After all of the fanfare building up to the release of Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop, the series ultimately ended up falling flat on its face, and after only about three weeks Netflix has decided to cancel the show.
To say this is unsurprising would be an understatement. The vast majority of live-action adaptations of anime have been well below par, with Cowboy Bebop being poorly received by the majority of fans and critics.
Despite this, and rather interestingly, I would say that Cowboy Bebop was one of the better adaptations, showing just how low the bar is. It is still far from the gold standard of adaptations in my opinion however which was Battle Angel Alita.
So, how did things fall apart in this instance, and where does the problem lie? I think the problem with any adaptation is that fans go in with differing expectations. Some people may want something that is a shot-for-shot of the original work, while others may want something that is a complete reworking. Then you have people who want everything in between.
I think the producers of this Cowboy Bebop adaptation tried to make something that sits centre-left on this spectrum. I think for the most part, the series was largely faithful to the original in many aspects, but others were changed a great deal such as with the characters of Vicious and Julia.
Such changes throw what aspects have remained in place off-kilter, especially in the case of something like the original Cowboy Bebop where the plot was handled rather delicately. You would have thought that with Watanabe in a consultancy role, that things would have turned out better than what we received.
Netflix has two other live-action adaptations of famous anime series on the horizon in the form of One Piece and Yu Yu Hakusho, which we are currently in the process of covering. Who knows how Cowboy Bebop’s failure will affect the production of these two shows. It may be noted however that in Yu Yu Hakusho’s case, the adaptation is being produced in Japan.
Live-action movies of One Punch Man and Gundam are also in the works. The Mobile Suit Gundam film will appear on Netflix, but is being produced by Legendary. There are whisperings that it will be a story not set in any of the established timelines, which I think is a good thing.
I’m not someone to think in black and white like much of society unfortunately does these days. That said, going back to our spectrum idea, I think it’s best to stick to one side or the other. Either make an adaptation that is vastly similar to the original work, or come up with something from a new angle that is fresh and exciting.
Trying to toe the line in the way Cowboy Bebop and other failed adaptations have done is asking for trouble and leads to dissatisfaction among all audiences in the muddle it creates, both for those already fans of anime and those discovering a series for the very first time.
Rather worryingly, Cowboy Bebop was seen for many years as probably one of the easier shows to convert over to live-action and has ended in failure. Hopefully, important lessons can be learned.
Do you think attempts should still be made at live-action versions of anime and manga? Where do you think studios are going wrong? Leave your thoughts down below.