Oh, boy. Is there any better way to get the eyes of the world on you than to announce you’re doing a live-action remake of a beloved anime?
Cowboy Bebop was an essential gateway series for late-nineties and early-baughties anime fans, and is considered by many to be one of the best anime of its time. Its clever story, intense action, wild characters, and hot jazz soundtrack won over an entire generation — and its ending made even the stoniest among us tear up a little.
When it comes to adapting titles into a live-action format for an international platform, Cowboy Bebop is actually one of the smarter choices. The characters are diverse and it’s set in largely fictional locations, so a Hollywood-based production with actors from a variety of backgrounds changes nothing (provided it’s cast wisely… and it seems to be so far). Its heavily Westernized style may also bring in people without an anime background.
Even with those things going for it, it’s always a risky venture to remake something so tightly scripted, so stylish, and so beloved. Plus, Netflix’s last Hollywood anime remake was Death Note, so people are understandably a little on edge.
Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be too hard to do it right. Even something as well put together as Bebop hinges on a finite number of elements to create that perfect blend we so love. So, what does Netflix need to keep in their sights to make sure the end result is as good as we’re all hoping it’ll be? Really, only a few things.
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Recognizable Characters — Within Reason
Believe it or not, it’s really not essential that the cast looks like the best put together and most accurate cosplayers out there. The characters should be the characters, but it all comes down to smart design.
Let’s look to another recent adaptation: Bumblebee. The attempt to soft-reboot the Transformers film franchise had far more success with its robot designs than previous films. This is for one two-sided reason: they took the original character designs, then adapted them intelligently. The color schemes and silhouettes of Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, and the rest are easily recognizable at a glance, but they aren’t a direct pull from the TV screen or comic page. They’re made to look good walking around with real people, while still being the ‘bots we know.
The character design of Cowboy Bebop is hot, let’s not lie. But cut-and-pasting it directly to the screen, directly to the actual environment in which the story takes place, won’t necessarily work. There’s fabric types and color palettes to be considered, as well as how the outfits would hang and move on real people in action sequences. (Am I talking about Faye Valentine? Kind of, yes — I have a lot of faith in Daniella Pineda, but I don’t think even she can hold that outfit up with force of will alone.)
Ideally, the costume designers will find a happy medium that makes the general colors, cuts, and silhouettes of each character’s ensemble immediately recognizable onscreen, while still being functional on the set and within the universe.
There’s a lot to love about Cowboy Bebop, but high on the list is that amazing jazz soundtrack. “Tank!” is one of the most iconic anime openings ever, and is inseparable from the show itself. That theme, plus the series’s other music, is thanks to the work of powerhouse anime composer Yoko Kanno (who’s also worked on The Vision of Escaflowne and multiple Macross series and films) and SEATBELTS, Kanno’s “space jazz” band assembled for the show.
Both the music and the people who played it transcend international borders, making a sound appealing to listeners of all backgrounds. While there are certainly other very capable jazz musicians and composers out there, the combo in Bebop was something truly special: stylish, emotional, laid-back, and willing to take risks. Where else would you find a song like “Ask DNA”, where the chorus ends with “All ya gotta do, happy fool, is ask your mom” and it works?
Theoretically the adaptation could survive with some solid jazz from someone else, but ideally Kanno and SEATBELTS would come back, either with some classics or a few new pieces.
That Poncho Fight
Look. I’m not expecting the live-action series to just crib the entire anime straight to screen. That’s a waste of time. We want to see new things and new takes on familiar things. But one thing that needs to stay the same — or at least as close as humanly possible — is Spike Spiegel’s very first scene.
His appearance in “Asteroid Blues,” the first episode of Cowboy Bebop, is one the slickest character introductions you’ll ever see. In one short scene we meet Spike, get a bead on his personality, learn how he does business, and get to see some of his Jeet Kune Do moves. He even gets literally “unveiled,” pulling aside his Man With No Name-esque poncho once things really get cooking.
If there’s a better way to introduce everyone’s favorite space cowboy, I’d love to see it. But all things considered, I’d mainly just love to see John Cho bring this scene to life. It’s some seriously sound directing, and changing it would be pointless.
For the Love of God Just Get Ed Right
Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV is a fan favorite in Cowboy Bebop, and for good reason. The rubber-limbed hacking genius is cute, clever, and endearing. She also somehow manages to pull off being The Kid in the group without being annoying — a feat achieved by few, especially in anime.
Casting a real-world version of this tiny powerhouse is going to be daunting. At last check, the search for the perfect Radical Ed is underway, and she’ll likely end up being played by an unknown for a variety of reasons. For starters, her frame is a major part of how she moves, and how she moves is a major part of her character. Let’s just say I’ll be super impressed to see who they find.
Her character will come down to a mix of writing, directing, and the talent of the actress. Resisting the urge to deliberately push the cuteness will be the make-or-break point here. It’s hard to put a really fine point on how exactly to make Ed perfect… but either way, whether she works or not will be evident.
Just in case there are some people reading who haven’t seen Cowboy Bebop all the way through, I’m going to avoid talking about it in detail. It’s something that needs to be witnessed for oneself.
Suffice to say, Cowboy Bebop is a story careening toward a definite ending. It’s not a Hollywood ending, not by a damn sight, but it’s an important one and one that puts a cap on the story we’ve seen thus far. There’s plenty of room to wedge things in between episodes (the original series did that itself with the film Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door), but from a storytelling standpoint, that ending must stand firm.
Funnily enough, this is the part I’m least worried about them nailing. Netflix doesn’t seem to have a big fear of putting a cap on their series where necessary. And it’s (again) such an iconic scene for anime fans, straying from it would be a disservice on many levels.
Keeping the ending in its sights, foreshadowing it, and meeting it head on will be the ultimate test of whether Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop is a worthy successor.
Make Sure Ein is a Very Good Boy
You may have seen the news going around that Ein, the Bebop’s resident hyperintillegent corgi, will be played by a 2-year-old husky named Bella. Seeing as the news originates from a blog with no other stories and no sources or official names linked, it might be wise to file that under “dubious.” But let’s talk about Ein while we’re here.
In a perfect world, Netflix will put out a call for the goodest, happiest corgi, and we’ll have our Ein. But even if they don’t land an exact match in a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Ein being a Very Good Boy (or a Very Good Girl) is just fine.
Will Netflix stick the landing? It’s still a while ‘til we’ll know, but for now, we have our fingers crossed.