COW-BOY BEBOP. Anime has never been so cool in America or more damned in Hollywood. Japan’s stylized animated export, with its old-fashioned drama and 2D art, enjoys its widest audience, with a flood of titles available on streaming services and Megan Thee Stallion casually rapping about the fact to watch anime. Sadly, as movie studios turn their terrible eyes on them, even the classics aren’t safe. Whitewashed adaptation by director Rupert Sanders of Ghost in the shell (2017), starring Scarlett Johansson, was roundly mocked for her casting and the clearly un-learned lessons after the Wachowski’s live-action Speed âârunner (2008), with Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci. Robert Rodriguez’s creepy disastrous Alita: the angel of battle (2019) doesn’t just fall deep into the Weird Valley with the bulging, gelatinous eyes of its CGI star (shudder), but swings wildly from one embarrassment to the next, capturing, among all of the anime’s wonders, only her frequent obsession with breasts.
Watch Shinichiro Watanabe’s 1998 Animated Series Cowboy Bebop (also streaming on Netflix), about bounty hunters roaming space in busted junkers with villains chasing them, it’s easy to see his influence on American movies and series. Firefly, guardians of the galaxy and The Mandalorian all bear his marks in their antihero humor, dreamy plan composition, dusty aesthetic, and the golden scuffs appearing through their crusty, mercenary hearts. While unmistakably Japanese in style and settings, the series is also a translated love letter to three American genres, with its bubbling jazz soundtrack, dark history, and Western tropes. The new adaptation of Netflix’s live-action series captures the look and feel of the original – sometimes in direct recreations of iconic shots, like the opening credits – with a nostalgic nod. It also sidesteps spooky castings and is packed with fun and playful lightheartedness to balance its darker themes.
Like the good antihero he is, bounty hunter Spike Spiegel (John Cho) avoids his problems, allegedly dead by gangsters, including the spooky platinum-maned Vicious (Alex Hassell) and his wife, Julia. (Elena Satine), the lady, he supposedly got himself killed. Spike’s long-suffering travel and hunting companion Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) also hides a past that cost him his original arm. In pursuit of brands, the couple are alternately embarrassed, aided, and downright attacked by the competition in the form of purple-haired Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda). As they often hunt diminished, if not unsuccessful, cash rewards and shaggy dogs, Spike’s former enemies come closer. Cue the brass section.
The disguise delights Cowboy Bebop trendy, with faithful adaptations like Spike’s iconic costume and pompadour, and updates, like Faye’s utilitarian looks, which are far more practical and interesting than the string bikinis and thigh-high boots of the original. (Don’t panic, Reddit fans, porn still exists, after all.) Likewise, sets and spaceships mimic anime with more weight and grain. But the fight choreography eschews outright realism for the anime’s fantasy, with wild acrobatics, weightless wheels and flips, and comedic prop work. Look, it can’t all be John Wick hammering a push knife through someone’s chest – sometimes we need a little wacky escape.
Having everyone on board – ship and project – clearly enjoying themselves is a nice change from the dark method of action that I can’t seem to get away from quickly enough this month. Is Cho a bit long in the tooth for the role of 27-year-old Spike? Sure. But his age has given a new dimension to the childish restlessness of his Hiccup and Kumar days and he’s able to move from weariness and disappointment to a mask of smiling bravado without losing his humanity. And there’s no denying the way he slips into Spike’s lanky suit and gait. Like her leaves, Shakir gives us a quarrelsome bromance to play on her partner’s recklessness, and Pineda is a brave surprise in a role that doesn’t offer so much in animated form. Some great actors show up for work, including Tamara Tunie and John Noble. When you’ve had enough of turkey, get yourself some noodles and settle in for a bulimia. TVMA. 58M. NETFLIX.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she / she) is the Arts and Articles Editor-in-Chief of the Journal. She is grateful to everyone who has been vaccinated, including her family and colleagues. Contact her at 442-1400, ext. 320, or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.
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For times, call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theater 822-3456.