Just play the first few seconds of Yoko Tanno’s “Tank”, performed by The Seatbelts (a group made specifically for this show by Tanno), and most anime fans are right in the groove. There’s a reason Cartoon Network reran Cowboy Bebop for years and still breaks it out on occasion. Not only is the show itself amazing (and I don’t want to risk overhyping it) but the English dub is fantastic. Despite not being in the room together, a necessity when it comes to dubbing foreign productions due to the focus on matching the mouth movements (or “lipflaps”), the cast seems to play off each other like they were in the same room recording. The vocal choices are great, and the jazz music that is easily the soul of the series is left intact. If you haven’t watched it, you really should if sci-fi western-style shows are your thing.
Of course Hollywood can’t leave anything good alone, especially if it’s done without live actors. I keep mentioning the pecking order in the entertainment industry, with comics, video games, and animation at the bottom of the stack. If it’s cool, they reason it NEEDS to be done in live-action. Disney has been terrible at this lately as they seem to be replacing all their animated classics with sub-par live-action remakes and reimaginings that fail to grasp what animation has over live-action in terms of storytelling. (I thought I did an Art Of Storytelling on the subject but it isn’t coming up. Guess what we’re doing on Friday!)
Netflix is now part of the Hollywood system. Originally a way to get movies through the mail it has become a streaming service that makes its own TV shows and movies, with the same track record as any other studio. They’ve also gone down the route of live-actionizing animated favorites, including anime. Their history is…less than stellar, and now they’re bringing that record to Cowboy Bebop, a show with wide appeal around the world. Judging from what they’ve put out so far they have learned nothing from their last failure.
For the few uninitiated who would even read this article after others have already made their comments, Cowboy Bebop is not the name of the show, but the ship our characters travel in. Conceptualized by Hajime Yatate and brought to life by Shinichirō Watanabe, the series follows the adventures (and often misadventures) of a group of intragalactic bounty hunters called “cowboys” just trying to survive. They get their bounties from a TV show with a guy and girl who, while using over the top acting, list the latest bounties available and the crew chooses which one they want to go after in the hopes of actually getting paid. They rarely go well and that’s before their personal problems come into play. The show could be dark and violent, but only when the story required it, and also light and humorous, but only when the show needed it. Both are balanced well, with the focus on the darker aspects of their lives. The crew consists of:
- Spike Spiegle: A former crime syndicate member trying to find his lost love while dealing the syndicate’s leader and his romantic rival
- Jet Black: Former police detective who got burned by his situation and left the force, having lost an arm and opting for a mechanical one. He is the owner of the Bebop, a former space fishing vessel, and Spike’s business partner. Jet chooses the target and Spike usually is the one who goes after it, though he does also join in the missions at times. He’s also the mechanic.
- Edward: Also referred to as “radical Edward”, she’s the hacker of the group who joins in an early episode. Describing Edward is like describing a Monty Python sketch only Edward often manages to make less sense. Yes, I’ve heard (I don’t know the details) that someone tried to claim she’s “non-binary” but I just saw a video point out that she does refer to herself as a girl when asked. She’s just a tomboy who likes to wear short hair and as far as her name you haven’t met her dad. He’s kind of nuts and she’s his father’s daughter. Edward is Edward. She is also my favorite character in the series.
- Ein: A super intelligent dog (no, he doesn’t speak) that the crew rescues but with nowhere to bring him just adopts him into the team. Edward and Ein are besties and Ein is a good dog.
- Faye Valentine: After a space shuttle accident (I haven’t watched in a while but I seem to recall a warp gate failure was involved…though I could be thinking of something else) Faye was put into suspended animation. Losing her memory due to the experience, Faye became a bounty hunter and was actually the gang’s bounty at one point. Faye is a femme fatale and isn’t afraid to use her sexuality to mess with her targets…and otherwise seems to not really care about much except money. She ends up joining the crew whether they want her too or not. (They would choose the latter option.)
These are our heroes because nobody else was available, and I mean that as a joke. They’re four messed up people and a dog with messed up lives who just happen to gravitate towards each other and become a strange type of family until the final episode. The show ran for 26 episodes, or “sessions”, plus the movie Knocking On Heaven’s Door. (Music plays a huge role in this series, especially jazz and blues music, which serves as the soundtrack.) It’s one of the best television shows every produced.
