Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop

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The live-action Cowboy Bebop is finally here. Overall, I think it’s okay. I enjoyed some episodes more than others. It’s more R-rated than the original with lots of cussing, nudity, and violence. The original anime was quite violent at times, of course, so maybe the new series just felt more violent due to being live-action. There’s a scene in one episode in which lots of naked people are gunned down which added nothing to the plot, so I can only assume it was done purely for shock value.

John Cho’s Spike Spiegel isn’t as easy-going as his anime counterpart. The animated Spike fought effortlessly, sometimes appearing to take out bad guys on accident. He often didn’t seem to have a care in the world, a go-with-the-flow type of guy whose life philosophy is, “Whatever happens, happens.” While the live-action Spike quotes this line as well, he’s more serious. A lot less fun to hang out with, and not quite as cool. Vicious is hot-tempered in this version, not the cold, calculating bad guy of the original, making him less cool as well.

I’d say Daniella Pineda’s Faye Valentine is an improvement over the original. The original Faye Valentine was constantly being captured, handcuffed, tied up, and in need of rescue. The new Faye only gets handcuffed once. She’s not a damsel in distress and can take care of herself.

Mustafa Shakir’s Jet Black is less zen than his anime counterpart. He spends more time being angry and yelling at people. He’s given a daughter he didn’t have before, (mainly so she can be rescued later), but this does give him more personality than he had before and I think it’s a good addition.

Edward is largely absent from the live-action series. She’s mentioned in one episode and her hand appears in the opening credits, but she herself doesn’t appear until the final scene. I felt she was more annoying than her anime counterpart, but this is probably due to the fact that a live-action person acting like Ed is just going to be more annoying than a cartoon acting like such a cartoonish person.

Expanding 24 minute episodes into 45 minute episodes means they need to add material. They do this by giving more screen time to characters like Spike’s nemesis Viscous and Spike’s ex-girlfriend Julia. Annie from the original series is a club owner now instead of a convenience store owner and Gren is a performer now instead of an ex-soldier. They both get a lot more screen time as well, although I feel like they don’t actually get to do much.

Session 1: Cowboy Gospel is largely based on Asteroid Blues, the first episode of the anime. The opening scene takes place in a space casino, a nod to Honky Tonk Woman (session 3 of the original). As in the first episode of the anime, most of the money they make catching the bounty goes to pay for the collateral damage they caused.

It’s a good adaptation of the original episode it’s based on. The three old men who had reoccuring cameos in the original make an appearance here, but unfortunately, we don’t see them again. I guess the makers of the show thought it would be too goofy for them to keep showing up in lots of episodes.

Faye and Viscous are introduced in the first episode rather than later. Jet and Spike’s ex-girlfriends are both dating jerks. Can we please be done with the lazy trope of a villain killing his own employees just to show how evil he is? We already know Viscous is evil. Scenes like this are unnecessary and it doesn’t make sense for anyone to be loyal to a person who kills his own followers anytime he gets annoyed. This quibble aside, this episode gets a thumbs up from me.

Session 2: Venus Pop (based on session 22: Cowboy Funk) is the Teddy Bomber episode, but they decided to make it more series and less funny. They focus on Spike’s dark backstory which was only a small part of the anime. There’s still jokes, but they’re body part humor and people insulting and hurting each other, not goofy cartoonish humor like the original.

Not only does Cowboy Andy not appear in this episode, they fake out fans of the original series by having an assassin wear cowboy boots, getting our hopes up, only to dash them. Spike’s rivalry with Andy was the funniest part of the original series and they completely remove it. Instead of having Jet dress as a hippie at a costume party, he’s instead dressed in dark colors at a wedding where everyone else is wearing white. Not as funny.

Faye is missing from this episode. Jet at least still has his bonsai tree. The bounty hunter show Big Shot hosted by Punch and Judy is still here as well. I like that they draw attention to the former-gangster-and-former-cop-working-together angle which I didn’t pick up on before. Gotta give this episode a thumbs down though, for turning a funny episode into a serious one. The original anime was able to do both serious and funny episodes, but this new series is more one-note.

Session 3: Dog Star Swing (based on session 2: Stray Dog Strut) Instead of going with the running gag from the original series in which Spike and Jet are constantly in need of cash for repairs or food, in this episode, they need cash to buy a present for Jet’s daughter. Faye doesn’t appear in this episode either.

