A Few Thoughts About Live-Action Cowboy Bebop

Rating: 3 (of 5)

NOTE: I was going to just let this pass without full comment, but on request of a reader, I have decided to go ahead and post this, late to the game as it is.

While I always liked and respected the quality of the original Cowboy Bebop series – and, in fact, do currently rate it as a Masterpiece – I have never regarded it as the inviolable classic that many long-time anime fans apparently do. I am also more tolerant than most when it comes to major changes in transitioning a title between wholly different media formats; I fully appreciate that a presentation which works well in animated form does not necessarily work as well in live-action form, and updates for changing times are sometimes needed when 20+ years pass from the original. Most attempts to be utterly faithful end up feeling awkward at best. (The live-action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast probably came closest to pulling it off.) Both factors contribute heavily to why I do not accept the common argument in the anime community that the live-action version of Cowboy Bebop is a vile disaster. (Well, with one exception, which I’ll get back to later.)

The one place where even the harshest critics generally give the LA version at least some credit is in its casting choices, and I generally agree that this is one of the LA version’s strongest aspects. Some have quibbled about Jet actually being black instead of just sounding black (thanks to the great English dub work by Beau Billingsley), but Mustafa Shakir makes an ideal Jet, and I don’t see how him being black here makes one bit of difference in the story. John Cho makes a suitable, if somewhat different, Spike, too, and Elena Satine makes a suitable femme fatale as Julia. My feelings are more mixed about Alex Hassell’s Vicious (who is probably the most changed character), but I didn’t have a problem with turning him into a more over-the-top character who’s dangerous because he has killer skills coupled with a childishly immature mentality. Daniella Pineda’s Faye has also been very controversial, and I do have to agree with criticisms that the writing went a bit too far in trying to push her in a more openly strong, foul-mouthed direction. However, I still found her fun enough to watch. Among lesser roles, Tamara Tunie works well as Ana, while Josh Randall’s Pierrot was the weakest performance, though at least as much for the way he was written; this transition just didn’t work.

And Radical Edward at the end? Yeah, who actually thought that was a good idea?

I have not watched the original series in years, so I will not comment on how directly the story content carries over or compares. However, the LA version seems to be aiming for a much more overtly campy feel than the original series did. Yes, that element was often there in the original version, but that version often felt more like it was trying to make statements as much as entertain, whereas this version goes more purely for the entertainment value. That results in the dialog being much snappier here, and tastes will certainly vary on that. It has been referred to as “Whedonesque” (or something to that effect) in a pejorative sense, but frankly, that criticism holds no water with me; I have long been a fan of the Joss Whedon dialog style, so it did not bother me at all. And the series does just fine when it sticks to focusing on entertainment value; it tends to stumble when it aims for anything more involved than that.

I also found the production values to be acceptable for what is essentially a straight-to-video series. It did generally succeed at capturing the appropriate ambiance for its settings, certainly didn’t look like cheap trash, and put serious effort into staging its action scenes. No, it isn’t stellar in any of these regards, but anyone calling it a miserable failure is setting too high a bar for success.

In general, that’s how I feel about the series as a whole: fans set too high a bar for what was to be deemed “acceptable,” to the point that the series really had little chance to succeed. No, it is not the masterpiece that the original was, but I was hardly expecting that. I was entertained enough by it that I would have watched more if it hadn’t been cancelled, and that’s good enough for me in this case.

Other Titles That I Am Following:

The Ancient Magus’s Bride – The Boy from the West and the Knight of the Blue Storm episode 1 – If you’ve seen the main anime series or its prequel OVA, this is more of the same, and that’s definitely a Good Thing. It takes place in the interim between resolving the events with Joseph (as shown at the end of the series) and the upcoming Magic College arc, and the guiding hand of creator Kore Yamazaki is quite clear in the presentation. It spins a tale about a new, asthmatic boy who is getting wrapped up in affairs involving the Wild Hunt of Celtic lore running amok, but Chise gets plenty of screen time, too. Only one episode is out so far on Crunchyroll (the second isn’t due until March, I believe), but I do highly recommend it for franchise fans.

