During a recent acknowledgment of Cowboy Bebop's twentieth anniversary, a number of director Shinichirō Watanabe's thoughts on diversity in anime and the kinds of decisions he made when creating not only Bebop but his beloved series Samurai Champloo, his successor to Bebop.
LeSean Thomas from Crunchyroll shared some of Watanabe's thoughts, screenshot from an interview, in a tweet. Here's what it said:
“I paid a lot of attention to skin color,” Watanabe said in The Jazz Messengers. “Also to using multiple languages. Lots of times when you watch anime, the characters have white skin — all the characters in fantasy stories all have white skin, which I never liked. I wanted to have lots of characters in Bebop without the white skin, and if people weren’t used to that, well, maybe it would even make them think a little bit about it. The same was true for languages. I wanted to have lines muttered in multiple languages, but that would have been just too difficult,” he laughed.
About a year ago, Thomas shared another, similar quote from Watanabe that dealt with his concerns over nationalism -- an issue facing most of the industrialized world.
“The anime does deal with samurai, and in the back of my mind I always worried it would be seen as nationalistic,” Watanabe said during a discussion of Samurai Champloo. “That is why I made one of the main characters someone from the Ryukyus, and put in the bit about a person training in China, and had foreign characters appear. If you watch the anime, it’s clear that i has nothing to do with it. It is not an anime designed to ‘protect Japan’s unique traditions and culture.’ National borders have always been arbitrarily drawn by people, and in ancient times there was a lot of exchange of people and culture with the continent.”
Samurai Champloo is set in an alternate version of Edo-era (1603 to 1868) Japan with an anachronistic, predominantly hip hop, setting. It follows Mugen, a vagrant swordsman with a more contemporary personality; Jin, a composed and stoic rōnin; and Fuu, a brave girl who asks them to accompany her in her quest across Japan to find the "samurai who smells of sunflowers."
A live-action, American adaptation of Cowboy Bebop is in development, and has been moving slowly forward since early 2017.