Cool cats looking for a hip dose of nostalgia might consider tuning in to Netflix’s new live-action rendition of “Cowboy Bebop” that recently landed on the streaming titan’s roster. The legendary Japanese anime series first aired back in 1998 and followed the exploits of a trio of charismatic bounty hunters traversing the galaxy in the year 2071 aboard their Bebop spaceship.
Over the decades, “Cowboy Bebop” and its swingin’ retro soundtrack by composer Yoko Kanno has become an influential touchstone for artists, writers, directors, comic book creators, and video game designers lured to the cool pop culture sensation that came to America via Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim program in 2001.
Delivered by executive producer and showrunner André Nemec (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), Netflix’s 10-episode “Cowboy Bebop” remix arrived on Nov. 19 starring “Star Trek’s” John Cho (Spike Spiegel), Daniella Pineda (Faye Valentine), Mustafa Shakir (Jet Black), Elena Satine (Julia), and Alex Hassell (Vicious). It’s a wild ride that perfectly nails the jazzy vibe and spirit of the source material alongside some gorgeous visual effects that never disappoint.
Sadly, Netflix has decided to not bring back “Cowboy Bebop” for another season and announced its cancellation on Dec. 9. Despite mixed reviews, the live-action space western adaptation did garner over 74 million viewing hours worldwide since it premiered on Nov. 19.
Space.com spoke with Nemec on the pitfalls of adapting a beloved anime series, staying faithful to “Cowboy Bebop” fans, and the careful alchemy of cast chemistry.
Space.com: Why was this the right time for a live-action adaptation of “Cowboy Bebop?”
I think it was the right time just based on the fact that the anime endured the test of time. It’d been tried and hadn’t worked and been through iterations and I think the right iteration was to do it as a TV series versus a movie. When I got a phone call about “Cowboy Bebop” I was initially a little leery of the material. It is the hallowed ground of anime and at the upper reaches of what people love and care about.
André Nemec: But I had come to the show through music. So it was the soundtrack and the poetry that was the anime. The deeper I dug into the skin of it the more I started falling in love with the stories that I knew we could tell.
Space.com: How difficult was it staying faithful to the original material yet giving the TV series its own identity without alienating fans?
Nemec: For me, everyone has their memory of “Cowboy Bebop” and everyone is going to bring their history and experience with the anime to our retelling. I can’t ask for anything other than to preserve an open mind and look at our telling as an expansion of the series, and maybe a remix living in the ideas and characters of the world. People have certain expectations in their own mind as to what it can or would be. I tilled the land in the fertile soil of the anime and this is the fruit that I yielded. And I like it. I stand by it and think we served up a nice dish.
Space.com: How did you cultivate the cast chemistry that’s so evident on screen?
Nemec: It’s huge to get that chemistry right. There’s always the alchemy of making it and you can put all the ingredients in the cauldron and stir it at the right temperature and right time and you get lead. The actors bonded a lot through the training and bootcamp work in the early days before they really had to dive into the character chemistry on set.
But we also spent a lot of time in rehearsals working the material and making sure that the voices the actors were bringing were the ones that made sense on the page. Finally, there’s that blink reaction in the casting process which is, “That’s it!” Like Jet Black just walked in the door. I can see it because I know what the center of the character is, and it’s a man with a heart full of jellybeans. And that’s exactly who Mustafa is.
John was the same way. I knew him as a very talented go-deep actor, but I knew he had this very wry wit and sense of humor. I told him that it’s a big thing for us to take on. “You’re taking on Spike Spiegel and I’m taking on “Cowboy Bebop.” Should we hold hands together and do it?
And Daniella was the same way. She just has the fire that is Faye Valentine. So putting them in a room and winding them up and letting them go was pretty easy. The first time I heard them all read the words out loud we were in New Zealand in pre-production. I knew in that moment that it’s all going to fall into place.
Space.com: Bringing back Yoko Kanno for the series’ score was a cool nostalgic touch. How vital was it getting her to contribute new arrangements for this project?
Nemec: It was hugely important to me. Again, I came to “Cowboy Bebop” through the soundtrack. Yoko is part of the soul of the show. So to get her to come back and rework some pieces to find the 2021 live-action version of those iconic songs, and to find new pieces of music that lived in the characters and theme, that was an incredible journey. I think that soundtrack for the season is absolutely worth a release out in the world. People will find that soundtrack. It’s that good.
Space.com: Can you elaborate on the impressive visual effects in the series and how that process evolved?
Nemec: The special effects are outstanding on the show. We spent a lot of time looking at pre-vis and doing a lot of development. We really worked the Bebop, worked the Swordfish, the astral gates, the planetaries. We looked at a lot of designs and put a lot of 3-D models on turntables.
What’s interesting about the anime is that the Bebop itself isn’t consistent throughout the series. The size and shape change. So we really looked at it to find our shape and then engaged some phenomenal VFX companies around the world to take it on. The beauty was that the companies that took it all on had “Bebop” fans built into the company as artists. Everybody really threw a lot of extra hours and extra care into it just to love on “Bebop.”
Space.com: What are the plans for “Cowboy Bebop’s” future and will there be a second season?
Nemec: Nothing would be better than to keep telling more stories of the “Bebop” crew. Write your local Netflix representative and tell them you want to see more! There are definitely ideas spinning for season two. There are some great stories, great characters, and great things still yet to mine from the anime that I’m excited about.