Thoughts on: Netflix Cowboy Bebop

Updated: Jan 19

I don’t even know how to start this post. I just feel sad. And disappointed. Like a father after learning his son uses hacks for online multiplayer games.



I’ve briefly talked about this in the past, but I’ll go over it one more time. The original Cowboy Bebop anime is one of my most influential stories of all time. And is easily one of, if not, my favorite piece of fiction of all time.


The characters are all extremely well fleshed out and relatable. Turning them into one of the few instances in stories where I genuinely feel like they’re real people I can talk to. The non-linear structure adds so much to each plot line, giving the whole thing some weight. And more than anything, there’s so much heart present in this anime. With the themes of moving on from the past being so significant and impactful by the time you finish the 26 episodes.


Describing why I love this story so much in just this brief introductory paragraph would honestly be a crime to how much I love it. But I do it because I want you to know how much I care about this show. I hold it near and dear to my heart and its honestly part of the reason I am who I am today. Which is why you might see me get a little upset talking about this new American remake.


Talks of making an American live-action remake of Cowboy Bebop have been going on for a long time. Ever since the original aired really. Back in the early 2000s, Keanu Reeves of all people was in talks to play Spike in a potential film. But for some reason, the movie never came to be.


And in an era oversaturated by anime live-actions remakes, I’m honestly shocked it took them this long to finally do Cowboy Bebop. Motherfuckers are over here remaking Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, they’re making a One Piece remake now. Like, what the fuck? None of these anime fit the live action medium, which is why they all suck. But Bebop is a show heavily inspired by American film. There are even episodes directly paying homage to Hollywood. The live action remake almost makes itself.


But of course, it had to be Netflix the one to helm the project. A company so infamous for making bad anime adaptations that they single handedly created the “Netflix Adaptation” meme.


There were a lot of decisions Netflix made that people didn’t like. Especially the odd casting of John Chow as Spike, Mustafa Shakir as Jet, and Daniella Pineda as Faye.

But nonetheless, I remained optimistic. I really wanted this series to be good. Especially since we haven’t gotten anything new from Cowboy Bebop since the movie that came out shortly after the series ended. Which was over twenty years ago.


And then, it finally came out, and I finally got to watch all 10 episodes. And after it all, I’m honestly disappointed in myself more than anyone.


Adaptation

Before I start absolutely massacring this series, I want to talk about a few conceptual elements that actually don’t sound half-bad on paper that the series executed.

The original anime is a 26 episode made for TV show. Where every episode has a defined problem that concludes by the time the episode ends. However, in our modern era of streaming this simply won’t go. People want to binge shit nowadays. And because each season comes out at the same time, every episode needs to work as a continuation of the last. Or else people will lose interest.


So, how do we take the original generally disconnected 26 episodes of the TV show and turn it into a 10 episode bingeable show.


Well, we start by taking each of the character’s backstories and having at least a little bit of them in each episode so that the viewer never loses interest. At the same time, we’ll go over many popular Bebop episodes and remake them in live-action. In theory, that’s the elevator pitch for this new show.


It actually doesn’t sound half bad. The characters will have constant development as the show goes on while at the same time, we get fresh spins on classic Bebop episodes.

And this is where we reach problems. Conceptually, the series doesn’t sound bad, but it’s very clear from the beginning that the people involved in this project not only aren’t familiar with the source material but are also lacking in basic filmmaking skulls.



There were a lot of changes made from anime to live-action. Most of them are not good.

The heart and soul of the original Bebop lied in its characters. All of them were very well realized, they all had so much personality, their stories were ones that really got to you, and it felt like I could actually have a conversation with any of them. They’re mature, complex, they communicate the way they’re feeling with others. At the same time the characters form a bond with each other, you form a bond with them.


In the remake however, they pretty much ruined all of that. First of all, all of the characters are extremely one note. Personality wise, it feels like the actors were told to just be assholes the entire time and never show any emotional depth. Because of this, the characters as a whole end up feeling like something straight out of a sitcom.


