Cowboy Bebop: What’s up Sweet Cakes?

So I wrote this right after watching the Netflix version and I was pretty incensed because of the differences but over time my views have changed and I feel if some people are enjoying the Live Action as it is then they should. It’s a different flavour. Not my cup of tea at the moment but I don’t feel it’s anyone’s right to dictate it.

So I couldn’t watch much of the live action show when it came out because I had an eye injury. By the time I was able to actually watch it in pieces, it was a couple of weeks old already. Initially, there were some good reviews floating around pre-release but during my hiatus these were quickly overtaken by a deluge of horror and hate from loyal fans. When I finally watched it, I understood why. I didn’t read any reviews till I watched to stay objective but…the moment where Vicious breaks out Pierrot Le Fou from the lab and asks his help to kill Spike broke my will to watch further. All I could recall was anime Vicious telling Spike he was the only one who could kill him. I could go no further. I eventually did…in bits and pieces….and a LOT of fast-forwarding. The last two episodes I finished in a neat four minutes.
I don’t doubt that the intention of the makers was good but they definitely missed out on a lot of very crucial subtleties. Or rather, they missed out on understanding what made Bebop amazing. They made a good TV show definitely but, to me, it wasn’t Cowboy Bebop…perhaps a parallel story running in the same universe. 

Anyway, I got to know Yoko composed some new music for this one so went to go check that out on Spotify. It’s probably the only thing about this new show which I feel is still Bebop. I went through the tracks and then ended up looking up Butterfly from the original which am currently listening to….the contrast is quite stark. This new version’s OST consists of just a few jazz numbers, one waltz and a couple of other random tunes. They are still gorgeous but nowhere near as sophisticated as the anime OST where there is so much diversity it boggles your mind. 

The gap here is not at her end in any way. She is, of course, amazing and I am yet to find anything composed by her which I didn’t love the first time I heard it but it’s like….if I commission Da Vinci to paint me a fruit bowl that’s what he will give me…versus if I do something which capitalizes on his genius and utilize it more fully. The tracks here sound exactly like any of the numerous jazz/musical numbers from the original which play in the background of chase/fight scenes but I found nothing to even remotely compare to a “Words That We Couldn’t Say,” “Pretty with a Pistol,” “No Reply,” “Don’t Bother None”….and any of the other two dozen tracks which are just so good and tell half the story in their lyrics alone. 

One could argue that they did not need them because they had the originals but do I really feel that anyone built the narrative of the live action around its music? Not really. If the showrunners decided to rewrite the original, then why not come up with music which lines up with the new story and characters? Do I really resonate with ‘No Reply’ when I think about the narrative of the new Julia? Not really. I can but it would be forced. They did try to do something original with the song she sings in the bar but honestly, every single time she sang “Honnnee” I died a little on the inside with cringe…

If you have not heard the original OST and want to hear something really beautiful go hear ‘Elm.’ Also, “What’s up, sweet cakes?” is a lyric from another cool track ‘Ask DNA’….hear that too….hear it all!!

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Cowboy Bebop Live Action

So I wrote this right after watching the Netflix version and I was pretty incensed because of the differences but over time my views have changed and I feel if some people are enjoying the Live Action as it is then they should. It’s a different flavour. Not my cup of tea at the moment but I don’t feel it’s anyone’s right to dictate it. Will rewrite this soon to make it a more neutral comparison than the rant it is right now.


Ok. Considering how deep a role music plays in the original anime, to the extent that the music was finalized even before the characters and story were fully conceptualized, I found it poetically just when I hear Steve Aoki’s remix of Tank! for the new live action….thing…which Netflix tried to create. What Aoki does to Tank! is exactly what Netflix did to Cowboy Bebop. I do believe that both had intentions to do justice to the original and try to create something good. But both tried to mash it up with something of their own with what I can’t help but feel was a bit of arrogance/over-confidence, without fully understanding what makes the real thing work. They kept just enough of the original for it to be recognizable and good, but the rest came out as the same run-of-the-mill insipid thing you’ve seen/heard so many times before. In Aoki’s case, it was generic EDM beats we’ve heard hundreds of times just slapped together with clippings of Tank! rather than blending something better where what you add still resonates to the original, and, in Netflix’s case, it was generic over-the-top American filmmaking slobbered thickly over the beautifully cut, not-a-single-shot-extra, subtle, and sublime melody which was the original anime. 

I saw Cowboy Bebop for the first time during my late teens and it was love at first sight. I’ve been deeply in love with it since and most likely will be forever, much like so many others who swear by its perfection. It’s like a perfectly put together dish where contradicting flavors come together to form something addictive. But it’s a limited edition taste, you get a very small portion, and the chef has decided he will simply not cook any more of it ever again. So what you have with you is what needs to last you a lifetime. 

