshi Kon in several of his films, the most significant being Black Swan.
So while I was in the midst of having fun with this “terrible” adaptation, I started wondering if this show was even trying to mimic the original’s style. Did it try and fail, or was its aim a bit more complicated? Maybe Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop seeks to pay homage to anime as a medium.
But that opens a whole other can of worms festered with touch topics like what one would qualify as an “anime look.” After all, it’s a medium – more accurately, a culturally significant portion of the animation medium. I’m not trying to open the can, but I can read the label. If you see something that reminds you of anime, you know… You just know.
Amidst the sea of criticism, some constructive, others not, a common point was how the shifting tone of anime and its ability to straddle serious and silly isn’t easily replicated in live-action. If I’m being totally honest, I think this point heavily underestimates live-action media.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World is one of my favorite movies of all time. It takes inspiration from video games and comic books, the elements that composed the style of the source material. The way Edgar Wright directed it, by stretching the suspension of disbelief to new limits through visual abstraction, is nothing short of masterful.
Maybe Scott Pilgrim was more consistently funny than dramatic, but it had moments of sincerity that hit nonetheless. It was a weird movie, but I have watched far too much anime to think of weird as synonymous with anything negative. More to the point, a show that jumps between serious and silly doesn’t phase me because… why would it? I watch anime.
Especially in a world with as many MCU films as we get, the concept of bathos – a climax undercut by a shift in tone – is ever-present. Then – one might suggest – is the issue the degree to which bathos is present? How much time is one tone given time to breathe before it is replaced?
Cowboy Bebop was an anime with a lot of dramatic and beautiful moments that are akin to the all-time great climaxes of cinema. But it was also funny or at least wacky enough to entertain if it didn’t make me laugh or grin. Off the top of my head, I can’t say there was a moment in all ten episodes of the live-action series where the shift between one tone and another was incredibly jarring.
Replicating the tonal shift of Bebop is a test of many elements, though. It’s in the acting, writing, and music. Can we all save some time? The music is immaculate. Of fucking course it is. Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts came back after 20 years to make new songs and do new renditions of the old ones. Kanno herself said she only used about 10 percent of the music from the old show.
Obviously, some of that means recordings or new iterations of old tracks remixed to fit the pacing of the scenes in live-action. But there’s a full album of new music made just for the show, giving this series some identity and more original works by Kanno. Sounds pretty perfect to me.
Nobody doubted that the music was going to be good. People worried that the show would be lifeless without the music. What I find pointless is trying to separate the show from the music when criticizing the new show. Music is an integral part of how I consume media. Music helps a scene soar. Even the sudden absence of it sells impact, and it burrows into the mind to create moments that stick with you after the story is over.
So without giving this adaptation too much credit on account of its music, I also don’t want to ignore the benefits of the composition in telling this new imagining of Cowboy Bebop.
As for the other key elements, how do the actors hold up the titles given to them?
The Crew and Beyond
I never really thought about how old Spike Spiegel was. Because his backstory hinted at a storied criminal past, I assumed he was in his early or late 30s. As it turns out, he’s supposed to be 27. This… admittedly gives some credence to the objections that John Cho is too old to play the character.
However, regardless of how old John Cho is, he plays Spike’s youthful attitude well, even if his spike is much more believably in his mid-thirties. Bebop‘s mantra as a story is a relaxed “whatever happens, happens,” and Cho’s Spike plays into that handsomely. There is an element of anger missing, however.
Spike can be relaxed and playful, but when his past comes back to haunt him, he gets angry. He gets wound up and is laser-focused on a goal. I never felt that stark contrast in Cho’s performance (the sudden snap) and I hope in future seasons, the story brings that out. As it is, this version of Spike accomplishes the simplest and arguably the most important task; being cool as hell.
Next up, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black. I never watched Luke Cage, so I’m unfamiliar with his work but, god damn his performance and the way he carries his voice are nearly flawless. Beau Billingslea was the voice of Jet in the original series and Mustafa’s voice feels like he’s honoring Beau’s performance closely with every line.
Jet is the moral center of the Bebop. He’s the one with all the rules, an aftereffect of his time as a cop. He’s intelligent, but he can be narrow-minded. He has conviction, but he’s clearly been worn down by life. These are elements that are true in both animation and live-action and I can’t think of anyone who could have done it better.
And if you have an issue with a black guy being cast as Jet, kindly fuck off.
Now, we venture into uncharted waters. There are many characters that have been reimagined in this new series. The lovely Faye Valentine is one of them. The backstory is much the same and the live-action series doesn’t waste time diving into it, something I take a slight issue with. As for her personality, the differences are minor or major depending on how you look at it.
Faye Valantine in Bebop 98′ is a classic “Femme Fatale.” She is intelligent and a con artist, a product of being conned herself. She uses her femininity and attraction to infiltrate groups and get close to targets. She accomplishes what others in the Bebop crew can’t and delights in it. Faye is outwardly confident and competitive, in love with getting ahead in ways only she can.
Faye Valentine in Bebop 21′ is a no-nonsense, “femme chaotique” as you might put it. She is intelligent and a con artist, a product of being conned herself. While old Faye might have cozied up to you before pointing a gun at your crotch, she’ll put your balls on the line right up-front. She’s surprisingly skilled at close combat and her unpredictability makes her a wildcard.
Faye is different this time around, but part of me feels like this show is slowly working her up to be more like the animated version. In this series, she’s actively searching for clues about her past the whole time. She hasn’t given herself much time to forge a new identity. We even get to see her discover her sexuality – or, rediscover I suppose. There’s still time for the femme fatale we all know to show herself.
But even if she doesn’t walk and talk the same way, I never completely felt like the character I was watching “wasn’t Faye.” She still gets on the boys’ nerves by being a diva on their ship and even trying to hustle her way to more money at the end of the job. I only wish we saw more of that. More of her stealing from the guys, running off, and gambling away money.
Although, as I said, I wouldn’t be shocked if the live-action is building up to that. Perhaps in season two as Faye learns more about her past and forges her own identity, she’ll fall into these old bad habits. They might be taking the long road to flesh out the characters more. I don’t think it’s a great idea. It feels like they’re shooting themselves in the foot by not making their characters three-dimensional from the start.
Also, Faye’s new outfit is pretty cool. I love the outfit from the anime, but something about it always looked like it would be the most uncomfortable and awkward thing ever. I’m not saying it couldn’t work in live-action, but it would take some work.
I actually really like how it was adapted into live-action. Faye’s yellow shirt is modernized with a zipper up the front while keeping it sleeveless. The short-shorts are hiked up to the belly button and are paired with black see-through leggings that go down to black knee-high boots.
My only complaint is with Faye’s jacket. With its dark red color, you could say it’s a substitute for the red button-up Faye always had draped over her arms. In actuality, I think it’s meant to emulate her jacket from “Jupiter Jazz,” an iconic two-part session from the anime.
In those sessions, she’d pair a coat, not unlike hers from the live-action show with black gloves. In Netflix Bebop, she wears this outfit all the time, It makes her look somewhat over-dressed for what is more often than not warm weather.
It’s funny because when she ditches the coat, her look is still a bit more conservative than the anime design while being fucking fabulous. Even with the legs covered, the contract between the shorts makes the legs pop, and the bare arms add a lot of personality to the look. Plus, the gorgeous yellow jacket isn’t covered. She even has smaller boots.
Apologies for the fashion rant, but I think there are very promising fashion choices that are close to perfection.
How about the supporting cast? Half of the fun of Bebop stories are the side characters that make them. I actually like a lot of the changes made. And others… I don’t have much to say at all. Let’s get right to talking about Gren. In the original series, Gren was a soldier who was put on medication after the war on Titan.
The medication altered his body hormones and gave him female sexual characteristics in addition to his male genitalia. Unrelated to that, he confessed that he was gay. He was a very memorable queer character who made that two-parter on Jupiter so memorable. We were never made privy to his thoughts on the matter of his sex. He had no shame dressing as a woman to get close to Vicious later in that story, but we never really understood his relationship with his body.
It’s not the kind of thing that got answers, nor that needed answering to understand his character. So one would think that adapting Gren wouldn’t necessarily make those elements the most important point of focus. But then again, elements of queer culture in Shinichiro Watanabe’s works have always resonated with audiences.
Watanabe has always been one hell of a woke artist. His works aren’t just inspired by western media but have strived to include more characters of color, more diverse musical styles, and queer representation. They aren’t always perfect. Some representation is a product of its time, but Watanabe has been understandably praised for diversity.
Cowboy Bebop in live-action imagines Gren as a master of ceremonies for a club that plays a big role in the story. They are nonbinary and are dressed to kill in just about every scene. I am in love with the costume design for them in particular. Their first scene is a prolonged establishing shot of the club he works at as he leads some guests to their table.
They have a smooth voice that makes you hang on to their every word. They command attention in a similar way that Gren from the animated series did. Them looking completely different has no significant meaning nor does it warrant significant criticism.
They aren’t a huge part of the story, either. They exist primarily to honor the queer legacy of Shinichiro Watanabe’s characters that have been meaningful to fans. Now that might not mean much to you, but it does to someone. I’m not sure what they’ll do with Gren in future seasons, whether they’ll adapt the Jupiter Jazz story or do something completely different, but I’m a fan of how Mason Alexander Park has played the role.
The two biggest characters that I and many other Bebop fans have problems with are Vicious and Julia. What’s funny is that these characters have been hurt in an attempt to make them more fleshed-out, something many Bebop fans will tell you is foolhardy. And I actually agree, not because it can’t be done, but because it would require a kind of storytelling antithetical to the series.
In the anime, Spike’s past was very much a secret left to be dissected through flashbacks and visual storytelling. In fact, almost all of the Bebop crew had mysterious pasts. But Spike’s was the most complex in concept. He belonged to a criminal underworld with a rich structure, lots of money and influence, and an internal power struggle.
The less we knew, the more interesting it seemed, because we only saw it when it intersected with Spike and his personal baggage. We might not have known why Spike went to that church in the episode “Ballad of Fallen Angels” ready to die, but everything building up to it told us it was serious.
Vicious and Julia are only as interesting as they are because of their designs, their vocal talent, and the way they are intrinsically tied to Spike. They are the best and worst parts of him, all at once. But in live-action, they are a drain on my attention span.
Vicious, played by Alex Hassell, can only be explained as a living embodiment of the shirtless Kylo Ren meme. When I look at him, I know I’m supposed to see this force of nature that is the bane of Spike’s existence, but all I see is a sort of unhinged and pathetic child. And in some ways, I feel like that was intentional.
There is an effort to present the past of Spike, Vicious, and Julia that was previously only hinted at. The trouble is that I can’t believe in a relationship between any of these characters. By exploring a part of the story that didn’t need to be explored, they actually managed to not go far enough.
Vicious fails to intimidate or even to carry the gravitas that he is supposed to in the story. When the trailer for the series, “Lost Session,” came out, I got really excited. Just hearing the line “I’m coming for you,” was like a promise that he’d haunt Spike. The reverse almost ends up being true. Spike is more of a menace to Vicious.
And Julia… is just sorta unimpressive. Admittedly, my expectations were high because the original series’ Julia was voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and she presented herself as this strong survivor of an abusive and power-hungry man. She was a badass even in the limited time she was on screen.
Elana Satine is somewhat of an unknown in acting, and while I adore discovering new actors and actresses, I am sad to say I was underwhelmed by her. I couldn’t buy into her relationship with Spike or Vicious and when the story pulled its biggest twist, I still found her lacking as a major character.
