Cowboy Bebop's Creator Took Some Liberties With Their Limited Budget

No one expected "Cowboy Bebop" to be a major success — especially not the people that were bankrolling the production. The series creators actually stretched their budget so thin that they angered executives and shareholders. The studio was concerned that "Bebop" wouldn't resonate with enough viewers, and even the show's animator and director Shin'ichirô Watanabe didn't expect it to take off. Despite the lack of faith in the project, it would become one of the most globally beloved animes of all time.

"Cowboy Bebop" was born from a meeting between Watanabe and Masahiko Minami, who would later become the show's producer. "[Minami] approached me to ask if I had any good ideas for a new project," Watanabe recalled to Otaquest. "After about 2-3 days of deliberating, something I had thrown together over the course of an hour known only as 'Bebop' surfaced."

The series originally got its funding from an unexpected source — the Japanese toy company, Bandai. "There was a very real buzz on the streets in regards to a 'Star Wars' revival," Watanabe explained. "This piqued the interest of Bandai's toy division in producing something with spaceships as a central element — they thought both the series and affiliated merchandise would sell well."

Once "Cowboy Bebop" moved into production, funding immediately became an issue. The toy company pulled their sponsorship early on. "They didn't think such a dark and subdued portrayal of spacecrafts would do any favors to their toy sales," Watanabe admitted. The series was saved by Bandai Visual at the last second, but the budget remained problematic for the rest of production.

Stretching the Bebop budget got Watanabe in hot water

Bandai Visual may have saved "Cowboy Bebop," but their executives were still wary of the show's potential. "During the production of the first few episodes, there were a lot of internal stakeholders saying things like 'This show is too adult, there's no way this will work" and 'It's just too pretentious,' as well as other cold things," Watanabe remembered.

The rich animation of the series gives the impression of ample funding, but the series creator ensured fans that this was a myth. "People very often say that 'Cowboy Bebop' was allocated a substantial budget. Not true! We just used a lot of money," he revealed at Japan Expo in 2018 (via Sakuga Blog). Shin Sasaki, who worked on the series as a production assistant, remembered that "the higher-ups got very angry" with Watanabe. Minami also took the heat when "Cowboy Bebop" went into the red. "It's also my job as a producer to get yelled at by the higher-ups. Being in that position doesn't mean the money is mine either," he explained.

Despite the adversity that "Cowboy Bebop" faced during production, it eventually became a great success. The very same people that doubted the project in the beginning "began to change their attitudes when the show did manage to grow a following," Watanabe told Otaquest.

So why exactly did "Cowboy Bebop" defy all expectations? "To this day, I really couldn't tell you why 'Cowboy Bebop' gained popularity and began selling," the series creator admitted. "I still think it went way over budget." Even so, Watanabe is as grateful for the fans as the fans are for his show. "If 'Cowboy Bebop' had failed, I guarantee I'd be working at a ramen shop by now," he confessed. Whether you love "Bebop" for its sci-fi world-building or its nods to classic cinema, we see you, space cowboy.