Within this setup, when someone tells you they are going to make more of this dish, you are likely to get hopeful despite your best judgement based on previous revivals they have done *cough* Death Note *cough*. But then they make trailers which actually make you think they have tried to be respectful to the source material…and you allow yourself to hope a bit more. They show you shots built around the music you have cherished for decades, actors who look quite a bit like the ones you saw in animated form, and heck you start to even feel a bit excited. 

And then they release it. You watch the first episode and think…well, Asimov and Katerina are a bit awkward but ok…I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Then Faye Valentine drops in and spars with Spike at a level with him without being a martial arts pro like him, in painfully slow and scripted shots no less, and you are like….er….maybe they want to make her more badass….they just need some time to settle down into it….you watch Katerina die and you decide to give them some more time. 

But as it progresses you are left horrified at the sheer massacre which unfolds…of story, characters, dialogue….everything. It’s not a carefully constructed, painstakingly put together, limited edition, dish. It is a mass-produced canned good. 

I guess, for me, this disaster was foreshadowed when they released the names of the sessions in this version. That’s when I started to feel the familiar dread again…It was again serendipitous because the titles of the sessions in the original foreshadow the content. In this case, none of the titles I heard left me with a sense of foreshadowing or a feeling that…Ooh! I want to know what’s in that one. I still get that feeling every time I hear the title “Ballad of Fallen Angels” even though I have the episode pretty much memorized. Spike’s a fallen angel, an exalted member of the Syndicate now fallen from grace, and this episode it about him returning to that world for the first time that we see on screen and hence this title fits like a glove….and then he literally falls out of a window….of a church….churches and angels kinda form a packaged deal….do you see what I’m saying here? It all just ties in so beautifully and nostalgically that you hear the title and feel all the emotions of the episode. 

In this case though, the titles seemed forced, scripted, trying too hard to emulate the original and, for the most part, making zero sense. The names of the original sessions flow naturally. Many of them are names of very popular songs, others are just tiny bits of poetry and they fit. But these are like they tried to string things together to look cool but failed. Like they created a random name generator programmed to take the name of something to do with space and something to do with music and just smush it together.  “Venus Pop” sounds forced while “Waltz for Venus” makes sense since Venus is the planet of love, waltz is a romantic, elegant dance so yeah…do I really think Venus when I think of Pop? Not really…Pluto maybe. “Sad Clown A-Go-Go” is too descriptive when compared to a simple “Pierro Le Fou”…”Binary Two-Step” seems repetitive and has nothing to do with the content of the episode. 

And this is the other big problem with them. The episode titles do not tie into the content of the episodes at-all. Like with the example of ‘Ballad of Fallen Angels’….which is reduced to ‘Supernova Symphony’ in the Live Action….what on earth does a Supernova or Symphony have anything to do with what happens in it? Is somebody playing a symphony? Are we on a Supernova? Is somebody there about to have a moment of glory before turning into a dead star?..I guess if I really stretch it, I can tie it into their shoddy portrayal of Vicious and how he kind of collapses into a dead star post Lady Gaga “Julia” captures him….but I know they didn’t think that far. I can’t give them that kind of credit. ‘Honky Tonk Women’ sets the context for who Faye Valentine is. Stray Dog Strut foreshadows Ein, Jamming with Edward introduces Edward…Heavy Metal Queen….Ganymede Elegy….I could go on and on about how meaningful most of the titles are….but anyone with half a brain and a knowledge of the anime would get this. 

This version reminds me of the ‘Toys in the Attic’ session….like if someone left the original anime in an unused fridge and forgot about it for many years (which none of us did)….and it grew a lot of fungus and became a monster. This is what that would look like. Yep. 

I gave the whole show a session name…Space Disaster Kiki Challenge. If you will look closely at this, you will see that I got this from the same random name generator as the Netflix folk. The first part is a space thing….the second part is a music/dance thing. Only in my case, it actually foreshadows the content quite beautifully. 

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Just some context. I recently shifted blogs and decided to move some things from my old one to this one. Wrote this around the time the Live Action….thing came out.

Ok so Ghost in the Shell got made into a live-action movie….in Hollywood….and for some reason I didn’t know until I saw the option to book tickets for it on Bookmyshow….no clue how that happened. Maybe I don’t haunt the same forums I once used to.

Had heard that Cowboy Bebop was in the works…with Keanu Reeves apparently…but never about this one. So of course, having been a die-hard fan of the overall franchise and of the kick-ass character that Motoko Kusanagi is, I was in two minds about booking tickets for this one. The overall poster looked….ok. Not great but all I could see was Scarlett Johannssen. I like her as an actress but of course she’s not going to look like the animated coolness of the original Motoko.
So, certain things came up in life and I somehow missed booking the tickets entirely. Then I found it online and again kept putting off watching it. Why? Because I didn’t feel like shelling out the money for a Katana….which I would feel obligated to buy….to lop off some heads….if they got it wrong.

