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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