Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop: some first impressions

Cowboy Bebop has been one of the most celebrated names in anime for over two decades now. It has achieved iconic status thanks to the undeniable style that drips from every scene, and features one of the greatest anime openings of all time. A cast that is crammed with sex on legs doesn’t hurt matters either, so to say that it was an ambitious project to bring to live action is an understatement. However, we had plenty of reason to hope.

I’m currently around halfway through the live action show, but several things have popped up at me, both good and bad. Here are a few of my first impressions of the live action Cowboy Bebop show on Netflix. We won’t be going into spoilers here, but fans who want to go in completely fresh should be warned that I will discuss some plot details as they relate to the original anime.

The Good

Faye Valentine Cowboy Bebop

Despite what fans of the original anime might tell you on social media, there are some excellent bits in this show. The casting, for the most part, is very good and the music, once again provided by the incredible Yoko Kanno, is exactly as jazzy and dramatic as you could ask for. There is a sense that actors are having an incredible time. My personal favourite among the main cast is Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black; he has the look, sound, and gentle wisdom that the original carried himself with, and he’s my favourite part of almost every scene he is in.

There are multiple scenes where characters spend a large amount of time just talking, which some people have complained about, but this is a Cowboy Bebop that was made for the streaming era. Free from the 23-minute runtime of TV and the oppressive cost of animation, they can indulge in long conversations that highlight the relationships between the characters. The first time Jet and Spike sit down to talk about why they need the money from their latest bounty is a bit indulgent but it is the writers stretching their legs a little bit so I don’t mind.

The Bad

I am pretty sure there is a solid action show somewhere in the footage we’re presented with, but the editing makes it difficult to find at times. The tension from the opening fight scene is completely destroyed by bad camera angles and over-editing to the point where the action feels flat. It gives the impression that the actors didn’t learn the fight choreography in time for filming, which I don’t think is true — but that is the impression that the editing gives me.

This isn’t universally true of the show; the second episode opens with a fantastically presented and choreographed fight, so there was potential there; it just wasn’t always utilised. The action of Cowboy Bebop was always so important, so this is a big disappointment for me.

As much as I enjoyed moments when the characters could just talk to each other – even the now infamous Bidet Scene – some of the dialogue is just comically bad. A conversation in episode three between Jet and an information broker is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved, but not in the way that the writers probably intended. There are some great moments in there, but the tonal shift can cause some proper whiplash.

The Weird

The pacing is probably the strangest part of this version of Cowboy Bebop. A huge part of Spike’s character development is revealed late in the show’s run, with the first three-quarters of it being an episodic adventure of the Bebop crew. His dark past is kept to hints and secrets over most of the anime before coming to a head at the dramatic confrontation with Vicious in the final episodes.

This wasn’t unusual with many anime of the era and it helped to give the characters room to grow and develop without the overarching plot bearing down on them. It allowed the show to have silly, camp moments without it feeling out of place. In the live action Cowboy Bebop, however, Vicious and Spike’s rivalry is front and centre from the second episode. We immediately see the two at each other’s throats, playing a cat and mouse game right from the start, which means that the tense, serious moments are broken up by campy, stylised fights around a missile silo.

Still, the show is worth watching so far, if only for the incredible soundtrack and style on display. You can catch it streaming now on Netflix.

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