Cowboy Bebop Review: An Entertaining Yet Conflicted Jam

Netflix is seeking to get into the live-action anime adaptation game with its future seeing the likes of One Piece, Avatar The Last Airbender and Yu Yu Hakusho set to hit the scene. With Cowboy Bebop, the streaming service has tried to adapt what is considered by many to be the pinnacle of anime and while it never quite hits the same heights as its source material, what it does do is justify its own existence and tell a fun story that has some flaws along the way. 

In tackling this 10-episode recreation, we should knock out some of the good things in regards to this vehicle starring John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda as the main trio of the Bebop in Spike, Jet, and Faye. Their chemistry with one another is the show's greatest strength, with each of the actors presenting the cast as a family that you love to watch banter with one another as they get ready for their next big score. It's clear that each of the actors here is in love with their characters and that shows to the audience, with the back and forth creating an interesting atmosphere and a sense of fun. 

The characters of Netflix's Cowboy Bebop look ripped straight from the source material, for better or worse, and the new approach decides to try to wrap storylines together under the banner of an overarching story, rather than the more anthology approach which was taken for the original anime series. There are some decisions that were made in attempting to create a sense of cohesion that works, such as with the case of Pierre Le Fou, the mad clown, while other decisions manage to stumble along the way. John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda fully embody Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, and Faye Valentine, though the same simply can't be said for the other characters that make up the universe of this beloved franchise.

Before diving into the negative, we also have to admire one of the biggest, worthwhile decisions that Netflix was able to make in producing this live-action take and that is bringing back Yoko Kanno, the composer of the original series, who hasn't lost a step and can weave compositions that harken back to the spirit of the anime while offering fans plenty of new tunes to sink into. In watching this new take, it would have been so much less without the soundtrack, which works well at keeping the mood light and fun along the way.

Where Cowboy Bebop truly stumbles is the expansion of the world with the likes of Vicious, Julia, and their place in the Syndicate. In the original series, these characters were almost like templates for the life that Spike had left behind, having little to no characterization outside of their archetypes. In the live-action series, they take an opposite approach and attempt to give us more background into Vicious and Julia, but it simply doesn't work. The couple of Vicious and Julia (and they are a couple now) brings the show to a screeching halt when they appear, seemingly ditching the Grindhouse appeal and giving us characters that aren't likable in any definition of the word. Vicious, in the original series, was almost thought of as a soulless "edgelord" by many, and while the live-action show attempts to place more meat on the bone, it does so in a way that defangs the villain and takes away the inherent threat of the boogeyman. Julia herself is given such a major departure that it will leave many scratching their heads when the smoke settles. 

The series however does feel like Cowboy Bebop, in so much as the characters look as they should and the worlds feel adequately lived-in as the original had portrayed, but there are simply more than a few stumbling blocks when it comes to capturing the soul and spirit of the original. The new Netflix show has its problems but it remains a fun romp that has a lot for fans, both of the original and new to the universe, to enjoy along the way. This show was simply never going to be able to hit the heights that were reached by the original, but if you're willing to look past this fact, the new series offers viewers a fun albeit disjointed ride. 

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Cowboy Bebop is set to stream on Netflix beginning this Friday, November 19th.