After watching all ten hour-long episodes of Season 1 of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop live-action series, what stands out most is how the series almost compulsively compares itself with the anime from which it was adapted.
No matter how much the viewers want to divorce it from its source material, the series itself does not let us forget for a moment.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop live-action was almost good before shooting itself in the foot by shelving Ed and comparing itself with the anime
Radical Ed and consequences
Netflix has just announced that Eden Perkins will play Ed if Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop gets a Season 2. When Jet mentioned the name Radical Ed in Episode 6, viewers expected an appearance from Ed but were left sorely disappointed.
Releasing one clip and shelving Ed for a yet unconfirmed second season does not make up for it.
The absence of Ed is painfully highlighted by the blank space in the opening credits. The ironic humor of the anime that was a by-product of Ed’s upbringing is replaced by tone-deaf and forced jokes in the series.
On top of that, Ed in Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop will be a non-binary character. While that is a praiseworthy change, it takes away the central aspect of Ed's character: her father abandoning her for not being a boy, and Ed finding comfort in her identity as a girl.
Hopefully, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop will handle the change with more understanding than it has shown so far.
Comparison with the anime
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is not a bad series. In fact, it is quite fun, as long as it is not compared to the original 1998 anime. The show is more respectful of its source material than other western live-action remakes, but it overdoes it.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop started the first episode by smartly introducing its setting through an original sequence. Most viewers, including the one who’s writing this article, wouldn’t have compared it with the anime at all.
That wasn't the case, as the intro is a frame-by-frame recreation of the anime opening with a slightly different rendition of Tank.
No Cowboy Bebop fan can stop themselves from comparing the series with the anime for the rest of the episode, and this happens in every episode.
It is then that the fun adaptation becomes a cartoonish reflection of what the west thinks of anime, and how it refuses to acknowledge the subtlety and maturity that exists in anime.
The character reinventions
Rather than following the anime point by point, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop crafts a new story with modified characters for an older audience. Julia’s character has more involvement and agency in the series compared to the anime, while Vicious is reduced to a stereotypical British villain for the most part.
Jet Black’s past, reminiscent of a hard-boiled detective in the anime, is turned into that of an estranged father, making his character predictable by giving him a priority.
The most controversial one in Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is Faye Valentine, who is given crass language, but none of the inner conflict that came from being confident and unsure at the same time.
Most actors in Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop are loud, over the top, and a bit uncomfortable to sit through. Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black misses out on the signature Jet Ennui, but that is due to character rewriting.
Alex Hassel portrays Vicious as the script demands it. John Cho plays Spike with all of the latter’s likable charms and none of his nuanced depths. Elena Satine does a commendable job as Julia, and Tamara Tunie as Ana is also quite enjoyable.
It is Daniella Pineda’s Faye Valentine, however, who leaves the viewer conflicted. While Pineda completely fails to evoke any of Faye's instant likeability, she portrays Faye perfectly according to the script that was given to her.
In Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, Pineda’s Faye is a bounty hunter, not a gambler. She is sure of her place in this world but unsure of her own self, as seen in the scene where she tries out different names for herself while flying alone.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is not the story of episodic but interconnected daily adventures of the spaceship Bebop and its inhabitants. It is the story of Spike Spiegel and his journey towards confronting his past, featuring Jet and Faye.
The focus is singularly on the evolution of Spike’s storyline with Vicious. In the process, it branches out to different settings and temporarily gives importance to other characters.
That being said, some new additions, like the expansion of Ana and Julia’s characters, Faye’s gentle moment with the mechanic, and Spike and Faye bonding over procrastinating, are well done.
In fact, the best episode of the series is Episode 9, where the original imagination of Spike’s past is acted out convincingly by Satine, Hassell, and Cho.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is an enjoyable series on its own. It is one of the better live-action remakes from the platform. But while the sets are well crafted and the characters mostly look their parts, the series completely sabotages its likeability by constantly reminding the viewer of the anime.
Its overuse of sexual scenes and metaphors, the inclusion of characters and plot points for the sake of being inclusive, and lack of attention to character-building are all glaring flaws. However, these could have been tolerated or overlooked, had there not been such blatant reminders of the anime, and how Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop completely fails to live up to it.
Note: This article reflects the author's views.