Hakim changes his appearance in this episode using a holographic disguise rather than plastic surgery, which I like. However, they changed him from a violent sociopath into a silly person which didn’t work as well. They have an older woman flirt with Jet played for laughs, so the makers of this show have a different sense of humor than I do. (I wonder if they did this to reverse Jet wanting to date an underage girl in Boogie Woogie Feng Shui, session 21 of the original series. It’s better to joke about him dating someone too old for him than too young for him after all.)

I’m happy to see the Welsh corgi Ein make an appearance. There’s no mention of him being a data dog, but his tag lists a medical company, so he might still be more than he appears. There is a cool moment where Spike almost falls from a roof, Jet grabs him, and he lights a cigarette while hanging upside down just taking it easy. This is the easy-going Spike fans love. Overall, a good episode.

Session 4: Callisto Soul (based on session 4: Gateway Shuffle) Faye is finally back. They don’t do a slow reveal of Faye’s backstory, but instead just straight up tell us. I would’ve like it better if they did more of a slow reveal. The original series hinted at Faye being from an earlier time by having her express old-fashioned opinions such as her belief that all hackers are nerdy boys, before revealing her backstory. Simply dumping it on us doesn’t give the audience a chance to guess it.

Something I’ve gotten tired of is when shows play happy music during violent scenes. I guess people dying in gruesome ways is funny? I do like that the environmentalist villains turn people into trees instead of monkeys, but they shouldn’t have tried to turn horrific deaths into a light-hearted moment.

I liked the scene where Faye picks up a drink thinking it’s beer, only to get a look of pure disgust on her face after drinking it. She asks what it is and it turns out to be water! This is the type of humor Cowboy Bebop is all about. It’s reminiscent of the scene in the anime where Ed pours milk on her cereal and Spike pours beer on his. Also, Ein helps Faye fly the ship! This is probably my favorite episode of the live-action series because it gets the humor from the original series right for the most part.

Session 5: Darkside Tango (based on session 16: Black Dog Serenade) opens with a noir-style flashback of Jet when he was a policeman being shot by a dirty cop after capturing Udai Taxim. Jet was found guilty of being a dirty cop and blamed Chalmers who is dating his ex-wife, but as in the anime, things aren’t always what they seem.

I like that Faye takes a shower-bath-shower and her explanation for why. Good stuff. Cowboy Andy is listed on the Big Shot leaderboards, so maybe he’ll show up in a future episode after all? I like that we get Julia’s point of view instead of keeping her mysterious. This episode feels true to the original. Another thumbs up.

Session 6: Binary Two Step (based on session 23: Brain Scratch) Jet gets a lead from Radical Ed the hacker on a bounty called Dr. Londes. Spike ends up getting trapped in a virtual world which becomes more and more cartoonish. (This is true to the original series which changes styles from episode to episode.) There’s a funny moment when Faye complains about Jet walking in on her during a post-coital moment and he points out that she’s in the engine room. The original series did hint at Faye being into women when she kissed Ed to wake her up in session 24: Hard Luck Woman, so it’s not completely out of left field for Faye to now be into women, although it was still a bit surprising.

Session 7: Galileo Hustle (based on session 18: Speak Like a Child and session 15: My Funny Valentine) A woman who conned Faye in the past returns, asking for help escaping from a Russian guy called The Mink. So the fake boyfriend from the anime gets changed into a fake mother. This episode takes place in a middle-eastern-looking city, true to the original which made each location in the solar system look like different locations on Earth. There’s a funny surprise ending, which I liked. There’s also a funny moment in which Jet is virtually attending his daughter’s recital, oblivious to Spike fighting a bunch of guys in the background. I felt like they tried too hard to make Faye watching the video tape from her younger self into an emotional moment at the end, though.

Session 8: Sad Clown A-Go-Go (based on session 20: Pierrot Le Fou) I like that they imply Pierrot Le Fou has the same origin as Ein. I also like that he’s addicted to Red Eye, another connection that makes sense. Clocks go to 15 in this episode, like they did in the anime. Pierrot is afraid of dogs instead of cats this time, which gives Ein something to do. I’d say this episode is largely true to the original.

