It’s never a good idea to try to recreate a masterpiece. And “Cowboy Bebop,” from 1998, is perhaps the most acclaimed anime film since “Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell.” Netflix has gone ahead and made a live-action adaptation of the animated sci-fi-noir-Western, starring John Cho as brooding intergalactic bounty hunter Spike Spiegel.
This one, like all private eye stories, revolves around a love affair gone wrong amidst a cast of suspects. However, it’s mostly an excuse to hang out with a trio of mismatched, grumpy, heart-of-gold space cowboys as they flit from one bad idea job to the next.
This “Cowboy Bebop” excels at a few things. First, it corrects some of the original’s racially homogeneous and blatantly sexist elements. Second, it’s enticing to viewers who are wary of animation. After a few sips of this, they might be ready for the original’s more potent material, which is conveniently available on Netflix as well.
Cho doesn’t let you down. He struts around in Spike’s iconic blue suit with a melancholy swagger, his hair a chaotic cloud that looks impeccably coiffed despite not being greenish like his animated counterpart’s. He captures Spike’s soulful nonchalance perfectly, and he seems at ease fighting thugs with a bathroom towel dispenser or smoking a cigarette while hanging upside down out a window, bathed in the neon glow of a strip-joint sign.
The pilot and ex-cop Jet Black, played by Mustafa Shakir (“Luke Cage”), is Spike’s partner on the patched-up spaceship the Bebop, and while his long mutton chops look hilariously glued-on, it’s nice to see an actor of color in the role.
(The character is drawn White, but the English-language voiceover actor who plays him in the anime is Black.) Faye Valentine, the amnesiac con artist who joins forces with these two: Daniella Pineda’s take is just as prickly as the original, but she’s twice as clothed. Faye was kept in a barely-there crop top and painfully short shorts in the original “Bebop,” which transcended a lot of anime’s ickier leanings. She gets some much-needed pants and combats boots here. (In a sardonic Instagram post, Pineda apologized for not being six feet tall and for having a “two-inch waist and double D-size breasts.”)