Considering what seems to be prevailing opinion, I appreciate I’m in the minority when I state I really quite enjoyed Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop show. I’m a big fan of the original anime (had it on R1 DVD, then Blu-ray, have all the soundtracks etc) and couldn’t believe anyone would ever think a live-action remake or spin-off could ever be a Good Idea– in just the same way as a live-action Akira or Neon Genesis Evangelion, two other projects which are mooted now and again. The anime are what they are. They don’t need remakes or live-action versions.
So I approached this new Netflix edition with severe caution. But I liked it. Maybe it was a case of low expectations, but as I gave the show time it started to grow on me. Of course, most of my initial enjoyment stemmed from it using the original Yoko Kanno music -such an intrinsic part of the Bebop experience- but as the show progressed, I realised there was so much to enjoy. The cast is surprisingly spot-on (even the departures from the anime make sense, but at any rate, John Cho is brilliant), the sets and art direction feel authentically Bebop, the stories had that irreverent, off-kilter style that runs through the anime… I just came to the opinion that the good outweighed the bad.
I’ll qualify this point by adding that one of the things I loved about the original anime is how much it reminded me, back when it was a blind-buy of volumes on R1 DVD import long ago, of my beloved 2000AD comics of the late 1970s/early-1980s, in particular some of my favourite strips (Robo-Hunter and Ace Trucking Co.): it’s clearly something unintended but, in just the same way as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets feels like a Heavy Metal strip thrown onto a cinema screen (no matter its actual faults as a film), the Cowboy Bebop anime always felt like an early 2000AD strip, back in that comics black and white, pulp paper, wild, new-wave, punk heyday. Its just a particular vibe I loved and I think this is carried through to the Netflix show- its like watching a 2000AD strip on Netflix.
I also loved -absolutely LOVED- how deftly it seemed to capture the cheesy, slightly daft feel of a 1960s or 1970s genre show: it was a little like The Champions or Blakes 7, not in content exactly, but there was just this vibe of a vintage genre show, like whenever I watch The Prisoner. It doesn’t feel contemporary, somehow, it seems like television from another decade. Which might be horrifying to most, but I rather like it. Right from the title sequence, the slightly skewed camera angles, the unsophisticated almost bizarrely cheesy sets. Its a whole lot of fun. Some of it felt like a Gerry Anderson puppet show turned to live-action.
Now clearly many fans of the anime are appalled by the live-action version and they may have many valid reasons: mostly I suspect that its because it just isn’t the Cowboy Bebop they adore. Faye isn’t sexy enough, Spike isn’t tall or dark enough or… well I’m certain there are myriad reasons. But I wasn’t expecting it to be Cowboy Bebop; I’m enjoying the departures and the changes. Why, after all, should one expect the anime to be transferred whole to live-action? I suppose the flipside is the Blade Runner: Black Lotus show (which I haven’t seen and may not ever), where the reverse is the case; the live-action Blade Runner universe transferred into an anime series. If I ever do watch it, I’ll have to be open to liberties being taken, simply because of the change of format etc. Its missing the point to criticise something for what it isn’t. Or maybe I’m indeed missing the point, maybe it should be wholly faithful and authentic.
I suspect a lot of the current Internet rage regards this show is just video-bloggers hating an easy target or blowing expectations to the high winds: YouTube bloggers don’t get hits from scoring something a ‘5’ they get the hits from the extremes of ‘1’ or ’10’, its just how things are now, and why so many obsess over Star Wars or Marvel shows on Disney+. Films or television shows are either terrible shit or excellent, there’s no in-between for the influencers or those with huge followings, and yes geeks can be vehemently passionate regards their favourite franchises. For the curious, I’d score Netflix’s Bebop incarnation a cheeky ‘7’, which is probably one or two points too many but I was just so fond of how each joint felt out of time (forgive me a pointless spin on PKD’s Time Out of Joint). Why can’t a sci-fi show be pleasantly silly, why do they have to be dark and serious? I love my BSG reboot or Babylon 5, but not everything has to be epic and self-consumed with meaning: sometimes an episode of the Adam West Batman tv show can hit the spot, even for those of us who enjoy Affleck’s Batman or Nolan’s Dark Knight films.
I figure the Netflix show did something right, though because my wife Claire sat through it all with me and enjoyed it too- and she absolutely hates anything anime. She was reluctant to watch it but came around after the first few episodes, gradually falling for the fun weirdness of it. Maybe Claire enjoying it is exactly reflective of so many Bebop anime fans disliking/hating it passionately, and how Netflix is obviously trying to attach this Bebop to a new audience (how successfully they have done it without alienating the anime fans too much is debatable, mind). I suppose those fans can go back to their DVD and Blu-Ray sets, which will always be there, and pretend the Netflix show never happened, in just the same way as I can sometimes watch Alien pretending that Prometheus never happened. But maybe they should also just have an open mind and enjoy this show for what it is.
I very much hope we get a season two, because where this first season ends, the show is evidently departing ever further from the anime, hopefully becoming something wholly different, leaving the anime well behind and clearly being its own thing. Colour me excited, and relatively hopeful, considering some of the travesties which Netflix do greenlight (the second season of Another Life in particular).