“It’s ‘Cowboy Bebop’, let’s not talk about it.”
It was the guiding mantra of showrunner and executive producer André Nemec and the cast and crew of Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the beloved animated series, which hit the streamer on Friday.
Set in the not-so-distant future after humans had to colonize other planets and moons in the solar system, “Cowboy Bebop” follows an unsuitable team of bounty hunters who operate from the Bebop spacecraft. This includes the ship’s hard-working captain, Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), his laid-back partner with a mysterious past, Spike Spiegel (John Cho), and – ultimately – the rambling and determined Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda).
“I knew we were walking on sacred ground,” Nemec said on a recent video call. “Spike, Jet, Faye, Vicious, Julia – these are such delicious characters in the anime.… It felt like a great opportunity to tap into their stories and respond to some of the things I felt in poetry. that was the anime, to dig into a deeper narrative in certain places for these characters.
For Nemec and his team, “it was always about honoring the spirit of the anime,” but that doesn’t mean the live-action “Cowboy Bebop” series simply repeats the story told in the original.
Instead, the 10-episode adaptation mixes precise callbacks to moments from the anime with both subtle and substantial narrative changes – most notably around the show’s women, Faye and Julia (Elena Satine) – that allow for the series to be self-sufficient.
Released in 1998, the original “Cowboy Bebop” is a founding anime often credited with helping broaden the reach and reach of Japanese animation with its memorable characters, deep themes, and genre storytelling. But as influential as the series may be, it’s a product of its time, so some portrayals, including those of Faye and Julia, were ripe for updates.
Still, “whatever you choose to try and do differently than a beloved original piece of IP, there’s a lot of terror, night sweats and sleepless nights,” executive producer Becky Clements said of Tomorrow Studios.
In the anime, Faye is a brash and skilled bounty hunter in search of her past. She has no memory of her life until the 50 years she spent cryogenically frozen, and for the most part that backstory remains intact in the new adaptation.
For Nemec and the writers, the first step in tracing the Faye Arc was figuring out “what it’s about about Faye.” [in the anime] that we love about Faye.
“For me, it’s that she has the soul of a survivor,” Nemec said. “She’s rambling, she’s cunning, she’s quick, she’s vulnerable. She’s a survivor. She runs after her own story and her own past, and though it weighs on her, it doesn’t stop her.
He explained that the adjustments to Faye’s story were made to make her not only feel as empowered as in the anime, but also for that autonomy to grow into a bigger agency.
Part of the backstory of Faye’s anime involves her falling in love with a con artist who fakes her death to make her pay off her insurmountable debts. But the Rogue gets a complete redesign for the live-action series, which, among other things, has that romantic element completely removed from Faye’s live-action past.
And when a mechanic offers her in an episode of the new series, their date isn’t part of a ploy. It’s an experience Faye chooses, one that contributes to the process of finding out who she is.
Nemec and his team were also sensitive to cases in the anime where women, including Faye and Julia, were essentially reduced to dramatic devices to advance the story of male characters.
This was especially important to Julia, who in the anime primarily serves as a specter of Spike’s past, only appearing as lightning bolts in her memory until the final episodes. She is much more present in the live-action adaptation, which is directed at her, Spike and Vicious’ (Alex Hassell) shared the past more clearly.
Julia “was the most difficult character to capture as a storyteller,” Nemec said. “There was so much whole fabric that we were building, [but] we didn’t want it to be just this full-time departure “from the anime.
As in the anime, Julia is stuck between Spike, Vicious, and the world of their criminal syndicate. But Nemec knew that his story had to be more than just the woman at the center of Spike and Vicious’s rivalry.
“I always knew we wanted to start somewhere where Julia and Vicious were together, but Julia was a bit of a caged bird,” Nemec said. And we knew that “Julia has to free herself from her own cage… by her own cunning, by her own mind, by her own intelligence, by her own charms.
Julia’s journey is one of the most significant differences between the new “Cowboy Bebop” and the original animated series. But her story, as well as that of Faye, better reflects the kind of storytelling around women that audiences expect.
“Tomorrow Studios we’re producing a lot of shows,” Clements said. “‘Physical’ with Rose Byrne and Jennifer Connelly in ‘Snowpiercer’ and ‘Hanna’, which we did with Amazon – we have a lot of female protagonists that don’t fit into one box. They are multidimensional and developed characters. André, the writers and all of us spent a lot of time keeping part of the story, but creating a new journey for [‘Cowboy Bebop’s’] female characters that we felt were appropriate for our adaptation and appropriate for today’s audience.
Yet an adaptation can be a tricky business, and Hollywood’s dismal record in Japanese animation adaptation – see “Ghost in the Shell” (2017), “Death Note” (2017), “Dragonball Evolution” (2009), or even the anime-influenced “The Last Airbender” (2010), left anime fans wary of any further attempts.
But “Cowboy Bebop” is the rare live-action adaptation that manages to balance its respect for the original series with divergent narrative elements that serve more modern storytelling. The spirit of the anime lives on in the essence of the characters, as well as the sleek retro-futuristic world of the series and its impeccable soundtrack. Sometimes an anime’s story is best told in the anime, so an adaptation doesn’t have to be a carbon copy.
Part of the fun of making an adaptation “is turning the story in a different direction,” Nemec said. “Being able to take the story to a place the audience doesn’t imagine will happen. If fans of the show could turn on an episode and find out what the ending is, that’s no fun. And as a fan, that’s not exactly what I’d like to watch.
When: Anytime, from Friday