The reboot of the classic anime series "tries to be so much all at once, and appeal to so many different potential audiences, that it ends up struggling to forge an identity of its own," says Caroline Framke. "For fans of the iconic, relatively solemn Japanese anime that inspired it, the show’s reliance on borderline whacky hijinks (think an R-rated Scooby Doo) will be nothing short of confounding. For newcomers, the show might also confuse as it hops across crisscrossing planets and timelines, weaving between vastly differing tones as it goes. Both parties might at least find some common ground in appreciating the core cast, since John Cho (as moody bounty hunter Spike), Mustafa Shakir (as his no nonsense partner Jet Black), and Daniella Pineda (as firecracker rival Faye Valentine) are at least sharp enough to shift alongside the series’ many scattered mood changes. And yet, the most striking part of the premiere for me was far more basic than any of that. From pressing play to hitting Yoko Kanno’s jazzy ending credits outro, the most immediately damning aspect of Cowboy Bebop is the fact that it balloons an economical Western that tells sharp standalone stories in half an hour or less into a bloated dramedy that can’t quite figure out whether it’s a faithful adaptation or something else entirely. The pilot of the live-action version clocks in at a solid hour, and yet it finds far less intrigue and nuance than the anime did in less than 25 minutes." Framke adds: "As Netflix and other streaming services became bigger players in TV, attracting creatives and talent who’d only ever worked with networks with far more oversight and input, its content ballooned in not just quantity, but size. Absent the pressure to build in act breaks for commercials or stick to any particular runtime, streaming shows were welcome to break the usual rules. Sometimes, this results in truly exciting television that upends tradition to create bold new genres and structures. More often, this results in swollen episodes that seem to include more scenes just because they can, or even entire seasons that feel like what might have once been a single episode, now playing out in slow, slow motion. One informal term for this is 'Netflix bloat,' rooted in the fact that countless Netflix shows have stretched their stories past their limits seemingly for the sake of retaining eyeballs for more minutes at a time. In truth, though, the phenomenon echoes across most streaming platforms to the point that it’s a genuine surprise when their shows demonstrate any sort of commitment to tighter editing. Taking a few more minutes to finesse a point is one thing; taking hours to get to the point is another, far more common approach."
Cowboy Bebop fundamentally misunderstands what made the original so cool: "I’m not a person who feels particularly precious about Cowboy Bebop—it’s a wonderful show and one I’ve watched several times, but I wasn’t groaning with dismay like many when the live-action adaptation was announced back in late 2018," says Austin Jones. "Bebop is a show heavily inspired by Western culture. Its diverse, eclectic blend of musical styles, genre conventions, and multicultural imagery is a huge part of its success outside of Japan, and is something that (or so I believed) could be caught on camera well enough. Seeing the show now, I can’t believe just how wrong I was. Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop often feels like a slap in the face. Many moments in these 10 hourlong episodes go beyond just your average cringey attempt at recapturing the magic of the source material it’s based on—it’s actively grotesque in its bastardization of the original show, which has been contorted into a full-blown black comedy by writer Christopher Yost, known for his work on Thor: Ragnarok and The Mandalorian. Seeing Yost’s name slapped on the show’s credits contextualizes a lot of the misgivings I have towards it—it’s almost as if, after finding out the original show was animated, Yost decided it must be as garishly cartoonish as possible. The result is a litany of cornball recycled jokes from his previous works and a certain Rick and Morty-esque tone that pervades odiously throughout each episode, rippling towards a staunch insincerity and near-offensive emotional whiplash which verges on the exploitative. Cowboy Bebop is bloody, and needlessly so. Each episode arguably features more gore than is present in the entire anime. The rampant cruelty on display is also at odds with the jokey tone the show seems to be going for—while mowing down leagues of people, shooting them in gruesome places like the forehead or a supposedly pregnant belly, Spike (John Cho) and Jet (Mustafa Shakir) might quip about lost bounties, their disgust with space meat, or brutalizing their charges, all set to wacky music."
