What do you get when you cross a sassy group of misfits, space and the sensibilities of an old western? A Star Wars movie, usually. In this case, however, the mix yields a show called Cowboy Bebop, and it follows a small and eclectic group of bounty hunters on their futuristic misadventures. Originally a beloved anime of the same name, Bebop is now a live-action Netflix series directed by Alex Garcia Lopez and Michael Katleman, and starring John Cho, Mustafa Shakir and Daniella Pineda as Spike Spiegel, Jet Black and Faye Valentine, respectively.
In no way, shape or form are conversions from anime to live action a new thing. Post-WWII, Japan and America historically spent their time being super into each other's cultures, which eventually opened a lane here in the states for this meticulously hand-drawn and stylized method of storytelling. Fast forward some years and -- bam! -- Ghost in the Shell comes out in theaters, and while the original film was hailed as groundbreaking at the time for its use of CG, the live action remake that would eventually follow it stateside is criticized worldwide for being "whitewashed." Apparently, it had something to do with the main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi, being renamed Major and played by Scarlett Johansson? Go figure.
Point is, this Cowboy Bebop thing Netflix is doing is not America's first attempt at taking something that anime has already made dope and trying to put real people into it without, you know, ruining the whole thing (see: The Last Airbender). But it certainly is one of the few times that we got it exactly right.
That's right, people. Exactly. Right.See, the key here was nailing the iconic visual and audio style of this whole thing -- which is pretty specific. It's part western gunslinger, with its twangy-ness and harmonicas and what have you, but it's also big band jazz with a blaring horn section and Latin-infused rhythm section. Shout out to Yoko Kanno, the composer for both this and the original series.
Visually, it's that combination of grunge and shine that the cyberpunk genre is known for, with the added detail of live action sets replacing the at-times impressionistic nature of the matte paintings in the background of the original anime. Then, of course, there's that signature tone which, as original series director and current series consultant Shinichirō Watanabe put it during a Q&A at Otakon 2013, is "80% serious story and 20% humorous touch." That sentiment is held to in this new iteration of the series, which is a group effort between the writers and actors that allows the characters in the show to live in a world where things are definitely serious enough to matter, but not so much that all lightness and frivolity remain totally absent.
This bring us to the actors. I swear, the casting for Bebop could not be better if it tried. John Cho's superpower is infusing unlikely heroes with a mainline injection of cool, and this time around his character was already cool to begin with. Think about it. By the end of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Cho's character, Harold, has gone from being the uptight pushover to standing up for himself and getting the girl at the end. Remember that scene in 2009's Star Trek, when the typically disenfranchised character Hikaru Sulu is left as Kirk's only backup on a mission and cites "fencing" as his only training, just to end up kicking all the ass during that fight? That's the Cho Effect again. Hell, Cho's jury selector character on that one episode of New Girl was probably the smoothest MF-er ever to step foot in a courtroom. Now he's playing Spike Spiegel, owner of one of the best hair/outfit combos in the game right now? It's almost too much.
Pineda and Shakir were perfectly cast as well. Shakir displays the perfect balance of tough and comically tender that makes Jet who he is, and Pineda pretty much mirrors Valentine's mischievous yet likable nature of to a t.
And that's the name of the game, essentially -- creating that same vibe. You want this thing to feel like the original because that's what will get people in the door, and once they're in, then you can take them wherever you want them to go. That's why (small spoiler) the main plot of the first episode of this series is almost identical to the first episode of the original anime, even by the shot at times. Taking it a step further, the intro to every episode is an almost frame-for-frame remake of the animated series, music included. The silhouettes, the guns, the horns -- it truly doesn't they much better.
Sure, there are a couple of characters missing from the anime's team at first (like Ed, the hacker), and some characters are born from aspects of characters that already existed (like the enviro-terrorists), but it's all in an effort to make Cowboy Bebop as fresh as it is stylized.
The true difference here is the level of care that went into all of this. Bebop is a reboot/remake that actually does justice to the original. Even the intro was a surprisingly accurate live-action recreation of the anime's own iconic opening. It may even bring new fans to the source material. One thing I know for sure: It would be crazy if it didn't at least bring us another season or two.
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