Animated classics are usually best left alone. Live-action versions seldom live up to the original.
In rare cases, though, one does manage to reach that same level of brilliance. One of these is the Netflix live-action adaptation of that classic animated multi-genre space Western, Cowboy Bebop.
Cowboy Bebop only loosely follows the anime. Many characters are similar and some plot lines are repeated, but overall it can and does stand on its own. I have watched the anime (several times) and can assure you that you can go into this not having a clue as to what it’s about.
The series does not, as the name might suggest, revolve around a cowboy named Bebop. It refers to the fact that interstellar bounty hunters are nicknamed cowboys and the ship of this particular crew is called the Bebop. The initial two-man crew — Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) and Spike Spiegel (John Cho) — are as cliché as it sounds: men on the run from their past and making a living apprehending bad guys for the fare. With limited succes. Add in Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), a con-girl with a spotty past and a corgi, and you get a bunch of misfits that roam human-inhabited planets fighting evil, trying to find love and often literally themselves.
It sounds corny, but it works! The film noir-style Jazz music is fantastic, and true to that of the original anime (sadly only available via the Amazon music subscription, which is a crime against music lovers everywhere). Noir is an element that weaves throughout the entire series, which can best be described as as a neo-noir sci-fi Western. It’s genre mixing and bending, and it does so very well. It’s at the same time gritty and bright, with slow burns and fast-moving action sequences.
Of course it has its flaws. The fight scenes can look a little fake and stiff. Some of the acting isn’t that great. The villain is a pretty bland predictable psychopath with a sword. Going off the anime, Vicious is the obvious choice, especially for how Season 1 unfolds, but it still doesn’t make him a good villain, try as the actor portraying him (Alex Hassell) may. At his best moments, he looks like the psychotic younger brother of Lucius Malfoy without any of the sleazy charm.
Another drawback is that fan favorite Radical Edward doesn’t appear until the epilogue. The fact that Ed shows up at all suggests there is a plan for Season 2, although the series hasn’t been renewed yet. The finale could be an ending, but I hope we haven’t seen the last of the Bebop and its crew.
And minor spoiler for those who missed it: yes, Ein is with Ed. So superdog is in good hands.
Reviews of the Netflix adaptation are mixed, but I loved it. So much is a little ridiculous. It’s probably my favorite anime adaptation to date. See you, space cowboy!