I finished watching Netflix’s live-action version of Cowboy Bebop, and…I didn’t hate it! In fact, there were many many things that I enjoyed about it, which really outweighed any misgivings I had at the beginning. Cowboy Bebop is one of my favorite anime series. It’s many people’s gateway into the genre, but i sometimes think that it’s exactly the wrong title for this. Nothing else is quite like Cowboy Bebop, a show as eclectic as the jazz form pieces which partially inspired it. It has elements of noir, western, sci-fi, kung-fu, comedy, and tragedy. If you want shows like Cowboy Bebop, you won’t find them. No other show even comes close to being what Bebop was. And now, there’s a live-action version of it. I, like many others, had hated the idea of live action Bebop at first. There are many things about really good animation which can’t be duplicated in any other medium. So I’m glad that the 2021 version has decided to go for something new.
Good lord, I think the new one hits all of the suggestions I gave. The egotistical side of me wonders whether some of the production team actually read my ramblings and decided to address every one, to great effect. Probably not but it’s nice to think about.
Yes, this is not a shot by shot remake of the anime. It doesn’t have to be. The anime already exists. It is not perfect. I sort of love that the new show takes some of the details from the original and redoes them into something new. A remix. Gren, a character whose gender was framed as horror in the original (It’s really clear that the storyline was influenced by the “shocking” twist in The Crying Game), is now a proud (and GORGEOUS) queer, and their queerness has nothing to do with their storyline. Characters who were white are now POC. It’s effortlessly diverse, from the main cast, down to the background characters and I adore it. Faye might even have gotten herself a hot mechanic girlfriend and I’m all for that. Faye is even the one who saves the guys’ asses in the finale.
Julia, once the Femme Fatale who felt only like a prize to be won in the original, is given agency in the new version. She even might be more ruthless than Vicious. I’m not a Vicious fan by any means. I think his story was the weakest in the Netflix show. But I do appreciate giving him a backstory and reasons why he’s the way he is. (even if it feels more like the Malfoys at times.) Faye’s backstory seems even more poignant when seen in live-action, at least to me. Watching a pre-teen Faye cheering on her future self, it…it just punched me in the feels in a way that the anime didn’t. Maybe I’m a monster. Don’t know. I am all for Jet as an absent father trying to do right by his daughter. It just feels so Jet, who has always been the father figure for the crew. Mufasa Shakir as has the Jet voice down pat.
But this adaptation rests on its Spike and Jesus Christ John Cho delivers. He IS Spike Spiegel. He’s snarky and cocksure and pained and haunted. He is the one putting on a brave front while protecting his broken heart. Always a few steps ahead of his past and yet always looking back. (As an aside, I’m a little sad that Spike’s speech about his fake eye which only sees the past is not present in the new version. But I’m nitpicking. Not every beloved detail has to get translated into live action). It’s ridiculous that it took 20 years for John Cho to become a romantic/action/sci-fi lead but it works goddamn it and I’m thankful I’m alive to witness it. I remember back in the day, when rumbling of a live-action Bebop first came bubbling up, that Keanu Reeves was being considered. Which is FINE but I’m so grateful we got John Cho instead.
I also sorta dig how more connected this universe is. Ein has a literal one to Pierre LeFou. I’m fascinated that they switched out his fear of cats in the anime to fear of dogs, and Ein might have the traumatic memories of LeFou. (Also Faye’s reaction to LeFou’s message to Spike is wonderful and I love Faye.) My heart was only slightly disappointed that the climactic battle for this story wasn’t in a gigantic amusement park. Only a rinky-dink one, but it made ABSOLUTE SENSE that LeFou would remember this sad little park as his only happiness. It makes his regression to childhood so much more tragic. (Also, his read of the “Mommy it hurts!” line is another punch in the gut moment that hits harder in live-action than animation.)
Then there’s the Edward in the room. Yes, Ed’s intro is pure Ed! Ed talking a mile a minute and only making sense about half the time. There’s truth in the ramblings, but you have to clear-headed in order to hear it, and since our POV character for this is Spike (and he seems to be in the middle of a weeklong bender after the finale events and in no shape to understand much of anything) Ed comes across as grating and weird and cartoonish. But guess what? Ed IS grating and weird and cartoonish. The goofy tonal shifts is also very Bebop, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing more of Ed and also Ed plus Faye!
So, yes, I enjoyed it, and I understand why some might not. It IS a very well done fan film. But I woudn’t say that that’s a bad thing neccessarily. Better a fan film than a piece of work that completely misunderstood the original. (Hey live-action GiTS, I’m talking about you!) The Netflix series definitely comes from a place of love and reverence for the original. Them going out of their way to get Yoko Kanno to compose new music for the series cements that for me. And my take is, if live-action versions of anime must exist (and in this age of CONTENT, it must) then Cowboy Bebop is the best of the lot by far. I liked it. A lot. So there.