Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Review: Let’s Not Jam

COWBOY BEBOP JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL, MUSTAFA SHAKIR as JET BLACK, DANIELLA PINEDA as FAYE VALENTINE and EIN Cr GEOFFREY SHORT NETFLIX
Cowboy Bebop. Credit: Geoffrey Short/Netflix

When Netflix revealed that it was adapting Cowboy Bebop, the ’90s space western anime, into a live-action series, it was met with skepticism. It’s not surprising to see the negative reactions from fans. Remember Netflix’s live-action Death Note film? Usually, projects based on anime and manga don’t have a great track record. (I did enjoy Alita: Battle Angel and the live-action Rurouni Kenshin films.) For Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, there was hope when iconic Japanese composer, Yoko Kanno, was attached to the project. That hope quickly faded away after finishing the final episode of the season. There are some bright spots in the series, but they are overshadowed by weak direction, an underwhelming supporting cast, uninspiring fight choreography, and weird edits to the original Cowboy Bebop music.

The Bounty Hunters

COWBOY BEBOP JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL in COWBOY BEPOP Cr GEOFFREY SHORT NETFLIX
Cowboy Bebop. Credit: Geoffrey Short/Netflix

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop follows three bounty hunters on the Bebop, an interplanetary ship and fishing trawler. Spike Spiegel (John Cho) is the expert fighter and a former assassin for the Syndicate, Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) is the owner of the ship and former cop, and Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) is the newcomer who seems to be all about personal gain. The three lead actors are standouts as the members of the Bebop, and they brought these animated characters to life and captured their personalities. Cho carries that indifferent and lazy attitude, Shakir is compassionate, and Pineda is arrogant and determined. With their different pasts and personalities, it’s a lot of fun watching them interact with each other.

The Action

COWBOY BEBOP ALEX HASSELL as VICIOUS and JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL Cr. GEOFFREY SHORT NETFLIX
Cowboy Bebop. Credit: Geoffrey Short/Netflix

The anime is known for its cinematic and cool action, and although the live-action series has plenty of them, they feel very slow, especially when you’re watching someone who is very proficient in martial arts. I appreciate the effort in performing the moves for the action sequences, but they lacked energy and speed. One of the better action scenes had Spike emulating John Wick, but it didn’t raise the bar and wasn’t really exciting.

The Music

COWBOY BEBOP DANIELLA PINEDA as FAYE VALENTINE Cr GEOFFREY SHORT NETFLIX
Cowboy Bebop. Credit: Geoffrey Short/Netflix

Yoko Kanno was the composer for the Cowboy Bebop anime, and it was her playground. She could experiment with different genres like Western, jazz, blues, pop and more. She quickly elevated to become one of the top composers in entertainment. Netflix brought her on board for the live-action series, and it’s a no-brainer. It’s great to hear her music, and it had this fan excited throughout. With so many catchy songs, it’s disheartening that some of the music was edited to hell. For example, in Episode 6 “Binary Two-Step,” Space Lion was teased as Spike looks at an old photo, but it was cut very short. What would make it better was to have the song carry over to the end credits.

Adaptation

COWBOY BEBOP ALEX HASSELL as VICIOUS Cr. GEOFFREY SHORT NETFLIX
Cowboy Bebop. Credit: Geoffrey Short/Netflix

For some parts, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop sticks to the original anime with its many stories and characters. These include the discovery of Ein the data dog, the crazy assassin known as Pierrot Le Fou, the pasts that are haunting all three of the bounty hunters, and more. And then there are the deviations including Vicious and Julia, who are pivotal characters in Spike’s history.

Vicious is a villain and a member of the Syndicate, and Julia is Spike’s love interest. What made this a travesty for fans is that the team really changed who these two characters are. Vicious is no longer the cool villain, and he is insecure and whiney. Julia was a badass in the anime, but here she is mainly a damsel in distress. And what they did to these characters in the season finale had this viewer in disbelief at the huge departure to the source material.

Non-fans who don’t know the characters won’t think much of it, but fans of the original will likely be very upset. This is the case with the season’s ending and how it handles some of the characters. The direction of the show quickly left a bad taste in my mouth, and I no longer have any desire to continue the series if it gets a second season.

Final Reaction

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop has been fun with the three leads. John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda capture Spike, Jet and Faye. However, the live-action version is hampered by lackluster supporting characters, an uninspired plot, and huge changes in the stories that will have fans upset.

Score: 2/5 Atoms

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