Cowboy Bebop Begone – TheOASG

Cowboy Bebop Begone – TheOASG

Cowboy Bebop Begone

One Piece. Mobile Suit Gundam. Cowboy Bebop. Yu Yu Hakusho. All are great male-oriented works that also have gained mass appeal across the gender and age divides. They are also often considered gateway series, titles that help introduce Japanese media to those who have never been into or have little experience with anime/manga.

But another thing these works have in common is that Netflix revealed live action adaptations of them.

The Anime Live Action Adaptation Boom

There have been many Western movies or TV shows based on Japanese properties over the years. Some, like Dragonball Evolution and Fist of the North Star, are relegated to the ashbin of history. Others, like Alita: Battle Angel and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, have found acclaim. Titles like your name. and My Hero Academia are in production. But perhaps no one is more invested in the idea of taking Japanese media and making an American/Hollywood-style version of it than Netflix, one of the giants of the streaming industry.

In November 2018, a Netflix-produced live action version of Cowboy Bebop was announced.

In 2017, a One Piece live action was revealed, but it wasn’t confirmed for Netflix until early 2020, although there were hints well beforehand. The fact it was being developed by the same studio as Cowboy Bebop was another clue.

Legendary Pictures and Sunrise announced a live action Gundam movie in 2018, and news of Netflix’s involvement came in April 2021.

In December 2020, Netflix revealed it was making a Yu Yu Hakusho live action series.

That’s quite a list, but some may notice one notable absence. The Death Note movie is another live action animanga adaptation available on Netflix. However, the rights originally belonged to Warner Bros.

Netflix bought the rights in April 2016 (after the project already had a director and lead actor, among other staff) and released the movie in 2017.

So while you could argue One Piece isn’t a full Netflix adaptation either since it was revealed before the streaming service’s name was attached to the project, Death Note had a solid foundation well before Netflix bought the rights in. Otherwise, there’s no way it could have ready to start filming in June 2016.

While ultimately Netflix gets the credit (or perhaps blame) for Death Note since it produced the movie, Warner Bros. should also share some of the directorial choices.

Cowboy Bebop

As with any production, news about Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop trickled in over the years. John Cho, the actor playing lead character Spike, suffered an injury during filming. The show later had to get permission from New Zealand to continue filming since, by the time he recovered, the pandemic was in full swing. Composer Yoko Kanno returned to create music for the show. Many of the original Japanese voice actors reprised their roles in the dub.

Finally, on November 19, 2021, Cowboy Bebop was released on Netflix.

Early reviews were mixed, and that trend continued post-release. As of this writing, the live action Cowboy Bebop has rating of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and 56% from viewers. IMDb has the series at 6.8 stars out of 10.

Here are some example review headlines:

CNet: “Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop TV series review: A rare success”
Entertainment Weekly: “Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop review: A colorful, campy attempt at live-action anime doesn’t justify itself”
Forbes: “Live-Action ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Review: Almost Entirely Terrible”
The Guardian: “Cowboy Bebop review — a slick and spirited slice of TV cyberpunk”
IndieWire: “‘Cowboy Bebop’ Review: Netflix’s Live-Action Riff on Everyone’s Favorite Anime Is a Cosmic Disaster”
The New York Times: “Review: ‘Cowboy Bebop,’ Minus the Art”
Rolling Stone: “The Live-Action ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Takes an Anime Classic Into the Stratosphere”
The Verge: “Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop has heart, style, and some rough edges”
The Wrap: “‘Cowboy Bebop’ Review: Netflix’s Live-Action Remake Fails to Capture Original’s Magic”

Some reviewers complained there is little reason for the live action’s existence when the original anime series is so good, while others enjoyed the Netflix version’s spin on an old classic. Writer and producer Christopher Yost was one of many who hoped for more viewers in the latter camp than the former. This is from a Vanity Fair article:

“‘Hopefully a global audience embraces it, because we’ve got a lot more stories to tell,’ says Yost, who had already begun planning season two before he wrote season one. ‘Across the lore of Bebop, there are certain episodes and stories that are just slam dunk, no-brainers to tell. And I would certainly love to tell more of them.’”

But on December 10th, just three weeks after the show’s premiere on Netflix, the series was cancelled.

A Routine Misfire or Sign of Things to Come?

Cowboy Bebop had a lot of early interest, but viewership plummeted the second week.

Netflix orders additional seasons for approximately 60% of its scripted shows of two or more seasons, which is average, but Netflix usually waits for 28 days’ worth of viewership data before making that call.

Production costs were reportedly expensive, and that in combination with the lackluster reception has seemed to have led Netflix to a swift decision to not continue the series.

Obviously, with any show being axed, there are those who are going to be very upset, those who couldn’t care less either way, and those who celebrate the news. It is possible a second season could have been better than the first, with the production staff realizing what they needed to do to gain critic and audience praise. But it’s unlikely Netflix will change its mind or pass the rights to another company to create a season 2.

The big question is how Cowboy Bebop‘s lack of success will affect One Piece and other anime adaptations by Netflix. As mentioned earlier, Tomorrow Studios is behind both One Piece and Cowboy Bebop, and it’s certainly not going to be a good look for future prospects if two of their major projects bombed. While author Eiichiro Oda and publisher Shueisha are involved in Netflix’s One Piece, that comedic action series is arguably even more of a challenge to bring to life than the space Western film noir style Cowboy Bebop.

One Piece is scheduled to start filming in early 2022, with some of the cast already on location in South Africa.

Early on, the producer claimed it could be one of the most expensive television productions ever, with estimates of $9 to $10 million an episode; Cowboy Bebop allegedly was $6 to $7 million.

If One Piece has ratings similar to Cowboy Bebop, it will be interesting to see if Tomorrow Studios gets most of the blame or if Netflix will realize they need to rethink how they’re bringing these shows to life and/or choosing studios. Gundam has the backing of Legendary Pictures, the company behind Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night saga, Jurassic World, several recent Godzilla/King Kong productions, and Pokémon Detective Pikachu. The latter proves the company can create a well-received Japanese-inspired production. No information has been released about Yu Yu Hakusho aside from its December 2023 release date.

Either way, Cowboy Bebop was likely an expensive endeavor for Netflix, and although much has to already be done if filming is set to start in the next couple of months, I wouldn’t be surprised if One Piece is scaled back or retooled. They also have a perfect excuse right now: the omicron COVID-19 variant, which was first discovered in South Africa.

I personally haven’t seen Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, so I can’t comment on whether it was a good homage to the original or a halfhearted, sloppy series. I know a lot of people say a live action Cowboy Bebop or One Piece are unnecessary, but it’s a trend that happens a lot for Western animation, from Disney to Alvin and the Chipmunks to the in-development, aged-up The Powerpuff Girls.

Regardless of fans’ feelings and attachment to the original animated hits, these reimaginations can be very lucrative, and I don’t think Netflix is going to give up that easily on their anime live actions. They have to somehow find that balance between faithfulness, accessibility, and charm, and if Tomorrow Studios doesn’t pull it out with One Piece, I doubt they’re going to get another chance.

Have you seen Cowboy Bebop from Netflix? What did you think of it? What live action adaptations, both anime and Western animation, do you think are well-done?

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