Session 9: Blue Crow Waltz (expands the short flashback of Spike and Viscous being partners we saw in session 5: Ballad of Fallen Angels, and session 13: Jupiter Jazz Part 2) Seeing Spike and Vicious working together back in the day is a nice addition. Did Cowboy Bebop composer Yoko Kanno get a cameo in this episode? I couldn’t verify this by googling, so maybe not.

Session 10: Supernova Symphony (based on session 5: Ballad of Fallen Angels and sessions 25-26: Real Folk Blues) Pretty good for the most part. I liked that Viscous quotes his anime self, “When angels are kicked out of heaven, they become devils.” However, the surprise twist ending comes out of nowhere. You’ve got to at least hint at something like that earlier. Unfortunately, a pretty okay series overall ends in a Game-of-Thrones-like fumble of a surprise ending.

Ed, who’s hinted at in the opening credits (you see her hand waving around like in the original series credits), finally shows up at the end. She didn’t appear until session 9 of the original series, so I’m okay with her not showing up until session 10 of this reboot. She wants to hire Spike to catch the butterfly man, a reference to the Cowboy Bebop movie, Knocking on Heaven’s Door (which I haven’t been able to rewatch since I can’t find it streaming anywhere and DVDs and Blurays of it in my region cost over $100. Why is this movie so hard to find?)

Overall, the Netflix Cowboy Bebop isn’t quite as cool as the original anime. Keeping the same composer does make the music just as cool, but we don’t get enough moments of Spike being laid back to contrast with the moments when he’s all business. It’s not as funny, and I felt like they didn’t differentiate each location enough. They did keep the same style of opening credits, which I liked. Other than the opening casino scene, they don’t do much with zero g or outer space, which made it a bit less cool as well.

The new series does play with different genres, giving Jet a noir-style flashback and giving Spike an increasingly cartoonish virtual world. However, the original anime had some episodes being inspired by Westerns, others by kung-fu movies, still others by horror, noir, cyberpunk, blaxplotation, or surrealism. The original did tragedy, comedy, and action equally well, but the live-action series doesn’t quite pull this off.

I miss the goofy humor of the original. The running gag that they never have money for food or repairs (and Spike having to steal food) is absent. We don’t see Faye eating Ein’s dogfood because there’s nothing else to eat. Spike isn’t a pickpocket. There are no goofy scenes of Spike hiding a cigarette or hotdog in his mouth. We don’t see Cowboy Andy riding his horse indoors or ignoring the Teddy Bomber because he’s more interesting in his rivalry with Spike. We don’t see Spike reaching for a drink while a restaurant is being shot up, or making himself a hangover cure while fighting goes on around him. People don’t have high-pitched voices in Venus due to helium in the atmosphere. I get that they can’t make the live-action series as cartoonish as the original, but they could have made it a bit less grim.

On the plus side, the new series isn’t as sexist or homophobic. They got rid of the stereotypical native american shaman and this isn’t a world where fortune telling works. They didn’t have Jet lusting after underage girls, which is definitely a plus. And they don’t seem to smoke quite so much. Jet doesn’t make misogynistic comments and Faye doesn’t get groped. Julia and Annie didn’t get fridged as they were in the last episode of the anime.

The reference Ed makes to the movie gives me hope that there will be a second season. This series wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t bad either and I would like to see more.

If there’s a second season, they’ve still got plenty of material to work with in addition to the movie. There’s session 6: Sympathy for the Devil about a creepy kid, session 7: Heavy Metal Queen featuring a long haul space trucker and a zero gravity cat, session 8: Waltz for Venus about a gangster trying to go straight, session 9: Jamming with Edward where we meet Ed, session 10: Ganymede Elegy about Jet’s ex-girlfriend, session 11: Toys in the Attic in which the Bebop is haunted, sessions 12-13 Jupiter Jazz about Gren’s backstory, session 14: Bohemian Rhapsody about a chessmaster, session 17: Mushroom Samba in which the crew have hallucinations after eating mushrooms, session 19: Wild Horses featuring a spaceship virus and an old NASA shuttle, and session 24: Hard Luck Woman which gives Ed’s backstory as well as expanding on Faye’s.

The original series also gave hints that Spike might be immortal (particulary in session 6: Sympathy for the Devil), but the anime never really explored it. It might be interesting to see more of that in an upcoming season.

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