Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the beloved series Cowboy Bebop is changing the anime for the better. Ever since this TV show’s release in the late 1990s, it has been considered one of the greatest anime series of all time, and one of the only instances where the English dubbed version is preferred to the Japanese. Cowboy Bebop follows a ragtag group of misfits aboard the “Bebop” who struggle to find work as bounty hunters.
Cowboy Bebop has been praised for its complex yet likable characters, its mix of genres, its category-defying soundtrack, and its deep, thought-provoking themes. Netflix’s announced live-action Cowboy Bebop show received skepticism from some fans who worried the series would suffer the same fate as many other live-action anime adaptations, which have been critical and financial failures. However, Cowboy Bebop has the chance to break this trend.
It would have been a mistake to simply duplicate a series that many fans consider already perfect. John Cho, the lead actor playing Spike Spiegel, said in an interview (via Vulture) that he only agreed to join the project after being reassured it would not be a shot-for-shot remake. Cho explained it “was a recipe for encouraging unflattering comparisons.” Viewers would fixate only on comparing this Cowboy Bebop to the original, and the Netflix series would fail before it even began. Cho also admitted in the interview that he was initially insecure about his age difference. In the anime, Spike is 27 years old, while Cho is 49, one of many differences between Cowboy Bebop‘s adaptations. Yet, Cho believes he can portray the character more successfully since he’s older. He can better convey Spike’s emotional depth which, considering the show’s themes about loneliness and confronting one’s past, is arguably more important than sticking with the original character’s age.
Some of Cowboy Bebop’s material has also been updated for modern times. Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) has a more practical outfit with clothes that actually enable Pineda to perform stunts while wearing them. Although some fans expressed outrage over the change, it’s a necessary adjustment when translating character designs from animation to live-action. Another update concerns the minor character Grencia Mars Elijah Guo Eckener, nicknamed Gren. In the original anime, Gren was a war veteran who took an experimental drug that increased their estrogen levels, causing them to grow breasts. Set in the year 2071, Cowboy Bebop was revolutionary in many ways, but a lot of the vocabulary that exists today for the LGBTQ community did not at the time it first aired. For the Netflix show, Gren’s character has been reimagined as nonbinary and is portrayed by nonbinary actor, Mason Alexander Park.
Regardless of the reasoning behind a change, some fans will only care that it is no longer perfectly accurate, as proven by reactions to Faye’s outfit. Perhaps they can be sated with the knowledge that the anime’s original composer, Yoko Kanno, has returned, and the director, Shinichiro Watanabe, is a creative consultant for the series. Their involvement with the live-action project shows that Netflix is committed to creating a series that is faithful thematically and artistically to the original, even if some elements have been updated.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is changing the anime, and that’s a good thing. When Cowboy Bebop airs in fall 2021, the talented cast and crew will be introducing a beloved series to a whole new generation. Hopefully, regardless of whether viewers have seen the original anime, they will walk away from this adaptation pleased with the results.