It appears at this stage that the Cowboy Bebop live-action remake has officially tanked.
From quotes about “upscale fanfiction” to complaints about Faye’s modern portrayal and a strange ending, it’s perhaps no surprise that there will not be a second season.
However, as a big fan of the original anime, I enjoyed this live-action series! While there were some major issues, it did a good job of capturing some of the anime’s spirit.
With a few small changes, the series could have been a bigger hit. Perhaps, if the fan petition for a second season of Cowboy Bebop is successful, these points can be considered for a more entertaining series.
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Better Character Dynamics
A big part of the anime is the prickly friendship between the main three characters, which is one thing the live-action series does well – for about the first three episodes.
One of many ways they tried to ‘westernize’ the Cowboy Bebop story seemed to be creating a weird dynamic between Spike and Jet filled with personal secrets. In the live-action, the two of them come across much colder to each other than you feel in the original anime series.
A similar thing can be said about Faye and Spike, whose interactions feel much more one-dimensional in the live-action. Now, a big part of their relationship is how they get closer as the series goes along, which we might have seen in a planned second season. Still, there was nothing there to get stuck into as a viewer.
It feels like a weird thing to say, but the anime is much more nuanced in how it handles these relationships. I think a big part of this is how the anime relies on simple, easily-understood characters, and spends more time developing those connections rather than individuals.
The live-action, on the other hand, jumps between their backstories each episode, with what’s happening in the present feeling more like a side-show to their individual goals.
Instead, those backstories should develop organically through interactions and conversations with the other characters and the world at large.
The Bebop universe is huge and diverse, with more places to see than I can even think to remember.
Also, importantly, very few of them feel like Earth.
The live-action Cowboy Bebop struggles to lift itself out of a studio and into another universe. Mars feels like a spaghetti western, and urban planets just look like America with some added neon and smoke. More time and care should have been taken to create a far-out atmosphere in the series.
Now, doing something like this might have made for a more complicated or expensive production. However, I honestly don’t think many anime fans would have minded a lower-budget or CGI-heavy series – it’s a show from the 90s, after all.
This is probably the point for which I have the most sympathy for the live-action team. After all, anime is always going to be bolder and brighter than real life.
However, the Cowboy Bebop series definitely didn’t have to be as visibly dull as it was.
Loads of articles and interviews before Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop came out talked about how they were inspired by the anime’s crime noir aspects. Maybe they got hooked on that, which led to a visually unexciting series.
All of the show’s settings, whether in clubs, spaceships or on other worlds, seemed to be tinged with blacks, greys and browns. While there are attempts to add some shots of vivid colour, just adding more light and raising the outfits by a tone or two would have lifted the mood of the series into something more fun and energetic.
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Drop the Storylines
The storyline in the Cowboy Bebop live-action was probably the biggest disappointment for me.
Now, I’ve got nothing against the live-action series changing the story. I also quite liked the new characters and newfound importance placed on Gren and Julia. My issue is with how important the story seemed to be to the show.
By far the most enjoyable aspect of the Cowboy Bebop anime is its pacing. The world and characters are good, but the show is great because of how it balances episodic narratives with a slow, overarching tale. The personal storyline of Spike happens slowly, bit-by-bit, in the background while each episode delivers a new world or problem for the crew to explore.
In the live-action Cowboy Bebop, the main story is front and centre. There is almost no room for hijinks and random discoveries, such as the show’s heavy focus on creating drama and resolution for the main characters.
Cowboy Bebop’s anime is pick-up-and-play, the equivalent of switching on your favourite game for an hour after work. The live-action tries to be a more stereotypical show and instantly loses most of that playful charm.
When the live-action intro was revealed, with the cast playing the iconic Tank sequence from the anime, there was a generally mixed response.
I disliked it at first. However, the more I saw it, the more I got into the intro, even though it did look like something from a Spy Kids movie.
That brings me to this last point. I genuinely don’t think people would have minded this series being a little bit weird.
Cowboy Bebop still has a big fanbase to this day. A lot of that is down to nostalgia and how many fans love that 90s style of anime, particularly sci-fi series like this, Trigun and Evangelion. It’s the same reason why a lot of old sci-fi TV series still have a strong following.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop should have lent more into this 90s aesthetic, especially if the series wasn’t going to get the budget to compete against something like Altered Carbon, for example. Funky green-screen action, more old-school camera angles and stranger storylines would all have made for a potential cult classic.
Again, I don’t necessarily think that the Netflix Cowboy Bebop series was that bad. Perhaps it just got caught between being a faithful adaptation and a new reimagining and ended up never fully satisfying either camp.
Perhaps most importantly, I can imagine the anime has got a lot of new fans thanks to the show, which can only be a good thing!