This week, after years of speculation, we finally get to see Cowboy Bebop in live action. Headed up by the guy who brought us The Mandalorian and rolling out via Netflix, it’s premiering to a wide variety of opinions and expectations. And, just before, the streaming service hit us up with even more live-action anime news.
We’ve known about some of these for a while now, of course. But with Gundam and One Piece deets dropping just ahead the Bebop‘s maiden voyage, it feels like A Lot. Is there a point to all this? More importantly, is it sustainable? America’s relationship with live-action anime is far more complex than Japan’s. But we’ve got a lot incoming, so it’s as good a time as any to crack this open.
How long has this been going on?
The Netflix push toward anime adaptations is, compared to Japan’s, relatively small. Dig deep enough and you can find IRL takes on just about any series. There’s Magister Negi Magi, for instance, led by a Nogizaka46 grad. A French-Japanese Rose of Versailles film titled Lady Oscar. And, lest we forget, the first Lupin the Third film wasn’t animated: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy dropped seven years before The Mystery of Mamo. And there’s more by the year.
Live-action anime is something of a matter of course in Japan. And because there’s so much of it, there’s a bit less pressure for every single one to be exceptional. Ideally we’d love every single one to be great. But when they’re more a part of the landscape, failure — or, worse, mediocrity — stings a little bit less. So will an increased number of anime adaptations lessen the anxiety? It depends.
What’s the purpose?
The question here isn’t why Netflix (and others) are making these remakes. Rather, we mean what should the purpose of a live-action anime remake be? There are lots of potential answers. Modernizations. Updates. Really just wanting very much to do it. Having something new to say within the story. Regardless, remakes and adaptations thrive when they bring something new to the table, rather than simply trying to be the best version of what they’re remaking.
Theoretically, these adaptations could bring something very important to the table. But not for us: for everyone else.
Will you listen to their stories?
With Cowboy Bebop, Netflix is doing something a lot of us have been trying to do for more than 25 years: convincing our families to watch Cowboy Bebop.
Anime may be entering the mainstream. But there’s still the concept of anime being something one does or doesn’t watch, as opposed to one of many media you can use to tell a story. No matter how good a story is, if it’s anime, it’s a hard sell to some people. If done right, Cowboy Bebop — and One Piece, and Gundam, and so on — will meet people halfway. And maybe, if people see what kinds of stories anime can tell, they’ll be more inclined to close that distance on their own in the future.
Cowboy Bebop hits Netflix this Friday, November 19.