Cowboy Bebop (Live Action) – Season 1 Review

I’ve seen some pretty ropey anime and video game adaptations before that have gotten everything a lot worse than this live action Cowboy Bebop adaptation but somehow it getting it so right in some areas but so very, very wrong is several key areas is almost worse. There are times when it’s the ideal adaptation but then the next scene will hit you over the head with the fact the lead writer thought what Cowboy Bebop, one of the greatest shows of all time, needed was more swearing and sex references, like some 12-year-old who thinks that’s what makes a good adult show, not to mention… actually let’s take a look in review format otherwise I’ll just do a full-on rant in this opening paragraph…

Synopsis:

In the year 2071, bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black thwart an attempted casino heist, leading to a gunfight that severely damages the casino and results in the ISSP deducting the high cost of repairs from the heist crew’s bounty. Furious at the botched job leaving them with less money than they had before, Jet picks up a new bounty: hunting down Asimov Solensan and his wife Katarina…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

The Bebop takes off, in live action! Despite everything else stuff like this was still cool as hell to see.

First thing’s first: the visuals are great, really looks like a live action version of the original anime complete with the iconic ships and cityscapes, and most importantly they hired Yoko Kanno back to do the score and it’s once again fantastic, lots of remixes of classics and some new ones too. This was the kind of thing that got my hopes up…

The star of the show has to be Mustafa Shakir’s Jet Black, whose look, voice and mannerisms are taken straight out of the classic English dub of the original show. Sure there’s a greater emphasis on Black being a divorced Dad to the point of that nearly being his defining character trait, but in terms of additions to the original canon that’s not too bad, plus he still had an episode focused on his time in the police force complete with cheesy noir detective get-up, so it’s all good. He has great chemistry with John Cho’s Spike Spiegel and frankly their back-and-forth are the only times Spike actually acts as anything other than somewhat bored, the classic issue when trying to emulate a character that’s originally laidback and cool. The first two episodes, which only feature this duo beyond a brief appearance of Faye, actually gave me false hope as it contained very few extra swears or naked tits and was generally entertaining, apart from the stuff they did with Vicious which I’ll get to later…

There were a few highlights in later episodes to be fair. Ira Munn and Lucy Currey do a great live action version of the “Big Shot Bounty” TV show duo Punch and Judy and Josh Randall brings the infamous insane killer Pierrot Le Fou to life with great enthusiasm in one of the few really good adaptations in the series. That and filming amnesiac Faye watching her younger self on an old VHS tape she’d just discovered, that was also taken straight from the show and done well… when her mother wasn’t talking about her vagina anyway. *sigh*…

The Bad:

He looks the part, sadly he isn’t playing the part as we know it…

The biggest problem with the show depends entirely on whether you’re familiar with the all-time classic its based on. It’s one of my favourite shows ever so when in Episode 3 there were long scenes in sex slave parlours, someone using the word c**t and a long establishing shot of Spike hanging from a building in front of a poster between a pair giant naked breasts that I just shook my head and honestly got a little angry. People unfamiliar with the original show will probably think Cowboy Bebop was some low crass show with lots of swearing and sex when it was the opposite, a few light swear words used when necessary but otherwise it was far more clever and knew how to tell great stories without going for the lowest hanging fruit. I don’t know why the scripts suddenly took such a down turn with Episode 3 but it didn’t get much better with 4 as Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) was properly introduced and started talking like a gobby teen and used phrases like “nutballs” and generally acted obnoxious as hell. Why was she re-wrttien so poorly? I get and appreciate the outfit change but the complete personality change I don’t get, apart from our esteemed creative team wanting a woman who can made crude sexual references in every episode, which of course is a must…

Now let’s talk about Vicious (Alex Hassell). In the original show he was an enigma, someone who only appeared in a small handful of episodes but when he did show up you knew something serious was going down. With him he brought Spike’s backstory with the Syndicate and a mysterious blonde-haired woman, so each time you got a “Vicious episode” you took notice as something exciting and interesting was going to happen, Vicious’ no-nonsense attitude being the perfect counterpoint to Spike’s laidback persona. In this live action adaptation? Vicious is not only in every single episode but he’s mostly played for laughs and constantly shown to be whiny and pathetic. How anyone can watch the original series and then remove everything special about the lead antagonist I have no idea. Julia (Elena Satine), the mysterious girl briefly glimpsed until the final episodes in the original, appears in every episode as well, making sure any and all intrigue to Spike’s backstory is laid out in front of everyone right from the off, and poorly to boot. They even did a flashback episode which in of itself isn’t a bad idea but given it opened with Vicious and Spike talking about how great “shaving your balls” is it didn’t get off to a good start… *anguished sigh*

Between the original episode and Super Robot Wars T this is the third time this scene has appeared on this blog in some way or other in roughly a year…

