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Cowboy Bebop review – a slick and spirited slice of TV cyberpunk | Science fiction TV

While propping up the bar at a gaudy intercourse membership on Mars, a rakish bounty hunter improbably named Spike Spiegel (John Cho) locks eyes along with his present goal: a murderous, anxious thief. The self-amused hero has an ice-cool opening line able to go. “We are able to do that the simple approach, or the enjoyable approach,” purrs Spiegel. The result includes a frantic foot chase, a rooftop struggle and a memorable second with a gigantic provocative billboard.

Doing issues “the enjoyable approach” appears to have been the mission assertion for this live-action adaptation of a 1998 Japanese anime sequence, made with the blessing of its authentic creator Shinichirō Watanabe. However even when you have been unaware of Cowboy Bebop’s animated origins it may not take lengthy to twig that this 10-part sequence was impressed by an exuberant cartoon. The 2021 model is a fast-talking, visually amped-up area western that feels stylised and swaggering to close saturation, powered by the identical jazz freakout soundtrack that helped make the unique an everlasting cult hit.

It’s set in a vibrant however messy sci-fi future, precariously constructed on prime of the technological and pop-culture litter of now. An unspecified catastrophe on Earth has pushed humankind out into the native cosmos, creating a new galactic frontier. There are area station casinos and gleaming cyberpunk cities but in addition numerous rickety cities and dusty outposts on far-flung moons (the sequence was shot in New Zealand and usually appears to be like appropriately otherworldly). An extra of outlaws and ne’er-do-wells in these hardscrabble locations has made bounty searching a well-liked occupation. Freelance “cowboys” usher in villains – useless or alive – for a reward, identical to within the outdated west.

Spiegel is a gifted sharpshooter and martial arts grasp. His imposing companion Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) is a tough-as-nails former cop with a metallic arm. By rights, they need to be elite bounty hunters. But, owing to dangerous luck and questionable private selections, the pair are continuously on the again foot.

They battle to maintain their heads above water even earlier than sharp-tongued rival Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) gatecrashes their clunky amphibious spaceship, the Bebop. Maybe as a result of of starvation, the temper on board the Bebop is often irritable or sarcastic. The verbal fencing among the many trio is nearly manic – the ship’s breakout area even has a sitcom-ready scuffed yellow sofa.

However all three voyagers even have painful secrets and techniques that threaten to overwhelm the current. Spike has a difficult historical past with ashen-haired gang- enforcer Vicious (Alex Hassell) and songbird moll Julia (Elena Satine). Most episodes contain the Bebop crew chasing down larger-than-life criminals – together with hardline eco-terrorists, killer clowns and a deranged bomber in an outsized teddy bear masks – with the prospect of a confrontation between the laconic Spike and the merciless Vicious effervescent just under the floor.

Playful groove … John Cho as Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop.
Playful groove … John Cho as Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop. {Photograph}: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix

Sustaining such a heightened, madcap tone is a high-wire act that depends on the charisma of the three leads. Shakir, previously a menacing heavy in Netflix’s Luke Cage sequence, is gruff however convincingly big-hearted because the ex-cop who dotes over a daughter he not often sees. Pineda’s Faye is an entertainingly dismissive motormouth who reveals emotional depths because the season unfolds.

Each have glorious chemistry with Cho, an actor who radiated decency as Sulu within the latest Star Trek motion pictures and uptightness within the Harold and Kumar franchise, however has not often been given the prospect to play the best individual within the room. Right here, he finds an insouciant, playful groove, and the dedication of his bodily efficiency goes past hand-to-hand fight coaching. He has additionally mastered Spike’s languid anime gait, arms parked within the pockets of an angular blue swimsuit that may not look out of place on a Duran Duran album cowl.

There’s a high-quality custom of futuristic exhibits inventing swear phrases, notably Battlestar Galactica’s “frak” and Firefly’s “gorram”. Cowboy Bebop sticks to extra acquainted curses. Such unvarnished swearing and occasional scenes of nudity imply that regardless of the poppy colors and energetic motion, this isn’t a sequence that the entire household can watch (not like The Mandalorian, that different story of searching bounties and forming advert hoc households on the fringes of civilisation). However it all provides as much as an fulfilling feeling of anything-goes delirium. At a time when well-liked sci-fi has gone gritty and self-consciously “darkish”, the caffeinated fever dream of Cowboy Bebop seems like a loving distillation of the unique and a breath of contemporary air.

Cowboy Bebop is on Netflix from 19 November; the unique anime may be streamed on Netflix, Amazon Prime and All 4

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