Cowboy Bebop is too fixated on re-creating every aspect of the original: "As far as it’s possible to tell, their line of thinking seems to have been that it would be cool if someone re-created the classic anime series in live action, and that those someones might as well be themselves," says Angie Han. "If there was ever any inkling of expanding or reconsidering the source material, not a trace of it remains in the final product. In an apparent effort to woo fans of the original, the series is faithful to a fault. It’s to be expected that the new version would also focus on a ragtag team of intergalactic bounty hunters — ex-hitman Spike Spiegel (John Cho), ex-cop Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) and amnesiac con artist Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) — trying to scrape together a living in the near-ish future, while simultaneously wrestling with demons from their respective pasts. But it didn’t necessarily need to follow that the series would replicate the same job-of-the-week storylines, mimic the shots to a T, and set the same exact plot beats to the same (still catchy) Yoko Kanno tunes. The few deviations it does make seem primed to divide fans: Supporting characters like Spike’s former flame Julia (Elena Satine) have been given more screen time only for the writers to struggle to come up with anything for them to do, while another prominent fan favorite has been axed almost entirely. The series’ biggest sin, however, is that even as it dutifully retraces the steps of its predecessor, it captures none of the magic. The zippy pacing has turned leaden, the sharp visuals reduced to muddy CG, the playful humor translated as phony laughter, the lived-in grittiness replaced with shoddy-looking sets. It’s a Cowboy Bebop too fixated on checking off boxes to consider writing its own list. Which, in turn, makes it difficult to imagine what the updated show could possibly have to offer nonfans. Which, in turn, makes it difficult to imagine what the updated show could possibly have to offer nonfans. There’s precious little of Cowboy Bebop that feels either fresh enough to demand attention or sturdy enough to promise comfort. Its vision of a dinged-up future looks like nothing so much as a knockoff Firefly, made for a fraction of the budget. (Seriously, one of the show’s biggest shocks is how cheap it looks.)"
Cowboy Bebop is a show that’s willing to be weird and goofy while displaying a lot of heart: The show starts out acceptable, says Maureen Ryan. "But as Cowboy Bebop figures itself out, it proves to be an excellent vehicle for star John Cho’s charisma and range," says Ryan. "He plays interstellar bounty hunter Spike Spiegel with just the right mixture of laid-back street smarts and simmering melancholy; his Spike is capable of being an action hero, a quippy survivor and a wounded film noir romantic, all in the same scene. And even without that solid anchor, I likely would have stayed on board for Cowboy Bebop’s lively world-building and richly retro production design. This is a show that’s willing to be weird and goofy while displaying a lot of heart. While the obvious (and understandable) comparison will be to The Mandalorian, when I say Bebop reminded me of the found-family sci-fi dramas Killjoys and Farscape, know that that is a huge compliment." Ryan adds: "Despite everything Cowboy Bebop did well, I wasn’t prepared for my affection to turn to love as the debut season rumbled to a close. But the last few episodes are sensational, blending action and character development with a lyrical noir sensibility and the moody tension of an idiosyncratic thriller. They’re funny, too: a scene of Jet Black in a convenience store is one of the best (and most delightfully silly) screen sequences of the year. By the time Bebop’s final mission came to a close, it was a disappointment to realize we’d burned through all 10 episodes so quickly."
If you have lowered expectations, Cowboy Bebop will be satisfying: "Keep your expectations about live-action adaptations of anime properties around the moderate to low range, and you'll be far less likely to be disappointed by the outcome," says Melanie McFarland. "Heck if it's decent, you might even be patient with it and seek to understand what it's trying to do. Such graces are in short supply when mediocrity is in abundance. We get it. Thrashing failed good faith attempts to honor a legend is simpler. If you're passionate about the source material, it may even be warranted. Still, if you expected little or even the worst to begin with, anything that reasonably bests that expectation is a small gift. It's kind of like reaching inside of a cabinet you're expecting to be full of mouse droppings and pulling out handfuls of jelly beans instead. Licorice flavored jelly beans, but still. To some, this qualifies ever so loosely as candy. This is how I suspect many people will greet Netflix's live-action version of Cowboy Bebop. It isn't great, but it's better than spectacular failures past, such as the moribund attempt to adapt Death Note which, like the theatrical adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, cast a white lead in a role that should have gone to an Asian actor. In this respect the new Cowboy Bebop is already a few points ahead, hiring the universally beloved John Cho to play the suave, melancholy bounty hunter Spike Spiegel, with Mustafa Shakir ... as his gruff, loyal partner Jet Black and captain of their ship and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine, an amnesiac loose cannon they bring onboard."
Cowboy Bebop is the textbook definition of a mixed bag -- John Cho is great, the writing isn't: "I regret to inform you that Netflix‘s long-awaited live action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop has some problems." says Meghan O'Keefe. "It’s not a total disaster, per se. Cowboy Bebop has many things to recommend it: John Cho’s absolutely incandescent turn as leading man Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir’s dead-on Jet Black, Yoko Kanno’s genius score, and Ein, the universe’s most perfect corgi. However all of the good things about Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop are betrayed by poor writing, uninspired action scenes, and a truly baffling obsession with the most annoying characters in the series. Cowboy Bebop is the text book definition of a mixed bag, full of glimmers of extraordinary promise and confounding choices that cheapen what made the anime version a masterpiece. I hated it. I loved it. It made me desperate to just watch the anime again."
