The age-old struggle between original source material and creative interpretation rears its head again with Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop”, a new take on the acclaimed Japanese anime originally released in 1998. Costume designer Jane Holland used the original series’ design aesthetic as a springboard for her work in the live-action reboot, which is already the subject of fan scrutiny for not precisely replicating the animated version.
Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) served as a lightning rod for debate for costume as well as casting. Eschewing the short-shorts and crop top of the anime in favor of less revealing fashion was Holland’s “2021 way into that character as opposed to a 1998 version,” she explains. She finds the new look equally as sassy and sexy without the original’s extreme level of gratuitousness.
There were logistical considerations, too, that come into play for a live-action series, such as the practicality of stunt work during Auckland winter night shoots while in skimpy clothes.
Pineda herself addressed the controversy in an Instagram story where she bitingly apologized for not matching the anime’s anatomical proportions at “six-foot [with] double-D sized breasts [and a] two-inch waist.”
While the Faye Valentine costume drew the most initial attention, Holland explains the design process for all of them was the same. “Conceptually, [they all] have strong links to the anime, but none of them are identical [to it],” she says.
Each costume is imbued with character-building details and context. Faye, for example, has an abstract pattern on the back of her leggings may look like “just” an interesting print. However, perceptive eyes can make out the words “Babes in Arms” in stylized block lettering. The well-known musical includes a song called “My Funny Valentine.” The song’s title is also the name of the animated episode when Faye Valentine’s backstory is revealed. Of course, there’s also the Valentine song-name connection. It all ties together.
Other signature costumes include similarly significant design details: Spike (John Cho) has a “fluidity and affinity with water, so I pulled that out as a motif,” says Holland. His suit jacket has custom-designed buttons with the Japanese character for “water” on them. Its lining is printed with a pattern of falling roses representing his lost love Julia, whose own motif is a rose.
“The idea is that Spike has something of Julia wrapped around him,” she notes of the character’s heartbreak.
Of other interest is the serial number on Jet’s (Mustafa Shakir) robotic arm. A discussion about machine characteristics led to its inclusion. The number and letter combo relates to Jet’s love of jazz. The letters — CPMDNY — reference famed musicians Charlie Parker and Miles Davis’ initials, along with New York, the location of a particular performance. The numbers are that concert’s date.
While many of the costumes connect through detailed elements that relate to the characters’ backstories, sometimes the meaning is elsewhere. One of the name tags worn on-screen pegs a character as Hine, a nod to a costume cleaner in the department.
“People who are watching from the costume department always go, ‘I made that,’ so that was my way of [letting her] have a little moment as well,” explains Holland.