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Review: ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Resurrects the Classic Anime Series with Ample Style, Humor and Action

November 15, 2021Ben MK

Remaking a beloved animated property with a flesh and blood cast is a disaster waiting to happen. After all, the film and television landscape is littered with examples of live-action adaptations that have drawn the ire of both audiences and critics alike. But where movies like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Dragonball Evolution failed, Cowboy Bebop succeeds, striking a fun balance between faithful retelling and radical reimagining to make its ten-episode debut season a worthy time investment.

Set in the year 2071, the show follows Spike Spiegel (John Cho) and Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), a pair of bounty hunters who also happen to be business partners, each with their own reason for doing what they do. For Jet, a former Inter-Solar System Police officer with a cybernetic arm, an ex-wife and a young daughter named Kimmie (Molly Moriarty), the job is all about making enough money to be able to buy Kimmie everything she needs — such as the galaxy's most sought-after toy, a Walking Sally doll. Spike's motivations, on the other hand, are a little more complicated. And when his history with the criminal organization known as the Syndicate begins to catch up with him, Spike must decide whether he should remain on the run or face his shadowy past head on.

Teaming up with fellow bounty hunter and amnesiac Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), Spike and Jet set out track down all manner of wanted criminals, from a group of eco-terrorists with a weapon capable of turning unsuspecting victims into trees to a thief equipped with face-changing technology, allowing him to alter his appearance to evade capture, even picking up a new member of their crew — a genetically-enhanced Welsh Corgi named Ein — along the way. But when a Syndicate hitman with a grudge named Vicious (Alex Hassell) begins tracking them, this unlikely trio are forced to refocus their efforts on saving their own skins, as Vicious will stop at nothing until he's exacted his revenge on Spike and all those whom he's deemed to have wronged him.

What follows is an exercise in sci-fi world-building that will wow even longtime fans of the original series, as each successive episode adds yet another visually stunning layer on top of the previous ones. Whether it's the sun-baked planet of New Tijuana that's the setting of the show's stylish opener, or the Martian city of Tharsis, infamous for its brothels and for being the headquarters of the Syndicate, showrunner André Nemec and series directors Alex Garcia Lopez and Michael Katleman leave few stones unturned when it comes to bringing the hand-drawn universe of Shinichirō Watanabe's 20-something-year-old anime into the realm of live-action. Of course, all of it would have been for nothing had it not been for the return of original Cowboy Bebop composer Yoko Kanno, whose signature jazz/rock compositions have helped define the franchise from the very beginning.

Suffice to say, fans of such cult classics as Firefly and Doctor Who will no doubt adore this new iteration of Cowboy Bebop. Not only is this one live-action adaptation that honors its anime roots with ample style, humor and action, it also isn't afraid to take the show on exciting, new tangents, offering viewers a more contemporary take on familiar relationships and characters. The Mandalorian better watch out, because these bounty hunters came to win.

Cowboy Bebop begins streaming November 19th, exclusively on Netflix.

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