With the exception of a few ideas at the groundwork, every part of Bebop in live-action that focused on Julia, Vicious, or the syndicate at large, failed to capture my imagination even half as much as the rest of the 10 episodes. At least we got a sick fight scene with a haunting song featuring Leo Imai called “Lord of the Empty” that I refer to as Spike’s “dark theme.”
The New Sessions
The broadest criticism among those who hate or even mildly dislike the Netflix series is the quality of the writing. When it isn’t simply labeled as “poorly written,” I’ve heard criticisms that the show lacks a certain subtlety to character drama that the original had.
Giving your characters compelling stories and arcs is one thing, but to convey that, sometimes the test of a good writer is being able to say things without words. Or just say them with fewer words. Bebop could be funny, but its most memorable moments outside of fights were deeply personal conversations with lots of weight.
But that’s just one way of writing a story. Other creators delight in the dialog. And if the spoken words are entertaining and are sold by the actors, don’t they do the job?
Of course, one school of thought is that the characters’ words might conflict with their character. I’ve already discussed how these characters are different and similar to their anime counterparts. If that’s how they rationalize it being “bad,” then I can understand.
But absent of comparison to the original or the expectation of dialogue that’s less spelled out, how does the writing hold up? In my opinion, I thought it was very funny. Not even in an ironic, “look how shitty it is” kind of way. I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between the Bebop crew.
In the wave of hate that the show received online, there were clips and screenshots shared out of context to validate everyone who already hated it. But the funniest scene that people made fun of the show for is one that – in context – was meant to be that silly and stupid.
Ok, so in episode three, Jet calls a friend named Woodcock, a sultry older woman who can give them a lead on a bounty. As soon as she shows up, it is made extremely clear that she and Jet have FUCKED. The audience knows it, and Spike sure as shit knows it too.
Spike is sitting on the side the entire scene just eating up how corny this woman’s advances are. Woodcock asks for dinner in return for intel, Jet retorts, calling it blackmail, and she says “Damn right it is because Jet, you are black and you are male.”
It’s such a stupid line but seriously, it’s not like they didn’t know what they were doing when they wrote it. If the Twitter mob had let that scene they were retweeting go an extra few seconds, spike’s reaction seals the whole deal. “Seriously, favorite person ever,” he says from the sidelines, much to Jet’s chagrin.
But then again, I’m showing favoritism to the part of the show that I love, the part that is undeniably Bebop. The bits with Spike, Jet, and Faye. The stuff with the Syndicate, Vicious and Julia, are boring as hell. And none of the defense of this show’s writing is to suggest it’s at the same level as the original. It isn’t.
Sessions 1-10 of the new Bebop are 45-minutes to an hour-long. Normally, I’d be worried about such a thing. A 23-minute runtime is more standard for animation, but Bebop‘s storytelling thrives on short but memorable episodic storytelling. So I was impressed to find how well-paced this new series was.
Rarely did any of the episodes try my patience. Each one has its own unique story and bounty. Several of the marks are inspired by sessions from the animated series but with some tweaks to the characters or to how the events play out.
The biggest change and the justification of the longer episodes – besides live-action TV standards – is that there is a connected through-line narrative. Vicious has his plans to overthrow the Syndicate, plus he knows Spike is alive and wants him dead. Julia has her own plans to survive and Spike is trying to avoid dying long enough to hopefully meet her again.
So the series capitulates to a more by-the-books school of screenwriting to tell its story. In contrast, the original was opaque with its wider narrative, favoring character growth through self-contained stories. And nothing’s wrong with a simple groundwork. In a way, OG Bebop was a simple story, but it’s what it did with it that made it special.
The more I reflect on this show, even as I relish in the fun I had, the more I realize that it didn’t quite shoot far enough. There is an understanding and respect for the source material, but a faltering execution that struggles with subtlety. I mean, this definitely is Cowboy Bebop, but it’s also different in ways that should signify an artistic signature.
