Any weeaboo worth their con merchandise knows the name Cowboy Bebop, and I’m no exception. The series is a ’90s classic and features the best anime theme song ever written. It has received both popular and critical acclaim and regularly tops lists of “best anime of all time.”
So naturally, there’s no way that monied interests would leave the show alone in 2018. According to Deadline, Bebop is getting a 10-episode live-action reboot from Netflix. The talent slate behind this series is absolutely stacked; set to helm the spaceship is Christopher L. Yost, writer of Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. Netflix and Tomorrow Studios will co-produce the series, and other collaborators on the project include Midnight Radio (High Fidelity) and even Sunrise, the studio that made the original anime, with the original director, Shinichiro Watanabe, set to be a “consultant.”
Cowboy Bebop is a genre-busting space-western about a group of broke bounty hunters and their pet corgi. It was the first anime on Adult Swim, and manages to be both funny and serious, delving into themes like existentialism and loneliness. And, lest I forget to gush about it again, the soundtrack is absolutely amazing.
I think this announcement has dropped in a really interesting moment in the cultural conversation surrounding the differences between film and animation. As an original-version purist, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to escape that tinge of skepticism when I hear that a cartoon is getting a live-action reboot. My kawaii innocence has been shattered by the likes of Ghost in the Shell and The Last Airbender.
Beyond my own cynicism, there’s also the persistent argument about whether live-action is actually any better than animation. Animation as a medium is simply, at its core, different from live-action. A lot of production concerns, like set design and effects, blend into an animated world with more cohesiveness than they could in live-action, especially in sci-fi and fantasy genres.
This Cowboy Bebop news drops one week after the “live-action” Lion King trailer, which raised lots of eyebrows with its shot-for-shot recreation of the original film’s opening sequence. Aside from the question of whether an all-CGI film can even be considered “live-action,” the trailer basically looks like someone took a brown “realistic” filter and slapped it over the vibrant colors and distinct shapes and compositions of the original and then upscaled the resolution. These “realistic” takes on classic scenes undermines the work of animators who slaved away to make those sequences memorable back in the ’90s.
And yet, I’m starting to turn around on this sentiment, slowly but surely. The main reason is that it’s 2018, and everything’s on the internet now. The original Cowboy Bebop hasn’t gone anywhere and you can watch it for free on Funimation right now if you want (if you don’t mind ads). This live-action series brings the name Cowboy Bebop back into pop culture discourse. It draws attention to the original. It gives people on-the-set jobs.
And that’s even if it sucks. Remember how nobody talked about Ghost in the Shell besides anime scholars until they decided to remake it in live-action? Several of my less passionate anime fan friends hadn’t even seen the original until they got mad about the cast whitewashing.
Beyond this, all the people attached to this project seem extraordinarily qualified. Yost’s career was built on writing animated series’ based on comics, so he’s got experience with the original’s medium. Tomorrow Studios has had decent success in the past, but their plans to do a One Piece live action series screams “anime is our passion,” and the anime’s director being on the team is definitely a positive sign.
I’ve been burned before by live-action anime adaptions, but I’m holding my breath for this one. Even if it’s bad, it’ll at least give me a relevant excuse to dress as Spike at next year’s DragonCon.