Does Live-Action Anime Work?
by Noah Thompson
There have been many live-action adaptations of anime and cartoon series that have greatly disrupted the fans over the years. Ranging from “Dragonball Evolution-horrific” to “Alita: Battle Angel-acceptable”, these live-action adaptations rarely unite fans in the same way the source material does. Every once in a while, someone in Hollywood attempts to recreate a series with a much larger budget and production, but even then, they are rarely successful.
Some of the more notable examples of live-action cartoons that have hit theaters in the last ten years include The Last Airbender (2010) and Ghost in the Shell (2017), but neither movie has reached anywhere close to the audience approval that Robert Rodriquez and James Cameron’s Alita: Battle Angel received in 2019. Live-action is almost certain to disappoint the fandom of any series, even Star Wars. The adaptations of our favorite animations will be hard to sell to fans when that which we know and love is presented in an unfamiliar way.
Fans of Cowboy Bebop were divided when Netflix released its adaptation on November 19th of this year. The iconic series that was left untouched for over twenty years was suddenly reinvigorated when Netflix announced John Cho would be starring as its main character, Spike Spiegel in the live-action Bebop crew. Cowboy Bebop is a highly regarded series among anime enthusiasts, so while some were intrigued to hear that Harold from the Harold & Kumar films would be starring as the laidback protagonist; others were skeptical of the way Netflix would handle the series.
When the source material is already as perfect and complete as Cowboy Bebop, there isn’t a whole lot an adaptation can accomplish. As a fan of John Cho, I had the expectation that not even he could carry the Netflix series, since watching the trailer made me fairly hesitant. Even though the trailer made it clear how some characters would be treated, most of the cast and plot still felt off while watching.
With that said, I don’t think it was because of the casting choice but instead the direction and script Netflix came up with. Did I think it was a bad adaptation overall, no. I just think it was the best attempt I expected out of Netflix considering the original is one of my favorite anime series. What the show had going for it, however, was not John Cho to my surprise, but Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black. Although John Cho’s portrayal of the laidback Spike Spiegel was great, what didn’t work for me in the show were the voices. Spike has that iconic, crisp voice in the original series that John Cho just can’t quite provide. But the show makes up for it with its rendition of Jet Black. The character, who originally had white/grey skin in the anime, was the easiest and most believable rendition of the series. Alongside a few other changes to Jet’s character and story arc in the Netflix series, casting a black actor, in the end, was the least significant change they made considering Mustafa’s spot-on portrayal. It felt perfectly natural for the character that I never questioned his performance.
But for every good choice Netflix made with Cowboy Bebop, there were two or three bad ones that followed.
In the age of streaming television, I wasn’t too surprised to see that there were only ten episodes for season one. Even though they were forty-five minutes long, it wasn’t nearly long enough to get to know and love all the characters at once. The show felt rushed right from the start, and that made it hard to get to know even some of the main crew in their new forms. Faye Valentine, played by Daniella Pineda, was changed quite a bit from the original in ways that made it hard to watch. Again, not that the casting was bad, but that the direction the characters were written towards in such little time made them come off as comedic, punk, and even cringey. Though this can also be said for Vicious too (who comes off as a complete Kylo Ren) it is especially evident with Faye. Even at times when she is learning about her past life, I stop and notice that I just don’t care about her nearly as much in this version since it was so rushed.
Despite all the issues viewers may have with Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, in my opinion, it was still worth the laughs and entertainment it provided me as a fan of the original series. I would still recommend it to those who want something new and interesting, but I don’t suggest making this your first experience with Cowboy Bebop. This was just something fun that Netflix put together, and I don’t think it or any of the actors deserve any hate over it, especially since nobody even expected it to be better than the anime. If you come into it with low expectations, you just might have fun with it, as is the case with most live-action anime and cartoon adaptations. Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop has potential to be one of the better live-action adaptations of anime we’ve had considering its budget, cast, and the fact that there may still be a season two coming out sometime in the future.