So naturally Netflix is going to make it in live-action. Their track record frankly is sub-par. Anime itself is usually poorly translated into American live-action, but Netflix’s take on Death Note showed little understanding of their characters and relation to the overall narrative according to fans, and their take on Avatar: The Last Airbender has not exactly come off as anything matching the show. I’m not the only one comparing what they’re doing to Dragonball: Evolution in terms of adaptation. The first images we’ve gotten from Netflix’s take on Cowboy Bebop didn’t really help.
I really have no complaints about Cho. He looks like Spike and his outfit is pretty good. He actually is Japanese (or one of the Asian countries we Americans seem to all lump together) in the show so he’s fine. Ein is the right breed of dog, and if they were going to screw anything up I would have expected to be that. As long as Spike gets a different-colored cybernetic eye we shouldn’t have anything to complain about…depending of course on how Spike is portrayed versus the series.
Jet however is not black. Originally from Ganymede, Jet’s skin color is white. You’d think the same folks whose mindset has led to the Black Ranger in the Power Rangers not being played by a black man would find a man named “Jet Black“, nicknamed the “Black Dog” because of how he sticks to the criminal he’s chasing like a hunting dog, being made a black man when he isn’t in the source material…a bit racist. What bugs me more, however, is Jet’s “cybernetic arm”. It looks more like he’s wearing an arm-length glove in the current gloves. Then of course there’s the big issue everyone is talking about when it comes to the cast.
Where the @$%$#*% is EDWARD!
Originally based on the show’s music director, (either Shirō Sasaki, Yukako Inoue, the fan wiki isn’t clear), Edward was originally going to be a boy but Watanabe decided to balance out the genders a bit since there were already two males in the cast (three if you count Ein). She’s a tomboy whose view of the world is…yeah, just watch the video since explaining that will hurt the average brain cell. Watanabe describes her as a “cat out of control”. As mentioned earlier, she’s technically a girl but it’s doubtful that she cares, though when asked she will use and answer to female pronouns. Edward is Edward…and Edward is awesome!
She also serves as necessary comic relief in a show that can get dark by necessity. She doesn’t interfere with the drama but she does take some of the weight off, turning what could be a depressing action show into something easier to connect with and not requiring you to hate life when it’s done. Granted, Hollywood seems to WANT you to hate life and swim in the muck of existence so that may be why Edward isn’t here. Also she’s a redhead and I’m starting to believe more and more that indeed redheads are being expelled from Hollywood. Ed has a father/daughter relationship with Jet, a big/little sister relationship with Faye, Ein basically becomes her dog, and…she knows Spike but doesn’t really have any special connection to him.
I know I’m forgetting something…
Oh yeah, her. Okay, I’m not sure what I can really add to the discussions that already exist. Daniella Pinetta’s slamming of the fans upset with the alterations to her outfit has been covered to death by now. And it’s not like that’s anything new at this point. Celebrities don’t care about the source material, especially if it’s those dumb drawing that aren’t the egoist media snobs that actors are becoming. As long as they enjoy the role they don’t care. So let me tackle the design from that angle.
Others have noted that Faye Valentine is a femme fatale who uses her sex appeal to get close to the bounty she’s after or other methods of getting what she wants. This is not only apparent in her usual wardrobe but in her character design overall, and given her backstory it’s the only way she’s learned to survive after being awakened from cryo-sleep over 50 years later. If Pinetta had an issue with the costume she should have just admitted it. The “wedgie” she complains about should have an easy workaround (I’ve heard actors and actresses complain about wedgies and other issues but still put their costumes on) but what gets me more is PInetta’s body language. Not her body. her body language as we see in these pictures showing us the character. This may change in the show itself but I’m betting they did less research than the live-action Ghost In The Shell movie, and that seems to be based solely on clips from the anime trailers. If Pinetta isn’t as busty as Faye that’s fine. She’s not my type either way and she can still be sexy with a smaller chest. Look at her body language in the pictures though. It doesn’t quite match Faye’s personality, her sometimes lazy “can’t be bothered” attitude only broken by “yay money”, “I need to kick your @#$”, or going into her act…at least until her character arc opens up some of her memories and she can’t really hide that maybe she does care more than she lets on.
