Cowboy Bebop the Netflix live-action series Review

Cowboy Bebop Review, Cowboy Bebop the Netflix live-action series Review
Cowboy Bebop the Netflix live-action series Review

It is not difficult to understand why Hollywood has been so insistent over the years on its plans to develop a live-action Cowboy Bebop. On paper, a production based on the cult work of Shinichirō Watanabe (Samurai Champloo) and Sunrise studio (Gundam) looks like a winning formula: a suggestive premise and charismatic characters wrapped within a narrative with an attractive fusion of genres such as the western, film noir and science fiction; all this, orchestrated to the rhythm of the exquisite bars of jazz, blues and a bit of rock, courtesy of the composer Yōko Kanno and the band The Seatbelts. 

For practical purposes, it would be a simpler project to land on the visuals compared to other iconic Japanese franchises and, given the multiculturalism and western references that inspired the concept and setting of the anime in the first place, it did not require noticeable adjustments to connect with it. great public on this side of the pond. But given previous experiences, the question among fans persisted: could an adaptation stay true and deliver something worthy of that legacy?

The good news is that the Netflix and Tomorrow Studios series - companies already working on the live-action One Piece - is far from being a disaster. For the more benevolent audience, this iteration can even be an acceptable and harmless piece of entertainment, at least compared to other American productions inspired by famous titles from the world of anime or manga. However, the bar should not be that low. In the end, the team led by showrunner André Nemec (Zoo) offers nothing particularly outstanding in their reinterpretation of Cowboy Bebop, in form or substance. Not a small spark of the magic of a story that has captivated global audiences since 1998. A product that feels artificial, sweetened, and, ultimately, disposable; a set of adjectives that you would never use to describe the original anime.

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Cowboy Bebop transports us to a not too distant future where humanity has already colonized the solar system, and travel through the planets is possible through hyperspace gates. In this scenario, we meet an eclectic team of hapless bounty hunters who are unable to let go of the past: Spike Spiegel (John Cho), a former member of the dreaded criminal organization known as The Syndicate; Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), a former cop who lost everything after being charged with a crime he did not commit; and Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), a woman who suffers from amnesia after waking up from a long cryogenic sleep. 


Contrary to what it might sound, the Netflix version is not a carbon copy of the anime, but a remix that prints a few twists on the characters, the universe, and several of its most remembered plot lines. Some changes work better than others depending on the story you are trying to tell, but will undoubtedly generate divided opinions among the fandom. However, the fundamental flaw with the Netflix version lies in the fact that there seems to be a greater concern of the creators to emulate the anime style at a superficial level than to do an authentic exercise to replicate the delicate balance in tones that it has earned him so much acclaim. Whether through lack of self-reflection or deliberate omission, Cowboy Bebop is the latest victim of an unfortunate Americanization.


On one side was the melancholy that permeated most of Spike, Jet, and Faye's misadventures; not a trace of that search for a light of hope amid situations that constantly confronted them with tragedy. Although the Hollywood adaptation does not abandon the drama, violence, or cruelty of the Bebop universe, the proposal is diluted by excessively privileging comedy, the absurd, and the bizarre during most of its 10 sessions or episodes. It should be noted that for the writer's room headed by Christopher Yost (Thor: Ragnarok), the heart of the series falls on the trope of the “found family”, and the camaraderie between Cho, Shakir, and Pineda is present if that's the class. series you are looking for.


 The paradox lies in the notion that what we are seeing and hearing appeals too much to nostalgia by wanting to remind us at every moment that it is Cowboy Bebop, even when it is completely divorced in tone from Watanabe's creation. When the plot is finally allowed to enter gray areas, perhaps it is too late to piece together.


As far as the performances are concerned, we must talk about the other central triangle in the plot: Spike, Vicious (Alex Hassell), and Julia (Elena Satine). Without going into specific details, the live-action tries to delve into the enormous emotional burden that exists in their relationships, which is why it becomes essential to buy them in their roles and their dynamics with a view to the conclusion of the first season. Unfortunately, the execution fails miserably. 


Cho never manages to see himself as less than a glorified Spike Spiegel cosplayer, but there is a certain charm in his portrayal and in the chemistry he has with his fellow bounty hunters; something we cannot say about his interactions with his former partner turned mortal enemy or with the woman of his dreams. In that sense, Vicious and Julia receive important updates regarding the source material, but these do not always play to their advantage. In Alex's case, the conflict is his direction and acting choices, as the one-dimensional sociopath we knew fully transforms into a cartoon villain, and his poor characterization work doesn't help either. Elena, on her part, plays a suitable role with the script that she was given; it is the guidelines marked on it that will cause mixed reactions on the character. 


A server respects the audacity to try something different and leave the series at a point where he could really offer something fresh if a continuation is confirmed. Unfortunately, the construction to get to that point and the resolution are disgraceful. In contrast, Mustafa Shakir, Daniella Pineda and Tamara Tunie (Ana) give away solid performances. And Ed? We'll just say don't expect anything beyond a few mentions and a brief cameo.


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As already mentioned, the immense admiration that everyone involved in the project has for the anime on a technical level cannot be denied. From the opening sequence, the live-action series co-directed by Alex García López (The Witcher) and Michael Katleman (Zoo) lets us see that a legitimate effort was made to replicate that aura and deliver the best possible version. Filmed in New Zealand, the production required 140 sets and locations that were plagued with small Easter eggs, references, and tributes to the franchise in and out of fiction; in some cases, as in the cathedral rescued from the episode The Ballad of the Fallen Angels, the re-enactment was meticulously done down to the smallest detail. 


To be sure, each department spent countless hours studying each frame and the conceptual arts provided by Sunrise, from cinematographers Jean-Philippe Gossart, Dave Perkal, and Thomas Burstyn; through production designers Grant Major and Gary Mackay; set decorator Anneke Botha and costume designer Jane Holland. Sadly, that ambition lacks sufficient resources to support it on screen, and as a consequence, anime's visual sobriety and aesthetic prowess do not translate adequately into the real world. In comparison, the components here look cheap, stuffy, and gimmicky.


Once again, we end with the eternal question: what was the point? A question with which the Hollywood industry continues to struggle when trying to find satisfactory formulas to reinterpret classics of local and international animation in live-action productions. Except for the musical section with the return of Yōko Kanno and The Seatbelts, there is very little in the Netflix adaptation that genuinely merits the attention of old fans from a positive perspective or that possesses a fraction of the soul of anime to attract with the same passion to new viewers. Like so many adaptations before it, the live-action Cowboy Bebop series simply fails to justify its existence. And why would you want to see a soul remix when you could get closer to the original anime?

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