Cowboy Bebop: Why The Netflix Series Failed
Netflix’s most anticipated Cowboy Bebop adaptation was canceled less than a month after its debut. These are some of the reasons the series failed.
The live adaptation of Cowboy Bebop was one of Netflix’s most ambitious projects and one of the most publicized shows of the year. Netflix did everything to do it right Cowboy Bebop anime to bring in original creator Shinichiro Watanabe as a consultant to hire anime composer Yoko Kanno to compose the new show. Although the live-action series heavily pays homage to the original anime in its execution and gained a large number of viewers in the first week, Netflix canceled the show after just one season.
While it’s easy to point to poor critical reception as the reason the show experienced a sharp drop in viewership over the following weeks, there are other reasons why the show failed. reaches the desired number of viewers. Part of that is because it’s an adaptation of a beloved 1990s animated series. In addition to high expectations, Hollywood and Netflix have a notorious history of misadapting popular anime. Of course, there were also issues with the writing and execution of the show itself.
Cowboy Bebop characters have undergone significant changes
One of the main issues that American and Japanese anime fans have expressed about the new series is the significant changes to the personality and motivations of the characters. At best, fans from both countries appreciated that Netflix hired various actors to fully capture the diverse solar system Watanabe envisioned for the original anime. Beyond that, however, fans felt like they were following completely different characters.
While the performances of the American actors and Japanese voices were widely praised, at the same time, their performances could not make up for the way their characters were written, which did not meet the expectations of the fans. Cowboy Bebop Protagonist Spike Spiegel went from a cool, laid-back bounty hunter who only killed when needed, to a former hitman who killed more casually, sometimes even greedily. Vicious has grown from a cold, calculating, and ruthless killer to an incompetent gangster with father issues. While Julia was even reassigned from being Spike’s Lost Lenore to becoming newest villain in the series by season 1 finale. These character changes are just the tip of the iceberg.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop fails to balance story and tone
One thing the original Cowboy Bebop the anime is famous for its unconventional story format. While the anime still has a main character and a main antagonist whose shared story informs much of the series’ progress, at the same time they are not the center of attention. Rather than telling a simple story about two former best friends who are at war with each other, the Cowboy Bebop anime chooses to focus largely on the day-to-day lives of three bounty hunters and a hacker. This includes their daily struggle to earn enough money to purchase basic necessities such as food, water, electricity and ship maintenance.
The struggles that the characters go through are often the source of narrative conflicts and the source of the humor of the anime. The characters’ pursuit of weird bounties to make ends meet is also what allows the anime to delve into various genres like western, space opera, and black classic. The Netflix series tries to capture that same tone and style of storytelling, but it fails for a reason: It does the exact opposite of what the anime does. Instead of focusing on the daily struggles of three bounty hunters trying to end it, it focuses on the war that exists between two old best friends and the impact it has on the people in their lives. As such, the decision to focus on their struggles as a side piece of the main story tends to make the series hazy and inconsistent.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop doesn’t have a clear target audience
Finding a clear target audience was always going to be a major hurdle for the live adaptation of Cowboy Bebop, and the challenge here is twofold: first, the original Cowboy Bebop anime was created for a Japanese audience, who informed the storytelling conventions of the anime. Translating this for an American audience while keeping it accessible to the original Japanese audience presented its own challenges due to the different expectations of the two audience groups. Related to this first point is the fact Cowboy Bebop Already has a passionate integrated fan base, which presented a second challenge for Netflix: meeting the needs of the integrated fan base as well as those of Netflix’s own customer base.
Commercially, to capture American audiences, Netflix picked a well-known Hollywood actor, John Cho, to take on the lead role. Cho is best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the Star trek reboot of the film trilogy, as well as his role as Harold Lee in the Harold and Kumar series of films. To capture the original Japanese audience, Netflix’s dubbing service hired the original Japanese anime actors to dub their characters for the live-action series.
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Creatively, Netflix has tried to engage Cowboy Bebop’s built-in fanbase by paying homage to the original anime as much as possible while avoiding replicating the story of the anime. It is in the latter case that Netflix has attempted to engage its own clientele, including diversifying the characters and improving those characters where they see fit. While diversifying the characters while staying true to the original anime, the Netflix series has also gone one step further to be more inclusive. Some characters have been reimagined as explicitly queer like Faye Valentine and Gren, while other characters like Jet Black and Annie have been reimagined as people of color. This allowed Netflix to launch various actors like Mexican-American actress Daniella Pineda, non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park and Luke Cage alum Mustafa Shakir.
In planning, Netflix took all the necessary steps to try to appeal to four different audience groups. In the execution, however, the series ended up sacrificing a solid creative vision which in turn failed to recreate the rewarding experience of the original anime.
KEEP READING: John Cho Issues Brief Statement on Cowboy Bebop Cancellation
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