A Review of the Netflix Original: Cowboy Bebop

A Review of the Netflix Original: Cowboy Bebop

As one friend of mine put it when I first told him it was happening, “It had better be a ####### masterpiece.”

But how do you remake the Mona Lisa? Answer: by honoring the spirit of the original while unapologetically putting your own twist on it. Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop was a single bullet fired at a tiny target through the swirling winds of a hurricane…and it landed dead center of the bullseye. Mostly. Ok, some parts of it are unnecessarily messy and cheesy but it’s still an A-. Much as I was hoping for the aforementioned masterpiece, it isn’t there. That being said, it’s still quite good. The fanboy in me is mostly satisfied. So, let’s break it down.

The showrunners wisely decided against a shot-for-shot remake, because then there would have been nothing new or interesting about it. They wisely kept the musical spirit of the show at the center forefront because anything less would have been blasphemy. The characters aren’t photocopies of their anime counterparts, but rather they’ve been transmuted into living humans in a way that feels faithful, fresh, organic, and gritty, albeit somewhat clunky in places. The hour-long episode structure gives the story time to breathe and lets the show demonstrate its excellent pacing. Every character is cast well. Some people are complaining about John Cho’s job playing Spike, but I don’t know how a living breathing human could have done that anime character any better than this. It just wasn’t ever going to be a clone job, and I mostly like his interpretation. Mustafa Shakur as Jet Black and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine likewise did great work. 

The reviews are a split decision that I just can’t understand. Reading through the summaries on Rotten Tomatoes I felt a lot of insincere snobbishness and point-dodging. A good example comes from the Hollywood Reporter reviewer who said “[Cowboy Bebop’s] version of a dinged-up future looks like nothing so much as a knockoff Firefly”. It doesn’t matter that Firefly aired four and a half years after the original Cowboy Bebop anime (provoking the same comparison in reverse) because this critique is disingenuous, to begin with. It’s a false-pious comment from someone who made up their mind to hate the thing they’re reviewing long before they sat down to watch it. Someone who found the whole concept unacceptable and felt it was their duty to argue with the premise rather than the result. This reviewer in particular made tons of pseudo-intellectual-sounding gripes without citing specifics and using them to defend her point. The Entertainment Weekly reviewer was a lot more honest about his biases, but still somehow managed to have a ‘negative’ review of a series that ‘didn’t quite live up’ to the original which he more or less sanctifies as perfect. So…it ‘didn’t quite live up’ to ‘more or less perfect’? Wow. What a horrible failure. Other reviews claimed that it isn’t capturing the spark of the original, while still more attacked it for being ‘faithful to a fault’ and ‘not going off on its own.” The other half of the reviewers gave favorable reviews sprinkled with specific complaints about the particular issues, but at least they seemed to grasp that the series as a whole did a very good job.

So what made me love it? Characters that work well both on their own and together. Stories that are engaging and fun to watch. An unapologetic mixture of grittiness and pulp-noire that I happen to think works extremely well. And, of course, a mountain of joy that I get from seeing someone do sincere, high-quality work with source material that I loved. That being said there was one thing about the show I didn’t like. They tried to do their own thing with the main villain and it wasn’t good. It wasn’t awful either, but it distracted from the rest of the show and it wasn’t necessary. But that’s the only serious problem. So for season 2 perhaps the more erudite and upper-crusty reviewers will have found something else to complain about besides a deeply sincere, mostly well-executed and joyful love letter to the best anime ever made.

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