Here’s my best attempt at summarizing the original:
Cowboy Bebop is an eclectic space western about Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, two bounty hunters with complicated pasts. They eventually team up with a woman with no past and gambling problem, a super-intelligent dog, and an androgynous enigma of a child who exists as comic relief. They try their best to be bounty hunters while reconciling their pasts.
And now, for comparison, the Netflix series:
Cowboy Bebop is an eclectic space western about Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, two bounty hunters with complicated pasts who both got cucked. They eventually team up with a chaotic neutral bisexual woman with no past, a super-intelligent dog, and eventually an androgynous enigma of a teenager who will presumably exist as comic relief. They try their best to be bounty hunters and to help each other reconcile their pasts.
All in all, it’s the little changes that change the game entirely. Jet has an ex-wife and a daughter in this version. It’s a change that I don’t mind honestly, even if a disgraced figure trying to be a good dad to his estranged daughter is a tired trope. But I don’t even think these changes on their own are damning or implemented poorly… Well, Ed is another story but we’ll get to that. No, the character relationships in themselves are incredibly different.
Bebop fans love these characters for good reason. They are all meant to be these idealized, sexy versions of their respective power fantasies. The cowboy, the ex-cop, the femme fatale, etc. But the anime went to great lengths to peel back the surface and reveal the core of each of them.
Bebop is a show about the kinds of hard lives that build these kinds of larger-than-life characters. The consequence of being larger than life is that you’re disconnected from what everyone else feels. Spike is an ex-mobster, Faye is an amnesiac, and Jet was disgraced after being set up.
Netflix Bebop doesn’t waste any time revealing Faye’s amnesiac past. It becomes her whole character arc. It’s her underlying goal, whereas, in the anime, it only became her goal after the answers were waved in front of her. Bebop wasn’t an anime about characters with set goals. It was people trying to move on with their lives, but being stuck in the past.
Spike and Jet – in live-action – stick fairly close to this. Spike is being hunted by the syndicate, but his goal is to stay far away. He doesn’t want anything to do with it. Jet can’t fix a broken marriage, but he can try to still be a father. Their struggles and their path to reconciliation are put on display more vividly.
And I wouldn’t necessarily mind that, but that isn’t exactly the issue. The issue is how each of the main characters interacts with the others and their goals. Now, frankly, I actually dig a lot of the character writing. It could be a bit heartwarming at times. But I’m not sure it should be.
Do you ever notice how in fandom, there is a tendency to idealize characters and romanticize them while ignoring their flaws? The degree varies, but I think on a broad scale, a lot of viewers understand that the characters have flaws, but also latch onto the story’s assertion – if it exists – that they are good deep down.
So in stuff like fanfiction, sometimes characters act in ways that seem uncharacteristic upon close inspection. Alternatively, they move the plot in a direction that seems unfeasible. What I mean is that fans have a tendency to fall in love with characters and want them to be happy.
Why do you think half of the internet loves making fucking “coffee shop AU’s” and other shit like that? They want the characters to interact as the most idealized, “wholesome” versions of themselves. But making good stories sometimes means disconnecting yourself from the love for your characters and understanding how they serve the story and vice versa.
I bring all this up because when I watch tender moments between characters in Netflix Bebop, it feels like a fan writing what they desperately wish the characters they love would say to each other.
This isn’t to imply that Netflix Bebop is “bad fanfiction.” Most inspired fiction is some kind of fanfiction anyhow. The point is that Christopher Yost and the other writers on this show must have loved these characters and how they gelled together, but couldn’t grasp how they fit.
I never have reviewed the original series, mostly because I feel like everything that can be said about it has been said. But I did review the movie, my favorite part of the franchise and one that doesn’t get nearly as much love as it deserves. In my review, I mentioned how the Bebop crew doesn’t work well together like any other team I’ve seen in fiction.
