Review: ‘Cowboy Bebop,’ Minus the Art

When comparing Netflix’s live-action rendition to the original anime, it is unfair. Even yet, there isn’t a compelling need to discuss it in this manner.

Cowboy Bebop, a Japanese anime series that aired for only one season 22 years ago, has a devoted fanbase.

Review: ‘Cowboy Bebop,’ Minus the Art

With its equal parts science fiction western and film noir, its foundation in American jazz and blues, and its throwback James Bond meets Blue Note credits, the film was destined to attract a devoted fan base and serve as a template for the next generation of movie nerds. (The term “fanboy” is not meant as an insult. I am a true believer in the original “Cowboy Bebop.”.

Netflix’s Forthcoming “Cowboy Bebop

Also likely to be subjected to special examination is Netflix’s forthcoming “Cowboy Bebop,” a live-action adaptation starring John Cho as the space-faring bounty hunter Spike Spiegel. Heretics will be hunted down by inquisitors. The differences will be noted by the scorekeepers.

Comparing the New “Cowboy Bebop”

But comparing the new “Cowboy Bebop” to the old one isn’t fair to the latter and misses the essence of the former. The level of control an artist like the anime’s director, Shinichiro Watanabe, can exert in animation is a large part of the film’s appeal.

The film is a laconic, melancholic jewel box of mood, style, and gesture, built on a sturdy foundation of shoot-em-up action and deadpan humour. Live action would need either a very specific director or a very large budget to achieve the same impression.

So, What is an Objectively Reasonable Evaluation of the New “Bebop”?

It’s … OK. In other words, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s somewhat above average for a jokey, episodic, science-fiction action series with visual effects on par with “Doctor Who,” though that’s not exactly a compelling justification for watching all 10 episodes.

Cho’s character, Spiegel, and his bounty hunting sidekick, Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), travel the cosmos in a ship called the Bebop some time after Earth’s “fall.” They’re both fallen themselves — Black a disgraced cop, Spiegel a former assassin for a deadly crime gang known as the Syndicate.

On their travels, they’re joined by a tough dame going by the name of Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), whose memory of her own identity has been wiped.

For Spiegel, the end of the road involves his old Syndicate comrade and rival for Julia (played by Alex Hassell) (Elena Satine).

To get to that showdown in the first season — in several hundred minutes less running time than the anime season runs, not including the 2001 “Cowboy Bebop” animated feature — the writers had to cut back on some characters and plot points, such as Ein, the endearing and talented corgi, and the red-haired hacker Radical Ed.

True Believers in the Original Work

True believers in the original work might be offended by such alterations. What should annoy everyone is how the story’s compression pulls the emphasis away from episodic experiences on disparate planets and toward the mechanics of a tired noir revenge fantasy.

What was secondary for the most of the anime is suddenly front and centre, and as a result, the final three episodes consist largely of tragic-romantic posturing punctuated by mindless (and indifferently portrayed) gunplay and martial arts.

The going was easier before then. Cho and Shakir get along great, and their sensitive-macho back-and-forth is hilarious.

Pineda lends life and fire to the role of the foul-mouthed Faye, and the chemistry between the three actors makes for some easy laughs. Cho is a good fit for the lead part because of his ability to lend a sense of melancholy and regret to every line of conversation.

The trio’s antics provide some visual diversity and opportunity for appealing guest stars like Adrienne Barbeau as a plotting eco-warrior and Christine Dunford as a con woman from Faye’s past before the drama settles in for its sad climax.

André Nemec, who also developed “Zoo” and “October Road” for the broadcast networks and wrote the script for “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” conceived up “Cowboy Bebop.

The show has a sense of routine professionalism under his direction, which works well in the show’s lighter moments but does little to ease the tedium of the later episodes.

Stylish Opening Titles

The new series has replicated the stylish opening titles from the original by incorporating artwork by the same artist, Yoko Kanno, who composed the memorable score for the anime

. The concept of referring to episodes as “sessions” remains, and the show has also borrowed some of the show’s style and images.

All of it begs a comparison that the show itself can’t measure up to, and shouldn’t have to. But in its uncompromising ordinariness, the major merit of this new “Bebop” would be to force you back to watch the old one.