Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop
-an overview and review of the new adaptation
This November 19th, the much-rumored Cowboy Bebop live-action adaptation was finally released on the Netflix platform. The main cast consists of actors such as John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine.
When the adaptation was first announced it was hoped that the series would try to appease fans by following the original plot lines and the stories, as well as keeping the spirit of the original anime. Of course, it was expected that some small changes would be added to make it more modern. With how much technology has advanced, we were also expecting to see some recreations of the anime in live action.
Fans were left wishing for a new update on a similar project due to the fox rumors, release, and subsequent cancellation of the original cowboy bebop remake. This is where Netflix saw the glaring opportunity to take matters into their own hands and announce their own live-action adaptation of the beloved anime.
On paper, a production based on the work of Shinichiro Watanabe and the Sunrise studio already sounds like a winning formula, adding an interesting premise, a cast of charismatic characters involved in a rich narrative with references to the seventh atm and an attractive mix of western, space opera, and noir genres, all of that orchestrated with the best rhythms of jazz, blues, a little bit of rock, by the composer Yoko Kanno, and excellent band The Seatbelts suggests a very enticing premise to returning and new fans.
Thanks to how multicultural it is, and the tons of references to a more diverse world, it didn’t even require that many adjustments make it connect with the American audience. The product didn’t turn out to be the wonder it could have been, and it’s lacking the spark and magic that captivated the world when Cowboy Bebop was first released back in 1998. The show is now fully available, but it feels bland and forgettable. None of these adjectives could ever be used to describe the original anime.
About the anime.
Cowboy Bebop is a Japanese anime created by the Sunrise studio and the Bandai Visual producers, in 1998. It has 26 episodes, the story takes place in 2071, the episodes are about the adventures of a group of bounty hunters; Spike, Jet, and Faye, as they travel in their spaceship named Bebop.
The show has been praised a lot for dealing with philosophical and existential themes, such as emptiness, loneliness, and the weight we carry from our past. The success it originally had in 1998 and 1999 led it to be considered a masterpiece in the Japanese and international market. This success started a whole transmedia universe of adaptations, from manga to OVAs, a full-length film, and this live-action adaptation.
As a timeline, we could specify the release date of each adaptation as it follows:
1- Cowboy Bebop – the original anime broadcasted on TV Tokyo from April 3 to June 26 of 1998.
2- Cowboy Bebop – the video game released by Bandai for the PlayStation console, released on May 15th, 1998.
3- Cowboy Bebop – updated anime version broadcasted by the premium channel WOWOW from October 24th 19998 to April 24th, 1999.
4- Three manga volumes were published in the Asuka Fantasy DX magazine, by the Kadokawa Shoten editorial, during April and November 1999, and April 2000.
5- Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku no Tobira – the movie produced by Sunrise, Bandai Visual, and animated by BONES studio, released in 2001.
6- Cowboy Bebop: Tsuioki no Yakyoku, the second video game released by Bandai exclusively for the PlayStation 2, follows the story of the original anime, and was only released in Japan, August 25th, 2005.
7- Cowboy Bebop – live-action series produced by Netflix in 2021
About the adaptation
Even though it is based on the original story, the Netflix adaptation is not truly authentic to the original show, but rather a remix, taking some of the twists and events and adding them into some of the most memorable episodes by following the most popular plot lines of the show. Some of the changes work better than others when it comes to storytelling, but none of them managed to get a positive reaction from the original fandom.
One of the fundamental failures of this adaptation is that the producers seemed to be more worried about getting the superficial elements of anime emulated rather than reproducing the subtle tones that make the original anime so unique. Whether it was intentional or an accident, it makes up for a complete failure in capturing the spirit of the original piece.
The melancholy that followed most of the misadventures of Spike, Jet, and Faye are completely forgotten and set aside, and they’ve been mostly replaced. That constant search for meaning and the ray of hope to follow were left only to the anime and removed from this adaptation. Even though there are some points where you’d think it’s about to get serious, it’s immediately thrown away in a sea of cheap comedy and poorly written episodes that are borderline absurd, and this goes on for the complete 10 episodes.
The friction and complex relationship between the three main characters here feels completely forced and unnatural – their interactions with other characters tend to be out of character. The depth of the antagonists is another key element of the original narrative forgotten, instead, these antagonists are empty and boring villains with no real purpose.
The recreation of sets and locations of the original show is inconsistent, sometimes it is a completely different setting, whereas other times it is a faithful recreation, as is the case of the cathedral in the episode “The ballad of the fallen angels”, where we finally get to see a meticulously done recreation.
However, this ambitious moment does not save the show, and it really did lack the resources necessary to recreate the complete series. Except for the return of Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts, it’s hard to find any element of this adaptation that lives up to the original show. And there isn’t a single element that can justify this whole remake.
The last phrase of the original anime was: ‘Carry that weight’, and Watanabe clarified in an interview that it was not a random phrase, but rather the name of a song on the last album by the Beatles, in which the band waved goodbye to the fans and dissolved. With this reference in mind, Watanabe added to say that’s the reason it didn’t have a second season, even with all the success it originally had.
Watanabe wanted to stay true to what he created, and not mess it up with a new season. It was an homage to the fans, but this live action goes completely against that idea and philosophy and completely ruins what the original anime was meant to be.
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