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Netflix brings the legendary sci-fi series back to vibrant life

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NICOLA DOVE/NETFLIX/NICOLA DOVE/NETFLIX
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COWBOY BEPOP (L to R) DANIELLA PINEDA as FAYE VALENTINE, JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL and MUSTAFA SHAKIR as JET BLACK on the set of COWBOY BEBOP Cr. NICOLA DOVE/NETFLIX © 2021

There are of two minds when it comes down to the Cowboy Bebop live-action remake: one of the hardcore fan and one of the layman. Does the series stay faithful to the original or is it blasphemy? Is it fun to watch or is it confusing and boring? The answers to these questions may vary depending on the viewer but there is one fact amongst them — while this isn’t your dad’s Cowboy Bebop, the remake is something truly unique.

The story of the Bebop crew is one of bounty hunters and space age adventures. At its core, it’s a western story about cowboys hunting criminals for rewards set against a sci-fi backdrop of interstellar travel. The cast of John Cho, Mustafa Shakir and Daniella Pineda play the roles of Spike Spiegel, Jet Black and Faye Valentine with gusto. John Cho proves his worth as Spike, giving him the loner lost soul but adding some quick quips and dead on comedic timing. Spike may not have always been funny in the original, but John gives us a lot to love with his interpretation. Mustafa Shakir takes the no nonsense Jet right out of the anime while Daniella Pineda changes Faye’s sassy role from a conniving con artist into a certified badass. Daniella proves to be the stand out in how she is able to portray depth to Faye, giving her layers of emotions with an attitude you’d hate to mess with.

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COWBOY BEBOP (L to R) DANIELLA PINEDA as FAYE VALENTINE in COWBOY BEBOP Cr. GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX © 2021

More importantly, these three bounce off each other in fantastically relatable ways. Jet acts as the parental figure attempting to reign in two problem children who can’t seem to control themselves. There’s a chemistry that leaves you enamored with the crew and wanting more scenes of just them interacting. A particularly memorable scene has Spike asking Faye for spa advice and one can’t help but enjoy their synergy. Their relationships are believable and are enhanced by a great supporting cast. Tamara Tunie’s Ana and Mason Park’s Gren work well as seedy bar owners while Geoff Stults plays the perfect Noir detective to accentuate Jet’s gritty history. Unfortunately, it’s not all entirely gold as Alex Hassell’s portrayal of Vicious isn’t exactly the villain you’d want here. Hassell’s version feels toothless and more like a spoiled rich kid instead of a diabolical evil. His acting isn’t the issue entirely as how the character is written that comes off as a weak link in a well fleshed-out szet of characters.

The story follows a remixed version of the original with fan favorite characters returning but out of order and with variations on their overarching stories. It’s a fun way to give the fans what they want while also creating something wholly original. One example, the Mad Pierrot character was used as a vehicle for more Syndicate shenanigans as opposed to a one off mystery for the crew to solve. It works in the context of the story the writers are trying to tell but the remixes tend to make the world feel smaller than it is. With everything we see generally revolving around the crew of the Bebop and their past discretions, you wonder if the world even exists without them.

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COWBOY BEPOP (L to R) ALEX HASSELL as VICIOUS and JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL of COWBOY BEPOP Cr. GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX © 2021

What stands out is the humor. Original Cowboy Bebop had some humorous moments but was generally a melancholy show. In this live-action retelling, the crew are always quick with the quips. In 2021, where the MCU brings the funny as well as the action, Cowboy Bebop follows suit and holds up with the humor found in any of those. The one singular complaint I had with it wasn’t in the fact that they changed the series with humor but that it comes off as pretty vulgar. There is a lot more swearing and references to male genitalia than I had expected. If there’s a clear line between low brow and high brow comedy, Cowboy Bebop uses that line like hopscotch jumping back and forth mixing both perfectly timed, longer comedic discussions with perfect discourse and then just screaming obscenities. I enjoyed the humor but others might find it off-pudding.

What the new remake gets right is the style and flair that the original had. Scenes are shot with artistic camera angles that could be screen-capped and used as background wallpaper while others give a unique view of the action you wouldn’t see elsewhere. One simple example is a camera mounted to the refrigerator door, as it’s opened and closed in a scene. It's just a little extra flair to the stylishness that is Cowboy Bebop. Like the original, I haven’t seen a lot of things like this show and that’s what makes it special. Dramatic cuts, stylish colorization, and camera trickery highlight and emphasize everything around the proceedings and I applaud it.

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COWBOY BEBOP (L to R) JOHN CHO as SPIKE SPIEGEL, MUSTAFA SHAKIR as JET BLACK, DANIELLA PINEDA as FAYE VALENTINE and EIN in Cowboy Bebop Cr. GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX © 2021

Cowboy Bebop is such an iconic anime that mixes Noir with stylish action plus an amazing jazz soundtrack. The new remix (as I like to call it,) does a lot of the same but with less emphasis on the Noir and adding a heavy dose of comedy. The heart and soul of the series remains, which is what’s important in something like this. There are the occasional missteps, like a greater emphasis on the Syndicate, a weak villain, crass humor, and building a world that feels like it solely revolves around the characters, but they all feel like minor complaints to a great overall presentation. Original composer Yoko Kanno returned for this and his music is still some of the best in the business as far as jazz is concerned. The cast propels the series greatly with their natural chemistry and charm. This remix is worth your time and effort to give at least the cliff notes of what the original anime brought. Is it a suitable successor to the original anime? I would say no, but it doesn’t need to be. What it accomplishes is enough to stand out with an identity all it’s own.

8/10

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