“Cowboy Bepop”: A First in Live-Action Adaptations

Rating: 5/5 Falcons

Netflix adaptations are bad. They are replaceable and formulaic, and are designed for production in mass quantities in the hopes that one show will become a sensation. Among these adaptations is Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, a live action remake of an anime classic released a couple of months ago. The show was canceled after just three weeks due to censure from a carping fanbase. However, to give credit where credit is due, this live action adaptation is likely responsible for the recent popularity the 1990s show has seen.

Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe in 1998, Cowboy Bebop follows a group of bounty hunters in the year 2071. The charismatic Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine, Jet Black, Edward, and Ein (the crew’s dog) navigate space, often encountering fragments of their past. Though there is no overarching plot, each character has their own story and their own past that makes them who they are. And, although each character is unique in conflict, they are joined in trying to make a living as bounty hunters thrown together on a ship.

Every character feels very human in that they’re flawed, which adds to the story incredibly.

Every character feels very human in that they’re flawed, which adds to the story incredibly well. Spike, for instance, lets his emotions cloud his judgment, creating unplanned situations that build tension and convey vulnerability. Techniques like these help immerse viewers into the dazzling setting. The show references the real world, but is not dense with obvious metaphors. This is a break among less skillfully done shows, in which it is the relatability that forges viewer-to-character bonds instead of character traits and actions.

Regarding animation, the jazzy style is laid on thick, but still feels easy; every single frame feels intentional. The combination of these often flawed characters, jaw dropping lines, and breathtaking color create a majestic world—one that is spontaneous, pretty, and often quite alluring. And the score! Bebop is a series of jazz scales that overtook the genre in the 1940s. Composer Yoko Kanno truly made a one-of-a-kind soundtrack.

The music compliments the scenes well, and although not the focus, is definitely present. Then, briefly, the music takes charge, pushing a message of its own. This happens a lot during quiet scenes where the characters are left to their own thoughts and the music suddenly asserts itself. It hasn’t changed, you just realize it’s there. Some may say that at times the show can seem too visual, the colors and shapes so geometric and stylized that the show may fail to represent a logical reality for some viewers. Again, the show is not made to replicate but instead to reference the real world, allowing viewers to learn from an intentionally different world.

We are giving Cowboy Bebop 5/5 falcons. We do not believe that this show is perfect, as nothing is. However, Cowboy Bebop is truly one of a kind. It has a simple plot so that it can flesh out the characters, every decision feels merited, and it just works. All in all, Cowboy Bebop is a fun show about people, using their past to become better human beings.

This piece also appears in our February 2022 print edition.