Why Netflix's Cowboy Bebop Isn't As Good As The Anime

Even at this earliest of stages, Netflix's Cowboy Bebop reception already proves it isn't as good as the original anime. Hajime Yatate's sci-fi neo-noir timeless tale of interstellar bounty hunting was first released in Japan in April 1998 before making its way over to Western audiences in October that same year. The 1998 Cowboy Bebop broke fresh ground in establishing anime as a legitimate art medium amongst American audiences, meaning Netflix's Bebop reboot is forever destined to draw comparison with its timeless forebear.

Netflix's Cowboy Bebop, by and large, follows the narrative laid out by its anime predecessor as a direct live-action reboot of the franchise. Set in 2071, the series focuses on the adventures of a ragtag group of bounty hunters led by the iconic Spike Spigel, who chase down criminals across the Solar System aboard their spaceship, the Bebop. The new Netflix series spares no expense on a stellar cast that includes John Cho as Spike, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine.

Related: How Cowboy Bebop's Space Travel Works Compared To Star Wars & Star Trek

Yet despite Netflix's Cowboy Bebop being a costly undertaking over four years in the making, it still isn't as good as the original 1998 anime. The groundbreaking nature of Hajime Yatate's Cowboy Bebop, coupled with the nostalgia it engenders to this day, ensures Netflix's simple repeat of the original anime's story was never going to be enough to rival its predecessor. André Nemec's Cowboy Bebop series also contains some questionable artistic decisions, with the Netflix original lacking the emotional depth and taut action sequences of the original anime.

The 1998 Cowboy Bebop remains, to this day, the zenith of many audience's ideas on what constitutes a perfect anime series. Prior to its initial release, Western audiences were not particularly familiar with Japanese anime, with very few genre offerings deemed worthy of an English dub for American audiences. Cowboy Bebop completely obliterated this notion; however, with the series' initial release proving so popular it warranted five additional North American releases across the subsequent 14 years.

The reason Cowboy Bebop became such a groundbreaking anime was owed primarily to the decidedly Western concepts woven into the fabric of its narrative. Themes of adult existential ennui, loneliness, and the inability to escape one's past are prevalent within Bebop's story as Spike and his crew fight to overcome the various demons that haunt their waking hours. The western cowboy motifs used throughout Cowboy Bebop allowed the series to imprint on contemporary Western consciousness, with every Bebop character presenting as wholly relatable, multi-faceted people. Cowboy Bebop's unanimous acclaim to this day stems from the depth of its key players, the beauty of its storylines, and the adult themes it deals with, with these factors conspiring to ensure Cowboy Bebop is largely accredited for the birth of anime's popularity in the Western world versus the more one-dimensional animated action that came before it.

Translating a beloved anime into live-action fare was always destined to be a tall order, yet Netflix's live-action Cowboy Bebop falls short in so many areas that conspire to make it one of the most roundly panned Netflix releases of the year. It seems the series' development team of André Nemec and Christopher Yost have failed to understand the narrative beats that made the original anime so compelling, with the Netflix series replacing nuanced and heartfelt storytelling with jarring action sequences. Intrinsically, the setting of Cowboy Bebop seems to have thrown the series' writers, who equate the idea of space-dwelling bounty hunters with ungrounded action fare that completely misses the balanced approach between human drama and violence that the original successfully contains.

Related: Cowboy Bebop Cast & Character Guide

Eric Francisco of Inverse states in his review of Cowboy Bebop that "One can’t shake the feeling Hollywood filmmakers have again misunderstood the nuances that exist within Japanese animation," and this statement above any other encapsulates the issues plaguing Netflix's Cowboy Bebop. Yost and company have equated animated source material with zaniness that ends up translating as a collection of un-endearing shootouts and cookie-cutter dialogue between the three primary protagonists. While critics have praised the casting decisions of the series, Cho, Shakir, and Pineda's admirable performances are not enough to save Netflix's Cowboy Bebop from the ignominy of being another failed Western live-action reboot of a beloved Japanese IP.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, and so the original Cowboy Bebop anime was always likely to stand above Netflix's live-action series in the final reckoning. Yet the gulf between the two series could not be more vast, with the nuance and beauty of the Cowboy Bebop anime sitting in stark contrast to the ham-fisted direction of Netflix's version. A prime example here is the main character of Spike Spiegel, whose motivations, human flaws, and inability to escape his chequered past conspire to create a wildly compelling character that audiences still debate and revere over 20 years since his first appearance in "Asteroid Blues."

In contrast, Netflix's take on Spike Spiegel trades his multi-faceted and troubled persona for a more run-of-the-mill protagonist portrait. John Cho (Searching) undoubtedly brings the best out of his assigned task here, but the live-action Spike still appears far less three-dimensional as he goes through the motions that eventually lead him face to face with Vicious and his old comrades of the Red Dragon syndicate. This airbrushing of important detail is wholly indicative of why the Netflix Cowboy Bebop fails to hold a candle to its anime counterpart, with the detail of Shinichirō Watanabe's space opera traded for swathes of generic action sequences.

This lack of understanding of the source material conspires to make Netflix's Cowboy Bebop feel hollow, which could not be further from the original anime's translation. The 1998 Bebop is steeped in challenging themes, with Western existential dread just one of many examples that challenge audiences to look beyond the "cool" exterior of intergalactic bounty hunting. Netflix's Cowboy Bebop anime port fails in translating this multi-faceted and morally grey world to the screen assumedly in favor of making the series more palatable, but the end result feels like a jarring disservice to its seminal source material.

Next: Cowboy Bebop Timeline Explained: What Year It's Set In

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