Cowboy Bebop Live Action Review

Cyberpunk Origins? And a Strong Fan Base

Cowboy Bebop is a very popular anime that came out in the late 1990s in Japan and in the US on channels like Adult Swim’s Toonami. In 2017 it was announced that a live action remake of it would be made with Christopher Yost as the series writer, and lead roles being John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine. This is a review of the live action remake, that finally came out on Netflix on November 19th, 2021

A Netflix Adaptation

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop did an impressive job adapting its original anime source material, and while taking many elements and honoring its source material, it does at times also deviate and create its own identity, especially at the end.

Just like the original anime, we begin by seeing Spike Spiegel and Jet Black together on the Bebop. Eventually they are joined by Faye Valentine, while Ed only shows up at the end of the final episode. Ed was supposed to play an active part in season 2, but due to low viewership, Netflix very quickly cancelled the 2nd season.

This is a damn shame, because I really enjoyed this live action take. The series was divisive–and as soon as the cancellation for the second season was announced, fans formed petitions to call for its revival, and then counter-petitions formed in response for those who hated the remake.

Regardless of which camp you fall under, I think it’s fair to say that two things hit you when you first watch this series. The first is how beautiful the cinematography is, and the second is how quirky things are shot and edited at the same time. We were given a taste of this with the trailer, but the fact that they were able to keep this fun quirky style throughout the series is really commendable.

A Strong Beginning

The beginning of the series is almost a stroke for stroke remake of the first episode of the anime version. Here we’re introduced to Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, and they did an excellent job with the whole bounty hunters stopping a heist spiel. Some critics may not have liked how close the series stuck to the original, but since I wasn’t a die-hard fan of the original, I enjoyed it well enough.

The series takes its time to get to Faye Valentine, but after the first episode, the series has enough different episodes to come into its own. Some of them are done better than the anime, most of them are done worse than the anime, but the key here is not to compare the two. It’s infinitely more difficult to film live action and use special effects than to simply use an anime. As a result, the action is also a little different, as live action fight scenes need to adhere to silly things like the laws of physics. For the most part.

An incredible Soundtrack

Yoko Kanno, the composer to the original anime and also the one who wrote the brilliant theme song “Tank!”, was brought back for the live action. And my god, it’s brilliant. It’s just as quirky and fun as the original soundtrack for the series, if not better, with trumpets and electronic riffs and fun little vocals. You can listen to the entire soundtrack here.

And a Weaker Ending

Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with a lot of different live action (looking at you, Altered Carbon!) the strong beginning finishes with a weak ending. The focus for this series on Spiegel’s nemesis, Vicious, was a lot stronger in this series than in the original anime. Julia, Spiegel’s old flame, also plays a very important role. I wish instead of building Vicious’ character, his backstory and rise to power, they would have just shown the aftereffects of what he did and let us figure it out on our own. I also didn’t like how Julia’s ending was changed in this live action compared to the original anime. Nonetheless, it left the series with a promising new direction for her character, one that we sadly won’t be able to see now that the series has been cancelled.

Final Verdict: 9/10

Overall I actually really enjoyed this series, mostly for its music, quirkiness, and cinematography. John Cho and Mustafa Shakir did excellent jobs adapting both of their characters, Daniella Pineda was great too, and Vicious and Julia’s characters, while bogging down the ending, didn’t ruin the series for me overall. There was also a particularly Cyberpunk episode worth noting, where Spike gets caught in a Virtual Reality fighting his own personal demons as an artificial intelligence tries to corrode his brain. It was very Philip K Dick-esque. This on top of the countless punk-like moments and high-tech scenes with spaceships in poor repair.

But what did you think of the series? What Cyberpunk elements did you enjoy? Let me know in the comments below.

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