I am categorising this post under anime as it is, kind of. This post also contains minor spoilers.

Anyways, the much-awaited NETFLIX live action adaptation of Watanabe Shinichirō’s[1] Cowboy Bebop was just released yesterday at 8AM UK time. I was surprised to see all ten just-under-an-hour episodes were released in one go and while I told myself I should be looking forward to watch it after work, the temptation was too much – I actually listened to it in the car on the way to work, speedran it over my 30-minute lunch break, and finally sat down to watch it on a proper telly after work as originally intended. And watched episode 1 (アステロイド・ブルース / Asteroid Blues) of Watanabe’s original 1998 anime immediately thereafter.

Anything I write now is based on my memories of enjoying the original 20-odd years ago, the three “times” I went over the first NETFLIX episode, and the immediate re-visit of the first anime episode.

It’s not perfect but I enjoyed it.

Yes, I have been guilty to retract a like to, err… hate (I’m talking to you, sequel trilogy of a well-loved sci-fi fantasy) but this is an adaptation. A story based on an original story. It’s like loving Disney’s Aladdin while knowing as a child that Aladdin was actually from China (and his uncle was actually… A MAGICIAN), as originally conveyed in the original Arab The Book of 1001 Nights. In short, nobody in their right mind would make a creative decision to recreate a story in the exact manner of the original frame-by-frame.

The premise of Cowboy Bebop is essentially about three bounty hunters, or “cowboys”, working their way around the solar system – comprising Spike Spiegel, the main character with a history that unfolds nicely as you get deeper into the story; Jet Black, the one-arm captain of the Bebop, the ship they are travelling in; and Faye Valentine, a con woman without a memory. The story starts with Spike and Jet being a duo, with Faye coming into the team later, as well as other essential (and memorable) characters which I will touch on later.

The first NETFLIX episode was entitled Cowboy Gospel and is based on the first anime episode, or session, as the Sunrise production team would call it.

From the opening sequence, the whole look of the show was great. Have a look at the above side-by-side comparison of the NETFLIX and the anime opening (it was so good to see Kanno Yōko back in the fold) on YouTube – and I just realised that while the anime had English in the backdrop, the live action had the Japanese translation – which I am inferring from seeing they had “jazz/ジャズ” and “2071” in the text (a long shot? Probably – I’m sure some eagle-eyed fan would sit down and write down the full translation). Spike and Jet looked the part, down to the bit where Spike would do his wing chun moves on the wooden dummy and the metal part under Jet’s right eye recreated. As for Faye, I’ll get to her in a bit.

In the first episode, we get introduced to Faye in the second act unlike the original anime where we don’t get to see her until until session 3 (ホンキィ・トンク・ウィメン / Honky Tonk Women). Otherwise, other than the intro casino fight scene (which explains why they didn’t get the bounty in full due to expenses from damages as mentioned in a conversation between Spike and Jet in the beginning of the anime, and at the beginning of the NETFLIX episode 1’s second act), the story surprisingly follows session 1 somewhat faithfully. Which makes me think that this is not bad of an adaptation, as I can imagine another shitstorm if they went left field with the plot of the whole series. Of course, as far as I am concerned, the jury is still out for me since I have nine more episodes to watch.

The fist/gun fight scenes were violent and nicely choreographed/shot, in a manner reminiscent of the original. Cartoony at times, but the original is a, err… cartoon, and the subtle comedic element within the substance of the story is there.

Design and VFX-wise, this show didn’t look tacky. Yeah, on a hi-def big screen telly you could say the Bebop landing on water looked a tad CG, but the gritty interior set design of the Bebop was superb and felt right at home if you knew the look of the anime. I love the look and details of the various exterior locations down to the mixture of languages in the road and shop signs, and don’t forget the three old guys, with one wearing the red and white cap. The El Rey cantina in TJ looked like it is in the anime, and I love the nod to Watanabe which was the name of the casino/bar at the beginning. I even paused the shot to read the katakana on the neon signs lining the astral gate before the Bebop made her hyperspace jump.

From watching this sole episode, I felt the acting was all right, although there were a few moments of what felt like a bit of school stage play ham acting (the main baddie in the casino scene to name one). I love the banter between Spike and Jet over dinner (yup, the famed “beef” and pepper noodle) although I thought I detected some element of hesitancy in execution of the dialogue between the two. I have heard the group dynamics between the three will improve, so I am looking forward to it. Interestingly, the original seiyuus (except for Ishizuka Unshō who voiced Jet – he passed on in 2018) returned for the “Lost Session” NETFLIX JP promo and it looked great. And it seems they will be doing the entire ten episodes too.

Oh, I so want to watch it in a Japanese dub.

As I mentioned earlier about Faye, I think everyone is well aware of the shitstorm out there – from how Daniella Pineda didn’t look the part, to the fans’ outrage of her soc media comeback to the fans’, err… initial outrage. Ooh, how dare she. I had a gripe on how her hair was done from the initial promo shots, and wasn’t keen on her leggings, but it was a passing gripe, as I had seen from subsequent stills, I finally had to admit she looks good as Fay. Pineda actually looked like she can pull off the anime Fay Valentine hair as seen in the B&W promo still below (I think this still is unlikely related to Bebop):

If you asked me, if she was dressed in the original yellow garb she had in the anime, I’d defo go yay – provided that it doesn’t look like someone at an anime con using material recommended by that low cost cosplay chap. I honestly think as long as she doesn’t sport a goatee and a ‘fro, I think live action Faye looks great at the end of the day. Also, I think if anyone is to blame, I wonder if anyone ever thought of criticising whomever that designed her look. The most important thing for me, I felt Pineda carried Faye’s character well, and my aforementioned gripe, while still lingering in my mind, can take a backseat.

A comment on the shitstorm overall, since we are on that topic – I wonder if the unhappiness among the fandom (yellow stretchy costume notwithstanding) comes from how the original sits with fans? I tried putting myself in their shoes – like how I mentioned earlier about how I finally criticised the aforesaid unnamed sequel trilogy, which I think that is somewhat warranted as the extension of an already well-loved franchise which I am heavily invested, if done badly, would and should receive the appopriate backlash. But the NETFLIX series is an adaptation, though. Did these fans watch the original at a much younger age, subsequently feeling more invested in the series (I love the original, but I admit not invested enough in the anime having only watched the anime in my late 20s) – hence, woe betide anyone who messes around with one’s childhood? I remember comparisons of how the characters don’t sound right – I for one, had never watched the English dub (which I heard was one of the best out there in anime), but I have nothing to say about this as for me, to compare Cho with Yamadera Koiichi would be comparing apples to oranges. Also, I think the most obvious possibility to consider is that there have been a lot of bad live action adaptations of anime, especially from Hollywood. So, an understandable concern if you are an ardent fan of the franchise (good luck, fans of One Piece/Gundam/BNHA). But yeah, everyone has an opinion, and rightly so, too – but this is all background noise as far as I am concerned when it comes to forming my own opinion on anything.

On that note, I’d say go watch it. I liked it. And if I heard it right about crew member number 4, season 2 please. If you like it, yay. If you don’t, that’s fine, too.

I will now find out how to watch this in nihon-go.

[1]Yatate Hajime is a collective name coined to describe the team in Sunrise that made Cowboy Bebop, led by Watanabe.