Cowboy Bebop fails to capture the magic of the original: "Cowboy Bebop wasn’t just an action series, it wasn’t just a noir, it wasn’t just sci-fi," says William Bibbiani of the anime original. "You could tell where every piece came from but they’d never been put together in exactly that way before. The anime series is a pitch perfect marriage of disparate tones and imagery. It was coolness personified. It’s no wonder that the show spawned one imitator after the other. Some good, some bad. Sadly, one of those imitators is Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, developed by André Nemec ... This live-action remake series fails to capture the magic of the original but does — eventually, after nearly all of its episodes have been exhausted — give the ensemble cast enough time to win us over. They’re trying their damnedest to make all these subpar sci-fi aesthetics and padded storylines work. That they almost get away with it is impressive."
Cowboy Bebop will remind you how good the original is: "It is a fairly uneven adaptation," says Stephen Kelly. "The scripts are often tiresomely quippy (I hope you like compound swearing). The tight and sharp 20-minute stories of the original have been stretched to nearly an hour, which gives the episodes a slower, baggier feel. While the stories themselves shine when flirting with the source material’s weirder moments, they never quite embrace them in a way that feels imaginative or interesting. If anything, it just ends up reminding you of how good the anime is. Unfortunately, some of the show’s least engaging moments also come from its original ideas, such as a tedious episode in which Spike is stuck in a VR timeloop, or flabby adaptations of stories like Jet’s search for the man who took his arm."
Cowboy Bebop is okay -- it's not an embararssment: "As jokey, episodic sci-fi action series with visual effects at the cheesy-adequacy level of Doctor Who go, it’s even slightly above average, though that’s not a strong argument for sitting through 10 episodes," says Mike Hale. "Cho’s Spiegel and his bounty-hunting partner, Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), pilot a ship called the Bebop around the galaxy sometime after the 'fall' of the home planet Earth. They’re both fallen themselves — Black a disgraced cop, Spiegel a former assassin for a brutal crime ring known as the Syndicate. On their travels, they’re joined by a tough dame going by the name of Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), whose memory of her actual identity has been erased. Spiegel is headed toward a reckoning with Vicious (Alex Hassell), his onetime Syndicate pal and rival for the affections of the show’s femme fatale, Julia (Elena Satine). Getting to that showdown within the first season — in several hundred minutes’ less running time than the anime season runs, not even counting the 2001 Cowboy Bebop animated feature — means leaving things out, like the red-haired hacker Radical Ed, and reducing the time given to others, like the lovable and talented corgi Ein. Changes like those may bother the fans of the original. What should bother everyone is that the compression shifts the balance of the story away from episodic adventures on scattered planets, and toward the mechanics of a hackneyed noir revenge fantasy. What was back story through much of the anime is now foregrounded, and the result is that the show hollows out toward the end of the season, with three final episodes of tragic-romantic posturing punctuated by mindless (and indifferently filmed) gunplay and martial arts."
Cowboy Bebop is a prime example of how a show isn’t exactly the sum of its parts, and how the binge model isn’t the best thing to happen to episodic storytelling: "There are 'parts' here that absolutely work," says Brian Tallerico. "The main cast is talented and charismatic, especially the leading trio. The individual set pieces—the bounties that unfold in each episode—can be fun to watch. The writing can be fun scene to scene. And yet when one starts to watch multiple episodes, the momentum starts to drag. This is a world that’s fun to visit for 30-45 minutes at a time but becomes television quicksand as the episodes pile on each other. If you’re going to watch it, try and stretch it out. Binging it in one weekend could put you in a bad mood on Monday. Fans of the original have already noted an incredible fealty between the anime and the adaptation with some scenes copied beat for beat as if the original program was the storyboard for this one. And yet major world-building changes have definitely been made, most of them for the worse in ways that are hard to comprehend. Most of all, the world of Cowboy Bebop has been largely drained of its palette, taking a show that often used bursts of vibrant color and making it mostly drab and dusty. I don’t think a live-action show should be a direct copy of an animated one, so my criticism isn’t that they failed the source but that their visual decisions seem almost antithetical to what worked the first time. It’s somehow loyal but wrong at the same time, like a cover song by a band that’s not as talented as the original artists, and who then choose to change a few words of the song in all the wrong ways."
Netflix took Cowboy Bebop and used it as a springboard to create something that decidedly stands apart from the source material: "It’s also really bad and should never have been made," says Joe Matar, adding: "When Netflix released their recreation of the show’s opening titles set to Yoko Kanno’s iconic 'Tank!' it featured much of the same imagery from the anime, except that movement that was cool in animation looked stilted and awkward when performed by real people. I was starting to get concerned we’d be getting a shot-for-shot Cowboy Bebop recreation that just looked lamer. It turns out I was needlessly worried. Netflix’s live-action Cowboy Bebop remake is almost wholly its own animal. True, the protagonists are still bounty hunters driven by a need to eat. Yes, John Cho as Spike Spiegel wears a suit very much like anime Spike and Mustafa Shakir is doing a solid Jet Black cosplay. Yoko Kanno is even back to compose the music! The ten episodes (which vary in length from 40 to around 55 minutes) cover a number of the same major story beats that ran through the anime, too. However, in execution, the path to those beats deviates so drastically in style, pacing, and tone that it’s difficult to feel the pulse of the work that inspired this adaptation beating underneath it all."
