Man has created a lot of works in his existence on the planet Earth. Most of them are pure garbage, but every now and again someone will create something so important, beautiful, and timeless that its presence on the stage will last through the ages. Beethoven, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Steven Spielberg, Guccio Gucci, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Stevie Ray Vaughn are just a few of the myriad of artists that have given the world something that it can’t ever forget.
But these works will always spawn knockoffs, pretenders, and thieves. Some of them create near-clones because they were so inspired to do so, but many do so because they know that it will make a quick buck. They don’t have any respect for the original work. They don’t care about what it means to people, what the work tried to impart, or what kind of significance it had to our culture. They just know you really liked it, it’s really popular, and that if they do something with it, they can get you to fork over some money.
As I wrote in a previous article, this is one of the primary driving forces behind the years-long nostalgia trip our society has gone on. It’s an era where very little is being created that is new, and most everything is a recreation of once-great works. It wasn’t until the very end that I actually revealed what my main reason for writing the article was, and that was the live-action recreation of a work called “Cowboy Bebop.”
Okay. Three, two, one, let’s jam.
For those of you who don’t know what “Cowboy Bebop” is, I can only describe it as one of (if not the greatest) anime series ever created. The show arrived on the scene in the late ’90s and proceeded to become a juggernaut among anime fans across the globe. If you’re trying to introduce someone to anime, then you either showed a creation by Studio Ghibli (famous for such movies as Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away), or you showed them “Cowboy Bebop.” There were few exceptions.
“Cowboy Bebop” was a show that delved into a host of genres all at once. It was a sci-fi space epic, it was a spaghetti western, it was a comedy, it was a drama; it had buddy-cop elements, as well as a film-noir feel. The characters were flawed, unique, hilarious, and tragic, and while the story was very in your face in terms of plot, there was always a mystery lurking in the background surrounding the show’s main character. It managed to do all of this and combine all of these elements to forge something that was unique and unforgettable.
Weirdly, it’s a show that grows up with you despite the fact that it never changes. I was first introduced to “Cowboy Bebop” as a teenager, but I would rewatch it as I grew up, and each time I would discover something new about the show that I hadn’t seen before. It would take on a new meaning and various situations would feel different than a previous viewing.
I had the feeling that with all the nostalgia-bating going on with IPs and franchises getting reboots and remakes that “Cowboy Bebop” would eventually be on the butcher’s table, and sure enough, Netflix announced that it was pulling one together. It wouldn’t be the first live-action remake of an anime, and judging by the way it had remade previous anime titles such as Death Note, I didn’t have hope that Cowboy Bebop would be respected.
After watching the series I can confirm that Netflix did what Netflix does and it’s given us something that is a shadow of its original.
I could go into detail with all my complaints, but I’ll keep it light since that’s not the real intent of this article.
The acting ranges from superb to horrific. Mustafa Shakir’s depiction of Jet was so spot on, I would forget there was an actor underneath the costume. John Cho does his best Spike Spiegel but doesn’t manage to capture the cool the character is known for, though I’m not entirely sure if that’s his fault or the fault of the writers. Daniella Pineda’s recreation of Faye Valentine was so atrocious that I found my attention drifting off whenever she was on screen. These three main characters made up the bulk of Bebop’s story, and while the anime gave them so much depth and feel, the Netflix remake feels like it tries too hard to bring them back, resulting in too many characters feeling like bad cosplay knockoffs.
Then there’s the writing. An average episode of the Cowboy Bebop anime was around 25 minutes. It managed to fit plot, character development, introductions, problems, solutions, and conclusions in that short time span, and that’s including the classic Bebop intro and outro.
Netflix, however, wanted their episodes to be an entire hour, and that means introducing what I can only describe as an over-indulgence on filler. Conversations go on for far longer than they should, side-plots lead to nowhere, and some characters are given far more screen time than they should. For instance, the primary antagonist, “Vicious,” very rarely ever appeared in the anime though he would be alluded to. It gave him a very mysterious, sinister, and dangerous feel. In the Netflix version, he appears so much that he loses all of these traits that made him interesting. In fact, he looks like a totally different character very early on because of this, and it detracted from the punch the anime had.
The one place where the show executed itself flawlessly was the soundtrack, which stayed mostly intact with a few alterations here and there. Cowboy Bebop’s was all about jazz music and old cowboy western tunes, and to Netflix’s credit, they largely respected that.
But my main complaint about the show is, maybe unsurprisingly, the complete and total misunderstanding of what it was by Netflix.
Here we may enter into spoiler territory, so be warned.
Despite all the fun, comedy, and charming characters, Bebop is, at its core, a tragedy. Each character’s backstory is filled with sadness, regret, and ghosts that haunt them. While they come together under humorous circumstances, eventually these ghosts drive them to their destinies.
Bebop allows you to watch as each character deals with their pasts chasing them around as they live their lives on the edge of society. It’s these ghosts that cause them to grow together, form emotional attachments, and then be ripped away emotionally and/or physically. In a way, they all get what they asked for by the end, but it’s not what they wanted, and it looks a lot like getting the opposite.
It’s a deep, emotional ride that makes you feel the weight that the characters carry.
The writers at Netflix didn’t seem to really understand this. It’s tragic in all the wrong ways. They saw a fun spaghetti western in space that had elements of tragic backstories and threw together a show that’s more fashion than function. It added all the Netflix staples such as nudity, cussing, and gratuitous violence and left out the emotional depth that made Bebop such a masterpiece. It’s a show that tries to take nothing too seriously and winds up being a parody of the anime more than a recreation.
Moments that begin to border on depth are always punctuated by Whedon-esque quips, and some of the characters experience complete reversals from their anime originals which feel out of place and awkward, all to attempt to find cheap ways to keep the story going.
And therein lies one of my biggest problems with the remake.
Netflix clearly saw Bebop as a cash grab, not an amazing story with a beginning and an end. They left the ending open, even introducing Radical Ed, one of the main characters and crew-members of the Bebop, at the very end. It makes you feel robbed in more ways than one.
It’s called “Cowboy Bebop,” it kind of looks like “Cowboy Bebop,” but it’s not at all “Cowboy Bebop.” What it is is a fundamental misunderstanding of a great work of art, and this misunderstanding feels purposeful in the face of modern sentiments and revenue. It’s a cheap Gucci knockoff. It’s a watered-down version of a really great scotch. It’s peppers and beef without the beef.
It’s a Netflix recreation.
See you, space cowboy.