Netflix had another big swing and another big miss this month with the release and cancelation of Cowboy Bebop. The series is a live-action take on a cult hit Japanese animated show that has built a huge following in the Anime community. With 74 million views it looks like it got a chance to make it, if not for a terrible reception from critics and viewers alike. This is definitely not a case of review bombing. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the series saw a 56% drop in viewership after the first week. It appears that people flocked to it and told everyone else not to bother.
While the failure is linked with other failed attempts at live-action versions of anime hits, it is more about misunderstanding a fan base. It took decades for moviemakers to figure out how to consistently make comic book-based movies that truly clicked with their intended audience. Studious and directors for years leaned in on absurdity and camp instead of taking the material as seriously as the artists behind the work and the fans who support it. When you have a character that has been relevant as long as Superman you almost owe it to the people who kept it relevant not to make a stupid movie or change a character in some fundamental way.
In the case of anime, the problem may well be attached to the art form itself. It is animated. And the animation style is very distinctive. It translates well to comics, which in the case of this art form are typically referred to as Manga. So much of it is over the top. And when you are dealing with something that can be so bright, fast-paced, and distinctive it can be difficult to translate it to the real world. Remember the glowing street gangs in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever? Batman fans sure do. When comic and animated characters come to life in the real world their depictions tend to come off as clownish. Like the filmmaker is saying “how crazy is it that Heman fights a guy named Skeletor”? Let’s make them do it in the middle of some town in the US and have them get drive-through, that will be a hoot. Nobody would do that with a popular literary character like Bilbo Baggins. At least not if a movie was supposed to be taken seriously.
Until filmmakers and TV producers can dedicate the budget and time to make something that feels authentic and crisp and at the same time not insult its audience these projects will continue to fail.