Cowboy Bebop: Be Like Water

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. Adding this since I touch upon the LA at the end here.

I went back and re-watched Ballad of Fallen Angels and wanted to touch upon the episode structure of the anime. Very briefly because I don’t have time to write the damn book-length post I’d probably end up with if I went deep.

Spike’s form of martial arts is Jeet Kune Do, which also seems to be the guiding philosophy of how the original anime is created and structured. I am not saying this was necessarily intentional, but perhaps a guiding philosophy running in the creators’ minds coupled with the fact that Watanabe wanted each episode to feel like an individual movie, thus cramming complex stories into just 20 minutes. Either way, it’s an interesting parallel. Jeet Kune Do has no “binding system” but loose guidelines which form its basic concept. Similarly, the story is structured in individual episodes, which are again standalone stories by themselves, with the exception of the few which touch upon Spike’s past. This is similar to Jeet Kune Do’s philosophy of each movement during combat being like ‘filling a cup and emptying it.’ Two successive combat movements would be individual in their own right, adapting to the combat itself and not to a rule book, or dependent upon the previous move. 

Each episode of Bebop is like that. A cup filled at the beginning and emptied at the end with no baggage remaining, except what is absolutely necessary to carry the larger narrative forward. Each story is enough by itself and the crew reboots at the beginning of each episode as if the previous did not happen. There are no lingering discussions of the previous bounty or events which have already occurred on screen. We don’t see Faye moving her things to the ship or adjusting to life on it. She is just there from the next episode. Yes there are progressions to the story but those are exceptions and not the norm.

This also ties closely with the idea of ‘Being like Water.’ The story weaves through drastically different genres across episodes but adapts itself in each one to become that particular genre. It wastes no time to build up the genre but starts already deeply immersed within it and the characters are just dynamic and subtle enough to blend across them and each story feels lived-in. Because of this, when you hear the original OST, it does not fall into any particular genre uniformly even though the series title would make it natural to assume that the music would be all jazz….incidentally why the OST of the Netflix version struck me because it was mostly just jazz, indicating that they never managed this fluidity. We know that as well since they ran with the same story across ten hours, bloating it up unnecessarily. More on that later. When you hear the anime’s music it belongs to drastically different genres with jazz being but a part of it because it adapts to these differing episodes. 

And finally, there is the philosophy of discarding all which is superfluous. In Jeet Kune Do, there are no telegraphed movements , nothing which does not contribute immediately to the combat at hand. Bebop is an embodiment of this. There are no wasted frames, only as much is told to the viewer as they require to understand the story and keep up with it. There are no dramatic, detailed backstories, just glimpses. Everything you see is absolutely necessary to be seen and the story told within 20 minutes feels richer than a 3 hour movie because of this. It leaves as much to the imagination as it shows on the screen. 

I feel Netflix lost out on this while making their version. Instead of the string-of-experiences, monster-of-the-day feel of the original, this one tried to do too many things at-once. It tried to bring in monsters but they stayed on the screen too long, spoke too much, did too much. Spike’s past, which had appeared to us mostly as remembered snippets in the anime, now runs through several hours of the series.  

Emotions which were depicted through silences, fleeting expressions, glimpsed memories, are now spoken about for several minutes. It all just feels too over-the-top. It might not, were the new series an adaptation of anything else, but the sheer contrast between the minimalism of the original to the almost maximalistic depictions of this version, is bound to leave one feeling a bit overwhelmed. 

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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.

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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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