The real adaptation blues? Live-action ‘Cowboy Bebop’ series coming to Netflix

Cowboy Bebop live-action set for Netflix

In late November, Netflix made the ominous announcement that it will be producing a live-action adaptation of the beloved 1998 anime series “Cowboy Bebop.” Thus far, few details have been released about the new series. However, the streaming giant confirmed that original series creator Shinichiro Watanabe will be a consultant and “Thor: Ragnarok” co-writer Chris Yost will script the live-action show’s first episode.

On Dec. 4, rumors began to circulate about the initial installment of Netflix’s “Bebop” adaptation. According to a source who claims to have read Yost’s script, the show will be incredibly faithful to the anime and will feature recreations of key scenes from the show and its 2001 film spin-off. But the ethnicity of one of the program’s main character’s, Jet Black, was reported written for an actor of African descent.

The Recent History of American Anime Adaptations

As one of the best and most popular anime series to ever make its way to the United States, Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop” adaptation will only be received in one of two ways. It’ll either be a widely praised hit or a disaster that will be mocked for years to come. Going by recent history, the odds aren’t in the show’s favor.

The Western film reimaginings of the “Dragon Ball” and “Speed Racer” franchises in the late 2000s were notorious failures. The 2017 “Ghost in the Shell” remake was a massive flop at the box office and was derided by critics.

And Netflix’s own track record with adapting Japanese animated media has been poor. The live-action “Fullmetal Alchemist” movie the platform brought to America earlier this year was panned by audiences. And its 2017 live-action adaptation of “Death Note” was so well-liked that its director was reportedly harassed off Twitter.

However, there are a few reasons to think the Netflix incarnation of “Bebop” might be good.

Reasons to be Hopeful

The main reason to be optimistic about the forthcoming series is Shinichiro Watanabe’s involvement. Although creator involvement is no guarantee of success, the people that first brought the property to life have an understanding of it that no hired gun can match. With Watanabe on board, there’s a greater likelihood that “Bebop’s” unique visual and musical aesthetic will survive the adaptation process.

Moreover, the nature of the work makes it uniquely suited for American live-action adaptation. In creating the series, Watanabe drew upon a wide range of Western influences, including the films of Stanley Kubrick, the writing of Henrik Ibsen, and the culture of the Harlem Renaissance. And as opposed to many anime series, “Cowboy Bebop” features a lot of ethnic diversity.

Moreover, Chris Yost has a long history working with Marvel, writing dozens of comic books and for several animated series. As such, he has legitimate geek credibility and is unlikely to “Transformers” the American “Bebop.”

That said, Netflix could offset a great deal of fan cynicism about the forthcoming series with one casting choice.

The Keanu Connection

Back in the late 2000s, “Cowboy Bebop” was actually being developed as a live-action film. Several members of the creative team were signed on as associate producers and Hollywood legend Keanu Reeves was rumored to be attached. And it was reported that Reeves was going to play laconic assassin turned laconic bounty hunter Spike Spiegel.

For the uninitiated, that would’ve been the best casting choice since Patrick Stewart was signed to play Professor X.

While that film was never made, there’s no reason why Reeves can’t play Spike in the Netflix series. The seemingly ageless action star has shined in the “John Wick” film series and his participation in the show would give it instant credibility. And though Reeves is a big star, Netflix has the resources to make a move to television financially appealing.