“In 2071 in the universe… The bounty hunters, who are gathering in the spaceship “BEBOP”, will play freely without fear of risky things. They must create new dreams and films by breaking traditional styles. The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called… COWBOY BEBOP”
–The Bebop Manifesto (seen in the opening credits)
Cowboy Bebop, one of the most popular anime series ever created. From its compelling story, smart dialogue, and great cast of diverse characters, to the original soundtrack, Cowboy Bebop has stood out amongst others in the space western sub-genre. The show is in every sense, perfect. Why then, is Netflix messing with that perfection?
As great as it would be to see Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Ed, Ein, Vicious, and Julia, the characters of Cowboy Bebop come to life, as with most anime, some things just don’t work in live-action like they do in anime. Anime is a very stylized medium and unlike western television, cartoons, and movies. The shows are full of emotion, character-driven plot, and a reflection of post-war Japan. Something that is hard to mimic in the US.
The cultural difference is the main reason why live-action versions of anime are made to appeal to a Western audience instead. Even though the percentage of viewers are already accustomed to anime. Is Netflix willing to part with Western standards in order to make a great show? After all, when dissecting Cowboy Bebop all the post-war feelings are there.
Cowboy Bebop is a show about bounty hunters on the outskirts of the law, trying to make it to the next day, or meal. It takes place in a used world setting in space, after a catastrophic accident left Earth unlivable. The crew of the Bebop are a group of strangers just drifting through life, barely getting along at times. Each character is deeply flawed and hurting in some way, each trying to find themselves or their place in the universe. Much like post-war Japan did.
Will those themes be present in a Netflix reboot, or is the live-action version going to follow down the disastrous path of so many other westernized anime reboots? It is premature to assume that the reboot of Cowboy Bebop is not going to be good, however, Netflix has a bad reputation with anime, and rarely has a US live-action version of an anime been good. They are constantly inaccurate, have watered down plots, as well as retconned and or whitewashed characters.
In this day and age, society has become more culturally aware, and sensitive, and a show with a diverse cast of characters, and characters that don’t fit the standard of the western hero, such as those in Cowboy Bebop is a welcome change. However, the representation has to be done right.
The casting choice for Spike Spiegel and Jet Black are great. With John Cho cast as Spike, and Mustafa Shakir as Jet. Where the casting falls short is Faye Valentine. Netflix has chosen Daniella Pineda to play the fiery Faye, a character that in the anime is Asian, from Singapore. The characters are already diverse, and the choice of a Latina actress, as great as she is, just seems to undermine the already underrepresented Asian community, in an Asian created series.
Faye’s backstory is ambiguous though, so a slight retcon is not the biggest deal. One of the more concerning aspects of the Netflix reboot of Cowboy Bebop is the ten one-hour episodes. The original series is episodic and a half-hour in length. The show’s thirty minutes take viewers on zany, dangerous, and critical journeys with the crew of the Bebop all while feeling like a part of the family.
The hour-long duration for the Netflix reboot is to bring in more character development and in-depth storytelling. The only problem is that the character’s backgrounds are ambiguous, and that’s ok. The main antagonist in Spike’s life is Vicious, and in twenty-six episodes viewers only see him five times. He is an enigma that haunts Spike.
Another example is Teddy Bomber from the episode Cowboy Funk, the show’s funniest episode. IMDB has the character listed for one episode. Is this a remake? Or are they adding to his story as well? Anyone who has seen Cowboy Bebop knows the hilarity of what keeps happening to Teddy. As well as the inconsequential destruction of the city. A live-action Teddy Bomber would lose its charm and become darker than the original episode had intended.
With all this in mind, could a live-action Cowboy Bebop work, though? Maybe. It is promising that the Netflix reboot is in partnership with the original producers, Marty Adelstein and Sunrise Inc. Still, there are certain things they need to consider. The reboot should stick to an episodic format, the Bebop crew live their life day to day and the show has to feel like that.
Another crucial aspect of Cowboy Bebop is the music. Which is as central to the show as the plot and characters are. Composed of original music, created by Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts, the soundtrack stands out. Every song has a purpose. And the sound fits the bluesy atmosphere of cowboy Bebop perfectly.
Also, the producers and writers should keep in mind is that in Cowboy Bebop, ambiguity works. There should be no clear backstory for Spike, Jet, and Faye. These characters live in the now, haunted by a past they are trying to leave behind. It should be kept that way. Same goes for Vicious. They should not over do him, less is more when it comes to this villainous enigma.
Lastly, do not redo previous episodes from the Anime, if this is a reboot it should stay a reboot. It shouldn’t be a remake. If it does go the remake route though, the most important thing the creators need to remember is to keep the ending open. Do not give a clear answer to Spike’s fate. End the show with a bang. If the creators listen, then it can be a good show. Maybe it can even be used as an example for other live-action anime to come.
Cowboy Bebop can be streamed on FUNimation.