By Kai Curry and Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Netflix’s live action “Cowboy Bebop” released to streaming on Nov. 19. Based on the original anime, the show follows a crew of space age bounty hunters—“cowboys”—as they cruise the dilapidated universe in their dilapidated spaceship—“Bebop”—accompanied by a loveable Corgi and eventually, a wacked out hacker named Ed. They are always low on cash (“woos”), always accompanied by jazzy music, and kind of suck at their jobs. But they are endearing in their quirkiness and vulnerability and pretty good at fighting.
Stacy Nguyen and Kai Curry took a look.
How ‘bout that John Cho?
Kai: I thought John Cho did a great job as the loved/hated Spike Spiegel/Fearless. It was appealing to me to watch Cho traverse through his career from eating White Castle burgers to obsessing over noodles, Spike’s favorite food. Cho’s acting trajectory has been steady and reliable and yet he hasn’t received as much acclaim or coverage as some others. So, it was extremely satisfying to me to see him get a role that I consider a show horse. Bravo.
Stacy: Obviously he’s still an angel sent down to Earth from heaven.
It was really, really nice to see him play Spike, a character that is a whole entire vibe. He’s fun, flashy, stylish, sensual-sexual, and has great hair, which is really the kind of role I’ve been waiting for John Cho. I’ve been following his career since his “Better Luck Tomorrow” days, and a lot of the time, he doesn’t seem to get to play leading characters that have a lot of quirks.
But in “Cowboy Bebop,” he has more personality, and so it’s fun to watch him in it.
What was your background or interest in Cowboy Bebop prior to the live-action version?
Stacy: Honestly, my only familiarity with “Cowboy Bebop” was that my brother used to watch it all the time, and I would walk into the living room as my brother was watching it. From that, I gathered that the music is super jazzy and dope, it was very swaggy and campy, and also noirie-ish and masculine. And that really wasn’t my bag.
So I don’t know too much about the original anime, but I can see that the Netflix remake has made considerable efforts to pay homage to it. The remake is really fun to listen to, for instance. At the same time, I remember that, in the snippets that I did see of the original series, it was lighter and more comedic and hammy. The live-action adaptation feels heavier and darker, which I prefer in a general sense—but I’m sure hardcore “Bebop” fans are like, ‘WTF!’ about it.
Kai: I was a fan of the anime. However, if I am honest, I always wanted to watch the original more than I actually watched it. Like many, the real appeal to me was the art. The music didn’t catch me so much until this time when the opening credits with the remixed version of “Tank” became one of my favorite parts of the show. When I did watch the anime, I found it slow—and yet, I also found there was always a payoff if you stuck it out. I got a lot out of the philosophical bent of episodes such as when Dr. Londes, AI guru, encourages followers to “let go”—which this new version does a great job with. I had the same impression with the pace of the live action—slow at times—and the same verdict—except maybe due to the live actors, the payoff is bigger.
What did you think about the show?
Kai: I enjoyed it. I learned much more about layered plot and characters than I did before. I understood everyone’s motivations more. I felt connected to the plight of Spike, to whom Vicious, a raging narcissist, does much disservice; Jet, whose anguish over his lost family is palpable; Faye, who wants to find her real family, yet can’t help kind of liking the fake mom who betrayed her. Perhaps because we have real actors this time, there is not the distance that I felt in the anime version, where it’s easier not to take the characters seriously. Now, I agree that most of them are jerks—and love them all the same. There are complaints the actors aren’t young enough, and it’s true the overall feel is “older.” That’s okay with me. I’m older, too, and I will definitely be going on a ride with these cowboys for Season 2.
Stacy: Honestly, I’m pretty sure masculine-noire-meets-space-cowboys is still not my bag. I had a bit of a hard time settling into the show. I think because this genre is so stylized—like, it looks really cool and is visually fun to watch—but I think the trade-off there is that the characters don’t feel totally real and human. They’re saying weird things like: “Sounds like blackmail. / Damn right it is, because Jet, you are Black and you are male.”
It’s like, kill me, I can’t see anymore because my eyes rolled out of my head so hard.
I liked the chemistry of the main cast members a lot though—over the course of the show, I believed in their friendship. And the set design and world-building is textured and fun to look at. It doesn’t look all sleek and utopic like how a lot of sci-fi can look. It looks all grungy and like everyone needs a shower—and that’s how I like to imagine it being in our near future.
What would you have liked to see? How does it compare to the anime?
Kai: The internet is afire with terrible reviews. This is much ado about nothing.
This “Cowboy Bebop” is as competent as 100 other sci-fi shows. People say the only way it resembles the original is “aesthetics,” which is blatantly incorrect.
While there are changes to some characters (Ana works in a club instead of a store), there is much lifted from the anime, such as the church showdown when Vicious (played by Alex Hassell) suggests “fallen angels turn into devils.” I checked the anime and I’m not seeing the problem. My opinion often veers off the mainstream but rarely this far, which makes me think there is an agenda here, possibly against Netflix, and “Cowboy” is the unfortunate victim—a crying shame because they worked so hard to get it right.
Stacy: If “Cowboy Bebop” gets a second season, I would love for them to figure out their dialogue issue and make it less cringe.
But also—and this is probably sacrilegious—but as a non-fan of anime, I would like for the makers of live-action adaptation to move further away from the source material and just go all out and make it differently on their own. I think trying to stay too faithful to the anime made parts of this show feel artificial and not as authentic-feeling as it could’ve been.
Kai and Stacy can be reached at email@example.com.