While we're not looking to step on anyone's "official review toes" when it comes to offering a review of what will hopefully be the first of many seasons of Netflix and Tomorrow Studios' Cowboy Bebop (check out Aedan Juvet's review here), we won't' hesitate to tell you that we're huge fans of John Cho's Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir's Jet Black, Daniella Pineda's Faye Valentine, and the utter madness that was André Nemec's live-action take on the beloved anime classic. The highest compliment that I can give this run of episodes is that it gave me the same vibes that I got from AMC's Preacher, starting with a trio of characters who we could still relate to on a personal level even in the middle of some serious space-faring action. And while serious props should be given to Shakir and Pineda, it's Cho who stepped up to show everyone that even a pandemic and a serious injury wouldn't be enough to keep him from a role he was born to play.
And why did it succeed? Because whether Nemec, the producers, and the streaming service realized it or not, they took a page out of Damon Lindelof's playbook when it came to bringing his vision of writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins's Watchmen to life in 2019. When the news was first announced that Lindelof was developing what would be described as a pseudo-sequel "remix" of the comics classic, Lindelof took to Instagram to post what can best be described as a "manifesto" where he laid out the thoughts and feelings that he had about tackling the work before making the decision to move forward on what would become an Emmy Award-winning series. Here's a look at the post from October 2019:
Then, Lindelof and his team never looked back. While remaining respectful of the source material, HBO's Watchmen succeeded because Lindelof embraced the story he wanted to tell and the vision he had, weaving in new themes, characters, and situations into a universe that's still ripe with potential (cheap plug for Season 2). They stopped being concerned about what the gatekeepers had to say; instead, they focused on those new to the story as well as others open to the possibilities of a "Watchmen" world existing beyond the 12-issue DC Comics series. And what did ignoring the comics diehards get Lindelof, series star Regina King, director Nicole Kassell, and many others? A ton of awards, a crapload of positive reviews, and a whole lot of new folks buying the Watchmen TPB to check out what they've been missing. But the best part was the one thing they didn't get by ignoring the acolytes: the constant barrage of social media bitching once the first episode landed with a societal impact that is still being embraced today. In fact, it could easily be argued that HBO's Watchmen had the same influencing impact on how television viewers view "superheroes" as Moore, Gibbons & Higgins's Watchmen did for comics readers.
And that's the same feeling I get with how Cowboy Bebop was approached. Nemec and the producers reached out to involve as many people from the original anime as they could for the live-action adapt (from original anime director Shinichiro Watanabe serving as a consultant to composer Yoko Kanno handling the music). But they were also very clear that while they would always be respectful towards the spirit of the anime, they were going to be changing some things so that the series has its own "Cowboy Bebop" universe. Which it should. Because it's a television series and not words & pictures on a page. So that's how it should be judged and that's how we judged it. Because criticizing a live-action series for not being an anime is pretty much like bitching about a cat not being a dog.
So with that in mind, a little tough love for anime fans to wrap up this post with. I don't know how to put this nicely so let me just put it out there. Much like I felt about the Watchmen comics fans back in 2019, you really shouldn't get to have a say in live-action adaptations anymore because you will never be happy. Just be honest. You won't. Especially if it's an "American" adaptation (though viewing Netflix as "American" in the global market that is 2021 is thinking small). A very loud and sizeable chunk of the anime fan base that populates social media consider themselves gatekeepers of their "golden calf" who begin shi**ing on a show's Corn Flakes from the moment it's announced to the moment it hits screens. In fact, the next time you see an anime fan bashing Cowboy Bebop, take a trip back in time to see when they started trashing it. It's usually a self-fulfilling prophecy where they then get to say, "See? I told you so!" even though the series never had a chance at objective consideration. So since you will now have time on your hands, you can go back and rewatch your Cowboy Bebop– exactly how you remember it and unbesmirched by Cho and the gang. Just don't ruin it for those looking to get their Spike, Jet & Faye fix in a different way.