Cowboy Bebop series developed by Christopher Yost and produced by Netflix first aired on 19th November, 2021. Initially, with a cast to question, and a costume design to critique, we already could sense the intense differentiated assumptions in the viewing of this Netflix series, months before it came out. Even if the series premiere raised voices on the styling of the tv show, the live-action only needed time to be accustomed to. Surprisingly, the show finally ending last week met with a breath of fresh air in the review section, comprising some appreciators of the show. However, the majority marked red flags all around, and hence the cancellation was impending doom.
To delve deeper into what this live-action means, and why it’s hereby discontinued, we need to understand how the world of the 2071 solar system has lived in the minds of anime watchers since the ’90s.
2071, and a rustic space of dirty streets and futuristic spaceships merging together built the world of five bounty hunters – Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, and Ein ( a cyborg dog, an equally important “hunter,” mind you). They take to the gritty streets, in rundown motels and cheap casinos, to catch the criminal they spotted as a fair price on the fictional television show Big Shot. As the riffraff and drifters watch by, the trio takes on what we call “bad guys,” not too smart to make it out alive or free. However, as the surface spices up in the carefreeness of adventure, the deeper aspects ooze out in a slow burn.
Netflix’s Live-Action thought of adapting it, but with the much-feared new flare. Of course, the replica of a show is pointless if it was just characters brought to life and seeing the show all over again, just without the 2D animation. Adaptations need some creative space to represent, while still maintaining the fidelity of the beloved show.
Especially during a time when live-action has a notorious past, be it the lackluster Ghost In Shell, the grimacing Dragon Ball Evolution, Netflix was bold enough to take the scepter of enacting the beloved 90’s sci-fi. Even if it did introduce changes in the story while still keeping with its loyalty, it did not fit in the right place, and we’ll see why.
The Changes Come in Gradually
Yes, the intro is iconic, and Netflix knew that, keeping it untouched, with the cast in the Show Stopper. The first few episodes did follow along the same trail as to incorporate the villain, the introduction to the bounty hunters, the banters.
Where the change comes in, flickers in the second episode already when we notice the extra time devoted to emotional sentiments. Jet black, the rough and tough police officer turned bounty hunter, has a different title than “black dog.” It’s that of a fragile father figure, with a daughter to care for.
Fans were definitely not here for the “unnecessary” subplots circling around Jet’s dilemma, which ultimately never conjoins with the main plot.
With a series so nonchalant and happy-go-lucky, we sometimes overlook the themes of poverty and isolation creeping into the characters over time. The isolation of a man from his true crime days showed itself in Spike and Jet differently, not in dialogue, but in their postures, in their day-to-day talks, which inherently bestows credit to the beautiful animation. It was so subtle and temporal, you get lost in the world of cowboy bebop with their evils trailing a shadow. That frail shadow ironically becomes a full-blown theatrical standpoint in the live-action. Netflix did not leave that open space where we understood the characters through those shadows, but instead, hand-drew it for us, in the overtly emotional backstories. That meek presence is precisely why 1998’s cowboy bebop is so vehemently re-watched. It does not make you sad, but keeps you aware of the atrocities of human flaws.
While the casting choice was quite diverse in its approach, incorporating inter-sectional unity among the protagonists, it was sad to see that the realization of their stories was “Americanized,” as the Japanese Fans have commented.
1998 anime’s Spike fights in the relaxed seamless style of animation, the live-action looks like a stiff fold of comic back and forth and some traditional martial art poses here and there. From the pacing to the speed, the difference was, although technical in nature, still disappointed fans enough to dislike the live-action. The slightest movements in frame captured in hand drawings, like tears welling up in Jet’s eyes, the 2-second eye contact between Ein and Faye, appeals to us somehow even more than the hard-boiled reality of hard-to-catch expressions in real life.
Another alarming absence that fans felt, that’s precisely how we would feel if Star Wars missed out on one of its space battles. The iconic space battles! Be it the limited range of CGI or the intention of the producers to not include them, it definitely stands as one of the cons why fans turn off the show.
Adapting or Creating?
The alterations and backstories seemed mostly unnecessary to those who embarked on watching the live-action, thinking how their teenage years experienced Cowboy Bebop. When the main plot was already a heavy task to fend, a new arc of Vicious’s childhood, or the helter-skelter
between him and Julia did not fit the viewing pleasure they hoped for. Similar reaction brewed to Faye and Whitney’s surprising addition of jams that didn’t quite fend well, or Julia gaining a strange kind of agency in the end, un-essentially leaving it open-ended.
Vicious got a full-grown back story on the unnecessary elucidation of his life. The live-action went deep into his childhood, essentially altering his stone-cold “hardly present” air into a highlighting villain. This may be because of the credit animation deserves repeatedly, which brings forth his indifference towards the world in the mysterious expressions sketched and created on him, making it hard to incorporate with a real-life actor.
It is definitely hard to incorporate so many generic specifications into live action, because first, the budget goes off the roof in keeping with the original set design. (a whopping $ 6-7 million per episode, to be precise). However, as much as Netflix came through with visually manifesting into the Anime’s Gritty space opera, no one took notice of the writing quality, falling flat on the floor. Fans especially detested the way Spike’s dialogues were accentuated to a maximum on the jokes side, while minimizing the action to stiff, cartoonish moments.
The elusiveness in the villains in the anime made us want to know more about them, and, while the adaptation did make us understand more…… it was not the way we wanted. Theatrical exchanges and sophomoric humor between the grueling fight scenes lowered the characters into mere comic reliefs.
Moreover, the portrayal of a sinful noir world with fantastical action and chaos engulfs us more because we know it’s devoid of a reality we live in. Yet, the catharsis of a character, and the intense solitude adds brutality to the Anime’s realism. The animated nature makes the abstract so believable, the complex, so intimate, all within a surreal wrapper.
Special plot points remained hanging onto an open thread, like Edward’s introduction to the group, or Julia potentially turning into a female Vicious, as torn pages from a novel. At the end of the day, the slippery slope of a beloved anime lies in execution. Netflix lost its ground in dialogues and over-writing characters, to really grasp the beauty of Cowboy Bebop.
Cowboy Bebop is a 2021 Live Action Thriller Television Series created by Christopher L. Yost for Netflix.