I don’t like doing blog posts like this overall, I find them too negative, which is something I have tried to be less of. However, I recently made some tweet responses to the live action Cowboy Bebop announcement, and I thought I would give clearer thoughts on the subject.
First, let me specify that I am talking about Western live-action anime adaptions. I am not the biggest lover of the over the top Japanese live-action adaptations, to be honest, but they are sort of a tradition, and I get them more. They are also far more likely to be closer to the anime even if they are a bit… weird.
Secondly, I do actually have what I believe is a valid reason for feeling this way. It’s not some “I’m an anime purest” thing, I’m not. I am not even the biggest anime fan anymore. I watch a few series when I can, but since my early twenties, it’s just not been as big a part of my life. Even when I did watch a lot of anime regularly I still never considered myself the most die-hard of fans. I like dubs, I like remakes, I like outside of Asia anime, the more “hardcore” fandom was never something I connected with.
My problem stems from the confusion over the audience that happens with western adaptations. It seems that the companies behind them don’t want just to make a straight anime remake. Honestly, I have some amount of respect for this. I really don’t understand the trend of what is basically shot for shot live action versions of animation movies. The idea of taking the story and experimenting with it is not my problem, what is my problem is what is more often than not done and lost in the process.
They become extremely westernized because they believe the anime audience is not big enough to appeal to on their own, and the people outside the anime fanbase won’t like it unless it is westernized. This often leads to controversial choices, but even setting that aside, a significant loss in themes. When you take something that is inherently Japanese but then slaps America all over it, there is, of course, a lot of things that become lost in translation. Essential elements are either odd in the context or just plain dropped.
I think another significant issue is that a lot of people that make these live-action adaptations don’t actually seem to really grasp what made the anime what it was at its core. Ghost in the Shell is once again a great example of that as most of the philosophical questions posed by the anime were wholly lost in tits and action of the live action movie.
It becomes a problem of the effort to westernize the source material to reach a broader audience more often than not dumbs it down, goes on a completely different path, or both. Go watch Seven Samurai, then the original Magnificent Seven and tell me that making the movie “American friendly” didn’t lead to a much more simplistic and kind of less meaningful movie.
But wait there will be people who worked on the anime working on Bebop!
Well, one person, whose role hasn’t been entirely defined. It does give me some small amount of hope, but if they are one voice drowning in a lot of voices that have never really seen or cared for the anime, then it won’t make much of a difference.
It’s not just that I hate the idea because I hate the idea. I hate the idea because history has shown that making live action anime more approachable to a large western audience leads to a shallow and problematic end result. Even with the presence of some voices that should be able to guide it in a better direction we keep getting the same thing. And the problem is it’s not just anime fans that are disappointed. Even with trying to make it more approachable it remains largely too strange or off-putting for the average moviegoer.
Either the people wanting to make these adaptions need to commit to being more faithful to the source material or they need to admit they don’t have an audience.
I might be wrong, and if I am, I will be the first to admit it. Netflix might have learned their lesson with Deathnote and have every intention of staying close to what Cowboy Bebop is meant to be. However, what I imagine will happen is that we will get a possibly fun and funny space series without the introspection of the broken characters and the crazy blend of space, jazz, the clash of cultures, and important but more subtle themes that made the show such a well-loved one.
I guess we’ll see…