Before I get into the list, I want to further explain why a TV series would be better than a feature film. As with a lot of anime, Cowboy Bebop consisted of a single, 26-episode series and later a feature film (which fit in the continuity just before the storyline took a turn for the serious). As I noted in my retrospective series, Cowboy REbop, each episode centered on a singular theme or character that would reinforce the larger storylines or character backstories. A feature film would likely, through necessity, have to explain a whole lot up front and not allow for gradual discovery. And to that end…
1. It Needs to Take Its Time
I’m guessing the proposed live-action series won’t be content to just have 26 episodes and be done with it; American TV shows all seem to plan for multiple seasons, because money. With comic book and animation veteran Chris Yost behind the writing of the series, we certainly have someone who knows about long, serialized storytelling. But this show cannot be afraid to hold things for longer than most shows would. The enjoyment of Cowboy Bebop comes not from immediately knowing who and what everybody is, but from accepting the mystery. Only Spike Spiegel and Jet Black are introduced in the very first episode, followed by Ein the Data Dog in episode two, Faye Valentine in episode three, and Radical Edward not until episode nine. It’s an unfolding narrative.
2. Don’t Sugarcoat the Characters
Part and parcel to Cowboy Bebop taking its time is not holding your hand to make you like the characters. You like them not always by their words or actions but by spending a lot of time with them and realizing their true feelings. Spike is a jerk to pretty much everybody–an aloof, chain-smoking nihilist who has contempt for children, animals, and women; Faye is a loudmouthed thief who would sell out anyone she’d ever met if it got her some Woolongs; Jet is a washed-up has-been cop who constantly rains on people’s parades; and Ed might be an actual lunatic. Any one of them should put you off, but it’s their interactions and the slow reveal of their softer sides that makes you love them. And let’s not forget that they almost always lose the bounties.
3. Keep the Genre Bending
I feel like it would be very easy for an American TV version of Cowboy Bebop to do one of two things: 1) make the show a straight-up-and-down comedy, since the sci-fi bounty hunters definitely have the air of silliness to them, or 2) lose the comedy entirely and make it a hard action drama. Neither of these tacts would be the right move. The anime lives and dies by being, like Spike and his Jeet Kune-Do philosophy, completely fluid and ever-moving. This anime is at once comedy, drama, sci-fi, horror, action, suspense, surrealist, and melodrama, with existential dread and slapstick sometimes occurring in the same episode. This is one of the most malleable shows to ever be broadcast and the live-action version can’t get caught in the weeds of explaining the universe or circumstances too much.
4. Expand, Don’t Change Outright
In order for a live-action series to be made, it’s going to have to come up with new storylines and episodes to give it more than 26 half-hours-worth of adventure. I’m totally aware of this, and I’m also aware that a 1:1 adaptation of some of the episodes just simply wouldn’t work. There are things you can do in anime that cannot be replicated in live-action no matter how much you try. However, expanding on the themes and basic premises of the original will be the thing that makes longtime fans happy while still enabling a multi-season story arc to exist. Spend more time on the revelations, give us more past adventures with Spike and Vicious, give us a whole episode of Jet still as a working ISSP officer. There are things that make the characters, and the show, what they are and deepening them will serve Yost and the new series far more than just changing to fit current modes.
These are obviously just the things that I think would make the live-action series work, but what do you think? Is your enjoyment based solely on them casting the right Pembroke Welsh Corgi? Do they absolutely have to bring back Yoko Kanno to do the music (that would be my #5 thing for sure)? Let me know in the comments below!
Images: Sunrise Inc.