The aquatope on white sand episode 24 – And so the series wraps with both a departure and a return after a two-year time skip. While at one point I felt this series was just meandering along this season, it came together remarkably well in the end, to the point that the series is a strong contender to be in my Top 5 for the year.

Banished from the Hero’s Party episode 11 – I can see complaints about the series rushing things along, but I have quite enjoyed seeing how the series has delved deeper into Blessings and the influence they have over recipients.

Irina the Vampire Cosmonaut episode 11 – As expected, Lev now gets his opportunity in space, but an even bigger task awaits him at the end: Trying to reunite with Irina before she gets disposed of as inconvenient. Fortunately for both, looks like Anya is whole-heartedly bought into this, and Lev may have some high-level help, too. I look forward to seeing how this series concludes.

Mushoku Tensei episode 22 – Honestly, I’d stack the last few episodes of this series up against nearly any other title this year in a qualitative sense. The previous episode may have been “Turning Point 2,” but this episode is the real game-changer – or perhaps the fallout from it.

Taisho Otome Fairy Tale episodes 10-11: I was going to write about this series sometime in the past couple of weeks, but I have decided to let it play out and give it a summative review at the end of the season. (It will certainly be my pick for the Surprise of the Season.) I don’t think it qualifies as a spoiler to say that these episodes bring into play the Great Kanto Earthquake, as any anime series set in Japan in 1923 cannot avoid dealing with such a devastating event. Despite the tragedy all around, Tamahiko is at his finest here in his unwavering determination to reunite with Yuzuki, and seeing how much stronger he is now is a joy to watch. Both before and after the earthquake, this series has consistently hit its emotional beats, and it even filters in historical detail, too, such as the brief shot of the “fire whirlwinds” alleged to have contributed even more to the death total than the earthquake itself did. I am expecting a potent season (series?) finale next week.

Yuki Yuna is a Hero – The Great Mankai Chapter episode 12 – With this episode the series (and perhaps the franchise?) wraps. After episode 11 mostly consisted of the finale of the previous series, episode 12 steps beyond and goes into much greater detail about What Happens After; since short-changing this was the one minor flaw in the finale of the last series, I quite enjoyed what this episode detailed, especially including the time skip at the end. (Though I find it a bit hard to believe that four years passed before they got to doing what they are doing.) Overall, this was a strong way to wrap the series.

3 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts About Live-Action Cowboy Bebop

  1. Thanks for posting your review, I was right in my assumption that it would be a good one. As I said in my request, I did not expect to be converted, but I did want to hear an opposing point of view. For what its worth, “Bounty Hunters in Space” was not a bad series, I doubt I would have stuck around for the whole 10 eps as I limit my “timewasters” at roughly movie length. But once you call it “Cowboy Bebop” you are stuck with the comparisons and this series was seriously wanting in all areas except the casting of the main characters, but that doesn’t do much when everything else sucks in comparison to its namesake. Part of it is that they picked CB which is almost universally revered, a lesser property might have skated by except for hardcore fans (I personally liked the “Death Note” film – it fell under my “timewaster” heading, it was movie length, it had its own story to tell, and the anime it was based on was good, but not incredible).

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  2. Thank you for this, I feel our tastes and POV are similar and it helps to hear your impressions before I decide to check it out. However, I think I’ll pass and just re-watch the anime (it’s been a while). Alas for nostalgia, rare is an adaptation that is as good as one’s memory of a beloved original and the CB-LA version had that hurtle to clear if it were to be considered at the same level. Heck, beloved originals sometimes do not compare favorably to one’s memory of them…

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  3. I liked the actors and the design work (sets, makeup, special effects). But the story just feeling like mashed together episodes done worse then the original. As a fan it just made me sad, it felt like a larger fanwork trying to recreate what made the original good. But like the series that tried to imitate its style if they didnt embrace something unique to themselves that act of recreation felt hollow. I understand and appreciate the work and sheer doggedness in bring this to life. But all I wanted to do afterwards was much the superior original work.

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