Spike goes from a complex character struggling with a deep variety of emotions, to a guy who’s just a complete dickhead to anyone and everyone around him for no particular reason. His backstory is ruined. In the original it was really subtle and mysterious, letting you figure everything out yourself. But in this show it’s all very in your face, always making sure to explain it to the viewer just in case they didn’t get it the first three times.


Jet was also changed drastically. While he still has his background as a cop. He was given this absolute fucking dumbass story of a frustrated father trying to be there for his daughter while dealing with his ex-wife. What the hell? I’ve seen this story been done fifty times already, and there’s nothing really here to make it more interesting. What was wrong with his old backstory? All they did was make it worst. On top of this, Jet makes a lot of decisions (especially near the end of the series) that feel like a betrayal to the character. Both new and old.


Faye was done the worst out of all of them. She went from an emotionally complex con-woman, to just the biggest piece of shit in the galaxy. She is such an unlikable character in this series, constantly swearing and treating others like garbage. She never does anything for Spike or Jet, always thinking about herself and somehow acting even more selfish than her original incarnation.


And it’s not just the main three, the biggest crime against these characters comes in the form of Vicious and Julia.


Vicious went from this conniving, ruthless figure who was the biggest threat in the galaxy, to this whining little bitch who feels like the supervillain of a Cartoon Network show from the mid-2000s. His character was done so horribly it’s honestly pretty pathetic. He looks stupid, he acts stupid, he never does anything worthwhile. On top of this, you see him way too much, completely destroying any mystery the character could have.


And then lastly, we have Julia, who I’ll talk more in depth later on. But for now, what I’ll say is that originally Julia was a badass who ran from the syndicate for three years pursuing the one thing she wanted. But now, she’s married to Vicious, she’s a complete dumbass, and does nothing but live in constant fear of others instead of standing up for herself and doing something about it.


Now, the thing is, I don’t think the actors are to blame in any of these cases. In fact, I think most of them are more than capable of giving good performances as these characters. Especially Mustafa Shakir who I think nailed it as Jet. The problem is the writing and direction, something that is at the heart of the major problems surrounding this remake.


Are you sure you don’t want another one for safety?

For this portion of the post, I want to remove myself as a fan of the original series and instead talk from the perspective of a film critic. Because more than anything, the major fundamental problem of Cowboy Bebop has a lot to do with the direction.


Not once have I seen a movie or TV show where the direction is this blatantly amateurish. Sure, the script has some of the worst lines I’ve ever heard in script writing history (and that’s saying a lot coming from me) but it’s not all bad. In fact, there are some dialogues I kind of actually like. But the direction just doesn’t do any of them justice with how poorly the actors were instructed.


Earlier I mentioned how the actors aren’t to blame for the poor portrayals of the characters, and that is because it feels like the director just didn’t give them enough to work with. He just told them to be assholes and called it a day. Never further emphasizing what the tone of the performances, or the subtext should be like to the actors.


Every scene feels so static. I can almost hear the director yell cut! and action! in between takes from how monotone it all feels. It doesn’t feel like I’m watching a natural set of events developing in real time in front of me, it feels like these are just actors reading of a script waiting for the director to finish the scene.


It is my belief with how amateurish the direction feels that they did one good take of every scene and then was like: “Yeah, we got it”. Never bothering to maybe take a few more to try different things and maybe not have everything feel so boring.


The cinematography is also god-awful. For some stupid-ass reason the director thought it would be a good idea to have an absurd number of diagonal shots. The hell? Who does this? This is just jarring. And it’s not just that, some shots aren’t even centered! And at no point did I see any creativity involved for how the scenes are filmed. Which adds to how rushed the whole production feels.


The editing makes it even worse. During each episode, there are multiple plot lines going on. But so many times will a scene cut in the middle of a dialogue only to show us something else and then cut back to the dialogue and then back to the original scene and it just keeps going like this! It never lets a scene finish before moving on to the next thing! It’s so jarring and distracts so much from the story. On top of this, they also don’t know when to use close-ups and when to use establishing shots. You see so many intimate conversations from a distance that it subtracts from the overall feeling of the scene. And the only times close-ups are used is for boring conversations where a moving camera would have been more effective.


The fight scenes are so fucking dumb! There’s such a weird use of slow-motion that ruins anything the conflicts could have had going for them. And while the hand-to-hand combat is nice, it feels too robotic and choreographed. Again, sloppy direction.


