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Cowboy Bebop Review

Hollywood adaptations of beloved anime series come with a lot of weight on their shoulders as it tries to honor the original source material while also introducing it to a brand new audience. Cowboy Bebop is the latest in a line of several adaptations from America attempting to turn these anime shows into a franchise of films or TV shows. With its mix of sci-fi and noir with a jazz-inspired score, everyone is hoping this new live-action respects the series. Not every live-action attempt has worked, but Cowboy Bebop seems to be off to a great start in that trend.

The opening sequence pays homage to the original with its style and aesthetic and the cast looks amazing like they pop out straight from the anime from the outfits to the hairstyle. With 10 episodes in this first season, this live-action take has its heart in the right place and does well in translating some aspects of the anime into this new show, even though some things just don’t work as well on screen.

For those unfamiliar with Cowboy Bebop, it follows a crew of bounty hunters aboard the spacecraft Bebop. The three members of this group all have a past that they are running from and they soon find a bond with each other that can be considered as a family. These cowboys as they are known, consist of former criminal Spike Spiegel (John Cho), ex-cop Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), and femme fatale Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). These guys travel into the outer reaches of the galaxy hunting down the solar system’s deadliest criminals — as long as they are worth the price. As the season goes, we learn a bit of their history but it soon becomes apparent that they can’t outrun their past forever.

The Netflix series may not be exactly the same as the anime, but there are certainly some similarities that can be made. Much of the plot and the characters are taken straight from the original show, with most of them looking almost exactly like their counterparts. There are a few liberties that are taken to expand some of the characters’ backstories. So in a way, it’s not much of a reboot but more of a remix of the anime. With this in mind, it may displease hardcore fans who aren’t comfortable with the changes made, but there may be enough love for this new take to appreciate what was being done here.

The characters for the most part work quite nicely in live-action. It’s no doubt that Cho embodies Spike really well, and it’s not just because of the hairstyle and costume. The actor manages to capture our main character’s attitude and his movements perfectly. His backstory remains the same, and we get pieces of it throughout the season so those who are new to the show can piece together what makes this guy tick and where he comes from. Shakir, who plays his long-time partner Jet also stays the same as the anime, which is also a perfect casting choice. He may not have the same face, but the voice bears some similarities to the original character. Both Spike and Jet’s relationship is what makes this show work so well.

The show has faced some controversy with Pineda’s version of Faye. If you have seen the series, then you know it’s Faye’s sex appeal that has stood out in the series because of her skimpy costume. For obvious reasons, the live-action series wouldn’t have an actress wear something so revealing because all eyes would be on her. Despite that change, we still get the same Faye that we saw in the animation. As a matter of fact, she might be one of the biggest standouts in this adaptation. She comes off as brash, bossy, and a strong character. We also have some tender moments with her, even if she tries to hide that side of herself from others.  

We do get some minor characters from the anime making an appearance on the show. Some of them look like the original animation while others are reformatted in a way that works realistically. Don’t worry, we still do get to see Ein the dog who very much is a part of this ragtag group of bounty hunters. He is considered an important member, just not exactly as fans may remember him, but he still is the most adorable creature this galaxy has ever seen. The only thing that didn’t work so well was the subplot with Vicious (Alex Hassell) and Julia (Elena Satine). We see these two in an affair as they try to take down the Syndicate while expanding on Spike’s backstory of his days with the criminal group. It plays off like a crime drama that doesn’t keep you invested as it should.

What was done right is the format of Cowboy Bebop, which sticks to its anime roots. Every episode tells a complete story, but the only difference is there is a bigger plot being played in the first season that culminates into an epic showdown in the finale that will make viewers want more from this series. Even for the diehard fans, they’ll come to appreciate what was done here as a labor of love to the original series. Even those who have never watched the anime will enjoy what they are seeing here and also easily follow what’s happening in the story.

The visual style and editing are what may divide some people. Based on what was shown in this first season, the cinematography is gorgeous and the overall style works well to compliment the incredible score. Speaking of which, the anime’s original composer Yoko Kanno was brought back to create the score for the new series while adding some new ones. It shows once we hear some of her signature sounds that make incredible jazz compositions. There was enough pacing in between episodes to give more time to each of the characters and the plot of the season. The action also pops right off the screen, even though some of the editings may be a bit much with the fight choreography.

In the end, Cowboy Bebop is a wild ride filled with action, adventure, and an amazing score. By following this journey with these intergalactic hunters, we learn so much about who these characters are that respect the source material that came before them and add a bit more depth. Much of the basic plots of the story remain the same, which will please a lot of fans. Some things may not translate well on screen but this turned out to be a great attempt of capturing the spirit of a beloved series into live-action. So buckle up Space Cowboy and enjoy the ride. 

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