The live-action reboot falters, fatally, in its misunderstanding of the kind of show Cowboy Bebop is: "This isn’t just an issue of translation from one creative medium to another, but rather a complete misreading, transforming a gripping space saga into something utterly childish," says Tirhakah Love. "What centered its universe and plot was an overwhelming sense of melancholy. No matter how loudly their ship’s machine guns rang out, how many sly grins Spike would crack at women and nemeses alike, the original was never a show that felt like everything would work out. These characters have been through the wringer, and they acted like it. The series takes place in 2071, 50 years after a catastrophe leaves Earth uninhabitable and the reality of human uprootedness permeates every seam. Ships guided by lonely pilots careen through space, pining for their next meal, a casino to gamble away their last Woolong or bar fight with a stranger, if only to feel some sense of connection. Spike’s exile from his last gang, the mystery behind Jet’s cybernetic arm and police force past, and Faye’s strange post-cryogenic amnesia have left them both physically and psychologically scarred—unable to truly relate with others because they know how finite the world is. It’s unfortunate, then, that the live-action show doesn’t even broach the deeply interwoven themes and imagery of its source material. Instead, the Netflix series is almost all style and occasional brushes with genuine emotion. John Cho (Spike), Mustafa Shakir (Jet), and Daniella Pineda (Faye) are compelled to really ham up the adolescent nature of the show’s humor. Cho, in particular, is a real missed opportunity—not just because he struggles with Spike’s suave moodiness over the course of the season but also the criticism he initially received (that at 49, he was too old for the part) could’ve worked in the show’s favor in presenting characters who were appropriately damaged. Instead, it feels like Cho is actively trying to play a younger man, and none of it feels natural."
As a translation project, Cowboy Bebop fails: "In fact, it probably fails at being a lot of its easiest descriptors: an adaptation, a reimagining, a rendition," says Cecilia D'Anastasio. "What Cowboy Bebop is, down to its hammy cyberpunk signage and the nails of its cheap-looking sets, is a performance. For whom, it’s entirely unclear. But at a time in prestige media when audience is certain, the 'PORN' sign will always be beheld. Cowboy Bebop is held up as anime’s north star, an entirely unobjectionable 'favorite' for dabblers and heads alike. It’s got the characters of a noir film, Jackie Chan action sequences, music out of a New York jazz club, and the superstructure of a space opera. And because it’s episodic and not very plot-driven, Cowboy Bebop evades the classic anime pitfall of gating affecting moments behind dozens of filler episodes. Everyone likes it, because it’s good and because it’s for everyone. Announced in 2017, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop was always going to be disappointing to fans of the original anime. There’s no way around it; the bar was stratospheric, lifted higher by the infinity of the animation medium. Live-action anime adaptations, generously put, have long failed to engineer the heart of their source anime. (See: Fullmetal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell, Death Note). A large and persuasive contingent of otaku would argue it’s simply not possible to adapt the artform, particularly sci-fi anime, to live-action without it feeling paraphrased....Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is a castle of sand, with some edges firm and impressive, and others globular or in pieces on the ground. The 10 episodes’ better-shaped features are, counterintuitively, not the ones established by its mold; Nemec grafted on new plot points and character arcs, particularly for Julia and Vicious, that give the show good, sustained tension (decidedly not episodic). Cowboy Bebop does end with a satisfying emotional climax. And thank God, because the velocity powering that climax carries the viewer through some extraordinarily corny writing and muddled subplots."
Cowboy Bebop condenses a number of the pivotal moments from the anime into a languid, slick, stylized, and impeccably-scored 10 episodes: "Like the anime, Netflix’s series borrows from a sampling of different cinematic and storytelling genres ranging from overwrought noirs to spaghetti westerns," says Charles Pulliam-Moore. "Because the show vacillates between modes so sharply, and often multiple times within the same episode, it has a way of feeling like it’s always just a few beats out of sync with both its own plot and Yoko Kanno’s sumptuous soundtrack. More than a mere simple issue of pacing, Cowboy Bebop sometimes feels as if it’s lost track of its own meter in ways that don’t seem to be purposeful stylistic choices or at least ones that work in its favor. Quiet moments meant to cut through the clamor of the world are muddled by gazes that linger too long and pauses that feel overdue, whether between Spike and Jet, or Spike and Faye. Cowboy Bebop’s interplanetary worldbuilding is actually one of its stronger suits, and the series showcases a number of locales that all speak to how the galaxy’s people and cultures have transformed as a result of easy travel between one planet and another. Cowboy Bebop’s strengths—like its costuming and set design—will catch your eye, but they stand out in ways that draw attention to fine details that need more tuning. While the almost Doctor Who-vian CGI space sequences inject a refreshing vibrance and action to the show, internal shots of ships all feel like static spaces that don’t feel like the interiors of metallic behemoths shooting through the void."
