Tribulations Of An Adaptation

Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard was this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Say that with a little bit of Southern twang and it sounds even more brimming with simplistic sophistication than it already is. The great thing about this saying—which is one of the few sayings to stem from Southern farmers that should still be used today— is that it can be used in really any context, and with any sort of medium as its subject. Pushing off the inevitable—maybe something’s a bit off with your car, or the incessant update reminder on your computer— if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Use it. Throw the phrase around a bit at work and see what happens. Mix it into your daily vernacular and step back, await the in-abundance of change that occurs when you decide to leave things the way they are.

The most I seem to throw the term around, other than when I don’t want to do something that I don’t see as completely necessary, is when a film or TV show is being re-made, brought back from the grave where it peacefully rests in glorified fandom, or adapted from book or animated series. Either way, the concept of bringing different mediums to life is often a collective cry of the lack of creative abundance amongst major studios that risk ruining the source material just to appease these companies’ drive to stay relevant and garner a profit.

 I’ve discussed this concept of re-using a narrative before, mostly in terms of sequels and their lack of creative ability, but with the impending release of the live-action adaptation of an anime I hold dearly to my heart, Cowboy Bebop, I find myself asking the question, why exactly are we making a live-action version of an anime show from 1999? Or, maybe more importantly, is a live adaptation of an anime show made 22 years ago really what Hollywood should be producing at this moment?

It brings me back to that heralded line, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So why would creators risk tarnishing the stature of the incredible anime series, a show that effortlessly weaved immersive narratives into a captivating and beautiful futuristic world, filled with genre influences ranging from spaghetti Westerns to samurai cinema? Maybe Netflix doesn’t see the risk of what churning out another poorly made revival can do to the original source material. Perhaps enough time has passed in the eyes of producers that they see now as the most opportune time with the growing rise of popularity in anime to try and capture some of that audience. It probably comes down to money, as things always seem to, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for a little while and conclude that they are attempting to pay homage to the original, while crafting a rejuvenated show for a budding audience.

It’s a short leash that I give to them under these circumstances, but a leash nonetheless.

Even with these concepts in mind, I still want to say it. And right now the words are bubbling, forming at the tip of my tongue ready to release at a moment’s notice.

 If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At this point, with a show of this stature and the streaming service that’s producing it, the phrase is more of a request, a meek statement that I hope they see through with genuine care. The live-action Cowboy Bebop is due to release in a little under a week, and I’m really starting to hope that whatever these creators saw as broken in the original anime, they do not attempt to fix to the point where this new endeavor becomes unrecognizable from the original. 

I’ll admit that I’m nervous that this live-action take on Cowboy Bebop will not live up to the high standard that the original anime set. But perhaps I also need to change my mindset a bit. If anyone, myself included, is expecting a complete word-for-word, plot-for-plot, revival of the show then they will surely be disappointed, and that’s not what anyone should want either. Adaptations never stay true to the source material whether it be novels, manga, or comics. There is always some form of deviation and some fans that will without a doubt be displeased.

 What makes a great adaptation, is a skillful attempt to try and capture the essence of the original, through practically the same characters, but under different circumstances or with more well-developed narratives that pertain to a world twenty years after the series was created.

The original series was a vibrant excursion into a future world where planets acted as different towns, some far removed from society and completely engineered to reflect these neo-noir films that I can only word correctly as a combination of The Searchers (1956) and Blade Runner (1982). The crew of Spike, Jett, Faye, Ed, and Ein, all aboard the Bebop had a motley vibe that made them outcasts to the external world, but an oddly tight-knit crew aboard their ship and in the thick of bounty hunting. I could discuss the show in depth for pages and pages, but for the sake of brevity I’ll save that for another time.

Writing this now I notice the sure influence that Cowboy Bebop had on shows and films that dominated screens since its debut, only paving the way to the popularization of anime amongst Generation Z.

Again, there are some aspects of this show that I truly hope the new one will have the heightened ability to capture, like the complicated relationships between each member of the Bebop crew, their diverse backstories, and this constant struggle to make ends meet that I feel still resonates prominently with audiences today. I don’t think any of those aspects from the original need, or should be, “fixed” to once again return to my favorite line.

And yet, I’m sensing from reading the casting of these characters, that Netflix’s foray into the realm of live-action anime will allow for more inclusivity amongst the characters and their gender roles (although I would argue that the original series never depicted Faye or Ed, really any female character other than Julia in some instances, as a helpless female archetype). Once again, anyone who gets bent out of shape because Jett, played by Mustafa Shakir, isn’t the same skin color as the original Jett, or Faye, now played by Daniella Pineda, isn’t sexualized overtly with skimpy outfits, needs to understand what day and age they are living in. Changing details is fine. Changing what made these characters themselves is where the adaptation will take a wrong turn.

The world is incredibly diverse and if you think about it, a world set hundreds of years into the future will surely be more diverse than ours is today. And above all else, I’m sure these performances will be great. I can’t say that I wasn’t hesitant to hear John Cho was playing Spike, but after watching the trailer numerous times I’m certain he will embody the anti-hero flawlessly.

So, maybe there were some tiny little pieces of the show that were broken after all, especially in terms of how today’s gender roles are viewed. If it is a little bit broke, you probably should fix it, especially if it pertains to important issues like the ones identified. 

With all of this in mind, I’m still in the majority that believes Netflix may be taking on this adaptation solely to garner the crowd of anime and Bebop fans that will without a doubt flock to watch the show. If this is the case, the adaptation may be doomed before it ever even saw daylight.

Netflix is the unanointed king of producing films and shows that control the realms of Twitter and the rest of social media, where people who constantly hear about them are inevitably forced to watch. Some of their most popular shows are adaptations of books (yeah, You. was originally a book).

And this isn’t the first time that the streaming service has swung at a live-action anime adaptation and subsequently missed badly. In 2017, both Death Note and Fullmetal Alchemist were released on Netflix and amounted to nothing more than two films that angered the fans of the original. In these instances, the foundation of each source material was inherently lost, or changed, or white-washed to please an audience versus actually adhering to what made the anime series and manga popular throughout the world.

The warrant to worry about how Netflix’s further step into adaptations has clear room for arguments, but all one can hope for, and as true fans that’s what should be wished for under these circumstances, is that the show will not follow live-action predecessors in their missteps, but find a way to embody what made the original show great even as people discover it decades later, while modernizing aspects that need to be fixed.  

Hopefully, Netflix and developer André Nemec don’t see too many things broken with the show, and that from there, the need to overcorrect and fix, isn’t necessary. Treat it like I would, fix the little things, what really needs to be mended, but the big picture, the overall sense of what’s important and what made the show what it is, leave it be. 


Image Sources:



The Verge


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