Last week it was reported that one of the most famous and beloved of anime series, Cowboy Bebop, would be getting an American live-action TV series.
A precursor to the also beloved Firefly, Cowboy Bebop is an incredible series from the mind of Shinichirō Watanabe. It follows the bounty hunter crew of a spaceship called the Bebop as they try to track down criminals to earn their keep. Each of the crew members is also haunted by their pasts, and eventually has to confront their histories. This is perhaps most true for team leader Spike Spiegel who must face his nemesis Vicious, a man who he used to work with when they were both members of the Red Dragon Syndicate.
Combining space opera, the western, neo-Noir, Hong Kong style action, and a myriad of other genres, the series was both a hybridization of Eastern and Western influences as well as an homage to many Western styles of film making and animation. I think it would be impossible to authentically replicate what Watanabe created, and, to be honest, even if you could there are parts of the series that aren’t exactly perfect.
What I think they should keep:
One of Cowboy Bebop’s most distinguishing features is its jazzy soundtrack. I think the live-action remake should certainly keep the opening credits song and many of the other famous tracks (“Space Lion” and “Digging My Potato” being two of my personal favorites), and any new music that has to be added should be in line with the jazz aesthetic.
While some of the most memorable parts of Cowboy Bebop are its darkest and most serious, I think levity is important. It’s difficult to watch any show or movie that is dark or dramatic all the time. Watanabe knew this, and there are a lot of humorous episodes throughout the anime series. While I will have some things to say about the filler nature of some of Bebop’s episodes later, I think it’s important that the live-action show maintain humor in the series.
The Mix of Genres
As I said in the opening, Cowboy Bebop blends a ton of different genres together drawing on a variety of influences and creating a truly unique stylistic fusion for its story and setting. Similar to the humor aspect, I think the writers and directors for the live-action series shouldn’t be afraid to have episodes that are tonally different from the “main arc” episodes where Spike is facing off against Vicious. It’s ultimately this mix that characterizes the show and makes it unique.
The Cowboy Bebop movie is really good and technically takes place during the course of the series before the last set of episodes. I think the live-action writers should incorporate it into the TV series and not think of it as something separate. Vincent could be added as a bounty who takes a couple of episodes to catch, and Elektra could be even be a recurring ally character. Similarly, Rashid could be a recurring contact who Spike reaches out to in other episodes for information.
There’s a lot from the movie that could convert well into an arc for a TV series, and I think the writers for the live-action show should take advantage of that and make use of it.
Ed (as She Is)
Radical Edward seems like exactly the type of character who would never be made, depicted, or cast correctly in an American production. She’s somewhat at odds with the generally darker tone of the show. While all of the other characters are heavily burdened by and trying to escape their pasts, Ed is very whimsical and silly.
And of course there’s the issue of her gender neutral sort of stance, something that is rarely portrayed in Western media, but something that is also pretty central to the character.
I think this is one area where the producers should definitely give a faithful portrayal of the character. Given that she is a supporting cast member, I have more hope that this could happen, but I can also easily see the producers wanting to change the character to make her either more obviously feminine or more “tonally consistent” with the other crew members, and I think either of those things would be a shame.
Subtlety in Storytelling
One of the things that made Cowboy Bebop so enjoyable, I think, is that the character development was often subtle, and there was very little that was ever overtly explained.
Spike and Faye’s relationship is a good example of this. They become closer during the course of the series, but this is never overtly mentioned, and we never see them together. Only at the very end is the subject ever broached in an overt way, and even then we don’t get the over-dramatic “I love you” sort of scenes but a much more heartfelt confrontation where a lot remains unsaid.
But perhaps one of my favorite examples of this is how Watanabe gives us insight into Vicious and his history, not through flashbacks or having Spike and Vicious talk, but through a third character named Gren. Gren’s past friendship with Vicious illustrates how close the two were up until Vicious betrayed him and sold him out as a spy. This mirrors what we know about Spike and Vicious’ relationship and gives us insight into Vicious’ emotional view of Spike.
To me this subtlety in storytelling added a lot of depth and richness to the series, and I really hope that the live-action writers and directors follow this style and avoid using obvious or blunt writing techniques to portray the characters.
What I think they should change:
Drop the Filler
One of my friends once summarized Cowboy Bebop as a show that has about five great episodes and a lot of filler. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate because I think some of those “filler” episodes do actually contribute to the plot in roundabout ways, but I agree that there are a large number of episodes that don’t advance any of the plot arcs for the major characters.
I think the live-action series could rectify this by doing away with the filler episodes or at least reworking them so that they advance the story in some way. It bring a stronger sense of continuity to the story, even in a series with changes in tone and genre, and I think that would do a lot for the viewing experience.
While the world of Cowboy Bebop is very cool and engaging, I think there are parts of it that could be explored more. One small scene that stands out most to me is in the fourth episode, “Gateway Shuffle”, where the hyperspace gate closes and then ghost images of the missiles stuck inside sail past the crew of the Bebop. Jet comments on this but doesn’t explain it, and it never comes up again in the rest of the series, at least as far as I’m aware.
There are a lot of little instances like this where I think some of the details could be better explained or tied more directly into the plot instead of just becoming cool throwaway ideas or mentions.
Faye as a Damsel
For all of her attitude and bluster, Faye gets captured and held prisoner pretty frequently, and other members of the crew have to come to her aid. She seems like the type who is supposed to be a strong woman, but she almost always ends up as a damsel in distress. I think the writers for the live-action show should cut out these damsel moments (or at least most of them) and instead have her be more self-reliant. Having instances where she is able to save herself or some other member of the crew would go a long way towards this.
I mean, her outfit is ridiculous, especially given that she’s supposed to be a bounty hunter and a woman of action. I think her outfit should be redesigned so that it makes more sense for her profession.
That being said, I think having an episode where she brings it back for some reason (maybe to go undercover) would be fun. She could make some meta comment about how ridiculous it is, you know, the usual nod to the fandom, etc.
But yeah, really, she should be wearing something else.
Those are my thoughts on what I hope the new Cowboy Bebop keeps and changes. Do you agree? Disagree? Feel there are things you’d keep or change that I didn’t touch on? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on social media.
Dany Roth did another article similar to this over on Syfy, so you can also check that one out to see where we overlap and where we feel differently.