Live-action anime adaptations are tricky, as the years-long development of Akira (a film that shows no sign of coming out anytime soon) more than proves. Hollywood is content to keep trying, though. Now that Scarlett Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell has been released with a sputter and a collective shrug, it’s Cowboy Bebop’s turn.
The iconic and still wildly popular 1998 series – which was followed by a movie in 2001 – is now in development as a live-action TV show, according to Variety. Tomorrow Studios, a partnership between Britain’s ITV Studios and producer Marty Adelstein (Prison Break), is spearheading the series alongside other producers including the original anime studio Sunrise. Chris Yost, best known for superhero work like Thor: The Dark World, is writing the new series.
In the long history of live-action anime projects that just never quite worked, Bebop might just be the property that breaks the curse. The influence of Western pop culture is all over the series, from its jazz soundtrack to its dirty space opera vibe. Set in 2071, in a universe where humanity has left earth and colonized the solar system, the series follows the adventures of three down-on-their-luck bounty hunters who jet around chasing paychecks and just hoping for their next meal. The show’s hero, Spike Spiegel, is more than a little Han Solo-esque, with a dark past and a seedy reputation to boot. The overall space cowboy vibe might also remind you of Joss Whedon’s cult hit Firefly, though Cowboy Bebop actually predates that series…and it’s actually better. Sorry, that’s just the truth.
In addition to its obvious American influences, Bebop has a massive built-in audience on this side of the Pacific, particularly people who were kids in the early 2000s. If you were in high school when this show was making its way to America, there’s a good chance someone at least tried to shove one of the DVDs in your face. There’s also a good chance you’re one of the thousands of kids who found Spike and his pals on Adult Swim one lonely Saturday and fell in love. Cowboy Bebop was an essential part of the American anime boom at the turn of the millennium and as a result it retains massive goodwill among now-adult consumers who would happily buy a ticket. This is, after all, the anime beloved even by people who don’t care about anime.
That said, is this adaptation necessary? Probably not. Nearly 20 years after its debut, Bebop still holds up thanks to its future setting, masterful visuals and timeless sci-fi pop sensibility. You could give it to a teenager in your life right now and watch their eyes light up as they discover its magic. You could even still give it to someone who’s not an anime fan and win them over.
That kind of power is exactly the kind of thing that’s drawn executives to this adaptation, though. So now, we can only hope for is a competent translation.