Is Cowboy Bebop THAT Bad?
Cowboy Bebop (2021-) Season 1 review
So Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is a live action adaptation of the beloved anime of the same name from 1998/1999. The story follows a crew of bounty hunters, or cowboys, as they track down dangerous criminals around the futuristic galaxy, all while dealing with their own pasts.
The first (and probably only) season of Netflix’s Bebop currently sits at a 48% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, with only a slight step up to a 54% audience score. For comparison, the original anime currently holds a 97% audience score and a whopping 100% critic score. On a separate note, it is easily my favorite anime series, as well as one of my all time favorite shows. Having said that, I will try my best to take the bias from the series out of this…
Now don’t take the fact that I finished this series as approval. I took it as a matter of pride to be able to talk about this series in its current entirety. Why? Because Cowboy Bebop is simply no good. Now for the sake of anyone who does want to go into this series, I won’t be getting too far into spoilers. But if you have seen an anime adaptation before, well you should know what you are getting in to…
Let me start by asking a simply question: Who is this for? The series is mostly recycled stories from the original show set to a more elaborated backstory for Spike. However the choices that go into the pieces pulled from the original show are matched as well as they could be for a live action series with a small budget. Which almost never works. Fans of the original are sure to watch this and mentally compare it to the anime, which did it better at every turn, and newcomers will be baffled at the cheesy execution of these stories.
To be clear, almost every single problem in this poor adaptation comes from the choice to adapt this anime as faithfully as possible. Which, again, is a horrible decision. The original Bebop is sleek and stylish and wonderfully over the top, but it is nearly impossible to capture the same tone with the restrictions of live action. The action is limited to the abilities of the stunt performers, but this time, complete with- Dutch tilts? Yeah that’ll definitely make it look like the anime…
What’s worse is that the series tries to go for the same over-emotional performances that anime is known for. Casting aside, John Cho and Mustafa Shakir give it their all as Spike and Jet. There are times in this series where they even take these characters and make them their own. Sadly the commitment they bring to the table is no match for the writing they are straddled with. On top of that, as much as I love John Cho, I often questioned his casting.
Now on the lesser side of casting, the shockingly foulmouthed Daniella Pineda never felt like a good Faye, which could be somewhere between the cheesy performance and the attempt to make Faye a more grounded character. (As if Faye wasn’t already a grounded character…) And then there’s Alex Hassell and Elena Satine… Mild spoilers for the first episode! Julia is just- in the show. So it could be because they basically craft a new character out of her, but I did not like Satine’s performance one bit. (Okay maybe one bit. She can sing really well…)
And then there’s Alex Hassell. Ugh Vicious is easily the worst thing about this entire series. Between Hassell’s shallow performance and the sudden change in character, Vicious feels like a complete pushover who spends half the time with his ample runtime making crazy eyes when things don’t go his way. Why was THIS the thing they changed?
That said there is an entire episode that goes ‘off script’ from the original series, and with the more character driven narrative, it actually manages to be the best episode in the series! (Again I’m saying series instead of season because I doubt we’ll get another season.) For one brief, shining moment, the show stops plagiarizing and hits its stride! Only to wrap up with an insult to both fans of the show and anyone attempting to invest in the character arcs.
Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts return to provide another high energy jazz backdrop to the melting pot of the world of Cowboy Bebop, and while it feels like a pail imitation of their original work, it is a standout compared to the rest of the production quality on display. That said, it does not help that the best music in the show is rehashed music from the original, not their new work.
I think, aside from the writing, direction, editing, camerawork, and almost everything else that makes this a poor copy of the original, what truly hurts this show is the production design. I know it sounds like a little thing, but this series clearly did not have the budget for huge effects, sets, fights, or really anything else that makes Bebop so exciting. Things that you really need if you are going to keep the same over-the-top tone. Instead we are treated with unique and stunning futuristic settings like, a bar, a house, behind a warehouse, in a normal building, on a street, in a dump- If you cut the shots of space out of this you wouldn’t know it was sci-fi.
There are some brief aspects of this show holding this failed attempt together, but in the end, it is as bad as critics say it is. The choices made going into this series with the limitations it had, and especially compared to its source material, feel like a very eager student filmmaker was allowed to remake the first third of Cowboy Bebop. Which is not up to standard for a Netflix original. It is however the standard for anime adaptations… But if you need more proof, just watch as much of the first episode as you can and see how unintentionally cheesy it is. 4/10.
So Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop? Did you watch any of it? What did you think? And what would you have changed? Other than, I mean, everything… But hey, leave a like and a comment below and let us know what you think! And of course, thanks for reading!
-review by Ryan Prince