Anime fans around the country clutched their chests in fear as they read the fateful words that Netflix is planning on adapting Cowboy Bebop into a 10 episode live-action miniseries.

If you’re an American anime fan like me, then you’ve probably been a person who has had to suffer through several horrible live-action adaptations. It seems like Hollywood never gets their approach to live-action anime correct. Sometimes, it can seem like the industry doesn’t even try.

Therefore, I’ve provided a set of lessons Hollywood should have learned from their past mistakes. Maybe by outlining them, the powers that be can finally get the message, learn what to do, and make Cowboy Bebop actually awesome.

cowboy bebop

Lesson 1: Cast accordingly

My biggest fear for Cowboy Bebop is that whatever studio might be behind this on behalf of Netflix might assume that the story needs to be “Americanized” for western audiences to understand it more. This kind of thinking is indicative in a lot of the live-action anime films we’ve seen. Audiences can be smarter than Hollywood assumes they are — a live-action film about an anime doesn’t have to be divorced from its Japanese history for American audiences to love it. By the same token, a film doesn’t have to have just white American actors playing Japanese characters for us to care about it.

If the very public Ghost in the Shell debacle taught us anything, it’s that American animephiles want the integrity of their favorite shows to remain intact. Part of that includes respecting the fact that these shows stem from Japanese culture and include Japanese characters.

The story itself is so intertwined with Japan’s grief and anxiety about its past, particularly the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how it’s dealt with such anxiety by throwing itself into technological advancement. The underlying theme of Ghost in the Shell is the push and pull between the old traditions and the new, detached ways technology make us feel about life. Because of the historical and poignantly Japanese sentiment behind Ghost in the Shell, it makes the most sense to me to hire a Japanese cast (or, since we’re dealing with Hollywood, at least an all-Asian one). Instead, Hollywood went the route of simply focusing on the “cool” technological elements of the story instead of the all-encompassing, intrinsically Japanese sentiment within. Thereby, the entire film (and its casting) missed the point of the story entirely.

However, it must be said that not every anime adaptation has to have an all-Asian cast for it to be deemed respectful. You might be surprised to know that I think that the type of casting that goes into a live-action anime adaptation actually depends upon the type of anime that’s being developed.

I’ve evolved to this line of thinking after writing a piece elsewhere about the upcoming Alita: Battle Angel. Originally, I wrote that the actors should have been Asian actors. But, as I did more research on the anime, I started thinking about how several characters don’t look Japanese, meaning that casting for them can be more lenient. For instance, Christoph Waltz’s character Daisuke Ido looks very much like a white man, despite his Japanese name. Shady Scrapyard businessman Vector is definitely a black man. To top it all off, the manga takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States, particularly Texas, California, Colorado and Missouri. Since that’s the case, it makes more sense to have a multicultural set of actors portraying the characters.

So where does Cowboy Bebop come in with this? It’s set primarily in space, the characters and influences of Cowboy Bebop are culturally eclectic, with the show drawing from American westerns, “spaghetti” westerns, blaxploitation, and crime dramas. Characters hail from different cultural and racial backgrounds, such as several black characters who have featured in the show, a surprisingly high amount for an anime.

Cowboy Bebop also features a wide range of music in its soundtrack, most notably jazz, a fully-American artform (particularly an African-American artform). But at the same time, its focus on space exploration and technology after a world apocalypse still comments, albeit loosely, on Japan’s continuing conversation with itself about its future after its own technological apocalypse. So how does one cast for this type of film while being respectful to the Japanese sensibilities that are in this show? What I’d do is cast a wide net.

To honor the show, I’d give Spike to an actor of Japanese descent. I feel like that’s only fair, given that creator Shinichiro Watanabe based the suave protagonist off of Japanese ‘70s movie star Yusaku Matsuda. As for the rest of the cast, I’d look for actors of all cultural backgrounds who best fit the role. If I had my way, the entire cast would be multicultural, to showcase how much the apocalypse has affected people from all walks of life, to the point of making a go of it in space.

Thankfully, it seems like Netflix is going in this very direction. According to That Hashtag Show, the casting breakdown is very diverse. Actors of Asian descent (including biracial and multiracial actors of Asian descent) are being looked at for Spike and Faye. The casting breakdown for Jet includes African-American or biracial/multiracial actors while the rest of the characters, including Ed, Julia and Vicious, actors of any ethnicity are being considered.

Lesson 2: Respect the story

I’ve already touched on respecting story in my first part, but just to reiterate: respecting the source material is highly important. For some reason, Hollywood seems to think it can simply ignore said source material, for reasons mentioned above.

Fans are much smarter than the studios give them credit for, though, and they can tell when a studio hasn’t respected their favorite story enough. Let’s take Dragonball Evolution, a film based on the highly popular Dragonball series. I’m a huge fan of the Dragonball franchise, so like an idiot, I went to see Dragonball Evolution, even though I knew it would possibly be bad. My gut feeling was definitely right; it was a horror show in the worst way.

It ignored the premise of the original anime, transforming Goku’s mythic alien warrior into a high school student trying to get the attention of it girl Chi-Chi. Plotlines were ignored, villains were drastically overhauled, and somehow only Emmy Rossum’s Bulma came out as the best part of the film, despite the obvious racial issue. But even with a mostly successful Bulma, the entire film was horrendous. Tonally, it didn’t know if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama. It didn’t know if it wanted to appeal to diehard fans or newcomers to the property. It also didn’t seem to know what it’s own original story was or why fans loved it. What’s probably the most annoying thing is that the original Dragonball series was an action-comedy in the vein of Jackie Chan’s early action-comedies from the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Something like this should have been easy to replicate into a film, even with the fantasy elements. But instead, the studios behind this film wanted to blend Dragonball, a comedy, with Dragonball Z, which is much more dramatic in tone. The experiment of trying to meld the two resulted in a film that didn’t work at all.

For the folks behind the Cowboy Bebop adaptation, it’s imperative that they know the story inside and out. Sure, some things might have to be changed for it to fit within a film narrative, but those changes need to make sense for the story. This is when Marvel has to be commended for its attention to detail; even though all of their films have had some artistic license when it comes to translating comic book characters to the big screen, most of the changes have made sense on the larger scale. For instance, it’s much healthier to see the Falcon updated into an upstanding ex-military man instead of how he was originally positioned in the Marvel universe – a man who had lost his way, moved from Harlem to Los Angeles, and became a drug dealer before finding the path towards superheroism.

I assume something will be changed during Cowboy Bebop’s transition to Netflix. But let’s just hope that the folks behind the project know what they’re doing so we don’t have another Dragonball Evolution on our hands.

Continue Reading How to Break the Anime Adaptation Curse >>

Pages: 1 2 3Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: