Cowboy Bebop remake: Do we really need Netflix's live action series?

As Netflix embarks on a new chapter of live-action remakes of beloved anime series, Josh Withey asks who they are actually being made for

In another step towards global media domination, Netflix today announced a live-action remake of the anime series Cowboy Bebop. To say that this is a risky venture would be an understatement. As the first anime ever to be broadcast in the United States, thanks to Adult Swim, it’s considered by many in the West (myself included) as their gateway into the world of Japanese animation. Its unique characters, setting and storyline, sublime score and finite run time (one season and one movie) is something that simply doesn’t come along very often and I urge each and every one of you to watch it.

But this news raises a very interesting question: why produce a live-action remake?

Cowboy Bebop - Trailer

A Bebop live-action movie has been gossiped about for years on internet fan forums and respectable news sites, with actors such as Keanu Reeves rumoured to play Spike Spiegel in a Western adaptation. But, as with many internet rumours, these never came to pass. Clearly, it took a giant like Netflix (and Netflix’s money) to finally take the plunge and reproduce what many believe to be a near-sacred chapter of anime‘s history.

For die-hard fans, and those who appreciate the overwhelming contribution Bebop has made to anime – and to how anime is perceived in the West – news of a live-action remake could be a cause of concern. However, there are glimmers of hope; Shinichiro Watanabe, Bebop’s original director has been brought on as a consultant on the project, which, if they listen to his guidance, will make the world of difference. His follow-ups of Samurai Champloo and Kids on the Slope are masterpieces, and Netflix getting him on the payroll is probably one of the most sensible aspects of this somewhat crazy project. However, the likes of set designers Shoji Kawamori and Isamu Imakake, and mecha designer Kimitoshi Yamane from the original anime all, at present anyway, seem missing from this initial announcement. Yes, Mr Watanabe was the spark that made the Bebop and Swordfish fly, but without the geniuses who helped craft his world, the ships and vehicles and the tech on display – we could be left with a lifeless series dressed up scraps trying to cosplay as its elder brother.

When anime live-action remakes are done badly, or merely half-baked, they’re excruciating to watch. Take, for instance, the Dragon Ball Z movie or the slow-motion car-crash that was M Night Shyamalan‘s The Last Airbender.

But, despite the overwhelming evidence that live-action anime adaptations or remakes don’t work, there have been some diamonds in the rough, and Bebop may turn out to be one of them. Shusuke Kaneko’s Death Note movies were, unlike the Netflix adaptation, a fairly faithful re-tread of the original manga and anime. This year’s Bleach movie, adapted from Kubo Tite’s hugely successful Shonen Jump manga, landed surprisingly well with both fans and newcomers alike (you can even watch it on Netflix). And, Park Chan-wook‘s incredible Oldboy is a hammer to the face of anyone who says that live-action adaptations don’t work – Oldboy was, in fact, a crime manga from 1996.

Another detail that could make or break this venture for Netflix is the music – an aspect that many argue is the lifeblood of Cowboy Bebop. The amazing soundtrack written by Yoko Kanno and performed by her band Seatbelts raised Bebop from an exceptional anime to the high pedestal that fans place it on 30 years later. As you can probably tell from the title, the music is integral to the lore and fabric of the entire series. You could even go so far to say that remaking Bebop with a new soundtrack wouldn’t work – the songs are as much a part of the characters a their names and story arc themselves. Many will breathe a sigh of relief if Netflix announced that they were simply going to re-use Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts recordings, but I fear we may have to endure a “re-imagined” version of the opening theme “Tank”.

Personally, I feel no one really asked for a live action re-make. When speaking to someone about “where to start with anime” the first answer is almost always stream Bebop - it’s 26 sessions (episodes) of pure perfection and an excellent starting place for anyone in the gargantuan world of anime. Netflix was already golden in many fans’ eyes for simply licensing the sub and dub of the series and streaming it on their service – we no longer had to go hunting for the DVD box sets. Which raises the real question: who is this remake for? I doubt it’s for the fans, despite having no new Bebop since 2003 they’re not crying out for more. It’s not for people who have never seen the series, unless Netflix has managed to create some sort of mind reading machine they haven’t told us about. So, is this live-action remake simply be for people who don’t like watching anime or animated shows? If that’s the case, who are these people, what do they have against animation and how can they ignore a plethora of interesting stories, settings and characters simply because of how they’re produced?

Whatever happens, it seems thanks to Netflix we really will “see you space cowboy…”

Sunrise / Netflix

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in