Netflix’s ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Strikes the Wrong Chord

Julien Neaves, Editor

How does one take one of the most unique, stylish and iconic anime series ever and turn it into a generic (but admittedly still quirky) action series? Well, ask the Powers That Be behind Netflix’s recent live action adaptation of 1998 anime series Cowboy Bebop.

Man I wanted to love this series. The trailers looked so cool. I had such high hopes. But after watching the show—especially after binging its vastly superior source material in preparation—I was singing the blues. With an astral gate-sized SPOILER ALERT (for both the anime and live action) let’s break it on down!

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

Let me start with the things I liked. They kept the jazzy opening theme from the anime and I appreciated that because it is not only one of the best anime opening themes musically, but just an awesome composition on its own. And overall the series’ music was solid, reflecting the eclectic style of the source material. I also thought the visual effects were cool and the costuming was pretty spot on.

In terms of casting I thought Mustafa Shakir truly nailed grizzled cop-turned-bounty hunter Jet Black. The look and the attitude really brought the character to life. And I didn’t even realise he was the same actor who played Bushmaster in Luke Cage Season 2 but I enjoyed him there and I enjoyed him here as well. The series adapts many of the episodes from the anime, so there are several familiar characters and scenarios. Some like Asteroid Blues follow the original story very closely and delivers well. Then you have the tale of the eco-terrorists of Gateway Shuffle which starts similar but then goes a darker route (human-tree hybrids are way creepier than turning people into monkeys) and I appreciated the new direction. And veteran genre actress Adrienne Barbeau was a delight as Space Warriors matriarch Maria Murdock.

Talk to the hand. Remember that? ‘Talk to the hand?’ They should bring that back

Well that’s about it for the stuff I enjoyed unreservedly. Okay, live action Ein was totes adorbes. But that’s it. While a couple of episodes are adapted well to live action most just feel like lifeless, watered-down versions. The “Teddy Bomber” was one of the anime’s funniest villains and Mad Pierrot one of its most menacing, but here they are both underwhelming. And yes, I know I am comparing the two versions a lot but even outside of that the results of Netflix’s effort is still subpar.

John Cho is a cool actor and he has Spike Spiegel’s dapper look and penchant for quipping but I don’t get the swagger nor the haunted demeanour. And they kept Faye Valentine’s amnesiac backstory but Daniella Pineda’s version is more action-oriented bounty hunter and less flaky con-artist. And she swears a lot and doubles down on the over-the-top humour, most of which ends of falling very flat. I feel like she’s trying way too hard.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, ‘NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!’

The biggest issue with the show is the Syndicate storyline. Where do I even start? Firstly, Alex Hassell was poorly miscast as sadistic, power-hungry gangster Vicious. Instead of a cold, emotionless killer we have this wide-eyed, grimacing British-sounding dude. He never felt intimidating or powerful or threatening. He was just kinda there and his portrayal was off like a dry cough. Now Vicious’s rise to power was decent enough but I felt we spent wayyyyyyy too much time on it. And the always fun John Noble is completely wasted as Caliban, Vicious’s amoral father and Syndicate Elder.

And whose bright idea was it to make him married to Julia? It did not work. In the anime Julia is on the run from Vicious and remains a mysterious figure. Here we spend an entire subplot of her strained marriage with Vicious and machinations against him. Who asked for that? No one. And the whole 180 of her turning evil and shooting Spike in the finale felt so contrived and just plain stupid. The anime did it much better. And while I liked Tamara Tunie as jazz owner Ana we spent too much time at her bar. I want to see more of this crazy futuristic world, not spend a quarter of the series trading exposition at a gin joint. Geeze!

They call this a Guyanese standoff. That’s not true. I just made that up

By the last few episodes I felt like I was just going through the motions. And then we went full generic with Jet blowing up after learning Spike’s Syndicate secret (and Fearless is a dumb name, #justsaying) and then having the duo go rescue his daughter from Vicious. What action movie haven’t I seen that in? And of course Faye is going to come save them with her ship. No one was surprised there. NO ONE! And instead of Vicious getting put down Julia keeps him prisoner in a clear case of Season 2 baiting. I am not baited. I am annoyed. And not even Ed showing up at the end could make up for it. At that point I had checked out mentally.

I think the writers either did not appreciate or really care for the source material, hence this weak sauce, tropey adaptation. Sorry Space Cowboy. I don’t want to see you again.

Editor Jules’s Score: 5 out of 10

So what did you think of Cowboy Bebop? Does it jam or blow? Sound off in the comments. And you can check out more anime related content below:

REVISITING COWBOY BEBOP TWO DECADES LATER IN FOUR NOTES
NETFLIX’S DEATH NOTE IS A WRITE-OFF: REVIEW IN THREE SLICES
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Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.