As a whole, the directing feels lazy, rushed, and amateurish. You could tell the whole production was extremely rushed even though they spent two years working on this shit. With that said, that’s not to say it’s the whole reason for why this series is so unsatisfying.


Adaptation Part 2

I already mentioned that the script has some of the worst lines I’ve ever heard in a movie. Such lines include:


“Sounds like blackmail to me.”

“Oh, but Jet you are black, and you are male.”


“You never know true satisfaction until you’ve eaten the testicles of a man who’s betrayed you.”


“Are you not man enough?”

“Don’t ever say I’m not man enough!”


The list goes on.


But I don’t think that the dialogue from the series is the biggest problem with the script. In fact, I think that title goes to the way many major plotlines from the original show were adapted.


In the original Cowboy Bebop, each episode had one plotline with a defined beginning, middle, and end. They were all really weird and over the top and unique and they all had a lot of personality. You could tell they put a lot of effort into making each of these miscellaneous plotlines as interesting and fun to watch as possible.


In here, they take the same plotlines but make them significantly more underwhelming. Outside of maybe the first one, all of the bounties are heavily dumbed down. The episode Stray Dog Strut used to be awesome. It mainly featured a chase sequence between Spike and the main antagonist while they both look for the correct dog. It was something that spanned the whole city and was extremely entertaining. In the remake though, they boiled it down to one boring fight scene and then the villain just gives up. Yeah, it just stops right there.


And this goes for almost all the episodes. They’re all just extremely underwhelming. I’m all for giving new spins to classic stories. But when those new spins suck, then we have a problem.


There’s a lot of new elements that feels so weird and out of place. Now, I do want to say that a lot of these elements are modern progressive themes such as Faye’s sexuality or the portrayal of certain characters. And I want to make it clear that my problem aren’t the elements themselves but the way they’re implemented here.


For example: Why is there a BDSM dungeon in the middle of an episode? Why does Faye sleep with a woman she talked to for 30 seconds? Why is Vicious such an alpha male? These are just things that feel really out of place in the context of the show. Not even taking the original into account. It feels like they were put there in order to make a statement? I add a question mark cause I’m honestly not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just needed to come up with ways to pad out the run time.


On top of this, there’s the obvious elephant in the room of the pacing. In the original Bebop, the syndicate and everything related to it was something mainly in the background. Out of mind’s view so that you could fill in the gaps yourself. But in here, it’s way too in your face. They take Spike’s backstory from the original and stretch it the fuck out for ten whole episodes and it is not good. It feels like they needed to find a way to keep the viewer’s attention to make the show bingeable. But what we end up with is some of the most poorly written scenes I’ve seen in a while.


I wouldn’t be surprised if the script writer was given a set of SparkNotes of all the major storylines of Cowboy Bebop and was told to twist them together to make a Netflix show. It feels lazy, it feels rushed and it more than fails to capture the magic of the original.



Now, I’ve talked a lot of shit about this series so far. But I’m not done yet. There is one more part of the show that I really want to talk about. And this is the big one. The ending. I hate it.


Spoilers ahead.


Bang!

So far in this post, (believe it or not) I’ve tried to keep an open mind to every change and every new addition to the series. Viewing everything from both the perspective of a fan, and as a film critic. However, the ending of the Netflix Cowboy Bebop Remake is so astonishingly bad, I feel genuine rage inside of me unlike any piece of fiction has ever made me feel before. It both ruins whatever this series has going for it as well as directly insults the original in a way that just pisses me off.


In the last episode of the series, when we finally make it to the iconic Ballad of Fallen Angels scene, Vicious is about to throw Spike out the cathedral like in the original when Julia shows up and shoots Vicious. She then walks over to Spike, tells him how she’s mad at him for being alive and leaving her with Vicious! She then proceeds to declare herself the new leader of the Syndicate and throws Spike off the cathedral!


What the actual living motherfucking piece of absolute dogshit is this?


