This review is spoiler-free.
As a fan of the original anime, I was a little nervous going into the first episode of this show! Everything I’d seen in the build-up to the release, from casting to teasers, all looked promising, but with such a unique property, and given that previous anime to live-action adaptions have mostly failed, I think I was justified to feel this way! So, did it work?
At a glance, the show looks, sounds, and feels like the anime – from outstanding musical numbers and super stylised fight scenes to the characters and set design. They really capture the visual and audible elements of the original.
The show takes a lot of the story and characters from the original anime and shapes them around the new direction the writers decided to take the show. This process isn’t always going to please everyone, and switching characters around or changing parts of previously established stories is always going to be hit or miss. But personally, there are more positives than negatives in that regard. Sure, there are some characters I wanted to see and stories to explore that are absent, but I don’t want this to just be a shot-for-shot remake, so I want the series to do its own thing.
As for the future? I think there is plenty of setup for a second season and if it performs well, I think there is still a lot of source material to play with, on top of any new elements. I think it does deserve to get a second series, as there is a really good show here, it just needs a little more polish and tweaking.
In terms of the cast, John Cho (Spike Spiegel) is probably as perfect casting as you can get for Spike, Cho just completely owns the role and you immediately buy into his performance. Mustafa Shakir (Jet Black) was just as impressive, with a fantastic vocal and psychical performance combined with a genuine connection with Cho, which made the whole dynamic between Spike and Jet feel completely organic. Daniella Pineda (Faye Valentine) is one character who has a big shake-up from the anime in terms of her personality traits and I think these changes work well for the most part. As a trio, they have a good dynamic at times, although sometimes some of the exchanges feel a little forced. While I thought Alex Hassell (Vicious) was great from a performance perspective, I wasn’t sold on the writing for his character and the new direction they decided to head in, for me, was a misfire.
Music is at the very heart of the original anime, it’s the fibre that binds all the elements together, so getting original composer Yoko Kanno back for the live-action adaption was essential! Not only are we treated to re-mastered songs from the original anime, Kanno also composes new and original music for the series and it does not disappoint! The fact that John Cho wouldn’t sign on to the project until Kanno was on-board says it all! Now, for me, the music works about 90% of the time. However, there are some fight and action scenes where the songs didn’t match up so you can see the rhythm is slightly out of sync. Likewise, sometimes it’s spot on! So, I’d be interested to see if when carrying out the fight scenes on set if the music was played at the same time.
As for the ending, I think it will split opinions with fans of the anime, which is probably true of the show overall. On the first watch, the final scene was jarring, despite it being something I desperately wanted to see. However, after watching it back multiple times, I’m now completely sold on it and hope that we get a second series to explore this potential new storyline.
Cowboy Bebop is a passionate love letter to the original anime, while not confined by it, allowing the show to tell original stories and play with the characters in new and different ways. Despite not all of the choices working, this live-action adaption does at least capture the cosmetic essence of the original anime. John Cho was born to play Spike Spiegel and Yoko Kanno’s influence propels the show to another level. See you space cowboy!