Cowboy Bebop – Better Luck Next Time


The much-hyped among fans live-action series Cowboy Bebop (2021), an adaptation of Shinichiro Watanabe's same-named famous anime, is finally out and ready to answer the limitless questions.

by Lera Grebennikova


The whole story is about three bounty hunters: the captain, Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), the main fighter, Spike Spiegel (John Cho), and the femme fatale, Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). They are aimlessly surfing the galaxy in their old ship, the Bebop, earning their living by hunting bad guys, meddling in all sorts of crime sprees, promising a sequel. The series consists of 10 episodes that are titled as musical compositions alluding to the story within the episode.
If you haven't seen the original anime (1998 - 1999) up to this moment and suddenly decided to start with the Netflix adaptation, please, close it, open the original and watch it. This work definitely has the soul, able to make you fall in love with it. Watch the original and forget about this adaptation.

But if you are brave and persistent enough to watch that stillborn product of the Netflix empire, which is not afraid to turn beautiful original masterpieces into disgusting series-conveyor-made products, be ready for everything. For example, a huge number of fight scenes, action without a reason, just action, slow motion, flat jokes, minimal and dumb character development, bad acting, aimless but fun dialogues, and many other completely vulgar and unacceptable things.
Aside from definitely bad things, there are also partly-good ones. There are some details, playing a big role both in anime and in live-action. At first sight, it is easy to mention the setting. There is a feeling that this cinematic world is not some new technological space world, but a settled world in which people have been trying to "carry their weight" for a long time. Throughout this world, we can see that almost everything has been used for a long time. The weapons are shabby, the metal curtains on the Bebop won't close without a good tapping on the control panel to make it happen. Sounds strange, but such details give us a deeper understanding of the surroundings and a feeling of realism that makes us believe in this world, believe in all the stories told on the screen. The most beautiful pieces in live-action are space scenes and score. Space scenes are slow and truly magnificent and what about the score? It is hard to explain, because words are powerless here, better to listen. There are a lot of pieces by Yoko Kanno, a genius Japanese composer who created a distinctive score for the anime and then the analogs of the original compositions to support the score in adaptation.

But here is the core problem of adaptation — such details were already included in original anime, and it worked there much better than in live-action. In addition, when there is an original work to rely on, you should not just copy the material and the ideas, what was done in live-action; but add something new instead, something changed by your own understanding. That is the true sense of creating things.
In some way, the problem lies on the surface. It seems that live-action series performs the function of a movie adaptation of a movie. Why? The arguments are countless. What for? One big question to the authors.
Cowboy Bebop anime had already used cinematic language as the main feature. In fact, Shinichiro Watanabe always wanted to make movies rather than anime. He saw Cowboy Bebop as a movie too, so he used many art and technical tools enjoying full rights in that.

What is most striking about Watanabe's anime series, and the factor that has made it iconic and much-loved is its attitude of unbridled coolness. Here multi-genre influences mix with each other and flow like fusion music or free jazz. It is just so distinctive that every Bebop episode can be understood as a freestanding movie. The anime world is magnificent, visually filled with details that can tell their own story through backgrounds and graphics, supporting characters. The editing in anime is really cool and works as a matter of cinematic canons. It reveals new sides of the characters and surrounding world with parallel editing, early-cut scenes, 16:9 and 4:3 frames, and many other editing things. Any cinematic element works better in anime than in Netflix adaptation, which is exactly a movie.
The charm of the original anime characters is built mostly on the fact that they have already lived through their stories and made their choices. The story tells us about people trying to face their lives and the ghosts of the past nowadays. The dramaturgical lines develop properly due to such inner philosophy, embedded in the overall complexity of the visual narrative. The anime is separated into equal parts: action scenes that show the characters making a living and trying to answer their inner questions, and long domestic scenes that simply show the characters built in their environment: how they sleep, eat, think, smoke. Through such things it is easy to feel that anime characters are not some superheroes, always being only nimble, cool, and strong or only stupid and gullible from one episode to another. They have something believable inside, makes you understand: they are real, alive human beings. And what is more absurd, but still true: much more alive than the living people who play these characters in adaptation.
That series missed the core of Cowboy Bebop, which is in its deepest resonance with the viewer. It turned out to be some ordinary stupid series, which is sad. The main value of that series is in the fact that it drives you back to the original anime. Hope, that Netflix will do something better next time.
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