[Update] Some ambitious fans have begun a Change.org petition to save the live action Cowboy Bebop! Sign the petition here if you’d like to see more of the Bebop crew on Netflix, or another streaming service.
In June of 2018, it was announced that Tomorrow Studios would produce a live-action version of one of the most beloved anime of all time, Cowboy Bebop. A year later Netflix announced it would make a home for the project. The ten-episode first season was released in November 2021, and that’s where it all went wrong.
What Went Wrong?
You could say that a live-action reboot of Cowboy Bebop was doomed from the start, but that would be too easy. The stylised vision of the original has been elevated to the status of icon in the minds of many, and any attempt to reproduce that magic was bound to stumble once or twice.
If you’re looking for them, those stumbles can definitely stand out. The action in any anime can be difficult to translate to live-action. The writing of the original Cowboy Bebop carries a philosophical tone that was somewhat muted in the adaptation. Even our own reviewer at ScreenHub Entertainment noted “What this new show feels like is a big-budget fan film”, but why isn’t that enough?
What Went Right?
We should have never expected, or hoped for, a carbon copy of the original Cowboy Bebop. What we should have hoped for was something different and new, but that had the same reverence for the original that the fans do. That is exactly what we were given.
I have seen the original Cowboy Bebop countless times. These characters and this world mean so much to me, but I couldn’t help but love seeing Jet’s new relationships and Julia’s intelligence. Watching the Bebop touch down in the water or the Redfin II rollout of the launch bay still gave me chills. So many moments in this adaptation felt like seeing something, something I’d cherished, for the first time again.
Why was it canceled?
Netflix has never been forthcoming with its decision-making processes, but it’s not difficult to imagine how those conversations may have gone. Upon Cowboy Bebop’s release, it garnered more than its share of negative attention, the bulk of which seemed to be reviewers and fans simply complaining that it wasn’t the original. That, coupled with a drop-off in viewership and horribly misleading statistics from sites like Rotten Tomatoes, might have put pressure on the money counters at Netflix to view the first season as a loss.
Why Did It Deserve Another Chance?
The entire thing seems reminiscent of the infamous Firefly decision at Fox. While quality and critical reception were quite different, both Firefly and Cowboy Bebop were extremely stylised and ambitious for their time. Both shows were also criminally misunderstood by the corporate decision-makers at their respective networks. Finally, both shows abruptly ended after a single season, long before we truly had a chance to dive deep into their worlds.
The fact is that very few shows as ambitious and innovative as Cowboy Bebop find a firm footing in their first season. Even the holy grail of sci-fi (soft) reboots, Star Trek The Next Generation, had a relatively rocky season one, but we had faith that it could be better. If NBC hadn’t given it time, given it the chance to grow, we might never have known what it would become.
What Did We Lose?
In the end, this new imagining of Cowboy Bebop didn’t fail to deliver. On the contrary, it gave us all the style, grit, and unvarnished humanity that we could have asked for. The failing was with us, the fans. We expected too much, and gave too little.
Had this show not had such impossibly high standards to live up to, we may have forgiven its early faults and allowed it to mature on its own. It likely never would have risen to the level of sci-fi royalty, but it could have at least found its own home in our hearts. We took for granted our one chance to see the world and the people of Cowboy Bebop in a brand new light, and we are all the poorer for it.