Cowboy Bebop: Can Netflix capture the melancholy and sophistication of the best anime ever?

The cast has already received criticism for being far from the spirit of the original characters.

By Luz Lancheros, MWN

Cowboy Bebop is a sophisticated everyday dystopia that takes place in 2071 when the Earth has already become a garbage dump. Humans have established several colonies where the law of the strongest still reigns and spaceships cross galaxies to the rhythm of magnificent jazz, or a Mexican song in synthesizer while the bounty hunters Jet Black, Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine (accompanied by Edward Wong, a 13-year-old hacker and Ein, a very intelligent corgi) travel around the universe to catch criminals and charge for their heads. 

This is the essence of one of the most celebrated anime of the last 20 years that was even defined as “the anime that Tarantino would have written.” The story of this unusual trio in a Bebop ship is complemented by the wonderful music of Yōko Kanno, a versatile composer who has written music for other great anime productions, including Sakura Card Captor, Ghost in the Shell and Escaflowne. With a band called The Seatbelts, she added elegance to the product that already has visual poetry (how can we forget, for example, the sequence of Spike’s fall through glass to the asphalt) endowing each scene with classical music, world music and of course, Bebop and jazz.

All that made this anime, released in 1998 and created by Shin’ichirō Watanabe, a worldwide success and a cult classic in the genre. In fact, it had its animated movie in 2001, which became a hit (the villain was inspired by actor Vincent Gallo), while several video games were also inspired by ‘Cowboy Bebop.’

Fans fear Netflix will “destroy” one of anime’s most elegant and complex works.SUNRISE

The idea of a live-action movie came naturally. John Cho will give life to the biting Spike, Daniella Pineda will appear as frivolous and sensual Faye, Mustafa Shakir is the ex-cop Jet and Alex Hassell is Spike’s enemy, Vicious. But that’s where the problems began…

The series was announced in 2018 and casting took place in 2019. An injury of Cho delayed the production until the announcement of its release was made. Several critics accused Netflix on social media of not being respectful when adapting anime classics like ‘Death Note,’ which despite the participation of Willem Dafoe as the iconic demon Ryuk, has a 1.8 rating on Google and a 4.4 out of 10 on IMDB. 

And this happened because the platform basically ruined everything that made the story powerful to turn it into a run-of-the-mill high school teen drama. So, Cho was criticized because he is 49 years old and plays a 27-year-old character, and many social media users believe that Keanu Reeves has that lone wolf aura of Spike and would be preferable for the role.

Pineda, meanwhile, is not considered “hot” enough for the role of Faye. However, both actors responded with grace and wit to those accusations. Cho claimed that at 27 he wouldn’t have been able to do the things that the role of Spike requires and Pineda posted on Instagram that she “regretted” playing a role where the producers didn’t find a woman with a huge bust and small waist and that her wardrobe, of course, was more tailored to what she required for her action scenes, which caused the fandom to go off on her even more.

But they are right about one thing: Hollywood has not been very lucky in adapting the great classics of Japanese animation. 

Although Hayao Miyazaki received a well-deserved Oscar in 2003 for the beautiful ‘Spirited Away,’ it was because the film was made by the Japanese studio Ghibli and under its own rules. This has not happened with other classics, such as ‘Dragon Ball’ or the disastrous ‘Dragon Ball Evolution’ (2009), where Goku is a high school American (they deny his alien origin). In fact, it has a 15 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Akira Toriyama couldn’t even participate in directing his original work for this adaptation.

Now, with another cult work called ‘Ghost in the Shell,’ whitewashing was done: Scarlett Johansson was cast instead of an Asian actress for the role of cyborg cop Mokoto Kusanagi. Obviously, this generated enormous criticism and this, plus the fact that it did not respect the most characteristic elements of the anime, made the film do very badly with audiences and specialists. It has a 43 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not to mention ‘Avatar: The Legend of Aang,’ which is one of the best shōnen series (aimed at an originally male and child audience) of recent years. Although its adaptation was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it was so bad at not respecting anything of the original work, that it received a deserved 5 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes. 

With such a background, fans are right to fear that one of the most beautiful works of anime in recent times will be destroyed by producers who do not understand its nuances, sophistication and complexity. But at least there is a glimmer of hope. Kanno is once again involved in music-making. And, hopefully, the cast and visual ensemble are up to her standards. 

Cowboy Bebop will be released on Netflix Nov. 19. 

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