TL;DR – I thoroughly enjoyed this remix of the anime that walks the line between something old and new
Disclosure – I paid for the Netflix subscription that viewed this series
Cowboy Bebop Review –
I have been on record with say that the original Cowboy Bebop was and is one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Indeed I wrote an article gushing about why I love it [see here]. Which meant I was of two minds when they announced that they would be finally doing that live-action remake that had been in development hell for decades. There is first the excitement of diving back into that world, but then the trepidation of what happens if they miss the mark. Well, now having watched it all, I can see the flaws, but none of them stopped me from having a good time.
So to set the scene, in 2171, the solar system is a very different place, with Earth in ruins and the human race now spread out across the many planets, moons, and asteroids. Because everything is so spread out, police find it difficult to catch criminals, so they use bounty hunters or cowboys to help bring them to justice. On the Bebop, we see a pair of cowboys with owner Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) and his partner Spike Spiegel (John Cho). They are trying to make it through the week, with fuel, food, and damages all clocking up, which is good that out on New Tijuana, there is a new bounty with the name of Asimov Solensan (Jan Uddin) on the run from the Syndicate after stealing a supply of Redeye from Vicious (Alex Hassell). Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
One of the aspects of the show that I liked is how they, well to use a musical term, remixed the story. This is not a beat for beat remake of the anime. While they use elements and plot points, the tone and style differ. For example, the first episode Cowboy Gospel is based on the original episode Asteroid Blues. We get Faye (Daniella Pineda) introduced much earlier than in the anime, which shakes up the narrative. As well as this, the episode also shifts the dynamic of the Solensan’s. In the original show, Asimov was a gangster and Katerina (Lydia Peckham) was his girlfriend that gets caught in his wake and just sort of exists as a tragic figure. Azimov is still a gangster in the new show, a moment of the Syndicate, but it feels more like he is the one caught in Katerina’s wake. Because Katerina is a daughter of a wealthy, powerful businessman, and she is on the run from him. This gives Katerina more agency in her actions, even if it ends in the same tragic end.
When you chart the narrative across the season, it roughly matches the stories up to Jupiter Jazz. Some of the original stories are truncated, and some are expanded. One area that has seen a significant expansion is in the relationship between Spike/Fearless, Vicious, and Julia (Elena Satine). Besides some key episodes, most of that relationship is shown in flashback inserts, with innuendo and subtext as we see the road that led Spike to the Bebop. Personally, I liked the additions. Turning Vicious into this preening toff living in daddy’s (John Noble) shadow worked with how petulant the character is. Also, while a lot of Julia’s arc was frustrating, it dramatically shifts the character’s story. It left it in a place where I am fascinated to see if they will take it as far as possible.
The show’s core strength is the main cast, who embody the characters while also making their own mark. I had never thought of John Cho as Spike before he was cast, but the second he arrives on screen, he is instantly Spike. He has the charisma and style that ooze from the character in every pore. Jet’s family gives his character more weight than just a guy grumpy about his past. It also helps give him more context for some of the extreme reactions in the back half of the season. It is also great to see Daniella Pineda capture the essence of Faye and her rapport with her fake-mum Whitney Haggis Matsumoto (Christine Dunford), and I like the new costume. This is combined with some good guest spots and recurring characters. I liked how they reworked the character of Ana (Tamara Tunie) to be the one running a jazz club because the setting is delightful, and it meant the show could introduce Gren (Mason Alexander Park) earlier.
However, while I liked it a lot, there was also a whole bunch of jank. I am not sure if it was budget issues, covid, or both, but the show looked cheap in places. So we get the juxtaposition of the wonderfully detailed interior of the Bebop with those that look like they were filmed on an unfinished backlot. There were also some practical aspects, like the fights being just a little slower than they needed, that you see throughout. This was not a big deal-breaker because most of the time, it just sent me back in time to those nostalgic moments of Science Fiction of the past, just with instead of that one pine forest in Canada, you get the New Zealand coastline.
From a story perspective, every episode furthered the main story in some way. This makes the narrative link across the season, but it also means that few stand-alone episodes do not give any room to breathe. It also means that there was very little actual bounty hunting in the show, all about cowboys. All the cast is hamming it up, as the camera goes all Dutch-angles whenever it can. However, not all scenery-chewing was the same, and many missed the mark. Finally, look, if you and going to cast Rachel House and John Noble in your project, actually use them for their talents.
In the end, do we recommend Cowboy Bebop? Look, I have said that the original show is one of my all-time favourite shows. This is not going to be on that list. However, even with all the flaws, I had a lot of fun throughout the season. I liked that they remixed the story instead of just doing a beat-by-beat remake. So, while there is a lot of jank, there is also a lot of fun. Honestly, I want to see more, which I think is the best recommendation.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Cowboy Bebop
Directed by – Alex Garcia Lopez & Michael Katleman
Written by – Christopher Yost, Sean Cummings, Vivian Lee, Liz Sagal, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Alexandra E. Hartman, Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Jennifer Johnson
Developed By – Christopher Yost
Based On – Cowboy Bebop by Hajime Yatate and Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Keiko Nobumoto
Production/Distribution Companies – Tomorrow Studios, Midnight Radio, Sunrise Inc. & Netflix
Starring – John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, Daniella Pineda, Elena Satine, Alex Hassell, Charlie & Harry with Eden Perkins, Tamara Tunie, Mason Alexander Park, Geoff Stults, Carmel McGlone, Rachel House, John Noble, Ann Truong, Hoa Xuande, Jan Uddin, Lydia Peckham, Cali Nelle, Nathaniel Lees, Adrienne Barbeau, Matthias Luafutu, Wade Williams, Josh Randall, Rodney Cook, Christine Dunford, Tyson Ritter, Blessing Mokgohloa & Molly Moriarty
Episodes Covered – Dog Star Swing, Calisto Soul, Darkside Tango, Binary Two-Step, Galileo Hustle, Sad Clown A-Go-Go, Blue Crow Waltz & Supernova Symphony