The last few months I’ve been giving a small insight into my experience watching Trigun, Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop. While every one of these shows has elements of a space western in it, all three shows provide a slightly different take on the genre. So there is no necessity to compare these shows with each other. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll focus on genre and the overall viewing experience now that I’ve had the time to distance myself from these shows.
When I think of western as a genre I mostly think of the dusty, desert frontier with gunmen riding into the sunset. And I really blame Sergio Leone for that. This image isn’t really created anymore, but I’m happy that elements of the western genre can be found in many other media. And how could it not be, our current culture of Sci-Fi-Fantasy adaptations creates a playground for elements from all genres to be combined. So naturally we find our westerns there as well.
Of the three shows Trigun looks visually the most like a western. It shows survival in a desert and brings many worldbuilding elements we associate with the old west. Think of hoarding water, wanted posters and train robberies. You name it and Trigun delivers.
But while it delivers the experience closest to a western, it is also the anime that I personally liked the least. As mentioned by BennettTheSage in his video on Trigun, the anime’s appeal is directly related to the main character. And this is where I have a disconnect with the show. I do think Vash is an interesting character. But I personally need a bit more than a unique protagonist. I want Vash to have more meaningful interactions with the world to keep me interested. Trigun delivers some interesting opponents, but with the lacking narrative the complete package isn’t capable of holding my attention.
Like I mentioned in my blog, it was in fact the only show where I was actively questioning if I should continue to watch. For me Trigun is mostly a slow paced “new town, same problems” kind of a show, and I don’t find that interesting enough. Especially if the big selling point of the show isn’t capable of holding my attention, even though I tried very hard to find something akin to my taste in the show1.
It has been a while since I’ve watched something like Outlaw Star. By that I mean a self-conscious, fun, episodic show. The science fantasy of this universe is great but I am still convinced that there is a lot of unused potential. Even though I am aware that the main plot just serves as a the initial catalyst to start of the series.
The shows imagination of what strange species and places are out there are on par with Star Wars, and I find it a pity that we did not see more Tao magic in action. What gives this show it’s stickiness is the sense of grand adventure. That there are worlds to explore without limit. Something the other two shows don’t really have in them. In Outlaw Star, space is still a dangerous frontier and I find it a pity that there isn’t more adventure to it.
I’ll be short since you’ll probably know what comes next if you read my piece last month. Cowboy Bebop is a mix of hommages and tropes, exerted to the fullest. That might be the most accurate description I can give. It’s not just the characters or the storyworld. It is the combination of elements packed in a beautiful wrapper of sound and imagery. And every time I watch it it gets me. Not just the western or noir elements. It’s the complete package. Especially episodes like Ballad of Fallen Angels or Jupiter Jazz are a treat to watch. I’m not really sure how these will look and feel when experienced in live action.
I have no doubt that most of the people involved in the remake of Cowboy Bebop have the best intention to make it as good as they can. But I do question the need of doing one in the first place. My personal ruleset for doing a remake would be:
1. Is the original story still worthwhile to tell.
2. Has the animation aged poorly?
3. Are the technical advancements in the medium improved enough to warrant one?
4. What does it add to the (tv) medium to do this remake?
Obviously the answer to question 1 would be yes. From my perspective the answer to 2 and 3 would be no. Even when considering that a live-action adaptation is something different than an animated remake, all three of the shows mentioned here don’t need a remake when purely looked at the visual quality. The nineties animation might be a bit dated, but it sure is not bad2.
Which leaves us with question 4. The only reason I see for doing a remake is that it shines light on a great product that should receive (more) recognition.
Because this adaptation is in a different medium than animation, it doesn’t add anything to said medium. And based on the released opening credits I’m not sure what this show will add to the medium of (streaming) television. At this moment we are a month away from the Netflix release and the only thing we can do is wait. If the remake can capture the essence or the viewing experience of the original it will most likely receive less negative critique than when it doesn’t. We can only tell after the fact.
The viewing experience
While all of these 3 shows have a big “made in the nineties” stamp on them, they all are vastly different from each other. And while I have my preferences, each show had some aspects that I enjoyed. Overall the viewing experience was good and I did not regret it. Should you find yourself in a situation where you do not know what to watch, know that 1998 saw the release of 3 great animated shows. They might not all be as easily identified as westerns, but if you look closely, you will find that each of the protagonists are dealing with their own frontier.
- Perhaps this review from Glass Reflection may be your selling point to watch it.
- Disclaimer: This could be my nineties nostalgia speaking