Recently it was reported that beloved anime series Cowboy Bebop would be getting the US live-action TV treatment. A precursor to Joss Whedon's short-lived cult series #Firefly, Cowboy Bebop is an incredible series from the mind of Shinichirō Watanabe that follows the bounty hunter crew of a spaceship called the Bebop as they track criminals throughout space. Each of the crew members is also haunted by their respective pasts, perhaps most true for team leader Spike Spiegel, who is forced to frequently confront his nemesis Vicious.
Combining space opera, #Westerns, 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 a homage to many cowboy-centric styles of filmmaking and animation. Here's what the new series will need to retain from the original to give it that authentic Cowboy Bebop flavor.
1. The Soundtrack
One of Cowboy Bebop’s most distinguishing features is its jazzy soundtrack. The live-action remake should retain 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 added should be in line with the jazz aesthetic.
2. The Humor
While some of the most memorable parts of Cowboy Bebop are its darkest and most serious, levity is important. It’s difficult to watch any show or movie that is dark or dramatic all of the time. Watanabe knew this and so there are a lot of humorous episodes throughout the #anime series.
The Mix Of Genres
Cowboy Bebop blends many genres together, drawing on a variety of influences to create a truly unique stylistic fusion for its story and setting. Similar to the humor aspect, the writers and directors for the new series shouldn’t shy away from having episodes that are tonally different to the main arc episodes in which Spike is facing off against Vicious. It’s ultimately this mix that makes the show so unique.
2001's awesome Cowboy Bebop: The Movie technically takes place during the course of the series, before the last set of episodes. The live-action writers should incorporate the movie's plot into the TV series and not think of it as a separate entity. Antagonist Vincent could be a bounty who takes several episodes for the crew to catch, while Elektra could appear as a recurring ally character. Similarly, Rashid could be a recurring contact who Spike reaches out to for intel. There’s a lot from the movie that could convert well into an arc for the new TV series.
Ed (As She Is)
Radical Edward seems like the type of tricky character who would never be depicted or cast correctly in a US production. She’s somewhat at odds with the generally darker tone of the show. While the other characters are heavily burdened by and trying to escape their pasts, Ed remains whimsical and silly.
And of course there’s the issue of her gender neutrality, a classification that Western media often still finds difficult to sensitively portray, yet is an attribute that is also central to this character.
Given that Ed is a supporting cast member, I have hope that she'll be included in the US version, but I can also see the producers wanting to change the character to make her either more obviously feminine or more tonally consistent with the other crew members. Either choice would be a shame.
Subtlety In Storytelling
One of the essential features of Cowboy Bebop that made it so enjoyable is that the character development was often subtle and there was very little that was ever overtly explained, leaving it up to audience interpretation.
Spike and Faye’s relationship is one such example. They grow closer during the course of the series, but this is never focused on and we never see them together. Only at the very end is the subject ever broached in an obvious way, and even then we don’t get the overly dramatic romantic "I love you" sort of scenes, but a much more heartfelt confrontation where much remains unsaid.
But perhaps one of my favorite examples of this is how Watanabe gives us insight into Vicious and his backstory, not through flashbacks or a confrontation between Spike and Vicious, but through a third character named Gren. This former soldier'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’s relationship and gives us insight into the protagonist’s emotional view of Spike.
This subtle style of storytelling added depth and richness to the series. I hope the live-action showrunners follow this style and avoid using obvious or blunt techniques to portray the characters.
Drop The Filler
A friend once summarized #CowboyBebop as a show that has about five great episodes and a lot of filler. While some of those “filler” episodes contribute to the plot in roundabout ways, I agree that there are a large number of episodes that don’t advance any of the plot arcs for the major characters.
The live-action version could rectify this issue by doing away with the filler, or at least reworking the episodes so they propel the story on a smoother trajectory. A more resolved sense of continuity would benefit the overall story, even in a series with changes in tone and genre, and boost the viewing experience.
More World Building
While the Cowboy Bebop universe is cool and engaging, there are parts of it that could be further explored. One small scene that stands out most is in the fourth episode, “Gateway Shuffle,” where the hyperspace gate closes, then ghost images of the missiles stuck inside sail past the Bebop crew. Jet comments on this, but doesn’t explain it, and it's never brought up again in the series.
There are many instances like this where some of the details could be better explained or tie more directly into the plot, instead of just becoming cool throwaways.
Faye As A Damsel
For all of her attitude and bluster, Faye gets captured and held prisoner not infrequently, meaning the other crew members must come to her aid. She seems like the type who is supposed to be bold, yet almost always ends up as the damsel in distress. The live-action series should cut out these damsel moments and have Faye 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 toward making this character a true hero who viewers could get behind.
I mean, her outfit is ridiculous, especially given that she’s supposed to be a bounty hunter and a woman of action. Faye's look should be redesigned so that it makes more sense for her profession. That being said, having an episode where she brings back her raunchy style (maybe to go undercover) would be fun. An Easter Egg nod to the fandom, she could pass comment about how ridiculous she looks. But yeah, really, she should be wearing something more practical.
There is no release date as of yet for the live-action Cowboy Bebop series. Do you feel there are things you’d keep or change that we didn’t touch on? Let us know in the comments below.