Cowboy Bebop: Season 1 (Netflix) — a review (plus, a backhanded review of the original anime series)

Yes, it says “Season 1” next to the series title above, but Netflix has already cancelled Cowboy Bebop. Call it Season One and Only.

I’m not sure what I expected from this series. Netflix kept recommending it to me because apparently the only panem et circenses I require, as a member of the unwashed masses, is something with space ships in it to keep me entertained.

Netflix isn’t completely wrong, but I do find the assumption to be insulting.

Of course, the original anime which inspired this live-action series was recommended by Netflix as well. I believed that it was only fair that I watch the source material before watching the adaptation. Full disclosure: I may have caught pieces of the animated series on Adult Swim, but out of context it made little sense to me at the time.

After I was drawn into this future universe inhabited by such characters as Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Edward and Ein the data dog, I suddenly discovered that I was enjoying myself. The backstory of each character was explored a little more deeply, opening potential avenues for the stories to travel. There are elements of wild west adventures, film noir and full-on exploitative kung fu grindhouse movies here. The animation is economical but impressive, and the soundtrack features a lot of cool jazz.

I am no otaku or weeb, which the internet informs me are two classes of anime aficianados. I’ve never even watched Sailor Moon, Naruto or Full Metal Alchemist. My early introduction to anime was Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets. I watched both of those long before I had ever heard the word “anime.”

Now that I’ve watched all 26 episodes of the animated, English-dubbed Cowboy Bebop —and enjoyed the experience— I haven’t discounted watching more anime in the future. My drug of choice is a well-told story, and the medium used to get my fix is of secondary importance.

If I were giving the Cowboy Bebop anime a report card grade today, it would be a solid B+.

After I finished watching episode twenty-six, “The Real Folk Blues (Part 2),” I turned to the Netflix original series.

Any creator who is adapting stories or characters from a different medium to video runs the risk of angering the fanbase that inspired the adaptation to begin with. I just watched the anime, so I’m not easily angered. No, John Cho is not who I imagined as Spike Spiegel, but he brings his own unique, individual energy to the role. Spike doesn’t seem quite as cocky or dangerous as his anime version did. The hair is right, though, and Cho injects some humor into every project I’ve seen him in, which works well with this series.

Mustafa Shakir is perfect as Jet Black. The change in the character’s race was seamless and unimportant. Shakir portrayed Bushmaster in Marvel’s Luke Cage, which also once aired on Netflix. Daniella Peneda is a perfectly serviceable Faye Valentine.

On the other side of the aisle, we get femme fatale Julia (Elena Satine) and Spike’s former-friend-turned-nemesis Viscious (Alex Hassell).

The main elements of the anime are kept intact, including Spike’s often confusing back story. I think seeing the science-fiction world of the anime realized in live-action form is exciting. But, we have become spoiled with good special effects and expect our imaginative series to look great. Modern audiences are more difficult to wow.

While this Netflix series is a loving recreation of the animated series, it fails in not being more than that. Most of the episodes seems to be little more than alternate takes of the anime episodes we watched before. Little new ground is trod here. It’s often as if we’re watching cosplay reenactments of the anime.

That makes it sound as if I thought the performances in the Netflix series were wooden and amateurish, which is not true at all. It’s just that it sometimes feels like watching a familiar play performed by new actors.

I know, the anime was self-contained and gave us a true series ending in twenty-six episodes. Therefore, the series had to be set before the final showdown, which means we were going to be revisiting events from the anime anyway. It’s just that I wanted this series to be more of a continuation of the story (minus the last four or five episodes of the anime, maybe). Instead, it is the same as the anime, the story of the source material turned into a shorter synopsis that attempts to hit the same beats.

It’s not bad. In fact, it’s mostly quite good.

But unnecessary.

Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is entertaining and quirky without pandering to the lowest common denominator. Yet it plays it too safe by not wandering far enough away from the source material. Maybe if we’d gotten more than a single season, we could have seen episodic stories that never appeared in the anime.

What could have been.

Firewater’s See-You-Space-Cowboy Report Card: B

If you liked the anime you have to watch the Netflix series. And you all should watch the anime. By the transitive property, that means you should all watch the Netflix series as well.

And be patient. Edward shows up in the final episode.

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5 thoughts on “Cowboy Bebop: Season 1 (Netflix) — a review (plus, a backhanded review of the original anime series)

  1. I really like the original anime, and I enjoyed the Netflix series to a lesser degree. I did find it odd that the new series took no chances adapting the original material…right up until the “end” when they suddenly changed things up.

    It seems like there’s no way to win these days when making an adaptation, between the fans that want a perfect recreation of source material and those that want a fresh take. But maybe it has always been that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have no familiarity with the anime, but was intrigued when I first saw the ads for the adaptation with John Cho, as I liked his work. Sounded like it might be a fun world to visit…and then it got canceled shortly thereafter. I may still give it a view.

    Liked by 1 person

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