‘Cowboy Bebop’ shoots for the stars but fails to stay in orbit

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Jaeden Pinder, Arts Editor

Netflix might have taken the series’ famous quote “whatever happens, happens” a bit too seriously when it came to recreating the ‘90s anime classic “Cowboy Bebop.” 

The 2021 remake was released Nov. 19, with the original hitting the streaming service just a week earlier. In the short time it has been out, the new “Bebop” has been panned across critics and fans after promising promotional material.

Space Western “Cowboy Bebop” is hailed as a classic not just in anime, but in television, for its blend of comedy and melodrama and themes of loneliness and existentialism.

The original show consists of a sprawling 26 “sessions” rather than episodes that lead you through the life of space bounty hunter Spike Spiegel and his eccentric crew; the slick Faye Valentine, rugged ex-cop Jet Black, child hacker Edward “Radical Ed” and the crown jewel of the series, corgi mascot Ein. 

The change in this miniseries is the paring down to a total of ten hour-long episodes, which features plenty of the iconic arcs and moments, like the Jet’s search for vengeance and reclaiming of his past, the eco-terrorist group Callisto Liberation Front and Punch and Judy from the bounty hunter news network Big Shot.

Fans of the anime feared Netflix’s involvement might cost the show its integrity, as previous live-action remakes drew harsh criticism. In 2017, Netflix’s film remake of anime “Death Note” was poorly received because of its white-washing and omission of integral characters and plot points. Especially with anime, which is already amplified beyond reality, live-action adaptations tend to come off ostentatious and goofy rather than stylized or sophisticated. However, what’s different from the case of “Death Note” is that the series was advertised to stay as loyal to the source material in as many ways as possible. 

For one, the director of the original anime, Shinichirō Watanabe, was a creative consultant throughout production and sincerely expressed his hope for the Netflix series’ success. Some shots are near carbon copies from the original (like the final showdown between Spike and Vicious). Most importantly for many, composer, Yoko Kanno returned to score and soundtrack the show, a significant plus for the miniseries.

As with something as culturally significant as “Cowboy Bebop,” the team behind the remake has big shoes to fill, but in the end, the 2021 miniseries pale in comparison to the flair of the original in nearly every aspect. 

With the exact budget still undisclosed, the CGI is apparent throughout the entire show, and given the series’s celestial setting, it is necessary. However, the unfortunate cost of CGI heavy media tends to lead to oversaturation that makes scenes look artificial and cheap. “Cowboy Bebop” suffers from CGI-soaked scenes, and instead of looking like a big-budget show by one of the world’s biggest media companies looks like a high school film project.

Of course, the list of grievances continues depending on how dedicated you are. But for first-time viewers of the series, with no previous knowledge, the ten-minute opener is enough to get you hooked in with highly stylized fight choreography, comedy and phenomenal performances by John Cho and Mustafa Shakir.

Cho is stellar as Spike Spiegel. His chemistry between his counterparts in Shakir and Daniella Pineda is the textbook example of a perfect synthesis and contained combustion, portraying the contentious yet protective nature they all have for each other. However, the lack of Radical Ed until the penultimate episode doesn’t play out too well, and while Eden Perkins gets the wild and frantic personality of Ed on screen, it just doesn’t translate correctly in the way it does in the anime.

What seems to be the main problem in the new “Cowboy Bebop” is the displacement of energy in all the wrong places. The extreme, almost microscopic level of attention that went into making the opening theme so perfect is not the same attention that went into making the CGI believable. The costuming and music are nearly flawless, but the less-than-desirable ending and shallow writing knock the series down a peg. 

Knowing their mission, 2021’s “Cowboy Bebop” took itself a bit too seriously, leading to a rigid and unfortunate final product. The original was effortlessly confident and daring but, the 2021 reboot, in simplest terms, just tried too hard.