Cowboy Bebop is Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the Japanese anime series of the same name. I went into this having never heard of it, going solely off the recommendation of a friend who had high expectations for it. Sadly, I don’t think it quite met up to anticipations, but overall it was still a fun ride, even if it did squander a lot of promise.
The ten-episode series follows a group of bounty hunters known as cowboys who travel the solar system looking for their next criminal to apprehend. We meet Spike Spiegel (John Cho) and Jet Black (Mustafa Shafir) as they capture their latest bounty on-board an orbiting casino, causing chaos and significant damage. Jet has a complicated past as an ex-police officer now taking bounties to support his young daughter, after being sent to jail following false accusations of being a corrupt cop. Spike meanwhile has an even shadier past, having left his old life as a hitman for The Syndicate, a criminal organisation, behind him.
On tracking down their latest mark, Spike and Jet tangle with fellow bounty hunter Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) which winds up with their bounty getting killed. Even worse for Spike, this bounty had been stolen from The Syndicate, who were also on his tail. It’s revealed that The Syndicate has presumed Spike dead after shooting him for stealing his partner’s girl, Julia (Elena Satine), three years ago.
The news that Spike is alive does not go down well with power-hungry gangster and his old partner, Vicious (Alex Hassell), who orders his hitmen to take Spike out. Soon, in addition to scoring their latest bounty, Spike and Jet must avoid Vicious’s hitmen and reluctantly partner up with Faye to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Julia, who has been living with Vicious since Spike’s ‘death’, has her own plans to escape from the violent and homicidal Vicious as he plots to overthrow the Elders in charge of the Syndicate.
I struggled to get into the first couple of episodes of this. It has a very unusual and bizarre theme and styling that doesn’t quite work for me. Cowboy bounty hunters in space should be a story that is born to succeed (think Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western Firefly), but here it only partly manages this. The script varies from being witty and intelligent to incredibly cheesy and clichéd. The action scenes too seem to swing from being well put together and impressive to very wooden and choreographed, and the CGI budget has obviously been blown on making the spaceships look good and is obviously lackadaisical when it comes to green screen backgrounds.
My biggest issue however was with the soundtrack. I like jazz music and I appreciate that with ‘Bebop’ included in the title, it was bound to include some, but I found the jazz incredibly overbearing and out of place in a lot of scenes. In some scenarios the jazz works (i.e. in a club), but in others, it becomes a distraction from what’s happening on screen and seems especially ill-fitting and jarring with the action scenes. I’ve heard that the jazz music isn’t new for this Netflix version and that it features music by Yoko Kanno, the same composer as the original anime show. However, I was grateful when this music became less prominent as the series went on.
After the first couple of episodes, the show does pick up – or at least that’s when you get used to its unusual style. This is mostly due to the talents of the main cast – Cho, Shafir and Pineda are all very charismatic and engaging and it’s thanks to them that this isn’t a complete failure, they really make it worth watching. It’s just a shame the script and the rest of the show can’t match up to their talents. It isn’t helped that Vicious and Julia are unconvincing and the latter, downright irritating, characters. Alex Hassell does brilliantly as Vicious when he’s underplaying his menace yet seems to overact when he’s required to be overtly angry. And Julia just seems like an entirely pointless character who becomes more irritating as the series goes on.
Having not seen the original anime series, I can only judge this live-action version of Cowboy Bebop on its own merits. While it has a great cast, some fun and laughs and a very promising idea, it’s lacking in intelligence and production values and sadly squanders all of its potential.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!