The only complaint I’m having trouble with her argument (since she won’t admit it’s about the “male gaze”) is that she talks about doing stunts. Faye isn’t the martial artist. Spike is. Faye breaks out the guns. Unless Pinetta is being asked to do some serious gunkata how “tissue paper” were these test outfits, if they ever truly existed and wasn’t just part of her vindictive rant? In animation a character’s design is important, and just like her personality and “tools” to get an edge her design isn’t up for that kind of action. She isn’t Ming-Na Wen. (That was the only name I could remember and even then I needed help. It’s like 11:30 pm as I wind down on the original draft of the article and while I want to look up a more famous female martial artist, going with Chun-Li isn’t so bad.) She shouldn’t have any major stunts.
What really gets me are the words from the show’s writer, Javier Grillo-Marxuach. You’d think the guy who turned his comic The Middleman into a cult hit show on the then-named ABC Family network would know how to do a proper adaptation. I don’t want him to just redo the show. At that point you should just watch the original. Then he says stuff like this:
“We ain’t playing Bebop, Bebop is playing us. You can’t look at Cowboy Bebop and say, ‘Well, it’s just a take-off point. We’re going to give them different hair and different clothing, and we’re gonna call it something different. And it’s just sort of gonna be a loose thing. If you’re doing Cowboy Bebop, you’re doing Cowboy Bebop. You know? It’s kind of like doing Star Wars.”
I’m not even sure this sentence makes sense. It’s also not accurate to what we’re seeing. Why don’t you call it something different if you’re going to change the look of the characters and possibly their personalities?
We’re not going to go one-to-one on all of those stories because we’re also trying to tell the broader story of Spike Spiegel and the Syndicate, Spike Spiegel and Julia, Spike Spiegel and Vicious, and all that.
What broader story? Unless this is some kind of prequel for Spike that goes more into the love triangle with Spike, Julia, and Vicious and Spike’s days in the syndicate before trying to run off with Julia, the original told the story completely. And how does that story require Jet, Faye, and Ein?
But we are looking at the show and saying, ‘Who are some of the great villains in this show, and how can we put them into this into this broader narrative?’ So that we are telling both of the big stories that Cowboy Bebop tells.”
It’s strange to hear him talk about the villains when he then talks about one of the problems with Faye’s costume being realism. Or at least Hollywood’s current interpretation of the word.
“Other smaller changes are also being made in translation, as one would expect. For example, Faye’s revealing costume from the anime has been toned down a bit for Netflix’s costume design because, as Grillo-Marxuach put it, “we need to have a real human being wearing that.” And while the characters still smoke, the habit may be a bit less glamorized to reflect modern sensibilities. Grillo-Marxuach told us it’s about finding a balance between honoring the spirit of the original and adapting to the medium and audience.”
I’m not surprised about the smoking, but one commentator I looked at mentioned that smoking was part of the atmosphere. These were messed up people with messed up lives in a messed up world. Smoking was the least of their problems when they could end up with a bullet in them at any moment and their personal lives and relationships weren’t the best either. Spike and Jet both have love issues with different stakes, Faye is missing her past, which is even further past than it should be, Edward is her father’s daughter (even he doesn’t know if Edward’s a girl), and Ein is a small dog with a super brain due to genetic tampering. Yes, even the dog is messed up. As far as villains and realism goes…
…I think that says it all. The only people more messed up than our heroes are the villains, though granted Pierre here is probably the most extreme example (especially when you learn his extremely twisted backstory) even when compared to Vicious, Spike’s main antagonist. The Joker would fit right in around this place.
In a 2019 interview when the project was first announced, Watanabe was asked how he would handle it if the show didn’t match up with the original notes and he admitted he was just praying it was good. In the end it’s up to Sunrise, who actually owns the series, to keep this a proper adaptation. Cho has mentioned that Watanabe wasn’t fully consulted on the show beyond initial concepts. So far the only things they’ve gotten right are Spike’s look, Ein’s breed, and the few images we’ve seen of the Bebop‘s “living room”. They want to tone down Faye’s sex appeal, tone down the violence according to other comments made by the creators, and they’re missing Edward. I’m not sure they so much really wanted to make this show so much as take a popular piece of animation and “do it better in live-action with ‘real’ actors”. Given Netflix’s track record, and Hollywood’s in general I’m not expecting a lot adaptation-wise whether the show itself is good or not.
I think you’re better off watching the anime. You can’t remake a classic.