The original Cowboy Bebop had this beautiful message of killing the past and not letting it control you. By making Julia the villain, you’re not only murdering the character, but also shitting on the grave of the entire purpose of the fucking story. It is an insult to everything Cowboy Bebop stands for and might be one of the worst endings I’ve seen in fiction.


And I’m not just complaining because it’s not like the original show. The plot twist just makes absolutely no sense even in the context of the remake. It comes out of nowhere with no build up or foreshadowing. It’s so sudden that I genuinely thought that that wasn’t actually Julia doing the talking and it was actually some imposter or something. Or maybe I was just hallucinating the whole thing. But no, it’s real.


It’s an ending that ruins everything, all for the sake of subverting expectations.


The rest of the ending is also pretty insulting. With the entire Bebop crew breaking up after Jet learns of Spike’s past. Even though, once again, the point of the story is that the past doesn’t define you!


Now, I do somewhat understand the fact that this remake will be going its own direction and won’t reflect everything of the original. But if the message of the remake isn’t the same as the original, then what the hell is it?


What were they thinking? This is the sloppiest shit I’ve seen out of the show so far. They’re not thinking about structure. They’re not thinking about character. They’re not thinking about purpose. All they care about is making you want to come back to watch more even if it’s in the sleaziest way possible!



Now, with everything I’ve said so far, you might think I hate this show. Or that I think it’s the worst thing ever. Or that it’s the incarnation of sin. But that’s obviously not the case. I do think there are some parts of the show that I actually like.


The parts I enjoyed the most were the sections when the Bebop crew just hung out and treated each other well. Like with Faye’s birthday or when Jet worries about the rest of the crew. It shows that these characters are human and care about each other as well. I especially like it when they hang doing stupid nonsense. Cause those parts are way more fun to watch then the main series. You feel like you’re part of the group.


The series is also not very boring. It’s flawed beyond reason, but I can’t say I was ever bored while watching it. It always had something to keep you engaged and want to know what happens next. The fast paced tone of the whole thing helps too.


But that stuff just does not justify everything else about the show. It’s poorly written, poorly directed, rushed and is one of the most disrespectful adaptations I’ve seen in a while.

As you can tell, I don’t exactly recommend it if you’re not a fan of the series. What I will say is that I highly recommend you check the original out, and maybe see this one if you’re curious afterwards.


Cause even with all the criticisms I’ve made in this post. I still hope this series gets a second season and maybe all the filmmakers involved can take in all the constructive criticism and make something much better than what we got now. I truly believe a good Cowboy Bebop remake can be done; and with these actors, I believe that’s more than possible.


UPDATE: So, I actually wrote this post some time before uploading, I've just been busy and haven't had the time to draw the thumbnail. But this news just broke out and I thought it was really important for this post. Earlier today, after only three weeks since it released, Cowboy Bebop has officially been cancelled by Netflix after just one season. Even with the cliffhanger ending.

To me, this is both pretty surprising and also expected. The first season wasn't very good to say the least and most of the reviews reflected that. Though, with how the show was set up and how many views it got on, you'd think a second season would be something already in the works. But no. It's just gonna end right there with Ed talking to an almost dead Spike. No continuation or closure whatsoever.


On one hand, I find it a little sad that this new potential wave of Cowboy Bebop content is essentially dead now and we might not get more from the franchise in a while. But at the same time, I do think it's kind of funny that the show just stopped with its terrible ending. It kind of feels like now the creators are facing the consequences of their actions.


I guess this just goes to show the quality and general appeal of the show. Even Netflix saw this and wasn't bothered enough to renew it for a second season.

Netflix Cowboy Bebop was like a dream. It showed up, treated itself like this big cool thing, and then disappeared right there. Vanished from people's minds as they all continue to go back to the original anime. It's disappointing that this is the end, but hey, at least they tried.



Thank you for reading all the way to the end of the post! If you like this then make sure to subscribe The Lechuga newsletter, follow the Instagram account @the_lechuga_adrian, or follow the Twitter account @Lechugadrian to get notified of new posts.


What did you think of the new Cowboy Bebop show? Did you love it? Hate it? Do you agree with my opinions on it, or do you think differently? Whatever the case, please let me know your thoughts on this post in the comments. Regardless of what you think, I’m already glad you read all the way to the end.

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