They argue, they split up and look into their own leads, fuck up, get kidnapped, and then if they’re lucky, scramble together to pull it off at the end. They are a pretty terrible team, but an enjoyable one despite that. In the series, this is displayed slowly and methodically.
Faye will run away but it’s really a cry for help. The boys bring her back, but they don’t really mind if they can’t get the money she stole. Spike goes off to confront his past, but they don’t try to stop him. Who are they to judge? There is so much underlying trust and respect when it counts.
In live-action, everything that wasn’t said before is said. It’s a release, and in some ways, that was satisfying to me. It comes through during sincere moments, and sometimes it’s sold through comedy. Take for instance Faye’s search for her past. There are a few genuinely sweet moments, especially between Faye and Jet, that show Jet’s understanding of what it means to her. There’s a display of friendly affection that I normally wouldn’t expect between them.
Now that I think about it, a lot of the divergent moments in character behavior rear their head during Faye’s plotline. In the anime, when Faye got the videotape from her past, Spike and Jet’s reaction was one of surprise. The weight of it shocked them. In live-action, their reaction is one of bitter-sweet happiness. It’s a very different kind of reaction, but no less human.
Everything about the characters’ circumstances and the nature of their partnership is the same, but the way they express it and explore it together is different. It feels more wholesome, less internalized. Cowboy Bebop in live-action is an idealized reimagining of the Bebop crew, one that spends bonding time together that I’d have never expected the anime crew to partake in.
I mean, it’s hilarious to see Jet take the gang bowling, but the fact that Spike and Faye tagged along at all is funnier to me. I doubt Jet would have convinced either of them to leave the ship unless he lied to them about what they were doing, probably with different lies for each of them.
The trouble with adaptation – and adaptations being different – is that the deviations will hit differently for everyone. I was fairly entertained by Bebop‘s divergence, but others who feel strongly about the show hate it. The reason probably lies in my own relationship with the original.
I’ve only ever watched the whole series once. I’ve rewatched favorites of mine numerous times. “Ballad of Fallen Angels,” “Sympathy For the Devil,” “Jupiter Jazz,” etc., and I’ve watched the movie countless times. I suppose it’s likely that my emotional attachment to the original isn’t as strong, even with my studied understanding of its qualities.
I can speak to what drew people to it, how it influenced media and the culture, and the way it subverts its appeal to the viewer the longer they watch it. I love Cowboy Bebop, but I might not love it as much as others. Naturally, I’d like to distance myself from any defense of Netflix Bebop that discredits dissent as being “blinded by nostalgia.” There are valid reasons to be angry.
The most divergent parts of the story are written poorly. The script could take more time to let the emotions of moments sink in. The characters are different, and not always in ways that are meaningful or entertaining on their own. Nostalgia may very well play a role, but it isn’t everything.
You know the other big hurdle with making adaptations? The idea is that it will cast the wrong perception of the original. “Why make a live-action version when the original is right there!” If you’re an anime fan and deal with people not giving mature animated television a chance, you’re probably irritated at the very idea of Bebop being adapted.
To be frank, I don’t think the reality is that bleak. Yes, way too many people dismiss animation and its merits as a storytelling medium. But consider that someone may watch the Netflix show, then get a recommendation to watch the original and think “hey, I’ll give it a shot.” Netflix doesn’t recommend one without shoving the other in your face.
Maybe they won’t get far. Can’t really blame them. The first four episodes of the anime aren’t amazing. Episode five and onward is where the series really validates itself. “Ballad of Fallen Angels” is a masterpiece of show-don’t-tell storytelling.
So it’s no wonder that the tenth and final episode of Netflix Bebop decided to base the climax on the popular episode, even busting out the album version of “Rain” sung by Steve Conte. And at the very end, after having fun with the show up to that point, even I was a bit disappointed by the ending.