Then today happened…I was bored and so decided to up and watch it. It started off promisingly enough, with even faithfulness in the opening sequence toward the scene where white stuff comes off from the cyborg-in-making. But then the white Doctor said her name….I strained to catch it, figuring I was hearing wrong. I let it pass, majorly cause there were more important things to have apoplectic fits over like…why can I see Batou’s eyes? Why is Aramaki speaking only Japanese when everyone else is speaking English? Are we saying that all the characters supposedly living in Japan are still for some reason speaking English (has America colonized Japan? Would certainly explain why their super-elite Section has a white Batou, a black sniper and some weird mysterious-race chick) and only this one old fossil adamantly speaks Japanese. They’ve put in a scene about someone’s daughter ‘learning’/downloading French in five minutes to explain and set context for why everyone can understand him but the question still remains why the hell at-all? Considering appearances are very subjective in that Universe with enhancements etc. we could have just assumed that racial lines have also blurred and they are all still speaking Japanese…much as we suspend that bit while watching a dub. But this means actually highlighting, in big bold letters, the fact that the others are NOT speaking Japanese (again, I need some explanations around this weird colonization).

The old coot is far from being the pretty awesome old guy that the original chief of Section 9 is. Aramaki is diplomatic and flexible where Motoko and her team are often headstrong and impulsive, quite antithetical to an inflexible dude who refuses to speak everyone else’s language. He also reminded me of a sloth. The original Aramaki is smart, crisp, used to giving orders, handling tricky situations and tough as nails. This guy reminded me of the old Master in Kung-fu movies….not the one who actually teaches the hero Kung-Fu but rather the one whom they’ve retired, the Hero’s Master’s Master. He’d be on his deathbed or meditating in a cave somewhere and will show up to give some cryptic, sprawling obvious-to-the-audience advice at the very end. Completely useless guy…that’s him in this film.

Aramaki is not an expendible charater in the orignal GITS but this guy’s absence would have made the movie better and crisper, maybe because then we could have seen more of Motoko’s (refuse to call her Mira) leadership. The film doesn’t even put her in a 50 mile radius of leadership. She does nothing leader-like whatsoever, completely wasting the Major title. Ask someone who doesn’t know the original and they’ll assume she was Batou’s sidekick or something. Anyway….back to Aramaki….after boring you with his Japanese and sleeping through most of his scenes, he wakes up at the end to belatedly attempt some half-hearted gunplay and a random attempt to backup and save the Major.

Speaking of the Major…..Don’t know where to begin. As the movie progressed, I immediately took a dislike to the all-American Batou. He was just….too much happening, too chirpy. Batou is dour, brooding and a rock for the major…but a cool rock. Their chemistry is very subtle, she is his boss in a military-like setup and he respects her, backs her up and watches out for her. But the love interest quotient is largely missing in their equation. The dude in the movie, on the other hand, has her coyly smiling at his dumbass jokes like some in-love teenager.

And that was the problem with her character. I won’t blame Scarlett for that. She did her best and a fab job for a tough role to live up to. The problem was with the characterization and lack of development for her character in general. Major Kusanagi is tough as nails, brilliant, incredibly independent and a war general. She’s a leader to her team and the fact that she’s a woman adds to this, not detracts from it. Mira (yes, they bloody changed her name. I’d love to meet the moron who was responsible for this move. That’s like I make a Superman movie and decide to change his name to Shinchan) is a babe lost in the woods. That’s it.

She needs protection, she needs guidance, she’s brimming with emotions and I was cringing and praying they won’t have her hookup with Batou. I can’t see her leading a corporate employee-engagement team for planning someone’s birthday party, forget a team of seasoned soldiers who look up to the Major with awe. Cause she’s that damn awesome.

There were pluses to the film-it tried to send off nods to the original, stayed pretty true to the visuals and tried to create a megalopolis with a similar feel as the original. But where they lost was probably the fact that they tried to please everyone and incorporate the same ‘vulnerable superhero’ trend we see recently in most Hollywood movies, be it Logan or Avengers or whatever else. But Kusanagi doesn’t work that way. Her political accumen, understanding of situations and the unshakeable Iron Lady facade were completely missing. She was a lost teenager trying to find her past and doing a shit job of it.

Another lag is in terms of the existential issues raised in the film. Ghost in the Shell is a lot more philosophical in its scope. Kusanagi keep questioning the blurred line between her humanity and the fact that her body is 100% cyborg. Her past is done and dusted. I was still pretty ok with the Major finding her old family and being a fundamentalist but she’s too smart to have been a random run-away who gets caught by the government and turned into a confused robot. If she wasn’t who she was and her true self was a fundamentalist then she would probably be someone on the lines of V from V for Vendetta, not hiding in a hovel with some guy she fell for.
At the end of the day, I don’t hate the film but I’m not crazed about it either. A white main character I can still palate if I knock myself over the head enough times but a token black character (Saito?) and a random woman (was he calling her Victoria? Did Ishikawa have a sex change?) don’t make for a great watch either.

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