Cowboys aren’t the only attraction in Cowboy Bebop
This live-action adaptation pushes the yeehaw agenda even further
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Howdy, I’m Joseph Lew, editor of Netflix Pause! These last few days, I’ve only had one thing on my mind: cowboys. In case you’re worried I’m a horse girl (although I AM sucker for some yeehaw smut), don’t despair – these thoughts only came up since I’m legit spending my weekend at a cattle ranch.
Every cowboy seems to have a cool name. If you look back through the archives, there’s Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, Nat Love. And even amongst the Australian cowboys – or bushrangers as they’re better known – there are some zingers, like Ned Kelly and Captain Thunderbolt.
In order to get properly into the yeehaw mood, I asked my friends to anoint me an honorary cowboy title. Unfortunately, they're all unoriginal and couldn’t think of anything better than this (see below), so I turned to Cowboy Bebop for some inspiration instead.
Back in 2018, the yeehaw agenda took flight. What started off as cowboy hat emojis and country-related Twitter jokes transformed into a full-on cultural phenomenon, questioning whether the spirit of the Wild West ever even left. Infiltrating everything from film, to dress, to music, cowboy culture came back bigger than ever. But as Andrew R. Cho highlights in an article for Time Magazine, the yeehaw agenda goes far deeper than merely an aesthetic, symbolising a moment of reckoning in America’s identity.
The phenomenon sought to challenge the idea of who could even be a cowboy in the first place. Films such as Concrete Cowboys and The Harder They Fall transposed people of colour into narratives that had previously excluded them, and musicians such as Orville Peck and Lil Nas X sought to redefine expectations around sexuality within the subculture.
But if the resurgence of Wild-West symbolism is reflective of a transition in the cowboy identity, perhaps Cowboy Bebop’s latest iteration couldn’t have come at a better time. This is a title that’s always been ahead of the curve; one that placed queer and ethnic cowboys on screen when it first aired as an anime back in 1998. This live-action adaptation continues to be as box-pushing as its predecessor, playing with the usual Spaghetti Western tropes to construct an eerily accurate critique of American society.
Cowboy Bebop takes the Western genre to space (unfortunately there’s no Clint Eastwood here), in what can be best described as a combination of Altered Carbon, Peaky Blinders, Space Sweepers and Guardians of the Galaxy – a futuristic-neon-western-cyberpunk-noir hybrid. The series is centred around Spike Siegel (John Cho), an ex-Syndicate mobster formerly known as Fearless (another cool cowboy name!!!) and his outlandish posse of cowboys, made up of Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), a former cop with a cybernetic arm, the arrogant and hard-headed Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), and a stubby, hyper-intelligent corgi named Ein.
While the roguish characters attempt to outrun their past, there’s an inadvertent American dream-esque struggle shadowing every moment. The characters might not be after a white picket fence nor notoriety – Jet only wants to buy his daughter a birthday present – but relegated to performing work considered lowly within this intergalactic society, they suffer under a system that keeps them in the dirt. After the very first bounty that Spike and Jet complete, the pair are only awarded ₩ 100,000 for their efforts, an amount that as Jet points out, “barely covers fuel, let alone food”. The series is mildly reminiscent of Squid Game – both titles encapsulating the painful despondency of those operating on the margins of society. And like the South Korean thriller, if you ignore the hyperbolic villains and otherworldly nature of it all, Cowboy Bebop leaves you questioning whether you’re watching a work of fiction or not.
Much like its animated predecessor, Cowboy Bebop is miles ahead of its time. While the original series had characters that pushed the conventions of ‘90s society – celebrating genderqueer and BIPOC characters on screen; the live-action adaptation also speaks to something far greater than it lets on. The cowboys of Cowboy Bebop might be far removed from the American frontier, but beneath the Hong Kong-style kung fu fight scenes, flashy shootouts, and jazzy Yoko Kanno score, lies a shifting identity for the Wild-West genre and a gritty vignette on misery, capitalism and survival in the Western world.
Cowboy Bebop is streaming from 7PM AEDT.
Watch these too:
Cowboy Bebop, the original 1998 anime. The popular series has it all: space cowboys, a Yoko Kanno soundtrack, and a catchy anime introduction. Also more Ein!
Altered Carbon, a cyberpunk noir based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name. Set more than 300 years in the future, in a time where human bodies are interchangeable, the series follows interstellar soldier Takeshi Kovacs, as he solves the ultimate crime: murder.
Peaky Blinders, which follows a notorious gangster family. Centred around their fierce boss Tommy Shelby, this gritty series will transport you to the grimy streets of post-war Birmingham.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs for more Western wilderness. Written, directed and filmed by the Coen brothers, this anthological film explores the American frontier through six unique vignettes.
Space Sweepers, a South Korean sci-fi space adventure. Whilst chasing space debris, four misfits discover a highly-wanted humanoid, who they decide to ransom off.
I can’t stop thinking about:
This new website that tracks the Top 10 titles on Netflix globally. According to the site, Bird Box is the most popular English film, Blood Red Sky is the most popular Non-English film, and Bridgerton and Squid Game are the most popular English and Non-English series respectively. How interesting is that!
Paris Hilton’s Bel Air wedding. In her own words: sliving!
Britney Spears who is FINALLY free from her 13 year long conservatorship, which rendered her unable to freely manage her assets, communications, and personal decisions.
Taylor Swift’s new album, Red (Taylor’s Version), which was released alongside a ten-minute version of her hit All Too Well, a short film featuring Sadie Sinks and Dylan O’Brien, and Blake Lively’s directorial debut in I Bet You Think About Me. This is Taylor’s world and we’re just living in it.
How Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson are officially dating?!?!
Harry Styles’ newly launched gender-neutral beauty brand, Pleasing. With the tagline “find your pleasing”, Styles says the brand is about “finding those little moments of joy and showing them to people”. Consider me pleased!