Shinichiro Watanabe is responsible for making the coolest anime of all time—so cool, in fact, it’s been regularly airing on Adult Swim for the last two decades, and is still being watched. It’s a testament to how great Cowboy Bebop is that it still raptures audiences all these years later—something Netflix’s live-action adaptation decidedly did not achieve. And Watanabe was definitely not enraptured by it either.
In an excellent interview spanning the director’s lengthy career, Forbes asked Watanabe what he thought of the Netflix version starring John Cho, Daniella Pineda, and Mustafa Shakir. He didn’t have much to say, but he also didn’t mince words: “For the new Netflix live-action adaptation, they sent me a video to review and check. It started with a scene in a casino, which made it very tough for me to continue. I stopped there and only saw that opening scene. It was clearly not Cowboy Bebop and I realized at that point that if I wasn’t involved, it wouldn’t be Cowboy Bebop. I felt that maybe I should have done this. Although the value of the original anime is somehow far higher now.”
I don’t think Watanabe has a problem with casinos, necessarily—the con artist Faye Valentine is introduced in one of the third episodes of the anime—but it’s easy to see what Watanabe would prefer as his beginning over a generic action sequence. The anime begins with a flashback of Spike walking in the rain to meet his lover Julia and rival Vicious, and he knows it won’t work out well. It’s cool as hell.
And if I may, I think this is likely Watanabe’s deeper problem with the difference between the two Bebops. What the live-action version got so wrong despite faithfully adhering to the look of and stories told in the anime is that it wasn’t cool. At all. From its very first scene, it never once felt cool. And that’s what the Cowboy Bebop anime was first and foremost, from its very first animation cel.
Either way, it would be easy for Watanabe to assess the show, realize it wasn’t his Cowboy Bebop, and decided not to punish himself by watching the rest. If you have time, I recommend you check out the Forbes interview—it’s a fascinating, honest, and no-holds-barred retelling of his career in anime, including his time working for other nitwits in America.
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