The strange mess that is Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop

We’ve talked a lot about Cowboy Bebop lately and that is because, with the release of the Netflix live action adaptation, it has been on a lot of people’s minds. We might have discussed our first impressions not long ago, but there is still a lot more to say about this adaptation and how it holds up against the original.

Be warned that we’ll be diving into spoiler territory as we discuss this one, with some discussion of plot points both from the anime and the live action Cowboy Bebop. Folks wanting to go in fresh should probably turn away now.

Still here? Good. Let’s jam.

What went wrong with Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop Cast

The first thing that fans of the original anime will notice is that Vicious and Julia are introduced far earlier in the Netflix show. In the original, we don’t get even a sniff of Spike’s backstory until the final few episodes, which depict his search for his beloved Julia and his quest for revenge on his former partner Vicious.

In Netflix’s version, meanwhile, they are featured in the first episode and their relationship, with all the problematic domestic abuse you could ask for, is front and centre throughout the series.

The problem this causes is that it undermines the relationship between Jet and Spike. Spike is no longer simply a flaky, laid-back guy who barely holds it together. He cuts out on jobs to dip into his revenge addiction multiple times, leaving Jet in the lurch. By the end of the series, Spike is the unreliable one rather than Faye, which is strange because that is her entire bag. I am glad they decided to go a different direction with much of the show but the plotting and scripting needed another pass before it was really ready.

The writing is probably the crux of what falls flat in the show. It is hilariously uneven throughout. While some exchanges, such as Jet’s relationship with his daughter, are wonderful and organic, there are plenty of scenes that aren’t even worthy of a bad parody. Seeing a character confirm that she is indeed trying to blackmail Jet because, and I cannot stress enough that I am not exaggerating on this one (He really isn’t – Ed.), he is both “black” and “male” is so horrible and uncomfortable that Mustafa Shakir deserves an Oscar simply for not collapsing into a ball of cringe at having it spoken in his direction.

Cowboy Bebop Netflix

Shakir’s Jet Black is a highlight off the show, getting the bulk of the development. His daughter and troubles with his ex-wife’s new partner are introduced and explored and his desperation to save his daughter’s life in the final episode is emotional and stirring in a way that the rest of the show fails to be. The episode that delves into his life as a cop, shot in full noir stylisation and bringing the jazz motif of the show to the forefront, is probably the best written and delivered episode of the series so far.

Honestly, the three main characters are competently performed across the board, though Faye has some of the weakest dialogue and therefore comes across as one-dimensional at times. Daniella Pineda does a lot with what she is given and puts in the work to bring the character, who seems to have lost her unpredictable, untrustworthy nature in this version, to life. John Cho’s Spike is cool and unflappable but moves with a stiffness that undermines the belief that he is a skilled fighter.

The future of Cowboy Bebop has always been a strange topic. The original anime ended with Spike likely being shot down by a group of Syndicate thugs, having said his goodbyes to the rest of the cast. In this version, everyone survives his confrontation with Vicious, including Julia, who betrays both of them to take control of the crime Syndicate and exert her own authority over the solar system’s crime scene.

Faye is off to possibly find out the mystery of her past and discover who she really is, while Jet and Spike are very clearly no longer on speaking terms. We could very easily get another season and the show definitely wants to give us a second season, but I’m not sure I want to watch it at this rate.

And then there is Ed, who shows up in the final scene like an Easter egg, despite the fact that Netflix tweeted a still of the character within hours of the show launching. Their appearance is close to how they appeared in the anime, as are their mannerisms, which is a big part of the problem. Ed was always a loud, obnoxious character to begin with. Bringing that kind of energy to live action is difficult to pull off and I’m not sure the show has the writing to do it going forward.

Despite all this, if you want to watch a super stylised live action show with great music and some decent performances, there is a lot to enjoy in Cowboy Bebop’s live action adaptation. The different versions of Tank that play over the opening credits of some episodes are a great way to change things up now and then. There are good things going on here — but ultimately the dialogue is the biggest thing that holds it back, and that’s an issue for an adaptation of a show as beloved as this.

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