Cowboy Bebop succeeds on its own terms: "For once, I’m inclined to praise and defend—with caveats—a Western live-action adaptation of a classic anime series," says Justin Charity, adding: "It was never going to be easy for live actors to reimagine Cowboy Bebop. Typically live-action anime adaptations struggle to reconcile the cartoonish elements—the character styles, the exaggerated movement, the stark colors—with the practical constraints on real actors and real sets, CGI notwithstanding. And Cowboy Bebop is an exceptionally tall order given the sophistication in Shinichiro Watanabe’s animation, bolstered by a tremendous jazz soundtrack from the composer Yoko Kanno and her band, the Seatbelts. Netflix hired Kanno to rerecord songs, produce new pieces for the score, and recapture the magic of the original series. But really—and rather unexpectedly—the live-action Cowboy Bebop more so resembles the 1980s and 1990s TV versions of Star Trek. It’s a rare style of TV these days: modest sets, goofy props, and stagy performances redeemed by great characters and thoughtful dialogue. The live-action Cowboy Bebop works so shockingly well on those terms that ultimately I didn’t mind the series working a lot less well on the terms set by its own source material. It’s also a bit similar to The Fifth Element in its colorful, off-world charm."
If Cowboy Bebop understands the original’s unique style, it can’t quite grasp its substance—the same mistake made by other ill-fated American anime adaptations: "Watanabe kept the majority of the original episodes self-contained and only lightly sketched the ensemble’s histories, producing a show that teased its viewers’ imaginations," says Shirley Li of the original's director Shinichirō Watanabe. "The new Bebop’s showrunner, André Nemec, takes a more traditional Hollywood approach: Spike’s conflict with his nemesis, Vicious (played by Alex Hassell), drives the season’s overarching plot. Jet, Faye, and even Ein, the crew’s adopted corgi, get elaborate backstories. These flourishes demonstrate the writers’ appreciation of the original Bebop but some of them can feel like fan fiction. The season ultimately comes across as a tidy good-versus-bad package that eliminates the mystery and melancholy at the heart of the original. Take the first episode of each version: Both feature a seemingly pregnant woman on an asteroid named after the Mexican city Tijuana. In the anime, the story is bookended by Spike and Jet ruminating aboard the Bebop over food and where to wander to next. Netflix’s take begins with a shootout at a casino and ends with Vicious’s hyper-violent introduction. Thus the live-action Bebop flattens its protagonists—ironically—into cartoon heroes battling villains. Watanabe’s characters were largely homages to the action stars and femme fatales of his favorite American movies, but they were also aimless, morally gray wanderers. Spike, Jet, and Faye were antiheroes who had liberated themselves from the typical expectations of adult life—and found themselves living lonely, relatively static lives."
Cowboy Bebop's biggest mistake is de-emphasizing John Cho's Spike Spiegel: "Fans of Netflix sci-fi like Altered Carbon or Lost in Space who are new to Cowboy Bebop might be delighted by this adaptation’s similarities to those other series: a dystopian look, broadly anti-capitalist sympathies, and light consideration of sci-fi concepts like AI and virtual reality," says Roxana Hadadi. "But fans of the original might wonder if the adaptation’s wackier feel and perpetual high jinks betray its predecessor’s sense of despondency and ennui, and its awareness that sometimes the coolest guy in the room is also the loneliest. Most of that spins forward from the Spike character, which this Cowboy Bebop treats confusingly despite Cho being the series’s greatest coup. He wears his shaggy ’do, double-breasted blue suit, and chunky headphones with self-possessed style, and is believably brutal and graceful in the series’s many fight scenes from stunt coordinator Allan Poppleton. But Cowboy Bebop’s greatest error is shuffling Cho’s Spike to the side in favor of other characters whose arcs are mostly predictable, whose decision-making doesn’t make sense within the series’s interior world, and whose development suffers from laborious pacing."
