As an adaptation of a beloved anime, Netflix’s ‘Cowboy Bebop’ is a travesty, but even if taken on its own and separated from the series which inspired it, the show still fails on all levels.
None of that is hyperbole, either. ‘Cowboy Bebop’ is a show so devoid of entertainment value that I can count on two fingers the scenes I genuinely enjoyed. I straight up hated almost every other second of this live-action space cowboy adventure, and I dreaded having to turn the television on for more. Which says a lot considering I was literally paid to watch the show in order to review it. That’s the definition of easy money, and I still struggled to earn my keep.
The sins of this one run deep, but most unforgivable is how it absolutely trashes iconic characters all in the name of social justice politics. Sexy femme fatale Faye Valentine is toned down and depicted as a sassy girl-boss who is nothing but a blackhole of cringe. The ‘cringularity’, we’ll call it. For real though, she’s awful. Every joke she tells fails to land, and her lines are painful to listen to. By the time she says “Welcome to the ouch, motherf**kers” in the final episode, I wanted to stab a screwdriver through my ear holes.
It’s very obvious the creators wanted to update her for a modern audience, and like with most things which receive such ‘updates’, it’s an absolute butchering. Gone is her sex appeal and femme fatale ways, and she instead comes across as a moody millennial you’d meet on Twitter, and I say that as a moody millennial who spends too much time on Twitter.
I wish I could say she was the worst character on display, but I cannot. That title goes to the show’s big bad, Vicious. I don’t even know where to begin. His handling is atrocious. The acting is bad, and his direction is a mess. He’s cartoonishly comical and borderline whiny. At times a psychotic killer and at others a temperamental schoolboy with Daddy issues who probably listens to ‘My Chemical Romance’ on CD. In the anime he’s scary and quiet, yet here he is a complete joke, just one without a good punchline. Which I think was the point.
I have to tiptoe around this lest I fully spoil a final act twist – not that it should matter because I highly recommend you skip this show – but where Vicious was once threatening, in this series he becomes emasculated and overtaken by a female who will inevitably be the lead villain should the show get renewed for a second season. It’s as if the creators hated how a particular character existed merely as a plot point within the anime and decided to rectify it by trashing the big bad and replacing him with her.
And the trashing of characters is what ‘Cowboy Bebop’ does impeccably well.
In the anime there’s a character named Gren who is forced to take feminization drugs while in a military prison. His story is tragic and full of trauma. He was not feminized by choice, yet somehow Netflix decided to depict him as a ‘yas, slay queen’ empowered non-binary type and thusly cast him as such. The actor is now on the press circuit talking about how they wanted to right the wrongs of the anime. Which sums up how so very much went wrong with the project.
The showrunners didn’t set out to adapt an anime they respect, they set out to ‘repair’ one they found problematic, and with axe and mallet in hand, they got to work disfiguring all that they could.
I’m not even a stickler for adaptations being wholly representative of what came before. I understand that things will inevitably be changed when going from book to film, or when remaking a show which already existed. Different forms of media need to make different types of concessions. I accept that when trying to appeal to a global audience it makes sense to have a wide-ranging and diverse cast. Therefore I don’t care that secondary protagonist Jet Black was changed from white skinned to black. In the anime his racial makeup isn’t a defining feature of the character so it doesn’t really matter what his skin tone is. It’s not an influence on his personality. In fact, the actor they cast as Jet is one of the few to give a somewhat accurate representation of the character that came before.
It’s just a shame that the script entirely lets him down, because let me tell you, this show is dull. Put more harshly, the story sucks.
Characters move from plot point to plot point or action sequence to action sequence but none of it is interesting. There’s just no reason to care about what’s happening, especially as the dialogue is repulsively bad, sometimes verging on something you’d see on an NBC sitcom and not a cowboy space adventure. Not helping matters even further is that little of it is pleasant to look at. A sad state of affairs given this is ‘Cowboy Bebop’ of all things.
From the moment the series begins it is obvious there was no understanding of what made the anime so endearing. The original is rather light on story, but it makes up for it with an abundance of style and mood. Shots linger to set the tone of a room, and when the action does kick up, it does so with pizazz. For lack of a better word, the show is cool. Spike Spiegel holding his breath as he enters the vacuum of space while shooting a handgun to propel him toward safety as heavy metal music blasts in the background is just one example of how the series shows the viewer the awesome capabilities of its downtrodden and cynical protagonist.
None of that takes into consideration the fluidity of its animation. The anime looks good, and it knows it. There’s a confidence on display which the viewer can’t help but notice, something ‘NewBop’ entirely lacks. The live-action is sloppy and ugly. Fights aren’t well choreographed and many aspects of it look cheap. One fight in particular takes place following the opening credits of episode 8 and it is so low budget in appearance that I actively burst out laughing.
Made nauseatingly worse is that there’s a disgusting amount of blur permeating every scene. It’s as if Vaseline was smeared on the outer rim of the camera to give it a blurry vignette, but even that doesn’t adequately explain it as some scenes are 90% blur.
I kid you not, there’s scenes where two people are standing next to each other facing the camera, and their faces are blurry. In others it’s huge portions of the set, making for a baffling creative decision that actively hurts the show, and one which makes no sense when compared to the anime which allowed every environment to speak for itself.
There’s fan films on YouTube that treat their source material with more respect, talent, and grace than anything seen in this version of ‘Cowboy Bebop’. I don’t believe for a second anyone leading the production crew has any love for the property, and it shows.
Going into this series my expectations were low. It takes a particular level of bold stupidity to try and remake one of the best animated series ever made. It’s unlikely, albeit not impossible, that someone could do it better. Although even expecting a huge misfire, I walk away still shocked at just how terrible it truly is.
I guess I could say it exceeded my expectations, so for that I applaud it. Kudos Netflix.