Anime fans haven’t always had the best time when it comes to live-action adaptations. For every Speed Racer, there’s Dragonball Evolution. So, of course, there was a natural concern about Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, starring John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine.
But is it merited or not?
Cowboy Bebop‘s unique tone
Much like the anime, this version isn’t afraid to lean into its comedic roots. There are some serious laugh-out-loud mishaps in the tensest of moments, as the banter between Spike, Jet, and Faye powers the episodes along and you get drawn into their bickering-but-heart-warming relationship.
You also can’t help but think of Cowboy Bebop as a jazzed-up Umbrella Academy in places, especially in how the music plays a pivotal part in the proceedings. If you watched the anime, you’ll know exactly how jazz carried the beat (pardon the pun) and ensured the soundtrack became as iconic as the story. The good news is the same happens in the live-action version of the show.
Recently, a complaint popped up that the show doesn’t look as “colourful” as the anime. For one, it’s a dumb criticism since the author hadn’t even seen the full series but judged it based on a trailer (but hey, those clicks don’t produce themselves, right?). Second, this isn’t an anime series; it’s a live-action show, so there needed to be some changes made to translate it. At the same time, this isn’t the grimdark version of Cowboy Bebop—it’s still bright, colourful, and captures the sci-fi neo-noir aesthetic of the O.G. in all the right places.
But what about the action?
The anime series featured unforgettable action scenes—whether it was hand-to-hand combat or loaded-up gun battles. Every episode had a “whoa” moment that had you on the edge. Unfortunately, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop struggles to live up to this.
The editing for the action sequences is way too choppy. As soon as a punch is thrown, you hardly see the follow-through as there’s a quick cut to the next move or action. The battles lack a natural fluidity as it feels like something is being intentionally hidden from the audience. The choreography looks on point, but were the actors/stunt doubles not realistic enough?
Also, the action is an area where Cowboy Bebop could’ve differentiated itself from the anime in a good way. It almost tries too hard to be anime-like and it doesn’t translate well here, coming off more like a bad rip-off of Batman ’66 and its over-the-top shenanigans. Sometimes, what works well in animation doesn’t look great in a live-action show or movie…
The similarities to the Cowboy Bebop anime
If you’ve read this far, it’s clear that Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop does everything possible to pay homage to the anime series. It respects the source material and doesn’t try to deviate too much from what came before it.
Yet, here’s the crazy thing: when it does go in a different direction, that’s where the show stands out. You want to see more of that instead of the beat-for-beat recreation of the anime.
That said, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is one of the better anime adaptations around. It might not be perfect, but you’ll be entertained as you get sucked into this wacky world. Cho and his castmates pay respect to the characters and stories that debuted over 20 years ago, and a second season is the least that they deserve for their efforts.