Cowboy Bebop has a love-hate relationship with its source material: The Netflix reboot retains "the premise and almost every single character from the original and re-creating and referencing memorable shots and scenes, but adding original elements like comically trite dialogue, embarrassing dramatic turns, and an original and unengaging plotline that only pull focus from the core story it’s trying to adapt," says Christina Tucker. "The result only creates unfavorable comparisons with the original and is likely to turn off both fans of the original and newcomers. If this Cowboy Bebop accomplishes anything, it’s to highlight the quality of the original series, justifying many anime fans’ belief that trying to translate anime series from one medium to another never works out...Most episodes of Netflix’s take on Cowboy Bebop follow the same formula: Take the plot from an episode from the anime in its entirety, add some original scenes or a subplot to fill the runtime, and fold in the new storyline for now-expanded characters Vicious (Alex Hassell), a member of the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate, from which Spike defected, and Julia (Elena Satine), Spike’s mysterious former lover. The premiere, for example, follows most of the beats of the anime’s first episode, establishes the Vicious plotline, and, for good measure, tacks on a redux of the opening of the well-received (but difficult-to-find) 2002 film Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. It’s a mess of fan service and attempted reinvention that only adds up to an overstuffed final product; each hourlong episode is packed full of as much stuff as the runtime will allow—unrelenting quips, endless exposition—without ever giving the viewer a moment to breathe."
The most heartbreaking thing about the live-action Cowboy Bebop is that all the ingredients for an impressive adaptation are there: "The cast is all game and pulling out the stops to bring the anime characters to life," says Sam Stone. "Yoko Kanno returns to provide the new show's score, bringing the same sonic swagger that made the anime's soundtrack so memorable. The art department has lavishly recreated environments and costumes straight out of the classic vision of the future from the anime series. But it all just feels a bit off the mark. Stylistically, it's reminiscent of the Wachowskis' live-action feature film adaptation of Speed Racer. The 2008 film was laboriously faithful to the aesthetic of the source material but, while having its fair share of fans, was certainly not everybody's cup of tea. Cowboy Bebop leans more towards Western sensibilities in its visuals and storytelling approach too. Netflix's Cowboy Bebop plays its hand far too early in comparison to its anime counterpart -- revealing secrets about backstories antagonists too soon. With every episode of Cowboy Bebop nearly running an hour, in stark contrast to the anime's 20-minute episode runtime, it feels like the live-action show is all dressed up with nowhere to go at times."
Cowboy Bebop is a colorless, soulless copy of a landmark anime series: "Gone is the neo-noir approach and its methodical narrative; instead, the Netflix live-action show takes inspiration from '70s Grindhouse, which makes it faster-paced but comes off looking cheap and lacking in color," says Rafael Motamayor. "A lot of attention is given to fight choreographies that try to emulate those in Daredevil, but end up being so slowed down in order to show off the moves that they looked amateur-ish and shot with a hamstring budget. Though the cast is great and they do their best with what they have, the line deliveries and cheap-looking costumes end up looking like cosplayers forced to do poor impressions of dub voice performers. In the time it takes to watch the 10 episodes of the season, you could watch most of the entire run of the anime, and Cowboy Bebop doesn't offer many good reasons why you shouldn't do that instead."
Cowboy Bebop turns a classic anime into a Saturday morning cartoon: "The stark disparity between the exaggerated tone of the Netflix series and that of the original 26-episode anime (and interquel feature film) feels like a decision by showrunner André Nemec to interpret the idea of what a cartoon would feel like in live-action rather than create a more straightforward version of Cowboy Bebop," says Toussaint Egan. "The decision stumbles hardest in the series’ attempts at humor, be it cringe-inducing puns about Jet’s Black manhood or a character named 'The Eunuch' boasting about the power that comes from castrating and devouring your enemies’ testicles. The original Cowboy Bebop anime, conceived and produced by screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, animation director Toshiro Kawamoto, key animator Yutaka Nakamura, composer Yoko Kanno, and director Shinichirō Watanabe was a work of pastiche. The sci-fi western noir harkened to influences as far afield as Aerosmith, Bruce Lee, David Bowie, and Jean-Luc Godard, creating a cool melancholy punctuated with moments of action and levity. Nemec’s series is more a bricolage of the original anime’s most notable scenes and moments than a point-for-point recreation, but any reference leaves it inescapably dwarfed by its predecessor. The new series takes what was subtextual in the original anime and renders it as text, all while leaning into a more unambiguously bombastic, crude, and comically focused approach."
Cowboy Bebop is a fun, thrilling romp: "Thankfully, Netflix's debut season of the live-action Cowboy Bebop is not only a fun, thrilling romp that gets the vibrant, soulful gestalt of the original series. It also leaves its own mark in ways that sometimes improves upon the anime from creator Shinichirō Watanabe," says Alessandro Fillari, adding: "The live-action show also updates some of the more unsavory aspects of the original series that's better left in the past. The anime featured several antiquated views of sexuality. The live-action show addresses this by revamping characters, such as Gren (Mason Alexander Park), who's now a recurring, nonbinary character with more relevance to the story. Some episodes from the anime series featured dated stereotypes of gay and transgender characters, so it's great to see the new show giving these characters a more enlightened and meaningful presence."