I reviewed “Ballard of Fallen Angels” as my 1,000th Review special as it was such a masterpiece, and the live action show decided to make it their Season 1 finale. Sadly they also decided to change it by having Spike, Jet and Jet’s daughter being kidnapped in a church and Faye arriving to save the day by excitedly calling everyone “mother*ckers” and shooting up the place with her ship’s cannons. Man that was cringey, and to make matters worse Spike then turned around, walked back into the church and then they had the guts to then actually try and straight adapt the all-time classic showdown between Spike and Vicious, complete with “Rain” and “Green Bird” being played in the background and even a word-for-word reading of the original dubbed dialogue. Then here’s the kicker, they changed it so Julia arrives, shoots Vicious and then turns on Spike for “not coming to rescue her” and shoots HIM out of the window but keeps her abusing ex-lover alive so she can… *sigh* take over the Syndicate for herself. MAKES. NO. SENSE. I’m not even talking about the original series, within this live action series her sudden 180 makes NO sense. She’s only been shown to want Spike and hate Vicious, so her turning up and shooting her hated abuser makes sense as a dramatic re-write but to want to control the Syndicate for herself rather than finally be free of it is complete nonsense, as is willingly killing Spike, or at least trying to… It was a shocking twist for the sake of a shocking twist that betrayed even their own writing, let alone the original show.

There were several other changes that made little to no sense. Gren (Mason Alexander Park), the former soldier-turned-prisoner who was experimented on, experiments that ended up changing his hormone balance and giving him a female body is played as a just a regular non-binary person and just comes across as a complete stereotype spouting out sexual references and acting all smarmy in a club with Ana (Tamara Tunie) an old acquaintance of Spike’s that now runs a club and appears in nearly all episodes rather than runs a convenience store in one. Same goes for Gren, he appeared in a great two-part story in the anime and was reimagined as a series regular, taking all the impact away from it. Honestly this is one of the other key problems with this adaptation: the refusal to just have self-contained stories. Every episode has Vicious scenes, a lot of the villains are given connections to the Syndicate just in case you’ve forgotten Spike’s backstory for a second… there’s nothing wrong with not having an over-arching plotline, especially when the source material you adapting from nailed it so perfectly the first time.

Do it! Please, for the love of God do it!!

Anyway, back to changes that made no sense: eco-terrorist Maria Murdock (Adrienne Barbeau) was changed from having a gun that reverts humans to the form of monkeys to a gun that turns people into trees, probably just so Faye can say the phrase “nutballs” again, as well as assuming your audience is really stupid and therefore making the concept as literal as possible, as if people wouldn’t understand people being turned into monkeys by an eco-terrorist. How about a thief who in the original got plastic surgery to hide in plain site being re-written to have a piece of technology that can change his face? I’m assuming this was done so they could have a gag of the anti-face changing technology Spike and Jet used also knocking out the ones belonging to hookers and stripers in a nearby club and showing us an old woman in leather BDM gear. Wooooo! … Hilarious. Also the super intelligent dog Ein that gets added to the crew in both versions ends up being at least partially a robot in this adaptation, complete with the ability to project images out of its eyes. This was seemingly written so Faye could act like a shocked teen and go on about the “dog shooting images out of its freakin’ eyes”… poor Faye. Please don’t think the original Faye was like this…

*sigh*. The funny thing is that if this wasn’t Cowboy Bebop and was just a show on its own merit I probably would’ve liked it (well, apart from the ending which like I said made no sense within this very show). It’s got high production value at least and some of the cruder jokes would’ve landed if it weren’t in the middle of something called “Cowboy Bebop”. It just annoyed me so much that the creators of this show banged on about how great the original was and then did such a bad job adapting it, showing no grasp of the source material what-so-ever. When you get a bad adaptation people always say “oh well, it doesn’t hurt the original” but in this case I’m afraid it really will. People will think that super-cringey clip that went mildly viral of Jet being told something’s blackmail because he’s “definitely black and a male” and think that was what the original anime was like… It really wasn’t people, it was actually well written, in both languages as well which was rare at the time…

Oh and funnily enough the final crew member Ed makes a cameo appearance in the show played by Eden Perkins and this was the character me and everyone else said would make the most sense to rewrite and scale down a bit for live action but instead they had him act like the anime Ed with predictably bad results. They almost literally couldn’t get anything right here, character and tone-wise.

Overall Thoughts:

I ranted so much I needed a fifth picture to break up all the text. Have another look at the great ship visuals to end on!

There were times watching this that it felt like a good adaptation of the source material, but those were fleeting. How someone could have so little a grasp on the original show that they put this out I have no idea. Full of a child’s idea of adult content like swearing, nudity and sex references plus a terrible re-writing of key characters like Faye and Vicious, this wasn’t even close to Cowboy Bebop and may have actually damaged the reputation of the original show if people think this is what it was like. Well, it wasn’t, so please don’t watch this and just stick the anime on instead…

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