Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Live Action Review: A Disastrous Idea or A Decent Tribute?

There has never been a great live-action adaptation of an anime, and even the best of them have to be satisfied with being called just “good”. Can Cowboy Bebop live-action break that trend and stand out as a perfectly acceptable piece of media by itself, or will it crumble under the weight of trying to adapt one of the most classic anime properties of all time? Let’s find out in this review!

Cowboy Bebop Live Action Overview

Cowboy Bebop Live Action Poster
Netflix's Cowboy Bebop Live Action Review: A Disastrous Idea or A Decent Tribute? 12

Cowboy Bebop is a 1998 anime classic by veteran director Shinichiro Watanabe that tells the fictional neo-noir story of Spike Spiegel and his bounty hunting adventures across space alongside his trusted companions, Jet Black and Faye Valentine. The anime series is considered a masterpiece of storytelling and worldbuilding by many, including myself. If you want to check out the original classic, it is available to watch on Netflix.

The live-action version stars John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda as Spike, Jet, and Faye, respectively. The series is directed by Alex Garcia Lopez of Utopia and Daredevil fame, alongside another veteran TV director in Michael Katleman. The series was first announced in 2017 as being worked upon by Sunrise Inc. and Marty Adelstein. The series is available to watch on Netflix.

–Cowboy Bebop Live Action Review does not contain spoilers –

Cowboy Bebop Live Action Review- The Aesthetic

Space Cowboy
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Many would argue, and I’d agree, that the thing that elevates Cowboy Bebop from good to a class of its own is the aesthetic. The sci-fi induced western-inspired take on a semi-dystopian world is unique and interesting, to say the least. It is a world like no other before or after its release, and it still holds to this day as one of the best fictional universes of all time. Therefore, it is fair to assume that the Cowboy Bebop Live Action would be heavily scrutinised on its ability to get it right. Was it able to?

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Sorry for the cop-out, but the answer is- somewhat. While it successfully replicated the world to sometimes very minute details, it failed to hit the original anime show’s tone. This might be a recurring theme, but the live-action series was way too light-hearted and quirky compared to the anime’s grimy and dour world. Things looked too glossy and preened in the Cowboy Bebop Netflix version, and the showrunners relied a lot on comedy to make the series likeable. While that’s not a bad thing on its own, it becomes a lot more aggravating when combined with certain other things.

Spike Spiegel Live Action
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However, the atmosphere that they were able to create was still fantastic. It was great to see the worlds of Ganymede and Europa come to life, as well as the first stomping grounds of Mars. The show managed to combine the technology aspect of the show with classic elements beautifully, and at no point does the set design and lighting look bad. There was some fancy camera work from time to time as well, which looked great. It was a commendable effort, even if not everything was perfect.

Cowboy Bebop Live Action Review- The Plot

Faye Valentine Cowboy Bebop Live Action
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If you have never seen the anime, the plot of the live-action show is perfectly fine for you. There is a lot of fun in most scenes, and the series follows a cohesive narrative that comes to an end in a mediocre way. Some episodes are certainly better than the others, however, and the show’s pacing can get seriously off at times. Seriously, I didn’t believe it was possible to make Cowboy Bebop boring, but Netflix somehow managed it. Apart from those issues, the plot of Cowboy Bebop Live Action works perfectly well as an average standalone Web Series.

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But, and this is a huge but, if you’ve seen the original anime, you were probably extremely frustrated by some events in the live-action, and for a good reason. While the Netflix show did a remarkable job in adapting some stories of the anime, some others it slaughtered. It would still not have been as big of a deal, but one of the stories that it bungled was the freaking ending to the show. Seriously, how do you get the finality of Cowboy Bebop‘s ending wrong? Because of corporate greed, that’s how.

Jet Black Live Action
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Leaving out certain parts of the anime narrative was always going to happen, but some of it got taken out to be replaced by awful plot points. The episode with Spike stuck inside a machine came out of absolutely nowhere, accomplished basically nothing, and left the audience and the characters looking like idiots. The show even changed Jet’s backstory for some reason. I can’t tell you how bad the ending to the show was without spoiling it, so you’re going to check it out for yourself. Trust me, it was BAD.

Cowboy Bebop Live Action Review- The Characters

Bebop Live Action
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This right here is my biggest qualm with the Netflix show. I highly disagree with either the casting choice or the portrayal of the character for almost all major characters in the show. John Cho is a great actor, but the makeup used to make him look half his age was almost as bad as the CGI in The Irishman. Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black looked younger than John Cho as Spike in most scenes. Mustafa didn’t give off the grizzled old veteran vibe that the original anime character had, making his character almost alien at times from who he was supposed to portray.

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I liked Daniella Pidena’s acting of the character she was given, but the character she portrayed wasn’t Faye Valentine. She didn’t even come close to replicating Faye’s foxy, nihilistic, and headstrong personality. Faye would rather not learn about her past at all than get along with the person who stole her memories in the first place, let alone think of her as her mother. Yes, she was funny and cocky, but she wasn’t a blabbermouth who is almost a buffoon but not quite. Cowboy Bebop Live Action did Faye dirty, and she’s not even the worst character in the show.

That dishonour goes to Vicious, who is well nigh unwatchable in every scene he’s in and is more of a caricature than a character. As if it wasn’t bad enough, he is now in every episode of the show as his storyline has now been extended. To make things worse, almost all his scenes are with the second-worst thing about the show, Vicious and Spike’s lover, Julia. Julia is infuriating and annoying in the worst way possible, which is even more terrible once you realise that the entire plot revolves around her and Vicious now. How is this show making all the worst possible decisions?

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However, it wasn’t all bad as some character interactions were still great and quite funny at times. Ein was also in the show, so that’s an automatic score increase just for the abject cuteness. However, no Radical Ed during the entire runtime and the hints that we did see towards her were awful and resulted in the worst episode of the series. So maybe it was a good thing the show left her out? The jury is still out.

Cowboy Bebop Live Action Review- The Music

Here we are, to the thing that worried people the most about Cowboy Bebop Live Action. Will the genre-defining masterpiece that was the soundtrack of the original Cowboy Bebop anime be given enough respect? Sort of. The opening is still “Tank”, which is already a good start. The show also keeps some of the old bangers from the anime and combines them with its new compositions to create some pleasant melodies.

However, the tunes don’t fit as well here as they did in the original anime. Whether it is due to the change in tone from gritty to quirky or the overreliance on action scenes that could really only have a few separate OSTs for each, the music wasn’t the right fit for the show. Don’t get me wrong, it was still awesome to listen to from time to time, but it just wasn’t the same. The music wasn’t nearly peppy enough to remove the boredom that the rest of the show cast, although I’m not sure if it was even possible to do that.

Verdict

The Cowboy Bebop Live Action series made some awful casting and storytelling choices that led to the series being highly mediocre and boring despite having some flashes of brilliance here and there. It is nowhere near a classic like the original anime, and most wouldn’t call it anything better than “okay”.

Watch the live-action version of Cowboy Bebop on Netflix!

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Plot
Characters
Music
Visuals
Aesthetic

SUMMARY

The Cowboy Bebop Live Action series made some awful casting and storytelling choices that led to the series being highly mediocre and boring despite having some flashes of brilliance here and there. It is nowhere near a classic like the original anime, and most wouldn't call it anything better than "okay".

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