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‘Cowboy Bebop’ Is Getting a Live-Action Remake, and We Are Not Jazzed

The influential anime series is way too complicated for this TV remake to work, but if it’s going to happen, please cast Willow Smith

(FUNimation)
(FUNimation)

Because the world is increasingly small and there are zero new ideas, Deadline reported Tuesday that Tomorrow Studios (which is helming the Snowpiercer TV adaptation) will pilot a live-action American TV remake of Cowboy Bebop, the hallowed anime series from Shinichiro Watanabe that ran a single 26-episode season in Japan from 1998 to 1999 and has been broadcast in the States since 2001. This [the sound of a large, burdened breath being sucked through clenched teeth] makes sense. Updating an animated cultural phenomenon with … more expensive animation and a few human actors seems flatly logical; everyone’s doing it. Plus, some version of this had long been in the works; for years, “Cowboy Bebop featuring Keanu Reeves” was a strange recurring myth. But now that a live adaptation is actually happening, I have zero idea how it’s going to work. For two reasons:

First, just about everyone else who has tried a live-action anime remake has done it poorly. The problem with attempting to shift a viewer’s understanding of the source material is that a director is either too beholden to the original or not anywhere near beholden enough — the choice between capturing the details or the spirit of the product is a paralyzing one, and it often really does come down to choosing one. It’s not like adapting from a book — it’s attempting to retool or re-create scenes that convey an established and iconic visual style. So you end up with stuff like Rupert Sanders and Co. choosing the objectively worst way to adapt Ghost in the Shell, or James Wong’s Dragon Ball Evolution, which I’m sorry I even brought up.

Second, Cowboy Bebop is uniquely difficult. It’s set in 2071, and the main characters are: a former hitman for a galactic crime syndicate who was born on Mars; a disgraced cop with a robotic arm; an ageless grifter who spent 54 years in suspended animation; and a loopy, androgynous super hacker — and that’s the easy part. While ostensibly a Western that involves stargates and hyperspace, Bebop marries Chinese aesthetics and L.A. noir, and is soundtracked primarily by free-form jazz. It’s about bounty hunters who refer to themselves as cowboys but drink lao chu and talk like Dick Tracy, sometimes about Charlie Parker and Goethe. It’s Dirty Harry in Chinatown with a hint of Mo Better Blues. In space. You’d have to give Darren Aronofsky a hojillion dollars and feed him a steady diet of Clint Eastwood and Roman Polanski films for a year to make something as interesting as the source material.

It’s hard to think of worse ideas, but the audacity required to stitch together Cowboy Bebop’s many moving parts in the live-action realm is commendable. It might be pretty cool to have a roaming one-shot of two dudes performing jeet kune do in a back alley set to Flying Lotus, or something.

The larger issue here is that animated characters aren’t placeholders for live actors. But if we’re gonna do this, at least cast Willow Smith as Ed (that’s the loopy, androgynous hacker). She’s the only one who can pull it off. Give me that much.