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‘Cowboy Bebop’ Be Gone — Netflix Pulls the Plug After Less Than a Month

Cowboy Bebop original promo art from Netflix —John Cho as Spike Siegel (center), Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black (right), and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine (left).
Cowboy Bebop original promo art from Netflix —John Cho as Spike Siegel (center), Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black (right), and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine (left). Netflix

Netflix devastated cast members, crew, and fans with last week’s news that the service is canceling the much-hyped Cowboy Bebop live-action interpretation after just one season. The decision comes less than a month after the spinoff’s Nov. 19 premiere.

Netflix invested a good deal of time and money for showrunner André Nemec to craft a series that would last beyond ten episodes. Alas, things don’t always work out the way people plan. 

Despite high anticipation for the show, the space-western flopped after its drop. Bebop garnered nearly 74 million viewing hours globally since its debut, but those numbers plunged by 59% in two weeks. Now four weeks after all 10 episodes aired, and the show scores only a rancid 46% “fresh” rating among Rotten Tomatoes critics and an only slightly less-spoiled 57% with fans.

“I truly loved working on this. It came from a real and pure place of respect and affection,” co-executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach tweeted. 

It’s not hard to see why Netflix producers invested significant time and money into developing the show — alluring futurism shining from dark sets propping up charismatic characters and narrative that’s cast in a hard-boiled gumbo of film noir, space opera, French wave.

U.S. fans of the 1997 anime series breathlessly awaited the show featuring Cho as Spike Siegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine, bounty hunters aboard the Cowboy Bebop, hunting the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals while running from their own shadowy pasts.

This began with producer and showrunner André Nemec, tasked with bringing the 26-episode animated 1998 show to real life. Nemec’s previous work includes stints as a writer and producer on the sci-fi TV series Alias and the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

It could be that Nemec was doing two things at once with Bebop. In order to be as true to the source material as possible, Nemec brought on Shinichirō Watanabe, the director of the original anime series, as a show consultant. He also was trying to create a new within Watanabe’s world.

“I think a lot of it was that there were so many things that work [in the anime], but at the same time, not wanting to do a one-to-one translation because I wanted to be served, if I were a fan, a different meal,” Nemec told to kakuchopurei.com.

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The show fell flat, despite the best of intentions and significant investment ($1.5 million was laid out for Bebop’s promo alone). Criticisms negative and positive coincidentally cited well-considered scenes and incredible action that invoked the original Cowboy Bebop with characters that did not.

Cowboy Bebop isn’t cringingly bad, but it’s also not particularly memorable either. There’s a whole lot of action, and other stretched-out, effects-laden scenes, but it’s all at the price of making its characters into people we care about watching,” Joel Keller of Decider wrote.

Previews and hints about the show suggested something worth watching. The cast initially trained with 87eleven Action Design, who also stood in as John Wick’s stunt team. Radio New Zealand reported that filming took place across 185 locations in and around Auckland, New Zealand with 150 locals hired as art and construction teams. Auckland aligned with the grimy, ultra-urban aesthetic the production team was going for. 

Several critics did suggest that the show was growing (and could do a bit more) but may have been worth keeping around. 

“Nemec’s 10-episode series gets its sea legs after a somewhat wobbly start,” Randy Myers of the San Mercury News reported.

If the tragedy that was Death Note shows us anything, it’s that translating anime can be tricky. Bebop may have deserved more time, but for some Japanese fans, there was no reason to make the show in the first place. Kotaku detailed this in a “cross-section of comments from some of Japan’s most popular sites, including 2ch, My Game News Flash, and Yaraon Blog.”

“Maybe if they made it in Japan, it would be better…right?”

“Expected.”

“Live-action adaptations aren’t necessary.”

These continue on. 

If there’s one thing that did make Bebop float, it was the phenomenal action jams conducted by Yōko Kanno and performed by The Seatbelts. The theme track, Tank! carries listeners right into a galactic space quest. In the song’s YouTube video, Kanno (who also provided the sound for the original anime series) trance dance/directs in the center of a spiral of strings, horns, and an impossibly fast set of bongos.

In the end, ambition apparently outweighed execution with Cowboy Bebop. If anything, there was a sincere effort and more plans being made.

“I wish we could make what we planned for a second season,” Marxuach tweeted. “But you know what they say, men plan, God laughs. See you, Space Cowboy.”

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