Netflix's Cowboy Bebop Just Can't Move on From "Tank"

"Tank!" is an all-time great opening, but Netflix is already testing the limits of its reach.

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John Cho's Spike Spiegel lights a cigarette in an scene from the live-action Cowboy Bebop's opening titles.
John Cho, presumably after hearing “Tank!” for the 721489672395th time.
Screenshot: Netflix

Netflix has much more serious problems to deal with right now than overusing a really good anime opening. But if you do want to find something to complain about that isn’t, say, the streamer’s ongoing and terrible reactions to workers protesting its treatment of and response to trans employees in the wake of Dave Chappelle’s latest stand up special, overusing a really good anime opening is as good a reason as any.

There’s little less than a month until Netflix’s long-awaited live-action Cowboy Bebop adaptation hits the embattled streamer, but we’ve not really seen all that much of it—some pictures, an announcement here, some opening titles there. Hell, this week, in lieu of a trailer (which will drop next week instead), we were given a specially filmed skit. Almost all of those tiny glimpses—I’m sure the company would’ve found a way to soundtrack an image gallery if it could’ve—have been accompanied by “Tank!,” the legendary opening composed and performed by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts that taught a generation of anime fans that they thought they liked jazz when in actuality all they liked was Cowboy Bebop.

Don’t get me wrong: “Tank!” is great, an all-timer, and anime fans know this. Which is why Netflix constantly invoking it whenever it talks about its new series is starting to feel a little less like a nod to Bebop fans and more like slamming them over the head with the idea that yes, this is just like that show you already like. This, as its creatives have tried to assuage doubts that this live-action adaptation can stand on its own two feet, and that it wants to be in the “spirit” of the original series, rather than just a carbon copy of it. It’s weird, because, well, we have that show we already like, it’s called Cowboy Bebop. What’s the point of this new iteration if not to try and do something new? And yet, “Tank!” has been everywhere in the series’ marketing.

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When the streamer announced that Kanno would return to create a new score for the series, it did so by having its new cast listen along to “Tank!” rather than any of that new material. When the streamer revealed the new series’ opening titles, it revealed that they’re actually just the old titles, but re-made with the new cast, “Tank!” still intact as always. Even this week’s short wasn’t set to new music, but “Tank!” once more. When Netflix wanted to distract you from its LGBTQ employees and others walking out this week as Ted Sarandos went on to admit he made a “gross simplification” in his initial, near-sighted response to concerns employees and others had about bigoted, anti-trans sentiments shared in Chappelle’s The Closer, it did so by having its genre-related social account tweet out the news that the original anime series was now streaming on the service... and yes, reminding us that “Tank!” is pretty good, right?

The new Bebop has yet to really back up its creatives desire to have iterated on what made the original anime so beloved in the first place, and couching itself in the familiarity of its most iconic piece of music over and over—especially when returning to the well as many times as it has so far—begins to feel more and more like it’s trying to make up for something. By invoking “Tank!” so often, it feels like Netflix is less ready to blow this scene than it thinks it is—and if it’s really ready to jam, it’s as a tribute band more than anything else.

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