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HomeEntertainment‘Cowboy Bebop:’ An Absolute Abomination That Disrespects the Original

‘Cowboy Bebop:’ An Absolute Abomination That Disrespects the Original

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We did it, guys: we found a live-action adaptation of anime worse than Netflix’s “Death Note.” As a critically acclaimed masterpiece and a show that is unanimously agreed to have changed the industry forever, “Cowboy Bebop” was more than fine being left as is. But of course, even a classic like this could not escape from the fate of being turned into a live action that would give fans nightmares for the next ten years. Released on Nov. 19, Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop” turns one of the greatest anime series of its time into an absolute abomination with its characterization, writing and tone. 

“Cowboy Bebop” takes place in the year 2171, where bounty hunters, called “cowboys,” chase down criminals running rampant in the solar system. Cowboys Spike Spiegel (John Cho), Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) and Radical Ed (Eden Perkins) race through space on their spaceship Bebop in an attempt to capture criminals and turn them in for a reward. Throughout their journey, they often encounter trials and tribulations while being forced to confront their pasts, even if they wish to run from them.

The popularity of the original “Cowboy Bebop” stemmed from its unique and memorable cast. The cool and confident Spike, the mature and wise Jet, the brash and egotistical Faye and the eccentric Ed form a colorful group. They provide fun banter in ordinary situations as well as surprising contrasts to their usual selves when their pasts are involved. Aside from the fact that their live-action selves look like they are wearing cheap cosplays, each character suffers greatly from unnecessary changes made to their personalities and inaccuracies to their original counterparts.

Spike suffers the least from these changes, as Cho portrays him rather decently. Overall, his character is generally commendable, being one of the only highlights of the series. Shakir also does a wonderful job in portraying Jet, although his character was given a new, unnecessary backstory of having a daughter and an ex-wife who cheated on him with his co-worker. Ed, who is a crucial part of the team in the original, is virtually absent from the live-action, save for his introduction scene, which mistakens his eccentricity for being mentally deranged. The worst of them all would be Faye Valentine, who in the original seems to be usually dishonest and lazy, but in reality hides her deep emotional vulnerability and empathy for others under a mask of sarcasm. Pineda’s Faye curses like a sailor every single time she speaks and has no manners at all; it is clear how hard the writers tried to make her “quirky.” Her backstory, which was supposed to serve great plot relevance and give insight into her character, was also completely omitted. Faye’s entire character was completely obliterated with these changes. She is no longer who we know her to be; she is someone else entirely. 

Photos provided by IMDb.com 

The villains of the show do not have it much better. The plotline of Vicious (Alex Hassell) and Julia (Elena Satine) have been expanded in the live-action, making them show up and get involved in the team’s matters every episode. Originally, Vicious was — like his name suggests, ruthless and cunning — and there is an air of mystery around him and his past with Spike. With his common appearances in the live-action, all of that mystery is gone and instead, he just seems to be a bad-tempered brat who is overly obsessed with Julia and Spike. Julia was supposed to be the most mysterious character of the show. Since she only appeared in occasional flashbacks in the original, viewers were left to speculate on the edge of their seats as to what exactly her relationship with Spike is. Similarly, none of that is shown in the live-action, which tries to rewrite her story into one of empowerment, ultimately failing as the big twist is revealed in the ending.

Throughout the original series, “Cowboy Bebop” has a melancholic tone, drawing on themes of adult existential ennui, loneliness and the inability to escape from one’s past. It uses elements of space opera, film noir and cyberpunk to establish a unique genre and aesthetic that the live-action failed to recreate. Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop” seemed more like your typical western action film as well as a generic quirky comedy, losing all of the seriousness that the original established. The bad characterization and writing of the show made it almost funny to watch, which is far from the original’s tone. The tone of the live-action makes it seem almost like a separate show rather than an adaptation, and not a good one at that. 

Does the “Cowboy Bebop” live-action adaptation do the original justice? Absolutely not. If you’ve never watched the original, then maybe, just maybe, you can find some enjoyment in some aspects of this show. But if, by any chance, you have seen what Shinichiro Watanabe’s “Cowboy Bebop” has to offer, then please, avoid this at all costs: you’d probably save some of your time and sanity that way. 

Grace Tu is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at tug2@uci.edu.