Bold LED lettering, the word “PORN” airs behind a rooftop fight scene at the start of new Netflix live-action Cowboy Bebop– each letter has a different color and shape, like a cutout from a teenage fashion magazine or a hostage note. The sign leans, blatant and obvious, against an architectural feature, but Spike, Cowboy BebopThe sci-fi bounty hunter protagonist never recognizes him. In fact, it seems, it’s not there for anyone to recognize – imperceptible both to visitors to the building below or to spaceships flying above. “PORN” is there for the camera, and the camera haunts her.
It’s commonplace to say Netflix Cowboy Bebop break the fourth wall. Definitely, as a live-action adaptation, it takes some self-awareness to translate a classic cult anime into the third dimension. If he didn’t beckon the moss buildup of 23 years of fandom, the show would look detached. So nod your head. It recreates the famous intro against a background of jazz. The actors do their best to copy and paste the lines from the anime, but with more verve. At one point, Faye Valentine specifically says the phrase “I’m not going to carry that weight,” a throwback to the original series’ melancholy ending scene: “You’re going to carry that weight.”
As a translation project, however, Netflix Cowboy Bebop failed. In fact, it probably fails to be one of its simplest descriptors: an adaptation, a re-imagining, an interpretation. What Cowboy Bebop is, right down to its hammy cyberpunk signage and the nails of its cheap backdrops, is a performance. For whom, it is not at all clear. But at a time in high profile media when audiences are certain, the “PORN” sign will still be visible.
Cowboy Bebop is considered to be the north star of anime, an absolute “favorite” for fans and heads alike. It has characters from a film noir, action sequences by Jackie Chan, music from a New York jazz club, and the superstructure of a space opera house. And because it’s episodic and not very intriguing, Cowboy Bebop avoids the classic anime pitfall of blocking out moments affecting dozens of filler episodes. Everyone loves it, because it’s good and because it’s for everyone.
Announced in 2017, Netflix Cowboy Bebop was always going to be a disappointment for fans of the original anime. There is no way around it; the bar was stratospheric, raised higher by the infinity of the animation support. The generously voiced live anime adaptations have long failed to conceive the core of their source anime. (See: Fullmetal Alchemist, Ghost in the shell, Death threat). A large and compelling contingent of otakus would argue that it is simply not possible to adapt the art form, especially sci-fi anime, to live-action without it feeling paraphrased. .
The first teasers and trailers shown Cowboy Bebop would be respectful, at least, with heavily brushed portraits of its most sticky scenes. And luckily, showrunner AndrÃ© Nemec, known for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, choose the right people: John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine and Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black. (The show’s standout performances come from Elena Satine and Alex Hassell, playing Julia and Vicious respectively – even the most ardent characters Cowboy Bebop fans will concede that they are underutilized.) Describing the anime as a “road map” during an interview at the RE: WIRED conference last week, Nemec explained that Cowboy Bebop âPresents an optimistic vision of the future in that it must be multicultural and fluid in terms of gender. “