From Death Note to Cowboy Bebop, from One Piece to Yu Yu Hakusho and beyond, Netflix is on a mission. They’re adding title after title to their “Geeked” lineup, courting anime fans with the promise of their faves in glorious 3D. Except… well… it hasn’t always worked out. Some adaptations have fallen weirdly short of the marks. Others hit for many, but don’t make the fandom at large believe. It doesn’t take long for an attempt to get swept under the rug, only to make way for the next try.
We’ve talked before about shows the streaming juggernaut could approach if they want some stronger bets. But let’s assume they’re going to continue as usual, acquiring and adapting prestige titles. How can they woo audiences and get some surefire hits into their anime-to-live-action charts?
Treat It Like a Remix
The Netflix adaptation of Cowboy Bebop was divisive at best. While some considered it a travesty simply for existing, others enjoyed the retro grindhouse style and reinterpreted take on the familiar plot. While not every episode hit home, installments like “Binary Two-Step” (the live take on “Brain Scratch”) gave us a glimpse of what could have been. To new fans, the show was an Inception-inspired psychological deep dive. To long-standing Cowboy Bebop enjoyers, it toed a unique line: using the fans’ knowledge against them to add an extra level of suspense as Spike jacks into the deadly machine.
For anime fans who are already somewhat averse to their favorite show getting redone, the promise of something “just like the original” doesn’t do much. You can just go watch the anime again and know you’ll like it. Approaching it with the mindset of an OVA or film—familiar territory with a new twist—will lure more existing fans than shot-for-shot trailers.
Don’t Ignore Non-Anime-Watchers
Anime is more mainstream than ever, but that doesn’t mean everyone will watch it. There are still plenty of people who don’t watch anime because… well, they just don’t. They treat it as a genre rather than a medium, and miss out on some fantastic stories that way. Netflix, with their live-action adaptations, has a chance to circumvent that.
Many of the shows they’re approaching—Death Note and Gundam, to name just two—would absolutely appeal to more mainstream viewers. Yes, even the giant robot classic could strike a chord, given its political intrigue. Courting mainstream viewers who wouldn’t give the shows a chance otherwise could drive up numbers. And, as a bonus, it might finally break that “no anime ever” seal.
So Netflix could approach all their anime adaptations with a more remixed feel. They could reach out to non-anime-enjoyers with more accessible feeling shows. But the truth is, a live-action anime adaptation will never make everyone a believer. Because no anime adaptation ever has—here or abroad.
Japan turns out anime and manga adaptations all year, every year. Some are forgettable. Some, like Japan’s live-action Death Note, actually hit. The vast majority do not. And even the ones that show quality and faithfulness to the source material aren’t going to win over everyone. Making anime with real people is tough.
So what’s Netflix’s best bet? Stop trying to make the entire fanbase believers. Put out shows that are accessible to non-anime-watchers, and remix the content enough to give long-time fans something fresh. Then, stop promising the moon and stars, and let the shows speak for themselves. Or, better yet, try adapting a series that would benefit from the live-action treatment. Either way, accept that there will never be 100% fan approval, and go from there.