On Tuesday, Netflix revealed via their Twitter account that the iconic and critically lauded anime series Cowboy Bebop would be receiving a Netflix exclusive live-action adaptation:
— NX (@NXOnNetflix) November 28, 2018
The series will reportedly be written by Thor: Ragnarok writer Chris Yost with series creator Shinichiro Watanabe being brought on as a consultant for the project:
This announcement comes fresh off the heels of Netflix’s announcement that another famous and influential anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, would be available for streaming on their service in 2019.
— NX (@NXOnNetflix) November 27, 2018
Yet while the arrival of Evangelion was met with praise and excitement, the announcement of the new Cowboy Bebop series has been met with criticism and worry. Fans from across the spectrum have brought up their concerns regarding live-action anime adaptations.
Many have pointed to other Western-produced anime adaptations, such as Dragonball: Evolution, Ghost in the Shell, or even Netflix’s own Death Note, as examples of the abysmal quality of Western anime adaptations. Western studios have a tendency create an adaptation that is so far removed from its source material that it hardly resembles the very property it was based on. While the distancing from the original material is most likely an attempt to entice a wider range of audiences to view the film, these arbitrary changes also alienate the fans, who were responsible for the popularity and economic feasibility of the property, who wanted to see their favorite story brought to life faithfully on the silver screen.
For others their concern is that, much like Light Yagami in their Death Note adaptation, Netflix will whitewash the cast. This point is brought up in a recent article posted on SyFy Wire:
And that’s where the cynicism builds. Cowboy Bebop is a perfect piece of entertainment, a sci-fi action-adventure with inspirations taken from film noir, spaghetti Westerns, war dramas, cyberpunk, and jazz. It’s a show that manages to be hilarious one moment then heart-breaking the next, and its ending remains one of the best in anime. Inevitably, a live-action adaptation will get things wrong, and that is something fans will have to accept. The adaptation process is tricky and 2018 is a very different world from the 1998 of the anime’s premiere.
We can accept change, but there’s one thing we won’t stand for: Do not whitewash this show.
While the crew of the titular Bebop have never had their races specified, it is apparent that the characters were created in some way to deviate from an all-white cast. Edward is dark-skinned, Spike’s design was heavily influenced by Japanese actor Yasaku Matsuda, Jet’s skin is slightly darker than his partners’, and Faye is remarked as an ‘Asian Beauty’ in the manga. In fact, when crafting the world of Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe remarked in the Cowboy Bebop art book The Jazz Messengers:
“I paid a lot of attention to skin color. Also to using multiple languages. Lots of times when you watch anime, the characters all have white skin – all the characters in fantasy stories all have white skin, which I never liked. I wanted to have lots of characters in Bebop without the white skin, and if people weren’t used to that, well, maybe It would even make them think a little bit about it. The same was true for languages. I wanted to have lines muttered in multiple languages, but that would have been just too difficult.”
In a rare instance, both the goals of the social justice inclined such as SyFy and the goals of classic anime fans are one in the same. Watanabe’s masterpiece holds a special spot in the hearts and minds of those who have seen it, and by looking at the West’s track record, it is easy to see why so many have met this announcement with disdain or pessimism. Simply put, fans want a faithful and source-accurate adaptation, rather than something so full of production changes that it barely resembles the original, legendary anime series.