With the release of Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the anime “Cowboy Bebop,” it looks like the company hasn’t quite learned its lesson when it comes to live-action versions of the classic anime. Despite the poor critical reception these adaptations have received from fans and critics alike, Netflix still seems to insist on pushing back more, with live-action series based on “One Piece” and “Yu Yu Hakusho” still in the works. preperation.
While live-action, western anime and manga adaptations are nothing new, the subgenre became the subject of ridicule in 2017 with the release of “Ghost in the Shell” and “Death Note”. While they received criticism for their perceived bleaching, inconsistencies in character, and pacing, most of the fan complaints boiled down to the fact that the adaptations were just an inferior way to experience those great stories.
Despite the fact that live-action anime and manga adaptations typically block their source, I don’t necessarily buy into the purist opinion either. There are great adaptations of live-action manga, and at times, they’ve even eclipsed their source in popularity. “Oldboy (2003)”, “Ichi the Killer” and “Rurouni Kenshin” all offer an experience equal to or better than their original manga.
The difference between these quality adaptations and those offered by Netflix is in the design philosophy behind them. While good adaptations borrow from dramatic and human stories, Netflix seems to adapt based on what’s popular. What they fail to understand is that animation as a medium is often the cause of a show’s popularity, and the switch to live action can often ruin that appeal.
The biggest franchises in the anime / manga industry usually have something visually unique that cemented itself in the minds of the audience. “Bleach”, “Soul Eater” and “Death Note” are all anime style, but they each have a unique art style that is expressive and recognizable.
The freedom artists have to design their own characters and backgrounds gives them infinitely more control over the visual style of a work than any makeup artist or set designer can ever have. This is why popular anime merchandise sells; they are visually captivating designs.
For some of the more popular animes, the realization is also very different. In the transition from anime to live-action, Netflix has sucked in the film noir style of “Cowboy Bebop” and the gothic imagery and biblical gravity of “Death Note”.
A review of the acclaimed anime that I often see from non-fans, is “why was there a need to animate this”. The answer is simple: it was the choice of the creator. Reviews like this seem to stem from a bias against animation as an inferior medium for storytelling.
This line of reasoning has led to a plethora of live-action anime adaptations that seem to conform to Hollywood conventions rather than offer anything unique.
While the original “Cowboy Bebop” didn’t offer much special in terms of plot or character development, the series’ animation and music still hold up particularly well in the modern era as so many other series seem completely homogenized. Without the budget or the creativity to capture this with a camera, Netflix’s version has a certain inexpensive look in terms of costumes, sets, and lighting. The high-quality animation of the original has been replaced with inexpensive effects.
If Netflix (and other U.S. companies) want to tap into the anime market, third-rate redesigns to popular franchises won’t be enough. With sufficient budget and marketing, original content is a much better investment than remakes.