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‘Cowboy Bebop’ brings classic anime to life at Netflix

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“Cowboy Bebop” is a little Western, a little noir and a little sci-fi. The cast will add its own descriptors: “funky,” “weird,” a “hodgepodge.” But at its heart, the live-action series about a group of space bounty hunters wants to be an homage to its original anime version.

“In discussing anything on set, it was always, ‘Is this a “Bebop” thing? Is this camera angle a “Bebop” angle? Is this cigarette lighter a “Bebop” cigarette lighter?’” John Cho, 49, who plays Spike Spiegel, said. “It was trying to capture that tone all the time and do justice to the anime.”

The live-action remake, available now on Netflix, diverges from the 1998 Japanese series, but it also takes fastidious care to maintain the original’s look and feel.

Spike (Cho) is still as stoic and mysterious as ever. Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) could kill you with his pinkie but is a paternal softie at heart. Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) is chaotic, loud and courageous. Apart, they’re trouble. Together, they’re even more trouble.

Faye, the newcomer to the crew, shakes up what had become a steady, albeit largely unsuccessful, bounty-hunting routine for them. She’s a woman living in a man’s world, but she holds her own, and then some.

“She’s someone who, because she doesn’t know who she is or where she came from, she’s almost feral, like a raccoon. She’s figuring things out as she goes,” Pineda said of Faye, who was awakened from a cryogenic freeze with no memory of her past.

Jet’s chains are his family, a daughter he rarely gets to see.

“Jet is one of the last Boy Scouts. He can harm you, he can really do some bad stuff to you, but he has a heart of gold in a profession that really eats at your soul,” Shakir, 45, said.

Spike’s issues are trickier. He’s haunted by a former flame, a villain from his past in the bleached-blond Vicious (Alex Hassell), and more questions that his crewmates don’t even know to ask.

“In a lot of ways, Spike would prefer not to love anyone, and unfortunately he does,” Cho said. “He doesn’t want to admit to himself sometimes that he is capable of such loyalty and love. He tries to hide that, even from himself. But at the end of the day, he is driven by love.”

Of the three leads, only Shakir was familiar with “Cowboy Bebop” before signing on for the live-action remake.

Cho signed on with little knowledge of the rabid fan base that has memorized the 26 episodes that aired in the late ‘90s. He didn’t know about Ein the corgi or the iconic main theme song, composed by Yoko Kanno, who did the same for the remake.

But the cast understands the expectations and the pressure that comes along with it. “It’s like the Beatles of anime,” the 34-year-old Pineda half-joked.

The 2021 “Cowboy Bebop” is not the 1998 “Cowboy Bebop.” They didn’t want a shot-for-shot remake. They wanted to make their own show.

“For people who are fans of the anime, I hope that they recognize what a labor of love this was. I do have some experience in interpreting (intellectual property), coming from ‘Star Trek,’ and I feel like ‘Star Trek’ fans were really rooting for our success,” Cho said. “That is my hope with fans of the original anime, and I hope they realize how much we loved it. It was made for fans, by fans. And for people who don’t know it, I just hope it’s a good time.”

 

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