What’s missing from Cowboy Bebop's gratuitous adaptation is the atmosphere: "Though it does have a certain pulpy, shoddy-chic, Doctor Who visual style and benefits greatly from a jazzy, dynamic new score by original Bebop composer Yoko Kanno, it can’t match the collage of aesthetics, vibes and cultural references that made its predecessor feel more like a dispatch from the future than an attempt to simulate it in the present," says Judy Berman. "Showrunner André Nemec has said he aimed 'to mine the archetypal nature of the characters and dig out deeper histories.' Maybe that explains the otherwise baffling decision to adapt a 25-minute cartoon into episodes of up to an hour. Sadly, it misses the core appeal of Cowboy Bebop, which finds its deepest resonance in a richly textured surface."
Cowboy Bebop is fine -- but it's not "Cowboy Bebop": "If you’re going to go to the trouble of making a live-action Cowboy Bebop, then it’s probably best to actually make a live-action Cowboy Bebop," says Alison Foreman. "Because what Netflix did isn’t that, and pissing off a bunch of ‘90s nostalgics wasn’t worth it. In this so-called adaptation of the anime classic, John Cho leads as intergalactic bounty hunter Spike Spiegel. The start of the reboot sees Spike joining forces with fellow space cowboys Jet Black and Faye Valentine, played by Mustafa Shakir and Daniella Pineda. Together, the group embarks on a dicy, interplanetary adventure full of wacky characters, zany tech, and lurking dangers. Even as Spike’s dark past reemerges to take him down, the lovable rogues fight and quip their way through an onslaught of obstacles to pursue their marks. Also, they’ve got a corgi. Sure, that sounds a lot like the original Cowboy Bebop. It’s also a pretty generic space western that could have been named anything else. Netflix pulls liberally from the original series in a big picture sense, mimicking reasonably well the anime version’s signature jazz score, messy comedic beats, and over-the-top action. But when it comes to what really made the animated series special, the live-action version opts for so many drastic changes that comparing the projects is borderline nonsensical."
The most annoying thing about the new Cowboy Bebop is its need to shoehorn Vicious and Julia into every single episode: "One of the beauties of the original anime was its nature as an anthology; working within the framework of freelance bounty hunters, most episodes' plots were totally disconnected from each other," says Christian Holub. "This is what gave weight to the iconic taglines that ended every episode: The usual "see you space cowboy" or occasional "easy come, easy go" emphasized the transience of the characters' lives and the mortality of the people they encountered in this frontier future. The new Cowboy Bebop retains those ending taglines, but they feel off when matched with a plot-building cliffhanger instead of a solid period mark on one individual story. Why compare the new Cowboy Bebop to the original so much when any work should be able to stand on its own? For one thing, the new adaptation invites these comparisons by constantly recreating iconic moments from the anime (from the opening credits to Spike's enigmatic memory of a rose fallen in a rain puddle). The new series doesn't have many original plots to speak of either; aside from those aforementioned expansions of the characters' backstories, almost every episode is modeled after plot and characters from the original anime, with only slight adjustments."
It’s easy to understand why Netflix felt it might be able to pull off a live-action Cowboy Bebop -- just as it’s easy to understand why it all went so horribly, horribly wrong: "On the one hand, Shinichirō Watanabe’s epochal 1998 anime series just begs to be remixed, inverted, and maybe even chopped and screwed," says David Ehrlich. "An impossibly cool retro-futuristic western space-noir that blasted hyperspace gateways between its various genres with all the exuberance of Yoko Kanno’s freeform jazz soundtrack — and forever galvanized a more global audience for its entire medium along the way — Watanabe’s stir-fry serial about a motley crew of interstellar bounty hunters doesn’t only endure as a masterpiece of pop art mish-mash, the original Cowboy Bebop also lingers with fans as a bittersweet ode to the mad scramble of their own existence." He adds: "The live-action version of Cowboy Bebop exists for the same reason that so many other pieces of undead IP have been dug up and Frankensteined back to life in the streaming age, but few shows are more intrinsically sympathetic to the difficulties of letting sleeping dogs lie. From a certain perspective, you could even make the case that even the worst attempt to revisit Cowboy Bebop would honor the spirit of Watanabe’s series better than leaving it alone ever could. At the same time, however, Cowboy Bebop was also haunted by the fact that the past is full of lost things people can never get back (its story takes place in 2071, 49 years after an Astral Gate explosion cut history in half, rendered Earth almost uninhabitable, and scattered humanity across the cosmos). It found something immensely sad in how its characters were lured back toward their buried trauma, often at the direct expense of the found family that had shown them a way forward. They were almost powerless to fight that feeling — everyone has to snap out of their dreams at some point — but Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop doesn’t have the same excuse. This new show is the product of a culture that exhumes yesterday because it’s run out of fresh ideas for tomorrow, and its vision of the future is so sterile and uninspired that it often feels like nothing more than a cheap vision of the waking life that everyone in Watanabe’s original was trying so hard to sleep off."
