Photo: ‘Cowboy Bebop’/Netflix
Anime has not exactly had a smooth transition into reaching Western audiences
Anime, and especially feature-length adaptations of anime, have not exactly fared well in connecting with Western viewers.
Outside of a few exceptions, like ‘Dragonball Z,’ ‘Pokémon,’ ‘Death Note,’ and ‘Attack on Titan,’ anime as an art form has not been as well-received in the US and Europe as it has in Japan. This could be an issue with mistranslation, as watching anime usually means dealing with subtitles and/or dubbed-over voice acting, which often results in some less-than-stellar translation. Each of the shows I did mention have overcome these obstacles and found an audience in the West, to the point where they have become part of the greater pop-culture lexicon.
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These shows have also been adapted into live-action films, but the results have not been exactly spectacular, outside of the light-hearted fun of Ryan Reynolds’ ‘Detective Pikachu’ movie. ‘Dragonball: Evolution’ and Adam Wingard’s ‘Death Note’ were particularly offensive to hardcore fans, with many claiming that these adaptations severely lacked in respect for the source material.
Enter: Netflix’s ‘Cowboy Bebop’
This is where Netflix comes in. One of the upcoming tentpole action shows that Netflix is hedging their bets on this coming year is none other than ‘Cowboy Bebop,’ a miniseries that will adapt the classic anime of the same name. The series will star ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Harold & Kumar,’ and ‘Searching’ veteran John Cho in the lead role, and will supposedly be a very faithful adaptation of the source material. Cho himself has said that he has wanted to play the role of ‘Cowboy Bebop’ lead Spike Spiegel for years, and will no doubt bring his trademark energy and charm to the role.
5 episodes of the series will be helmed by ‘Daredevil’ director Alex Garcia Lopez, so it’s fair to expect a lot of dirty, high-octane action sequences, as well as some soulful character moments. The series is expected to be written at least partially by ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘The Mandalorian’ screenwriter Christopher Yost, which could mean we are in for some fun swashbuckling adventures.
The miniseries has been pitched as 6 episodes in length, presumably cutting down on the filler and simplifying the show’s core narrative as to better fit within a live-action format. Hopefully, the shorter season length might also mean that more money can be spent on the individual action sequences which, if adapted properly, could be absolutely phenomenal, even on the small screen.
What is ‘Cowboy Bebop’?
For those not familiar with the show, the original 1998 ‘Cowboy Bebop’ followed a ragtag group of bounty hunters, led by the flamboyant Spike Spiegel, as they search for treasure and adventure, across a dirty cyberpunk universe inspired by the American Old West. Spiegel is one of the most effortlessly cool protagonists of the 1990s, with the charm and swagger of ‘Star Wars’ fan-favorite Han Solo, but also the light-hearted demeanor and general aloofness of ‘Dragonball’ protagonist Goku. The rest of the supporting cast is equally memorable, with Faye Valentine (a no-nonsense femme fatale with a sordid past, to be played by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s Daniella Pineda) and Ed (an as-yet uncast quirky 13-year-old with a pet dog named Einstein) being my personal favorites.
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The original series may have been billed as a straight-up shonen (or action-heavy) show, but by the time it had finished its run, it was clear that the creators were more than just interested in showing off some cool setpieces. The original series features a surprising amount of downtime, where the main cast is just hanging around, waiting for their ship to arrive at their next destination. These moments of levity are absolutely essential to the success of the show, as the more casual character interactions demonstrate exactly how connected the crew is not just to each other, but to the audience, as well.
There is intense attention to detail throughout many of the less action-heavy episodes, as the viewer gets a real opportunity to know the characters, beyond their basic, surface-level traits. The characters are all uniquely grounded and mature riffs on unmissable anime archetypes, with more in the way of vested interests in their respective journeys, beyond simply “being the most powerful.” They are motivated by both their commitment to their own goals, but also to their fellow shipmates. By the end of the original run, the crew of Spiegel’s ship the Bebop all felt like a real, closely-knit family, and that’s precisely what separated the series from other anime programs of its type.
This is not to say that the action is not impressive. The show, in addition to being known for its complex characterization, emotional resonance, and various narrative twists, is perhaps best known for its jaw-dropping, eclectic art style, which fuels some of the most dynamic and exciting action sequences ever attempted in anime. The visuals of the original show are stunning and rife with personality, sucking you into the high-stakes action that Spike and company find themselves in. The series’ primary antagonist Vicious (who will be played by ‘The Boys’ actor Alex Cassell in the Netflix adaptation) is a violent, unstoppable force throughout the series, and is responsible for some of the anime’s most intense action beats.
When Can We Expect the Show?
The series is due to be released on Netflix sometime in 2021, although on-set injuries sustained by lead actor John Cho halted production after just a few scenes were filmed. We have yet to receive a trailer, or even any indication as to how much of the show has been completed, but we can most likely expect it this coming Fall or Winter, judging by the average Netflix production schedule.
The series certainly has a lot of hype to live up to, as there might not be a single anime franchise that is more widely-renowned than the original ‘Cowboy Bebop’ (outside of maybe ‘Akira,’ which was once rumored to be adapted by none other than Jordan Peele). Netflix has stumbled in adapting anime before (the aforementioned ‘Death Note’ film with Willem Dafoe still haunts me to this day), but if we are to trust the talent involved, then this new ‘Cowboy Bebop’ miniseries will be nothing short of sensational.
By Patrick Nash
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