‘Failed attempt’ or ‘breath of fresh air’?: Critics are divided on Netflix’s live-action ‘Cowboy Bebop’

Netflix Cowboy Bebop

With the burden of having to live up to its popular source material, Netflix’s live-action remake of “Cowboy Bebop” has found itself on the receiving end of a deluge of negative criticisms after its release on Friday.  

About the series: The anime series of the same name was created by Hajime Yatate and directed by Shinichirō Watanabe in the late ‘90s, as NextShark previously reported.

  • The new show stars John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine.
  • Developed by André Nemec and written by Jeff Pinkner, Keiko Nobumoto, Hajime Yadate and Christopher Yost, the 10-episode series was released on Nov. 19 on Netflix.

Recapturing the lightning: With most of the critics making inevitable comparisons to the beloved space Western anime, the new series has been deemed unoriginal, unappealing and a complete failure.

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  • Kambole Campbell of Empire Magazine finds the series to be a pale imitation of the original, referring to  the main leads’ performances as “fun impersonations” of the anime characters and the entire effort as more of an “homage” than an adaptation. “Instead of feeling like a fun remix, Cowboy Bebop is at best a just-okay cover version, and for the most part an out-of-tune rendition of the greatest hits,” she noted.
  • Hollywood Reporter’s Angie Han said she struggled to find a point in adapting Cowboy Bebop in live-action while watching the new series. She did, however, cite Ein the corgi and Daniella Pineda’s portrayal as Faye Valentine, as the “two bright spots” of the show. Han goes on to say, “When she’s on screen, Cowboy Bebop nearly works. Her co-stars look more dialed in, and even the dialogue sounds wittier. No surprise the series’ single most enjoyable hour is the one most heavily centered on Faye.”
  • According to TIME’s Judy Berman, it’s the original atmosphere that’s missing from the Netflix adaptation. “It can’t match the collage of aesthetics, vibes and cultural references that made its predecessor feel more like a dispatch from the future than an attempt to simulate it in the present,” she writes. “It misses the core appeal of Cowboy Bebop, which finds its deepest resonance in a richly textured surface.”
  • For WIRED’s Cecilia D’Anastasio, the new series is more of “an overwrought performance” than a “bold reimagining” of the cult favorite. She further notes: “In Cowboy Bebop, the costumes look like costumes. The sets look like sets … Cowboy Bebop is performing the anime like a theater class might perform Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.”
  • While Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com praises the main cast as “talented and charismatic,” he faults the show’s design and writing for being unable to match what cast members offer. “It’s a show that works in small bursts but never coheres, and there’s a depressingly manufactured sense to the whole thing, especially in shots directly copied from the original. ‘Cowboy Bebop’ had the rhythm of jazz, an art form that’s full of improvisational expression … This live-action version loses any sense of inventive creativity in a failed attempt at fidelity to the source.”

Not exactly “Death Note”: Despite the negative feedback, other critics found multiple reasons to appreciate the Netflix adaptation, mostly commending the show’s characters, visual style, artistic direction and storytelling.

  • In his critique, Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall praises the cast’s chemistry for effectively advancing the narrative: “Much of the strength of the bounty stories is a credit to the easy, lived-in chemistry between Shakir as the frustrated and responsible straight man and Cho as the cocky live-wire. Both actors are excellent (as is Pineda in the more Faye-heavy episodes), and Cho, in particular, is so effortlessly cool and charismatic that it’s a wonder Hollywood hasn’t tried him in leading roles more often over the years.”
  • Graeme Virtue of the Guardian also credits the cast’s chemistry with carrying the show’s “heightened, madcap tone.” He goes on to describe the adaptation as a “loving distillation of the original and a breath of fresh air.”
  • Although TheWrap’s William Bibbiani agrees the new live action fails to capture “the magic” of the original anime, he warns that “if you’re expecting an American live-action reboot of a nearly 25-year-old anime series to have the same effect as the original, you’re setting the bar way too high.” He also applauds ensemble cast for “trying their damnedest to make all these subpar sci-fi aesthetics and padded storylines work.”
  • While Maureen Ryan of Vanity Fair considers the pilot episode “acceptable,” she calls the final episodes “sensational, blending action and character development with a lyrical noir sensibility and the moody tension of an idiosyncratic thriller.” Commending the main characters and the show’s “lively world-building and richly retro production design,” Ryan goes as far as stating that the series “in many ways, improves on the original.”

Featured Image via Netflix

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