Back in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, anime fans and critics raved about Shinichirō Watanabe’s anime Cowboy Bebop series. Now Netflix and showrunner André Nemec have taken a big risk on a live-action remake, starring John Cho (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle), Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage) and Daniella Pineda (The Originals).
Cowboy Bebop is a science-fiction adventure, neo-noir comedy, packed with action under the guise of a Western motif. It certainly has a lot of ingredients to create this signature style. The story follows three bounty hunters or “cowboys,” Spike Spiegel, Jet Black and Faye Valentine, who travel across the solar system to hunt down criminals.
Spike Spiegel is the sarcastic but charismatic type, a great fit for Cho, working alongside his partner Jet Black who is all about business, but also spends a lot of time trying to find this in-demand doll his daughter really wants for her birthday.
We eventually meet Faye Valentine: She has a bold personality with a lot of determination, but also butts heads with Spike.
One thing that aligns all these characters is that they’re trying to reconcile with their pasts, including Spike’s rival Vicious (Alex Hassell).
'Living very much within canon'
While it’s largely a very similar story, sometimes there is a reason why famed, beloved entertainment from our past can’t make a resurgence. The cultural significance of Cowboy Bebop can’t be underestimated and there will always be people who settle for nothing less than the fond memories of once was.
That being said, having this Netflix release of the live-action remake also opens the world of Cowboy Bebop up to an even broader audience, a balance that showrunner Nemec had to find.
For him, it was about expanding the storytelling while “living very much within canon.”
“One of my mottos was, what is the spirit of the anime and how do we make sure that we capture that,” Nemec explained to Yahoo Canada.
“As much as getting this opportunity was exhilarating, it was also terrifying because there was a big responsibility to me and I wanted to make sure that we were not in a complete reinvention.”
When asked what the hardest character to translate into this new Cowboy Bebop form was, while they all had their individual challenges, Nemec said it was actually the dog Ein, a Corgi known as the “data dog” in the anime.
“I think it's funny how many conversations were had around Ein and what the realities of that were going to be,” he said. “The dog was one of those challenges of...how do we tell the story of a data dog? What is the dog? Are we animating the dog?...Can we get a real dog?”
An element of nostalgia
One aspect of Cowboy Bebop that’s particularly enticing is its tone, paired with the spirited music by Yoko Kanno, the original composer who created the iconic score, that acts as the heartbeat of the series.
“Our hardest daily challenge was threading the needle of something that makes you laugh, has great banter, deep and real emotion, and real character underneath it, pulpy slick action,” Nemec explained. “At the same time, spectacle sci-fi.”
“I think all of it really came to wanting everything to feel grounded in a world that, to some degree, is very familiar and very known and very nostalgic to us.”
He added that throughout this new series, he wanted there to be a sense of “nostalgia of the Earth that they came from."
“Part of sort of the overall charm is that when you watch the anime, like with our show also, it is a world that you recognize just enough to feel like you're not living in a complete fantasy, but with just enough sci-fi to feel like you're living a little bit in the future,” Nemec said.
That works as a general message for the new series as well. It has some of the feeling of the anime of the past, but this modern take is a bit more wacky and spirited.