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Cowboy Bebop is one of the most popular and beloved anime of all time. Since its release back in 1998, Bebop has established itself as a mainstay in the genre and a perfect blend of episodic space adventures with a character-driven serialized thread running throughout. The decision to remake this in 2021 then, as a live-action anime no less, was certainly met with skepticism.
At the end of the day, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop will never live up to the original, and I guess that’s sorta the point. This 10 episode series doesn’t try to be the original. Instead, it remixes what’s already here for a brand new audience, complete with enough nods and quips toward the anime to try and appease long-time fans.
There’s certainly some good stuff here, including some great banter, a visually stunning set design and some truly amazing action sequences. And yet, some of these episodes fall flat, with the humour slightly off the mark on occasion or individual hunts not living up to expectations. So really, this is a bit of a mixed bag. A enjoyable mixed bag that I suspect newcomers will probably take to a lot more than die-hard anime fans.
For those unaware, the basic premise of Cowboy Bebop takes place in the future, 2071 to be precise, remixing the western genre with neo-noir sci-fi and crime. With interplanetary travel the norm, at the center of this lies the lowly Bebop, a ship inhabited by bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black.
The pair eke their way through life, moving from target to target. Only, everything takes a turn for the crazy when they become entangled with fellow bounty hunter and absolute firecracker, Faye Valentine.
Each episode takes on its own identity, with a different target being pursued while the focus shifts between Spike, Jet and Faye each time. Having said that, Spike is undoubtedly the focal point here. Haunted by memories of his past, Spike has a deep history with the Syndicate and their wildcard leader, Vicious. Now, Vicious actually reports to the Elders, which includes the infamous Caliban who oversees proceedings.
Tying everything together though is Julia, who serves as the bridge between Vicious and Spike. As the episodes progress, it soon becomes apparent what happened between the trio, although that is drip-fed across the season. The serialized story revolving around this is pretty standard fare, typified by episode 9 which dives deep into the past and reveals all.
The episodic fodder is where you’re likely to get the most mileage out of this show, although fans of the original will feel an eerie sense of deja vu. Some of the plots do appear to be original while other times the show takes well-established plot lines from the anime and remixes them, giving a slightly different ending or twist.
For example, there’s a chapter that dives into Jet’s past as he sets out to find who betrayed him and ruined his promising cop career. While the twist is the same, the outcome has been completely reworked from the anime, with far less poignancy this time.
Another sees a group of eco-terrorists going after their targets to save mother nature. The visual effects in this episode, especially when the group drop their eco-bombs, is nothing short of spectacular. But yet, Cowboy Bebop never quite establishes its own identity, even when it tries its hand at original plots.
It’s best to go into this one thinking of it as a remix of an old classic rather than something brand new. In essence, Cowboy Bebop is the vocal pop edit of an instrumental dance track. It’s been designed with the best intentions but it’s going to provoke a mixed reaction from many viewers.
Aesthetically though, Cowboy Bebop is nothing short of breathtaking. The opening intro feels like a great extension of the original while the opening sequence for episode 1 is absolutely breathless.
Likewise, there’s a brilliant gunfight in episode 9 that feels akin to the hallway sequence from Daredevil Season 1. If that wasn’t enough, the chapters in between feature all manner of fighting, from bloody sword fights and explosions through to good old fashioned fist fights. If action’s your jam, you’ll find more than your fair share here.
The costumes for all involved are incredibly authentic too, with a good deal of care and attention put into making it authentic to the anime. The same can be said for the music too, which uses the same jazz/blues tone (including the original iconic opening song) to really help give this show an air of authenticity.
Ultimately, Cowboy Bebop is going to be the marmite show of 2021, you’re either going to love or loathe this, making it difficult to review. There’s not really much middle ground with Bebop and you’ll know after a few episodes whether this is for you.
Instead of a remake, it’s best to imagine Cowboy Bebop as a remix; it’s a bright, bold statement that takes the best parts of the original and tries to do something new and different. For some, it’ll hit just the right vibe, for others though, they’ll find themselves turning away, muttering, “see you in space cowboy.”
There’s definitely a lot of love put into crafting this but whether that love will be echoed by audiences however, remains to be seen.
Cowboy Bebop releases on Netflix worldwide on 19th November 2021!
Verdict - 6/10