Monday, November 22, 2021

Cowboy Bebop and the Faithful Adaptation

I've watched one episode of Netflix's Cowboy Bebop. so I could be wrong, but I think I already see how this is going to be. I don't think it's awful, but there are definitely things I'm not fond out.

Watching it brought to mind Rodriguez's first Sin City film. That film is a pretty faithful adaptation of the comic, down to the composition of shots, but my reaction on first viewing was very different from my reaction to the comic. It felt silly; I was vaguely embarrassed by it. It's not that I missed that Sin City the comic is over-the-top in some ways, and part of that over-the-topness is Miller's dialogue and narration. But when I read it, I get to decide how the characters deliver the lines, and the almost superhero comic level action scenes are just Millerisms to be translated to real world terms. (Much in the same way I know when reading a comic that characters don't have time for long discussion while they trade a couple of lightning quick blows. It's mere convention of the form, not something to be taken literally.) But on the screen their were actors not selling the clunky lines they were saying and all the action was taken all too literally.

Cowboy Bebop came from a cartoon not a comic so it's closer to film, but it's also the product of another culture (and honestly, another era) so maybe that all washes out. The show gets the details right in cosplay sort of way, but it doesn't feel the same. Gone is grubby future and much of the range in tone. The action is similar in prosaic description but what seemed dynamic in the anime feels fairly flat here. It may be less wacky than the cartoon, but then my tolerance for wacky is much less in live action.

Perhaps the biggest disappoint is some of the choices they made. The first episodes of the anime and the live action show have the same basic plot, but are otherwise fairly different. The anime opens with Spike's dream (enigmatic at that point) then goes into spare scenes of the solitary, early morning rituals of Spike and Jet, accompanied by blues harmonica. There is a lonesome feel to this sequence, and there is nothing like it in the live action show, which instead opens with quipy action. The cartoon returns to a bit of this somberness later with Spike's discussion with Katerina. This is also quite different in the live action episode. The show perhaps gets Bebop's silliness right, but misses the anime's mix of tones, except as absolutely requisite to the plot, and then it can't quite land it.

There's also the indication that we will be seeing hints of the Vicious-Spike conflict every single episode. This is no doubt to make a "season arc" fit for a modern streaming show. Cowboy Bebop the anime was structured like old school tv, with "stories of the week." Over-exposing Spike's arc robs it of any sense of slow reveal or discovery and has the potential to make everything else feel secondary.

Anyway, I'll keep watching. The wife likes it, and I've still got the animated series to watch when I want.


GrayPumpkin said...

Just finished it last night. Full disclosure I have never really watched much anime and only watched the Cowboy Bebop anime a handful of times, though I plan to change that soon, but I absolutely loved it. From the characters, to the way it plays with expectations, to wild sci-fi ideas, to vibe of the Sci-Fi meets western meets noir, it was a non-stop thrill ride for me.

Picador said...

Haven't watched the original or the new Netflix series, but what you're describing is endemic to "live action" adaptations of beloved animated media properties. Your use of the term "cosplay" sums it up pretty well in a single word. Think about that Shyamalan Avatar film, or any of the Disney live-action remakes. "Hey remember when you saw that animated film/TV show you loved and the character was dressed like THIS with hair styled like THIS?" That's as far as they can get. Even a deadly-serious humorless anime film like Ghost in the Shell becomes something altogether too goofy and creepy when you're putting those costumes on real people. The Matrix was the best live action Ghost in the Shell movie we're likely to get: the Wachowskis, whatever else you think of them, are absolutely top-notch visual stylists, and they pulled off that high-concept dead-serious cyberpunk badass aesthetic of GitS way more effectively than the Johansen vehicle.

I think it's telling that for all of Disney's frantic cash-grabbing with these live action remakes, they haven't touched some of their core animated properties. We're not going to see a live-action Mickey Mouse film, ever (inshallah). It would just be too creepy and disturbing, and would make people sit up and ask themselves why they're consuming this trash.

JB said...

Interesting. I have always loved the CONCEPT of Coyboy Beebop, but (like GrayPumpkin) I've only seen a handful of episodes (by the time the anime was available on US TV, I was married and the spouse is not a fan of anime...).

Still, I've seen enough that I was able to recognize the trailer almost immediately.

However, I do NOT know the series well enough to discuss ANY of the story arcs of the show. So, perhaps, the Netflix show is written for a goober like me?

Don't know, 'cause I haven't had a chance to watch any of it yet. But I think your review is interesting and telling (and I completely agree with the Sin City critique; "vaguely embarrassed" is much too kind, and I'm generally a fan of Rodriguez films).