I’ve already talked at length about how much I don’t like Vicious and Julia in this show. They are boring and their performances were lacking. Even so, they served their purposes well enough in a certifiably packed finale. But they managed to fuck it up at the end.
The show diverged from the original by giving Vicious and Julia more screentime, but the finale sends it into a completely different universe by completely changing the characters. It sends the future of this series into uncharted territory. I can only imagine how future episodes will recontextualize classic episodes with new stories.
I can only hope that with a fresh direction, the writers can get their footing and improve Julia as a character. Otherwise, the overarching story of Bebop will suffer even more greatly.
I’m speaking as if this show will get a sequel. It’s not confirmed, but frankly, with how long it stayed in Netflix’s top ten, I wouldn’t count it out. I also… wouldn’t be opposed honestly. Speaking of continuations, we have to address the reveal of Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV in live-action.
Back when Jet got cast, this guy I know complained about him being black non-stop as if the English actor and defining voice of Jet wasn’t black himself. I’ve already made my opinion on those complaints clear. But, after the show was released, he decided to “Uno Reverse Card” me by asking the question: “why’d they make Ed white?”
Now while I doubt this was asked in earnest instead of just them being an asshole, they make a good point. It’s a good opportunity for another person of color to be cast. It would get backlash regardless because the same exact people would complain that the original was “just tan” or whatever, but who cares what they think?
Ed as an entity is perhaps the best argument for why Bebop should not be adapted to live-action. They move in a way not entirely human and talk in a way only a talented voice actor could make sound bearable. They’re also a kid, while the actor playing them looks like a teenager.
People have already pointed out that the vibe they give off is one of an annoying person from an anime club in high school. I get it, but I think that impression is more on account of the directing of the last scene. No one has ever looked visually appealing through a fish-eye lens.
So Ed was deemed cringe, and now we have to wait until a second season to see how they’ll present Ed throughout the show. It could literally go any direction, but if anything about this show genuinely has me worried, it’s them.
What’s the Fucking Point?
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is not as good as the original. To be fair, I don’t think it ever intended to be better. But for a show with such masterful source material, being “okay” is kinda like a death sentence. Does the live-action series have a right to exist?
I can’t say with confidence that it does because I can’t say that the things I love about it aren’t rooted in my love for the original. What I loved that wasn’t based in the original can be chalked up to Christopher Yost and his team’s comedic writing, but it didn’t make the drama with the syndicate fall any less flat.
My goal with this review was to explore what was so entertaining about this adaptation to me. As a result, I ended up creating some very speculative conjecture about the creative aims of this show. I think it’s the result of passionate fans trying to create their idealized imagining of Bebop with a treatment honoring the director’s historically progressive storytelling.
The cinematography can feel like a mid-2000s cult Sci-fi channel series, but that comes with its own charm. The acting is faithful in some places and very divergent in others. The action is actually awesome and the music is expectedly stellar. The writing is serviceable but doesn’t reach for greatness in the simplest of places.
Netflix Bebop was a little rough, but it was pretty fun. But between its original material’s reputation and the dubious necessity for this adaptation’s existence, I’m genuinely not sure if I can recommend it. What a weird position to be in as a critic.
Maybe the simplest solution is the best one.
Watch the opening scene of episode two, up until the opening plays. If you are having lots of fun, I think you’ll like it. If not, then you may as well skip it. It’s got good banter, a good plot setup, and an awesome fight scene. It serves as a super effective sampler of what the show has to offer.
Cowboy Bebop is available for legal streaming through Netflix. The original anime is also available on Netflix.
I wonder if I’ll lose followers for this… Probably not, but I guarantee someone muted me when they saw me retweeting stuff from the show’s Twitter page and the Netflix Geeked page. What can I say, I had fun, let me live.
Were you disappointed by Netflix Bebop? Were you pleasantly surprised? Let me know and while you’re at it, tell me your favorite episode of the original series! Mine is “Ballad of Fallen Angels.”