Lost in Translation normally avoids reviewing live action adaptations of anime. The main issue is that it’s not just translating a work from one medium to another, but also translating cultural signposts that may not exist in the adaptation’s homeland. The cultural gulf is one of the problems plaguing the American adaptations of Godzilla; the US was on the giving side of the two atomic bombs used in war, not the receiving end.

However, there are series where the cultural elements aren’t as essential. The 1993 series Cowboy Bebop takes its inspiration from jazz and bebop music, taking a story about bounty hunters, placing it into space, then giving it a film noir feel. The result is a series that is almost a cross between Peter Gunn and The Rockford Files.

Created by Sunrise using the collective pseudonym Hajime Yatate and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the series ran for 26 episodes in 1998, with music provided by Yoko Kanno. Kanno formed the band, the Seatbelts, to record the jazz/blues she composed.

The series is set in 2071, where fifty years before, an accident on the astral gates used to speed traffic through the Solar System left the Earth devastated. The disaster accelerated colonization in the Solar System, with colonies on Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Naturally, as humanity spread out into the Solar System, so did crime, leading to the use of bounty hunters, called “cowboys”, who retrieve bounties for the Inter Solar System Police, or ISSP, in exchange for Woolongs, the setting`s currency.

The focus of the series is on Spike Spiegle and Jet Black, bounty hunting partners on board the spaceship, Bebop. Jet is a former ISSP officer who lost his arm while on an investigation. Spike is a former member of the Red Dragon, an organized crime gang in the Solar System. Not every bounty is successful, and there are always complications.

Some of the complications wind up as passengers on the Bebop. The first is Ein, a Pembroke Welshi corgi rescued from a dognapper. Ein has his own secret, having been enhanced through experiments. Next to join the cast is Faye Valentine, a femme fatale with massive debts. Faye is less a bounty hunter than she is a woman looking to make a lot of money quickly. She acts as a foil to Spike, sometimes a rival for a bounty, sometimes a temporary partner. Finally, Ed joins the Bebop. Also known as Radical Edward, Ed is a young orphan from Earth and hacker extrordinaire on the Outernet. Ed finds the Bebop and tags along.

Everyone in the cast has something in their past. Jet’s time as an ISSP investigator defines his approach as a bounty hunter. Faye has no memory of her life before being put into cryostasis and needs money to pay off her medical bill that built over fifty years. Spike and his time in the Syndicate includes being partnered with Vicious as hitmen. The two had a fallout over Julia, leading to Spike faking his own death and appearing as Spike Spiegel.

The series builds up the conflict between Spike and Vicious, with a number of episodes focused on them, building up for the climax of the series. The final two episodes cover Vicious’ move to take over the Red Dragon, replacing the syndicate’s elders, and the long-awaited fight between Spike and Vicious. The ending sees Faye moving on, Ed and Ein already gone, and Jet with the Bebop.

In 2017, Tomorrow Studios and ITV Studios announced a live-action production of Cowboy Bebop, based on the anime. Netflix followed up in 2018 annoucing the they will be streaming the series. The live-action Bebop began streaming in 2021, and starred John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine, Alex Hassell as Vicious, and Elena Satine as Julia. The supporting cast includes Tamara Tunie as Ana, owner of an underground jazz club; and Mason Alexander Park as Gren, Ana’s right hand.

The first episode of the live-action series is essentially the first episode of the anime. Spike and Jet track down Asimov Solensan (Jan Uddin), a gangster trying to move a drug called Red Eye. The beats are mostly the same, though with the extra time the live-action episode has, other series-long elements are introduced. In particular, the conflict between Vicious and Spike is introduced as well as bringing Faye in earlier than in the anime. The second episode brings in the “Teddy Bomber” (Rodney Cook), a criminal who leaves bombs in teddy bears, from the 22nd episode of the anime, leaving out the rival bounty hunter.

The live-action series ran for ten episodes, with a second season quashed by Netflix. Each episode ran between 40 and 55 minutes, unlike the anime where the runtime was about 25 minutes long. The live-action introduced several ongoing plots early, including Spike’s problems with Vicious and Julia and Faye’s debts and amnesia. In the about twenty years between the original anime airing and production starting on the live-action series, how a story is told in a TV series changed, allowing for on-going plots to occur alongside the episodic plots.

However, with the shorter series, some elements were pushed aside. Radical Edward appears in the sixth episode in the form of a message sent to Jet about a bounty. Ed only shows up in person at the end of the last episode. At the same time, elements that only came out in the middle of the series are brought out early, allowing them to develop without rushing.

Not every bounty from the anime could fit into the series, but several did. Along with the Solensans and the Teddy Bomber, Hakim (Cali Nelle) the dognapper from the second episode, Maria Murdock (Adrienne Barbeau) the terrorist from the fourth episode, and Pierrot le Fou (Josh Randall) the clown from the twentieth episode. Even then, there are changes. The experimentation on Pierrot le Fou is changed to be tied into what happened with Ein; the result is instead of a toy cat distracting the mad clown, it’s a toy dog.

The removal of Ed from the series might cause some potential viewers to pause. Ed first appeared in the ninth episode and left before the two-part finale. With the condensed run, Ed would have been jarring to the mood the live-action series was building towards the finale. A second season with Ed added to the cast would let the series explore the character more without interfering with the other characters’ arcs.

The casting works. John Cho plays Spike like he is portrayed in the anime, laid back exterior hiding a complex churn of emotion. Mustafa Shakir brings a presence to Jet on screen to contrast Spike without fading into the background. Daniella Pineda’s Faye is a little all over; she has the character but because the episodes are more condensed, the range Faye shows in the anime becomes a mess in the live-action. This is more on the writing than the actress, however. Of all the characters’ arcs, Faye’s suffers the most under the compressed series.

One snag the series has is trying too hard to look like the anime. While the effort is appreciated, the looks could have been toned down a little. Spike’s outfit matches the anime version, but the fabric doesn’t look like it’s natural. Jet’s outfit doesn’t suffer as much; his clothes are more utilitarian and muted. At the same time, the effort to match the anime is there. The Bebop and the smaller ships look like they should. This is a “mileage may vary” point. The music, however, is one area where the live-action series shines. Yoko Kanno was brought back on board for the live Bebop, and she and her band can be seen performing at Ana’s bar.

Overall, the live-action series makes the effort to match the anime. Changes were made, nothing that breaks the core, but could put off purists. If nothing else, the music of Yoko Kanno is worth hearing. Otherwise, it’s hit or miss; mostly hit, but the misses can jar.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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