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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Cowboy Bebop (live action) Review • By Eric Dontigney

So, the live-action Cowboy Bebop show finally dropped on Netflix to a wholly unsurprising bashing by professional critics. To that, I say, you people take yourselves too damn seriously. Unfortunately, that also meant that you took this show too damn seriously. More surprising were all the viewers who took issue with it for reasons that, honestly, I’m struggling to fathom. Most of the complaints I’ve seen are just generalized statements of anger or disappointment. So, here’s my mostly spoiler-free review.

The live-action Cowboy Bebop is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Unlike the critics, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is a good thing because the original anime didn’t take itself too seriously. Let us all recall that the original anime shamelessly, joyously, took a kitchen sink approach that meant any given episode might take its inspiration from film noir, 50s westerns, Kung-Fu movies, gangster movies, science fiction, and even horror. One of the most reliable sub-plots of the anime was Spike being hungry. A feature I was delighted to see carried over into the live-action version.

The show does adopt a more serialized approach than the anime, but it’s a loose serialization. It was also, I think, a necessary evil for a western audience that has grown accustomed to highly-serialized shows over the last decade or two. That means you see more of some of the supporting players like Vicious and Julia. It also means that where plotlines from the anime overlapped with plotlines in the live-action show, you also get more coherent explanations for why things are happening. In essence, the live-action version depends less on happenstance and deus ex machina. True, that dials down the random a little, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the show.

One of the fair complaints leveled at the show is that some of the action sequences didn’t really come off. In some cases, it was because the show tried to replicate the over-the-top style of the anime. That never works out because, you know, human bodies don’t work that way. In other cases, it just seemed like the choreography was off or maybe the actors didn’t get enough time to practice those fight sequences. These issues seemed to resolve themselves in later episodes.

The overall look of the show does a creditable job of recapturing the culture-mashing, socially deteriorating, haves vs have-nots dichotomy that marked the anime. It couldn’t reasonably replicate the same scale because live-action has a budget and sets are expensive, but it captures the overall vibe. High luxury coexists with abandoned vehicles and decaying buildings. High technology coexists with rust and corrosion.

The true joy of the show is the cast. John Cho is glorious as Spike, the ex-gangster hitman turned lazy, perpetually hungry bounty hunter in a blue leisure suit. It’s a testament to John Cho’s skill that he can pull off the devil-may-care attitude of Spike the bounty hunter and the lethally serious attitude of Fearless (Spike’s gangster name) when confronting Vicious. Mustafar Shakir is outstanding as the grumpy, grizzled, ex-cop Jet Black. He puts his soulful gaze to good use in suggesting a man with a deep, complicated inner life. Daniella Peneda excels in her role, bringing the brash attitude of amnesiac Faye Valentine to life, but counterpointing that with an almost visceral desperation to uncover her past.

No, the live-action Cowboy Bebop isn’t a perfect show. It has real flaws. Some subplots don’t work particularly well. Some elements feel shoehorned in for no particularly good reason. Some action sequences don’t come off. That being said, I stand by my original statement. This show is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. The trick, as is true with all adaptations, is to take the show on its own merits. Treat it as its own animal. If you go in expecting a scene-by-scene recreation of the anime, you will be disappointed. If you go in expecting it to make an effort to capture the spirit of the anime, you should enjoy the ride.

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Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at ericdontigney.com.


SHAMELESS ADVERT: If you like Harry Dresden or John Constantine, you’ll love THE MIDNIGHT GROUND. READ IT NOW!

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