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I Am Not Encouraged by Early Cowboy Bebop Live-Action Impressions

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When what you’re adapting isn’t just popular but regarded as an absolute classic work of art, as is the case with Cowboy Bebop and Netflix’s attempt at a live-action version, there’s vanishingly little room for error. The concern about Netflix’s remake isn’t necessarily that it’ll be bad, but that it’s been set up for failure if it’s anything but perfect, and early reactions online don’t exactly sound like it is.

Live-action anime adaptations are perhaps the only onscreen endeavors that rival video game adaptations in sheer odds against success—and in the incredibly thin tightrope they must walk. Stray too far from the source material in an effort to set it apart, and you alienate people who just want to see their favorite thing in the “real” world. Stay too faithful, and you’re all but guaranteed to wind up a pale imitation of the original.

Cowboy Bebop’s highly regarded status alone is enough to have anyone worried about how an adaptation would fare, and Netflix certainly seems to be erring on the “stick too close to the source material” side—right down to near-complete mimicry of the the title sequence, reuse of music, and bringing original series composer Yoko Kanno back for the score.

For some, that’s been reassuring and fun to see, and I truly do hope that feeling carries through the final product for them when we finally see it. For me—and, I stress, so far, as I’d love to be proven wrong—it’s felt like an object lesson in the fact that animation is a very different art than live-action and people ignore that at their own peril. (Not to mention that a lack of respect for animation as a medium, despite the incredible artistry that goes into the best of it, often feels like the direct root of live-action adaptations, but that’s its whole own subject.)

All that said, when first reactions about the new series hit social media, despite the wide range of opinion from positive to negative, they didn’t exactly do anything to ease my nerves.

A sampling of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Reactions:

A mix of opinions, to be sure, so your mileage will absolutely vary, but for me, specific opinions expressed in those tweets aside, it sounds very much like Netflix’s version hews extremely close to the source material. Pair that with the fact that it’s mixed reviews rather than overwhelming praise for somehow capturing what made the original great in the way it seems to be trying to do, and I don’t think my initial impression is likely to be changed by the final product.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Dan Van Winkle
Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct <em>Geekosystem</em> (RIP), and then at <em>The Mary Sue</em> starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at <em>Smash Bros.</em>