Bebop Cowboy: Cyberpunk anime action story made real
November 21, 2021
Critic Score: 7.5/10
Early critical summary of the Netflix series Cowboy Bebop include piss-poor critic grades on Rotten Tomatoes at 51%. I fully expect the following days, weeks and months to change this (at least in the audience score) short term outlook. The live action adaptation of the popular anime series seems to have been highly anticipated by fans of the original. I am not one of these people. Generally, I have not been a fan of animated films or series. As such this one passed me by. After watching this live action Netflix series, I am obliged to give the original anime, also available on Netflix, a solid look.
The series follows two bounty hunter space cowboys bumbling and bickering with each other while deflecting their personal demons. The fits within the cyberpunk genre - showing a dystopian future with a mix of advanced tech and social breakdown, acclaimed classics of the film genre include Blade Runner and the Matrix. The bounty hunters are played by Mustafa Shakir (Driving While Black) and John Cho (from Harold and Kumar films), who are soon joined by Daniella Pineda (Jurasic World: Fallen Kingdom) and a cute Corgy. Their performances, including the dog, are all solid and praiseworthy. Also very solid in this effort, and worthy of high acclaim, is the art direction and subsequent visual language.
With honest intent, and violent means, the three protagonists entertain us by kicking-ass and taking names. However, the writers, at the cost of staggered narrative rhythm, provide the back story of Spike Spiegel, John Cho's character with a series of back-flashes. These are delivered with the support of the villain Alex Hassell, and his girlfriend Elena Satine. Unfortunately, the lazy writers backstory infill interrupts the story flow. Back-flashes are not always bad storytelling, as in this narrative, interrupting the story (on the Lost series for example), but it is here, and the series would have been much improved without it.
Oddly the general critical language around this series has nothing to do with this one solid criticism. Is Cowboy Bebop generic? Hardly! But it fits within a specific cyberpunk genre, and does it very well. Is Unforgiven generic because it uses a well worn western theme to tell its story? Is Cowboy Bebop generic because part of the plot follows a love triangle? This is part of the plot only, not a weak part of it at that, and in my opinion only the salt and pepper in the stew of the story. Is the series tedious? Only if you think fast action, great fight scenes, clever dialogue, good acting and great artistic production are a snore. Is Bebop unbalanced? Perhaps if you consider the flash-back weakness mentioned above, but not to the effect of wishing I had not seen it, nor me hoping to see a second season. There are other critical tropes levied on this production such as snooze and exploitative. But mostly, I would attribute these and others to unfair or lazy criticism based on comparisons to the original anime series from the 1990's.
In the end my final score reflects Cowboy Bebop's mostly good acting, well written story line (with the exception of the flashbacks), and outstanding cyberpunk scene setting. I love a good sci-fi story, and this is one I would heartily recommend to fans of the genre, including westerns in general. This follows one of my favourite films Cowboys and Aliens, which I am still convinced was produced and developed with me in mind. Are these artistic and innovative tours de force with the gravitas forcing me to re-examine myself and my way of life, no. But I don't take myself so seriously that I can't have a little fun sometimes.
Alex Hassell, silver haired villain.
Elena Satine, love interest causing everyone trouble.