Star Rating:

Cowboy Bebop

Streaming On: Watch Cowboy Bebop on Netflix

Season: 1

Actors: John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, Daniella Pineda

Release Date: Friday 19th November 2021

Genre(s): Action, Sci-Fi, Western

Running time: 400 minutes

Adaptations often either enrich or dilute certain aspects of its source material.

There are countless examples of either occurring. For the most part, we accept that and move on. Anime is something that's eluded easy adaptations, however. There are countless theories as to why this happens. It could be that anime doesn't lend itself to live-action translation because of how bold its imagery is, and how unlikely it is to work in a real setting. There's also the fact that anime is, when you come right down to it, a pretty niche thing. It typically deals with issues and ideas that defy easy interpretation, and certainly doesn't allow for the kind of homogenisation that mainstream audiences expect and are drawn to.

Sure, people might know of 'Akira', maybe 'Perfect Blue', certainly a lot of Studio Ghibli's work too. But beyond that, the likes of 'Guyver', 'Macross', and 'Cowboy Bebop' would pretty much be the preserve of die-hard fans of the medium. Therefore, approaching the live-action remake of 'Cowboy Bebop' might initially make you trepidatious if you're a fan, but curious if you're not. After all, if Netflix is trying to make this a thing, surely there's something there that will appeal to wider audiences? The problem with this thinking however is that when you have something as unique and unusual as 'Cowboy Bebop', trying to appeal to everyone is often a good recipe for appealing to nobody. You sand off the edges, you mould it to suit broader tastes, and in the course of doing so, you lose everything that made it special in the first place.

This is one of the key problems with 'Cowboy Bebop'. With ten episodes - about two or three too many, as well - the live-action series makes big swings, but its priorities seem to be all over the place. The costumes and the casting look right. John Cho is an inspired choice as the cool-headed assassin Spike Spiegel, while Mustafa Shakir occupies the role of Jet Black with ease. Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine opts for more comedic tendencies, but the effect is the same. Yet, everything just feels off. Their costumes look like cosplay rather than something lived in and real. The constant use of cartoonish interiors and exteriors, complemented by dutch angles and gaudy colours, gives it a kind of cheapness that's impossible to shake. Not only that, some of the characters translated into live-action just look too ridiculous to take seriously. Vicious, in the anime, looks like your garden variety villain of the medium - white hair covering a perfectly angular face with superfluous chains holding a cloak or coat together. In live-action, however, it looks like he should be roaming the halls of a large-scale convention hall.

So much of 'Cowboy Bebop' feels undue attention was given to ultimately trivial things like costumes, yet almost no thought was given to creating something fresh like the original anime. More than that, constantly referencing it - either in the story or in other ways - brings up comparisons, and the live-action series always comes up short against it. When it does try and branch out into something separate, you'll find some of the season's best episodes. That said, they're few enough that only two, maybe three episodes really end up being worth the time.

As mentioned, John Cho and Mustafa Shakir both give committed performances as Spike Spiegel and Jet Black. Cho, in particular, is able to grasp that level of sardonic humour, while Shakir's grouch-with-a-heart-of-gold persona fits him comfortably. Alex Hassell, though he is trying his damnedest, never raises the villainous role to a place where he feels threatening. Elena Satine, who plays the woman caught between the protagonist and antagonist, doesn't come across as particularly convincing. Likewise, the opening episode - effectively a shot-for-shot remake of the anime's original opening episode - features two completely unremarkable performances from the bounty targets.

There's some potential for 'Cowboy Bebop'. For one, a lot of retooling in the writer's room is needed and more confident directors are needed behind the camera; specifically, ones who know how to direct an action sequence with some ingenuity instead of some of the same old stuff we've seen a dozen or so times. On top of that, trying to force quippy humour into existence by letting everyone curse to their heart's desire just never works and directing much of the season's attention to the least interesting aspects just means you've got to slog through a lot of crap to get to some moderately good stuff. And even then, why bother with this when the original anime is on Netflix?