Medium Matters: Cowboy Bebop I

Okay, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that there’s a live action Cowboy Bebop series on Netflix.

Everyone has an opinion on the matter and the opinions are certainly mixed. Me, I kinda liked it, although the anime is better BUT … watch my lips now …

That’s not what I do. I’m an analyst, Jim, not a reviewer.

So here comes some story analysis. Three, two, one, let’s jam.

The producers of the live action series made three major decisions that simultaneously make their show different from the original and adapt the story into a more traditional story-telling format.

One is that they changed the ending. They changed it twice, actually, once to resolve the first season, and again to create the possibility of bridging to a second season.

I’m not going to talk about that now, since it’s unavoidably spoilerific. I’ll put in a separate post some other time.

Number two is that they foregrounded something that is largely background in the original series, and that’s the relationship between Spike and his old gang, as represented (in both series) by Vicious and Julia.

What that does is punch a lot of conflict into the series that wasn’t there in the anime. I mean, let’s be honest: For a lot of the anime the characters just sort of, for lack of a better word, bop around doing cool stuff. As one of you readers pointed out a while back, if you count the episodes that actually contribute to resolving the meta-plot, it’s only like six. The rest of them are filler from the perspective of the meta-plot.

But a) it’s really cool filler and b) that’s one of the things that makes the anime great. They bop around being cool, and that’s cool to watch. Right? I mean, is there anything cooler to watch than futuristic bounty hunters out hunting futuristic bounties? I bet Clint Eastwood dies of jealousy every time he sees it.

You know who Clint Eastwood is, right? He played a lot of bounty hunters in the movies. Jeez, I hate having to explain jokes.

But foregrounding the Spike/Vicious conflict, fought over Julia, brings tension into almost every episode. It also darkens the tone, that and the constant blood spatter. Now they aren’t just bopping around being cool. They show is Going Somewhere. It’s like they mixed Cowboy Bebop and Dirty Harry.

You know, Dirty Harry? Played by Clint Eastwood?

Now whether a show that’s Going Somewhere is better than a show that bops around is a separate question. I’m not ready to go there. Let’s just say they are different in that respect and leave it.

The third thing they did was zero in right off on the relationship between the three main characters, Spike, Jet, and Faye. I mean BOOM! They nailed it right off.

From left: Big Bro, Pops, Little Sis

It took me the longest damned time to figure out that while Spike, Jet, and Faye are a stable trio, they aren’t one of the usual ones like Mind-Body-Soul or Hero-Sidekick-Girlfriend. Instead, they’re something you don’t see a lot, especially in anime: They are parent and siblings. Right? Jet is a father figure to Spike and Faye, who squabble like siblings.

So I’m watching first couple episodes and I was so freakin’ jealous, because it was obvious that they’d figured it out LONG before I did. And while it’s not explicit – it can’t be explicit since the three of them aren’t really related – what they did is say, “This is how we’re going to organize our three protagonists.”

To set that up they made some changes to the characters that, as far as I am concerned, give them greater depth.

Remember, in the family trio, Jet is the father figure. So they went there: They made Jet a divorced father with a daughter he loves very much.

That may seem a little too touchy-feely, but it inserts some tension into the Spike-Jet relationship and provides a key plot point. And the Spike-Jet relationship could use a little tension. It always bugged me about how an ex-cop like Jet hooked up with an ex-gangster like Spike.

To emphasize the Faye-Spike sibling rivalry, they just simplified matters a lot. Instead of Faye being a crook they run into scamming a casino and who they should have turned in for a bounty (Because Jet and Spike are bounty hunters, right?), they just came out and made her a bounty hunter at the start. BOOM. She actually IS a rival, so sibling rivalry is natural!

Now, that means a few changes to Faye as well. Some of the changes come from the fact that Faye is basically uncastable. As Danielle Pineda, who got the part, points out, it’s really hard to find an actor who is six feet tall with double D breasts and a three-inch waist.

So instead they steam-punked her out, the whole black and brown leather thang. Seriously, you could drop this Faye right into Firefly and no one would blink.

They also made Faye sexual, giving her a lesbian liaison. Note what that does: she has a lover, but Faye’s part of the team with Jet and Spike. Where they go, she goes. But she’s not a girlfriend, and can’t be. She’s Jet’s “daughter” and Spike’s “little sister.”

Spike gets a few tweaks as well. Now that’s he implicitly but obviously Faye’s big brother, well, for one thing he needs to be a little older. And you know what they did? I saw it right away.

They stuck a little Philip Marlowe in him.

You know, Philip Marlowe, the classic film noir detective created by Raymond Chandler and seen in great films like Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye?

Will you for the love of Mike watch something besides anime?

Anyway, did you notice that? Spike’s a little jaded, a little cynical now.

They also humanized him a little. Spike can have down moments now. I loved the scene where he had a headache so bad he couldn’t see straight. He was trying to get the line threaded into a fishing rod but couldn’t manage it? In a fit of frustration he tosses the rod into the water. It’s absolutely brilliant and gives Spike a real depth he never really had before.

But by bringing out that three-way relationship they bring out some great moments, as when Spike and Faye have a “dick wagging” contest trying to one-up each other on bounties they’ve gone after. It’s hilarious because they are siblings spiritually and they’re in a sibling rivalry. (It also works because John Cho is not only a great actor, he’s also a great reactor.)

By making these changes the producers brought the sources of conflict and tension into clear display. Now they aren’t just bopping around any more. Now they are out there doing grown-up stuff.

Did that make it “better”? I mean seriously, how can you make Cowboy Bebop better than Cowboy Bebop? Don’t be silly.

What they did was make it different. I’m good with that. Art forms like anime, film, and TV are collaborative efforts, and in an ideal world they represent the contributions of everyone.

It’s not the same old Bebop. That makes a lot of people mad. That doesn’t mean it can’t still be pretty good.

Me, I liked it, except for the blood. But I’m not a reviewer. That’s not what I do.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

4 thoughts on “Medium Matters: Cowboy Bebop I

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