Okay, Three, Two, One, Let’s Jam
It was sometime in the early 2000’s when I was first introduced to Cowboy Bebop on Adult Swim. It right away became one of my favorite shows to the point I have probably watched the entire series over 50 times. The same can not be said about the Netflix live-action adaptation. While I could watch five episodes of the original back-to-back, it feels like I’m slogging through a single episode of the live-action.
Season 1 of Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop attempts to bring the neo-noir space western to life. While it says true to the source material, its problems come from poor interpretations, questionable character building, and failing to understand what made the original a masterpiece. While not the worst live-action adaptation, it still could have absolutely been done better.
The Future is the Future
As with the series, Season 1 of Cowboy Bebop follows bounty hunters Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, and Faye Valentine. They hunt down wanted criminals around the solar system while also confronting their past. Many of the memorable characters are back and a number of iconic moments have been recreated for the live-action adaptation.
From the start, viewers are introduced to an all too familiar intro. “Tank!” by Seatbelts is a classic opening and bringing it back was a smart decision. Visually, it’s updated with live-action moments while dropping hints of what to expect. When it comes to the casting and performance, none shined brighter than Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black. His solid script to his performance of bringing this iconic character to life was unforgettable.
One of my biggest concerns was quality of the special effects. With a few exception, not many would be whiling to invest so much in special effects for a show. Plus, Netflix has had a murky track record when it comes to original science fiction movies and TV shows. Thankfully, money and time was actually invested into bringing this world to life. From the moments in space to the action, it was some of the best I’ve seen outside of HBO or Disney +.
However; these are the few redeeming aspects of the show that keep it from hitting rock bottom.
Seeing the Past in One Eye
Compared to other live-action adaptations, Cowboy Bebop says faithful to the source material. The problem is how it attempts to tell the story, in which thought is not put into the delivery or the emotional brevity of the moment. Instead, each memorable moment is retold either for lazily or lacking the emotional weight that defined them. This is best realized by comparing the demise of Asimov and Katerina Solensan in the live-action with the original.
When retelling iconic moments fall flat, it tries to compensate with new plot elements that only add unnecessary fillers and exposition. These new plot elements don’t add anything while depriving viewers of any payoff. An example of an unnecessary backstory regards Jet Blacks, fans are all too familiar with how he lost faith in the ISSP and we didn’t need the additional story of being framed.
The best example of the unnecessary exposition regards the constant presence of Vicious and Julia. In the original, Vicious appears in only a few episodes but his presence is always unforgettable while his reputation follows throughout the series. Julia on the other hand only appears in two episodes but plays a major role in the overall story. All that narrative significance becomes lost as they are given equal screen time as the Bebop crew.
And the Future in the Other
Casting and character-building are the next biggest issue that plagues the show overall. Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black was the only one to be casted and written properly. Everyone else was either miscasted, poorly written, or both.
Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine is one of the best examples of the right cast but a poorly written character. She does her best and it shows when the character is supposed to be clever or badass. Unfortunately, she is also held back by dialogue that makes her sound obnoxious while falling back on numerous tropes. On the other side, you have John Cho as Spike Spiegel, a perfectly written character but poorly casted. Everything about this version of the iconic character is spot on, except for the performance.
Then you have Alex Hassell who is both poorly written and poorly casted as Vicious. The dialogue is laughable at best and cringy at worst while he lacks any of the charm or intimidation that defined the character. This is supposed to be the main villain (along with one of the most iconic villains), yet there is nothing about him that makes him menacing.
Also, don’t even get me started on how they messed up and ignored Radical Ed.
See You Space Cowboy . . .
So how does Season 1 Cowboy Bebop rank compared to other live-action adaptations? Next to Death Note, it’s a major improvement regarding being faithful to the source material. Next to Alita: Battle Angel, it’s an incredible work of mediocrity.
Fans who have fond memories of staying up on a Saturday to watch Cowboy Bebop on Adult Swim, you’re going to have mixed feelings. If you can’t sit through the first episode, then there is no need to invest your time. For those who have never seen the original, avoid the live-action as it will give you the wrong impression. Just watch the anime, it’s also on Netflix.
Disclaimer: I watched this on Netflix and I have to pay for my subscription.
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Cowboy Bebop (Season 1)
- The use of the original intro with minor changes.
- Mustafa Shakir is steller as Jet Black.
- Special effects actually look good and not cheap.
- Characters are poorly written or poorly casted.
- Quality or memorability of iconic many moments is not on par with the original.
- Too many fillers or expansions on the backstories.
- Ed is introduced at the end.