Netflix Shows: ‘Cowboy Bebop’

Promotional image of Jet, Spike, Faye, Ed, and Ein from ‘Cowboy Bebop’. Copyright goes to Sunrise and Bandai.

Hey! Hallie here!

Plenty of people have already discussed the new Netflix live-action anime remake that was released a little over a week ago. But remaking an anime as infamous as ‘Cowboy Bebop’ begs plenty of attention, so I’m jumping in on this conversation as well. I’m not a long time fan of this series. I’m one of those people who was frequently told to watch ‘Cowboy Bebop’ by friends, but gave up on that goal when I couldn’t find it on any of the streaming services I can access. However, the promotional content for the live action remake caught my interest almost immediately, mainly because of the fun colors, cool costumes, and John Cho. So when I saw the original anime series drop on Netflix to help add to the hype of the new series, I realized I had no more excuses. I had to watch it. The series is really interesting and it’s very clear why so many people like it. The way it plays around with three very different genres and manages to blend them together seamlessly is ridiculously impressive. However, I wouldn’t say I’m now a huge fan of the series. So know going into this that this review is coming from someone who only recently watched the original and didn’t love it nearly as much as many others do. I’ll explain myself more later, but as for now, know that there will be SPOILERS ahead while I give my opinions on Netflix’s newest huge project.

What I Liked:

The Three Leads: I’ve seen various complaints hurled at all three of the main cast. I really have to say, I don’t agree with most of the critiques for these three. First off, John Cho is not too old to play Spike. I actually found him to be a pretty faithful adaptation of Spike. He’s aloof and cool with that hint of genuine empathy hidden behind it all. Plus a hilarious love of jumping into danger headfirst and leaving Jet exasperated. His dynamic with Jet doesn’t change at all either. Jet, as usual is the rational one in their friendship. Not to mention the fact that the real life ages of the actors have no bearing on the ages of the characters. Mustafa Shakir is an excellent Jet. I actually found him to be my favorite of the characters to watch. Jet’s storyline was never a major draw for me, but I felt that the focus on Jet was really well done and I enjoyed the added attachment to his daughter as well. Racism isn’t welcome here. I have some mixed feelings about Faye, but that isn’t Daniella Pineda’s fault. She plays an extremely badass Faye. I appreciated the avoidance of a lot of the more sexist parts of the original anime. Because, let’s be honest here, the character of Faye could get pretty sexist. She was the femme fatale, one of my least favorite female tropes to ever curse the screen for blatantly treating women like sexy objects. The moments where she’s meant to prove she’s more than the trope also don’t feel genuine when her breasts are abnormally large and half of Spike’s dialogue about her surrounds the “unreasonable” nature of women. None of this is present in the Faye of the series. My only complaint is that this series falls into the trap of avoiding femme fatale by writing out most of the feminine aspects of the character. Which doesn’t help things either. But overall, I feel this character took major strides the original didn’t.

The Atmosphere: This series does an excellent job of setting up the world of ‘Cowboy Bebop’. Every set feels like it came directly out of the anime and every new location is gorgeous to look at. Between the fun vibrant colors and the mix between Western streets and Sci-Fi establishments, it feels like a place you might actually want to visit. And the soundtrack. Yoko Kanno returns for this soundtrack and it’s just as addictive as it was in the original anime. I love how it contributes mostly to the Noir feel of the show. Say what you want about other aspects of the show, but it does a good job of creating the world anime fans came to love.

What I Disliked:

The Syndicate: The syndicate, and by extension Vicious, gets way too much time in the show. I didn’t really love Vicious in the original ‘Cowboy Bebop’. I couldn’t help but feel as though I had seen several villains like him before. But the show did an excellent job of making him seem intimidating by limiting his presence in the show. The remake feels like it returns to him every two seconds. He’s also not very fun to watch, and I feel like the fact that he’s still in a relationship with Julia drags both of their characters down. Most of the time it feels like Vicious is spending his screen time whining at her. Meanwhile, making her seem like she’s helpless to escape him isn’t the way I wanted Julia’s character to be expanded upon in this show. I wanted her epic escape and what she got up to afterwards. Not whatever this was. And yes, having her decide she wants to control the syndicate is cool. If the show had built up to that decision at all. But they didn’t, so I still left this show disappointed in her character. And please, I don’t ever want to hear the really silly names they came up with for everyone in the syndicate ever again. Fearless never happened. Can we move on?

The Side Characters: I found that a lot of the side characters were rewritten in mostly disappointing ways. The first character that comes to mind is Gren. Gren was horrendously written in the original anime. This was because their status as a nonbinary individual was made to be a freak accident rather than an actual exploration of what it’s like to be nonbinary. I really appreciated that they let go of that entire part of their plot, but in the process they also removed all of Gren’s plot relevance. They finally made Gren a better representation of nonbinary individuals only to push them aside. Katerina also comes to mind. One of the most tragic parts of the first episode of the original ‘Cowboy Bebop’ occurs when Katerina kills Asimov, realizing that she needs to end his tirade even though doing so will kill her and her dreams of living on Mars. In the new series, Asimov dies in a fight and Katerina cries over him before being killed, removing both most of her importance in the episode and the emotional weight she carries. This series really wanted to prove it was different from the original, but in doing so it mindlessly wrecked some of the plot points in the process.

I could also talk about how this series was too cartoony, but pretty much everyone has mentioned that and I don’t think it was the biggest problem here. I very much disliked their attempt at ‘Big Shot’, the bounty hunter show the main characters watch, but that was my biggest issue with the cartoony feel. As far as the Netflix series goes, I think it simply doesn’t capture what everyone liked about each episode of the original ‘Cowboy Bebop’. Every episode was short and full of stereotypes, but they also had a hidden brilliance that unfolded as each episode played out. There’s no well thought out brilliance hidden in the live acton remake’s episodes. Overall, I think Netflix just needs to stop adapting foreign shows for American audiences and just start promoting the original shows to American audiences instead. We could all benefit from watching and appreciating content from outside our country.

See You Space Cowboy,

Hallie

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