If you haven’t heard that the original Cowboy Bebop is coming to Netflix (at the time of this writing, its launch was still a few weeks away) you either do not care about anime or you have been living under a rock. Either way, the 1998 series was licensed by Netflix to coincide with its own live action release also premiering this fall.
Netflix picking up Cowboy Bebop would be a nonevent if not for the fact that streaming services are aggressively competing with one another to see who can offer the most anime content. Anime seems to be the biggest battleground in streaming right now, partly because it appeals to the very audience that prefers streaming over broadcast TV, cable, and satellite packages.
You could say that the Cowboy Bebop phenomenon exemplifies the entire anime culture. Remember, the series was originally launched in Japan 23 years ago. By anime standards, this is old. Yet in the more than two decades since its original release, Cowboy Bebop has created an anime subculture of its own. Its most die-hard fans love it as much as sci-fi fans love their favorite series.
Story Lines Rule Anime
Anime fans will rave about the genre’s visual appeal if given the chance. In fact, fans will even buy anime T-shirts, posters, cell phone cases, and just about anything else featuring original artwork never seen in films or TV series. The Umai clothing brand is evidence of that. But when it comes to the anime’s compelling nature, it is not really the artwork that impresses. It’s the story lines.
Everybody loves a good story. Whether it’s unsung heroes fighting an unwinnable galactic war or an unlikely romance between two teenagers still trying to find themselves, a good story captivates the imagination. It is what successful literature, films, and TV thrive on.
Stories are where anime seems to have the edge. Anime creators are not afraid to build stories around topics that Hollywood avoids. They are not afraid to finish a story with a not-so-happy ending. Furthermore, anime characters tend to be truer to real life than their Hollywood counterparts. Fans appreciate that.
Cowboy Bebop Has at All
Cowboy Bebop has everything an anime fan could want. It offers plenty of action built around a cast of intriguing characters. And its plot, while hardly original by mass media standards, offers plenty of room to both explore the original story and develop side plots that could literally go on for years.
This is what makes anime work on such a large scale. You take a common theme, like Cowboy Bebop’s crime-fighting theme, and you use it to tell stories. Some of those stores are short-term in the sense that they only last one or two episodes. Others are long-term. They carry through the entire series from beginning to end.
Good stories are what keep fans coming back week after week. Every episode seems like a cliffhanger even if that wasn’t the creators’ intent. Episodes seem like cliffhangers because fans want to know what happens next. And by the way, that’s how you know you have a good story.
Cowboy Bebop exemplifies the anime culture as a whole. Despite being more than two decades old, its popularity continues. Now we wait to see how the Netflix live-action version stands up. If it works, Netflix will have good reason to explore more live-action adaptations. If it fails, they lose some money. They will still own the licensing rights to the original Cowboy Bebop in all its glory. Netflix executives probably won’t be too heartbroken with that scenario.