REVIEW: Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Season 1, Episode 1 – “Cowboy Gospel”

Netflix has released their latest anime adaptation: the legendary Cowboy Bebop. Will it live up to the original version?

After getting shortchanged on the fee for a bounty, Spike and Jet head to New Tijuana on the trail of another mark — but they’re not the only ones. -Netflix

The controversial adaptation of Cowboy Bebop, one of the most celebrated cartoons ever, has made its way to Netflix‘s streaming service. Now a tradition, the show’s announcement was met with some skepticism, hot takes, and attacks — especially from some of the cast against the fans.

* SPOILERS AHEAD *

The first impression I got from this episode is that Cowboy Bebop 2021’s production will closely follow the beats and events from the anime. Cowboy Gospel included the entire plot of the cartoon’s first episode, Asteroid Blues, with very minor changes and a sizeable portion of filler.

THE GOOD

The teaser starts with nods to the Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door movie. It’s a gorgeous set-piece that takes place in a space casino — a call-back to the anime’s Session 3, Honky Tonk Women. Let’s call a spade a spade; the sets look pretty good, especially taking into consideration the budget and how memorable they were in their original inception. Let’s call this the discount version of the “Zack Snyder school of making a project very visually appealing.” It’s a double-edged sword approach. This is even more true when a franchise’s appeal relies heavily on storytelling, as is the case with both Cowboy Bebop and Watchmen.

It looks serviceable, in general, going as far as using different light tones for different moods and settings, like it was done originally.

Another aspect of this Snyderism has always been very strong casting choices. The roles of Spike Spiegel (John Cho), Katarina (Lydia Peckham), and Asimov (Jan Uddin) follow this trend as well. If there’s ever a remake of Desperado (the movie which inspired Katarina and Asimov), these actors must be considered for the parts. Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) is great, too, and has a Lethal Weapon buddy dynamic with Spike. It’s not as great as their relaxed relation in the animation. But it works despite the race-swap and the very Americanized dialogue, which feel somewhat forced and not as timeless as they used to. Still, the episode started much better than I was expecting.

THE BAD

Now that we have knocked the Snyderisms out of the way, we have to go through the Netflixisms. Just like we saw with Masters of the Universe: Revelations, the lead female character, Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), brings the entire episode to a grinding halt with her extremely forced appearance & demeanor.

Up to this point, the show had pretty much adapted the original Session 1 without straying from those story points. Faye, however, first appears in Session 3 and is in no way as proficient in hand-to-hand combat as Spike. She always relies upon her feminine attributes and huge guns to pursue her career as a bounty hunter. Now, out of the blue, she seems to be an insufferable Millennial ninja who can keep up with Spike in hand-to-hand combat. Valentine’s portrayal stands out like a sore thumb through her remaining screentime, making it abundantly clear why she wasn’t written into Asteroid Blues to begin with.

Why do Netflix producers always confuse “being empowered” with being entitled and annoying?

I found Christopher Yost‘s (X-ForceWolverine & the X-Men) work in this adaptation disappointing. Putting aside the Faye problem, the series seems to want to achieve mutually-exclusive things: remaining extremely close to the source material while straying far to serve its own ambitions. Faye’s portrayal is not the only thing to demonstrate this. The Syndicate, Vicious, and references to Spike’s past appear in this episode, too, hinting at a modern serial arch structure.

Cowboy Bebop’s original story structure was episodic for a reason. It worked like what Latin American writers call “a perfect novel,” one where the chapters function as short stories by themselves but, put together, form a bigger one seamlessly. Broad strokes of the characters’ story were used to keep the mysterious past theme of the Bebop‘s crew, so it came together in the end, just like watching a picture from a distance. They didn’t have to use this exact formula, but then why did they also choose to stick to the original plot beats?

Click here if you want to read more about the original Cowboy Bebop story aspects.

THE UGLY

As improbable as it sounds, the action is more fluid in the 1998 cartoon than in this show. It looks like generic choreography and is very static. It tries to emphasize poses like they were planning to use them for the video thumbnails. When Hajime Yatate created the original show, it looked into old kung-fu movies and Bruce Lee‘s personal martial art form, not Jeet Kune Do. The latter is Lee’s philosophy regarding martial arts, not his style; JKD is about a freestyle implementation of martial arts.

Session 1, Asteroid Blues itself features a hand-drawn fight like this despite being made with very restrictive resources. Another way to see the difference is in the soundtrack. Even though both versions of Cowboy Bebop use the same music by Yoko Kanno & the Seatbelts, the anime paces itself with it. The Netflix series spams it all over the place, losing the existential aura of the ambiance.

All this just proves passion trumps resources; even though you bought the license for a franchise, you didn’t get its soul and the things that made it special in the first place. Maybe if they got closer to the fans and heard our ideas and what we had to say, they could be pointed in a better direction than the one they are taking so far. This just feels like a cartoony parody of Cowboy Bebop, ironically.

See you, space cowboy…

Netflix's Cowboy Bebop Episode 1 - Cowboy Gospel

Plot - 5
Acting - 6
Direction/Editing - 4
Music - 6.5
Special Effects - 7.5

5.8

Lacking

In spite of imitating the source material most of the time, Netflix's Cowboy Bebop doesn't know what it wants to be and it's shaping up to be just another uninspired anime adaptation by the streaming giant.

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