How Cowboy Bebop's jazz-infused sci-fi mirrors Afrofuturism: According to content creator and former musician Brandon Stewart, the score was not only beautifully crafted but also added so much nuance and color to their viewing experience. “The score of Cowboy Bebop is absolutely incredible,” says Stewart. “If it weren’t for the use (of) Black music, Spike Spiegel wouldn’t feel as cool. He is literally the personification of the freedom, suaveness, creativity, adaptability and spirit of jazz.”
Costume designer Jane Holland used the anime series’ design aesthetic as a springboard for her work in the live-action reboot -- which has drawn scrutiny: Eschewing Faye's short-shorts and crop top of the anime in favor of less revealing fashion was Holland’s “2021 way into that character as opposed to a 1998 version,” she explains. She finds the new look equally as sassy and sexy without the original’s extreme level of gratuitousness. There were logistical considerations, too, that come into play for a live-action series, such as the practicality of stunt work during Auckland winter night shoots while in skimpy clothes. Holland used the same design process for all the characters. “Conceptually, (they all) have strong links to the anime, but none of them are identical (to it),” she says.
Mustafa Shakir says a lot of his success as bounty hunter Jet Black is his outfit: “A lot of it is just the outfit, man. It’s like half the battle is his get up,” he says. “If I stand on a street corner anywhere, I’m going to get a particular response just looking like that.” Shakir adds that he purposely didn’t put pressure on himself to do the character right by the fans. “There wasn’t any pressure in my head. I just felt like: Show up and do your best — which I do with anything — no matter what," he says. "Really put your heart into it. And I think that translates,” he said. “I feel like it would not translate so much if I said, I’ve got to make this a certain way for the people.”
Danielle Pineda on Cowboy Bebop's costume change from the anime series: "I think my favorite outfit is probably the hero costume, and it was primarily changed for functionality," says Pineda. "We had tried on a version that was close to the anime, and it was very difficult to find places to stuff pads or to hide certain things if I’m doing a lot of fighting and such. We just needed something where we could put gels for elbows and all of that, so it was changed from a functional standpoint. We also wanted the character to be in something that I personally felt comfortable in. We tried to figure out a way to make it as close to the anime but also to modify the costume slightly: She still has the same top and bottom — the yellow is a different color but it is pretty close — and I’m wearing stockings to conceal certain lady parts."
What about Faye Valentine spoke to Pineda? "Faye was really easy to tap into. It’s kind of like putting on a glove," says Pineda. "The writers did such an incredible job of expanding and going in depth into her personal story, deeper than the anime did. Her experience in the world being someone who knew nothing of their past, who doesn’t even know what kind of food they like, what their preferences are – that was really fun to explore and play off of. If there is a through line with all of the parts that I’ve played, they all seem to be intelligent, quick-witted, bold women."
Showrunner André Nemec says Cowboy Bebop's guiding mantra was “It’s Cowboy Bebop, let’s not f*ck this up": “I knew we were treading on hallowed ground,” says Nemec. “Spike, Jet, Faye, Vicious, Julia — they’re such delicious characters in the anime. … This felt like a great opportunity to mine their stories and to answer some of the things that I felt in the poetry that was the anime. To dig into a deeper narrative in places for these characters.” For Nemec and his team, “it was always about honoring the spirit of the anime,” but that does not mean the live-action Cowboy Bebop series simply repeats the story told in the original. Instead, the 10-episode adaptation blends spot-on callbacks of moments from the anime with both subtle and substantial narrative changes — most noticeably around the show’s women, Faye and Julia— that allow the series to stand on its own.
Nemec's biggest challenge was capturing Cowboy Bebop's tone: “Tone was really hard,” he says. “Finding that tone, not just in the character storytelling, but throughout the entire series, and filming, and editing process. The tone of banter and humor, some silliness, but also at the same time, deep emotional underpinnings of pain, and strong pulpy action sequences, and then laying jazz underneath all of it.”
What drew John Cho to Cowboy Bebop?: "I had been wondering if I could do something like this — a physical role, an action role," he says. 'And yet, I have to say I wasn’t particularly artistically interested in those things except for 'Oh, I haven’t done that; that would be fun to do.' I was wondering if something like that would ever come along, and if so, would I respond to the material. What would be the world in which I would want to do something like that? I read the script first, and it was totally original, totally funny, totally smart, witty, and such a collage of genres. I just thought, 'Maybe I could get into this.' I didn’t know about the anime, but when I watched it — three minutes in, I could see why this has a tremendous following. It’s just smarter than anything else out there. And I’ve said this before, but Spike, in the show, touches so many shores of all these genres I’m really interested in: film noir, westerns, action, sci-fi. And I thought it would be fun to touch so many bases. I’m mixing metaphors, I apologize."