Fans of the original anime series Cowboy Bebop are familiar with the story. Cowboys, who are bounty hunters, pursue the galaxy’s most wanted and dangerous bounties. Cowbody Bebop, created by Shinichirō Watanabe, is one of the best and beloved shows. It’s a cult classic. The anime series is arguably one of the best shows ever created. Watanabe crafts a fascinating show with charismatic characters and brilliant storytelling.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is a live-action adaptation based on the beloved anime. To prepare for this show, I watched the original anime series.I kept in mind the number of anime titles adapted to live-action. Ghost in the Sheand Netflix’s Death Note were not popular among fans. Most of the reason why is that those live-action adaptations of anime series don’t work.
Cowboy Bebop introduces Spike Spiegel (John Chu), Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) and Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). They are tall, bold, snarky bounty hunters called cowboys. The trio travels around the solar system hunting down dangerous bounties. To keep the engine running and food on the table, they hunt down the highest price. As Spike, Jet and Faye travel the galaxy and embark on many adventures, their past catches up to them.
Off the bat, the trio has excellent chemistry. Chu’s iteration of Spike is perfect and adds an irresistible charisma and mysteriousness presented in the anime version. Spike’s smile, humor, and pose are striking. Shakir portrays Jet’s complicated history as an ex-cop struggling to right the wrongs in his past. There is sadness and betrayal in his life, but it does not try to bring him down. Pineda’s portrayal of Faye is fun and snarky, with bolts of energetic moments. With the trio together, there aren’t any dull moments.
The original anime series is incredible. There are so many wonderful shots and moments. I wondered how Cowboy Bebop could mirror them. The visual nods and easter eggs to the original anime series were certainly fun to identify. These new and old shots are meant to welcome both new and old fans to the show.
The anime series is an adventurous space Western filled with gangsters, bounty hunters, spooky villains that torment these characters. The show takes the playfulness and witty humor from the original anime, and introduces new elements. It’s a clear attempt to play off what makes Cowboy Bebop so popular among fans.
But the question is, is the magic of the original anime series present in the show? I cannot help but agree that anime series should not be adapted into live-action projects. Cowboy Bebop sometimes lacks the style and flow in the series of its animated compatriot.
Regardless of it, the show takes the material and spins a whole new story, not to butcher it but to extend the characters’ backstory. One thing that was lacking in the original series is Julia’s (Elena Satine) backstory. Julia is seen only a handful of times, and her connection with Spike isn’t explored as much in the original series. Cowboy Bebop explores their love story and explains how it all began.
Bringing the original composer of the anime series was a highlight for the producers of Cowboy Bebop. Unlike the anime series which had a character-driven approach, Kanno created new melodies and compositions for each episode. The melodies are nostalgic and it is a nod to the original series, and one of the many aspects that make Cowboy Bebop what it is.
If I had to keep comparing the two series, it would be unfair. Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is a world of its own. Cowboy Bebop attempts to bring old and new fans together. To create something wonderful within its newness. The show brings iconic characters like Chalmers (Geoff Stults), Pierrot Le Fou (Josh Randall), Asimov (Jan Uddin), Hakim (Jay Paulson) and so many others. The episode featuring Pierrot Le Fou is one of the best episodes in the animated series, and the show attempts to emulate the story.
I have to admit that Cowboy Bebop brings the action-packed element of Pierrot Le Fou with several visual cues from the anime series. But again, comes the point where everything needs to be modified for a live-action medium? Cowboy Bebop doesn’t bring the same effect. Pierrot Le Fou is a character known for causing chaos. The live-action version hardly lives up to that expectation.
Certain cues that worked well in animated form did not in live action. Despite taking inspiration from the anime series, it really doesn’t fit within that medium. Even if the cast is spectacular and Chu’s version of Spike is charismatic, I still wonder if anime should be left as it originally is.
Ultimately, Cowboy Bebop has a lot of moments that are enjoyable to watch, and the added background stories for the characters are interesting. It certainly has its charms, but it doesn’t quite reach the point where it’s fully unique on its own. The show is fun and offers a lot of heartwarming moments between the trio as they grow to trust each other. The sense of trust and friendship grows and they learn to work together as a team, with the help of Ein, of course.
For more from Nuha, check out her review of Amazon’s I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Nuha Hassan is a film and TV writer and reviewer, based in the Maldives. She is a Staff Writer at Film Cred, Off Colour, and Flip Screen. Apart from writing about film, she is a Video Editor at Dead Central. She studied Master of Media at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Her love for film started with David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. Her favourite comfort film is When Harry Met Sally.