It’s a shame Hollywood cannot get anime right.
The industry has tried and failed for years to successfully adapt some of Japan’s most prized series, so it’s easy to get what fans are frustrated. When Tomorrow Studios announced it was going in on plans to adapt Cowboy Bebop into a live-action television series, it was as if the whole fandom cried out in despair. The genre-bending series is one of the most hallowed in anime history, and fans are convinced Hollywood will only bring it ruin.
In the face of such an announcement, it is easy to become bitter - even angry - but there is reason to be optimistic. The recent failure of films like Ghost in the Shell a la Rupert Sanders or (god forbid) Dragonball Evolution has surely taught Hollywood something about anime letdowns. Cowboy Bebop is the industry’s chance to prove itself to a jaded audience, and fans should muster up faith until the U.S. proves them otherwise.
Many fans are surely questioning why Hollywood wants to touch Cowboy Bebop. The show is considered a classic amongst anime fans, and critics have only given love to its anachronistic aesthetic. The show is difficult to pin down in terms of genre because Cowboy Bebop flies in the face of organized labels. The rambling space-western is set in a distant future and follows one ragtag team of bounty hunters. Spike Spiegel is a former hitman for a galactic gang, and he’s joined by an odd bunch of crew members; There’s a shamed cop, a whacked-out hacker of no specific gender, and a chic drifter who’s interests lie solely within herself. The crew may be one of Cowboy Bebop’s easier parts to adapt in all truth, but the challenges its story presents make it one compelling story - anime or otherwise.
Western media may have no business giving Cowboy Bebop an adaptation when its anime is nearly flawless, but that doesn’t mean it cannot try. The fantastic escapism which the show weaves throughout its slow-moving story is something everyone should sample one, and a live-action Cowboy Bebop show can cater that treat to the masses. Tomorrow Studios made an audacious decision to pick Cowboy Bebop as an adaptation target, so the project will require the company to make even bolder creative decisions.
In the past, live-action anime has failed in the U.S. because it was too adherent to a story or too lack. Cowboy Bebop will have to buck the trend and find a creative team that can distill the fluid introspective nature of its story. The anime is as much about existential crises as it is hip-hop and fight sequences. Finding the balance will be difficult as best, but the studio behind Cowboy Bebop is willing to help. Sunrise has signed on to executive produce the adaptation, and Tomorrow Studios should rely on them to be more than a prop.
Aside from content adaptations, there is another thing which the live-action Cowboy Bebop series must do: hire a diverse cast. Every single anime series taken up by Hollywood has been reamed by critics for its whitewashed casts and shallow cultural transference. Cowboy Bebop may take place in a galactic future where borders don’t matter, but Spike’s crew isn’t the Brady Bunch. Each of the ex-con’s comrades come from a colorful past, and their ethnicity should not be blanketed under any circumstance.
There are plenty of caveats which come with a live-action Cowboy Bebop series, but the obstacles are surmountable. Japan showed the world such adaptations can do well thanks to its Rurouni Kenshin film trilogy. Cowboy Bebop may be a rather big order to fulfill because of its classic status, but fans should offer support to Tomorrow Studios as it finalizes its plans. If the company rebukes the pleas of its audience, then the fandom can revisit its weary state of being. And, in return, Hollywood shouldn’t then be surprised when its go at Cowboy Bebop fails miserably.