COWBOY BEBOP Review: "Doesn't Quite Recapture The Anime's Effortless Cool, But Comes Pretty Damn Close"
Netflix's live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop is set to hit the streamer later this week, and while it has its share of problems, it's still an absolute blast. Check out our verdict right here...
Whenever anyone sets out to revisit, reimagine, or in any way adapt a beloved property, they're almost setting themselves up for failure. If the new take turns out to be a carbon copy of the original, people will wonder what the point was, while making too many changes is sure to piss off a whole different contingent of fans.
So, when Netflix announced that it was developing a live-action series based on one of the most popular, influential animes of all time, many wondered if the streamer was biting off more than it could chew. Fortunately, Cowboy Bebop manages to stay true to the spirit of Sunrise's '90s neo-noir classic while adding just enough ingredients to set it apart.
You'd certainly be forgiven for thinking we were entering facsimile territory initially. The intro is a near perfect recreation of The Seatbelts' terrific "Tank!" opening theme, while the first episode is an almost shot-for-shot remake of the anime's "Asteroid Blues." However, as the story progresses, plotlines and character arcs begin to veer off in new and (mostly) interesting directions.
The premise remains the same, with a crew of bounty hunters (or, cowboys) pursuing targets across the galaxy in an attempt to scrape together enough cash to stay afloat. Our makeshift family is made up of Spike Spiegel (John Cho), a former assassin who must hide his checkered past from his partners at all costs; Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), a former cop who was framed and sent down for 5 years; Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), an amnesiac con woman; and Ein, and adorable Welsh Corgi who may be a lot more dangerous than he looks.
These damaged individuals are all trying to lay their ghosts to rest and move on with their lives, but Spike's past eventually catches up with him, putting everyone at risk.
Casting was always going to be key to getting fans and the uninitiated alike invested, so we're pleased to report that the leads are superb. Some eyebrows were raised when the 40-something Cho landed the role of Spike, but the Star Trek actor does a terrific job of encapsulating the character's nonchalant charm and witty demeanor. Shakir is just as good, infusing his increasingly exasperated take on Jet with plenty of warmth. Pineda, however, might just be the standout.
Of the three, Faye is easily the most at odds with her anime counterpart, who was, let's face it, not the most compelling or well-developed of characters. Pineda retains some of her less likable qualities at first, but soon begins to thaw, and ultimately emerges as the heart of the show. Don't be surprised if you start to tear-up when Valentine is finally given the smallest of glimpses into her previous life.
Unfortunately, the story falters whenever the focus shifts away from our heroes to the supporting players. Both Vicious (Spike's former friend and fellow Syndicate killer) and Julia (the singer caught between them) are given greatly expanded roles, and while actors Alex Hassell and Elena Satine do a decent job, the show's attempt to flesh them out doesn't really work. They're given just enough to do to make them vital to Spike's arc, but not enough to make us care about them as individual characters.
The finale is also sure to be divisive, particularly for fans of the original. It's difficult to go into any detail without spoiling the ending, so let's just say the show tries to have its cake and eat it by giving us the big confrontation without the now iconic, ambiguous resolution. There was always going to be some second season setup, of course, but it's a shame André Nemec, Christopher Yost and co. didn't come up with another scenario so this could be saved as the conclusion of the entire series.
Like its ragtag protagonists, Cowboy Bebop is a little rough around the edges, but also eminently entertaining and an absolute blast to spend time with. Netflix's adaptation doesn't quite recapture the anime's effortless cool, but it comes pretty damn close.