Monday, November 22, 2021

Cowboy Bebop (2021) review

     Cowboy Bepop was one of my all-time favorite anime when I was in college. It was 1998 and I was a huge otaku with a love for anything shown on television or available to buy on VHS. It was unlike anything else I'd ever seen (Firefly wasn't out until 2002 and The Expanse wouldn't be out until 2015). It was a beautiful well-realized science fiction world taking place in the solar system in the near-future that managed to combine the used future of Star Wars, jazz, Westerns, martial arts, and Hong Kong action movies.

    The premise was two bounty hunters ("cowboys") named Spike Spiegel and Jet Black are trying to make their fortunes by bringing in high paying rewards for criminals. Unfortunately, to the point of comedy, they often end up killing their quarries instead. The two of them live together on a starship called the Bebop and gradually accumulate an oddball family with con woman Faye Valentine, data dog Ein, and master hacker Ed. Along the way, Spike's past as a former assassin for the Red Dragon Syndicate comes to haunt him.

    The live action version was something that I was interested in from the moment it was announced but wasn't sure how it would go. While a fan of John Cho (Spike), Mustafa Shakir (Jet), and Daniella Pineda (Faye), I had to remember Netflix's adaptation of Death Note. That was flat out terrible and I didn't want to experience the same level of corruption. Still, I liked the trailer for the show and didn't bother paying attention to any other build-up before deciding to binge the series when it came out. What's my opinion?

    Eh, it has its ups and downs. John Cho is excellent as Spike Spiegel but doesn't quite have the physicality for the role. Mind you, you can animate the world's greatest martial artist while getting someone able to pull it off in live action is a lot harder. Mustafa Shakir plays an older crustier Jet with a daughter rather than simply an ex-girlfriend. It was a change that was silly in places (one plot with a coveted doll falls flat) but I overall felt he was a great interpretation.  

    Faye Valentine is easily the best version, though, and I think Daniella Pineda perfectly embodied the character after an initial false start with her as a tough girl cowboy herself. Faye isn't a cowboy, she's a con woman. There's a big difference. Some fans may also be put off by the decision to make her bisexual in this adaptation but I didn't have a problem with it. As for Ein? Well, whenever Ein is not on screen, I was asking, "Where's Ein?" He should have been in every shot and that's all I am going to say on the subject. 

     There's some odd choices that I didn't quite agree with. The Red Dragon Syndicate is just made into the Syndicate and populated with primarily non-Asian actors. The problem was they keep most of the Triad motifs that make them come off as white guys who like to cosplay as Yellow Peril villains. Still, it had John Noble show up as one of the Elders and it's hard to argue with him in anything. I also think changing the conman who conned Faye by pretending to be her husband into a woman pretending to be her mother was an overall good one.

    The only part of the show that repeatedly falls flat and is just plain bad is the interpretation of Vicious (Alex Hassel) and Julia (Elena Satine). Vicious in the anime is like Sephiroth, a kind of pathetic individual who covers it up by being the most badass terrifying man who ever lived. Vicious in the live action show is more like Viserys, a guy who acts tough but is painfully obvious as a weak-minded fool. I don't dislike the interpretation of Julia in the show, she was always someone we knew Spike loved but never why, but something about her interpretation just felt inconsistent.

    The show is ridiculously colorful and entertaining with much of the anime's weird setting intact. Unfortunately, it may have gone for too faithful in its attempts to bring it to screen so that it, at times, feels like a live action cartoon. Dialing down the weirdness and grit that you can get away in an anime might have made the show land better. Ironically, they also dialed up the sleaze factor so our heroes are always in brothels or strip clubs. But Netflix gonna Netflix. Also, Ein whenever Ein isn't on screen, the other characters should be asking, "Where's Ein?" Oh and he should be angrier, grimmer, and have a time machine.


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