Cowboy Bebop, Again

I’m not too interested in the actual thing that is Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, aside from some technical aspects–the music, the Japanese dub (which I don’t get in the US), and the overall reception. To me Cowboy Bebop is like the Civil War–it’s all done in the past. You still see the occasional Confederate flag, and kids learn about it in Youtube videos, but that’s pretty much it.

However what’s never done is the Spirit. And I’m all for the Spirit of Cowboy Bebop to descend onto the popular discourse yet again, and this time with the largest crowd it ever had. I still remember seeing Watanabe at BAAF talking about The Movie and how if it made a million bux in the North American Box Office they will make more. A million USD is about one and a half million USD 20 years later, adjusted for inflation, so that’s a tiny fraction of what Netflix spent, which is still not a lot versus other TV remakes today.

Put aside all the well-tread ground that many more mainstream sites have written about, Bebop in 2021 is really an excuse to talk about Bebop. It’s full on meta, so much so that the Netflix adaptation is quite meta about itself. The Ein bloopers and Kanno interviews themselves say as much. Also, Bebop being about the music makes it easy to grasp. Watanabe and every creative who worked on this have said that this is about the music, and being a key adviser to the project, Netflix Actually Got This One Cue right. So actually, unlike their prior adaptation from anime, Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Isn’t Entirely Terrible.

Of course, being not entirely terrible is a far cry from being worthwhile or even good. It still can be a little terrible (it’s probably a lot more than a little). Is a fallen branch from the tree in my yard, good? It’s a thing I can use for kindling, or as a walking stick, but it’s not good or bad in that sense–that’s kind of how I see the Netflix adaptation. It is a vehicle to provide me with more Yoko Kanno & the Seatbelts, and this time readily available for oversea consumption because Netflix worked out the licensing (as it does with its originals). Do you remember anime licensing? LOL. How about anime music licensing?? That sure was a thing. (OK it still is a war to be won, to be honest–still can’t watch the Movie on Netflix in the States, for starter.)

It’s a vehicle for, say, people to recognize Afrofuturism (Isn’t Jet… Black?). Or come together to highlight Yoko Kanno (LMAO this) in whatever, or however ways people do this. It’s also a great vehicle for me to understand why Netflix adaptation of anime are so terrible as I have stayed cleared of them previously. It really comes down to some non-negotiables in Netflix shows that completely crimps what’s good about most anime in that subcultural niche. For something extremely multicultural and vignette-ish like Bebop that’s basically a death sentence, but again, the music rescues it. For example, any know-it-all screenwriters can jam in lines for characters that don’t need them (hi Vicious), or make stiff, oblique cuts that are devoid all the life from the anime version, but the music is always just going to be the music. It’s not like you can force a cliffhanger with music as you can with the writing or other aspects of the show. It’s not like a committee can squash the soul out of Seatbelt players while they’re jamming away. In as much as the original Cowboy Bebop is a vehicle, a freestyle expression of the music to begin with, this edition is not that different! Netflix’s Bebop has already earned the right to bear the name, by attaching Yoko Kanno to it. As Cho said, she is a “deal sealer.”

In a way the cringey end result of the Netflix version is almost more befitting the star-studded anime pow wow that the original anime and film were. It’s not meant to be some epic top shelf stuff in the first place. Sure, yeah, I wish Netflix would stop sucking and sucking all that is good out of their anime remakes. (It would be good if the CG was better!) It’s existential in that, why do I even watch anime, and not, say, the many Netflix works that they started their streaming empire on? It’s precisely because they are different from what Netflix has, and yet by Netflixing these properties to conform to its Hollywood-compatible, binge-friendly ways, we are left with the equivalent of gas station sushi. At least jazz playing over the radio while you are checking out, is still jazz.

As an American who doesn’t live in a food desert I can enjoy actually good sushi, but sometimes convenience store sushi still has its charm. I’ll probably watch one episode at a time over time and just to have an informed opinion on the Netflix version. For all the money and effort they put into this cult classic, Netflix deserves as much at least.

Now we just need a concert featuring these Seatbelts guys. Make it happen!

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