Cowboy BeBONK!

The talk of the internet recently was the live-action Cowboy Bebop TV series co-produced by Sunrise Entertainment for Western audiences. I’m late to the party, (I was busy with this, cut me some slack!) but my concerns line-up with everyone else: I think it’s a terrible idea. Irrespective of how we’ve yet to have a successful anime-to-live-action adaptation in the West, unless you’d consider Speed Racer the exception, not only has the ideal time passed, but it doesn’t seem like there’s anywhere left for this franchise to go. Not to mention, it largely exists as a “lightning in a bottle” series.

Let me explain.

I’ve been trying to write an analysis on Cowboy Bebop for over a year. I’ve scrapped my format several times, tried again several more, and even put the whole project on the back-burner to work on easier articles. Cowboy Bebop’s way too difficult to talk about on any other level than purely emotional, as while I take issue with certain facets of it, it’s as much a part of my Otaku nostalgia as anyone else. And I didn’t even know it existed until early-2009, well over a decade after it’d finished syndication.

My issue with analysis is twofold: on one hand, its characters are so well-established that telling you why you should love Spike, Jet, Faye and Ed would take forever and probably bore you to tears. On the other hand, its well-established characters exist in a world that’s so experimental cinematically that discussing them in-depth would take forever, probably bore you to tears and confuse you to no end trying to understand why the show succeeds as much as it does. In other words, Cowboy Bebop is best meant to be experienced.

That alone should be cause for concern with this rumoured adaptation. It’s also not like this is the first time it’s been announced anyway; after all, Cowboy Bebop was rumoured for theatres for over a decade. Its constant talks, rumours and failed launches have even seen its focus, aka Keanu Reeves, go from being one of the hottest action stars of the 21st Century, to a laughing stock with no financial return, to back to being a hot-topic action star following John Wick and its sequel. Simply put, Cowboy Bebop coming to the West isn’t anything new.

What’s new, however, is the change from the big-screen to the small-screen. On a surface level, this isn’t a bad idea: Cowboy Bebop’s premise and writing work best as serialized television, as evidenced by the original anime being a 26-episode show. In addition, attempts to translate it to other mediums have proven less-successful. There was a Manga adaptation that no one talks about, and the movie, Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven’s Door, took heavy flak for being an elongated episode of the show proper. So this adaptation being a TV series seems like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a good idea for two reasons. Superficially, the time for Cowboy Bebop to be ported is over. The original show began syndication in 1998, roughly 19 years ago. Since then, it’s seen a dub release on Adult Swim in 2001, a DVD release that went out of print when Bandai’s American distributor went under and a Blu-Ray rescue courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment. The show has also transcended into the mainstream, such that non-anime fans have seen and enjoyed it too.

If anything, Cowboy Bebop being remade in live-action would’ve been perfect when it was at its height of popularity, or at least around the time of the film in the early-2000’s. Like Ghost in the Shell, making a live-action adaptation now would feel late and unnecessary, as well as disassociated from the original material. Essentially, Cowboy Bebop’s become so synonymous with anime that anything else is awkward. Not to mention, knowing past adaptations of anime, it’d probably miss the point of the original show.

But on a deeper level, I’m not sure if Cowboy Bebop would work to the same extent as the original. The 1998 show, like many other timeless classics, was a by-product of circumstance. Recreating a show is one issue, but making it work in the same way? Even if a live-action show ends up being good, and this is a big IF, without the directorial prowess of Shinichirō Watanabe it’ll be nothing more than an above-average sci-fi Western. Even if a live-action show ends up being good, without the cold, subtle writing of Keiko Nobumoto it’ll lack that punch needed to be an instant classic. And even if a live-action show ends up being good, without Yoko Kanno’s legendary compositions it’ll never reach the heights the original was famous for. You could probably find workarounds for aforementioned, but it’ll never be the same unless all three came together.

I’m not sure if we need a live-action Cowboy Bebop anyway. Ignoring Firefly, sci-fi/space operas are a-dime-a-dozen here. There’s Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and that’s naming the obvious ones! If Cowboy Bebop were to be remade into live-action TV, it’d only get lost in the shuffle. And that’s even worse than it being made at all.

I’d love to be proven wrong. I’d love for a successful reimagining of a classic anime to make it big in the West. Classics are classics, but sometimes the success of a good idea is if it can be redone in a unique way for a different audience. Cowboy Bebop, if done properly, could be that. But it’s doubtful that it will, for the above reasons. So while having Sunrise Entertainment as the producer is a step in the right direction, at the same time I’m not sold on this at all.


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