See You, Space Cowboy

And so it’s farewell to the live-action Cowboy Bebop, coldly cancelled by Netflix a mere twenty days after its much hyped premiere. That’s the thing about Netflix, they’re very much about going big or going home, and dropping an entire season online not only fuels the binge-watchers, it also supplies overwhelming statistical evidence that allows for a fast executive decision.

The live-action Cowboy Bebop notched up 74 million hours worldwide in the three weeks since its November activation date, but it seems that many of those hours were people watching the first episode and not coming back for more. Unlike in the bad old days of terrestrial telly, when people might nickel-and-dime and campaign and, say, give a show another week, binge-level content provision requires a binge-level response out of the gate, otherwise it shows up on the Netflix stats as a dead dog.

The same algorithms that pointed to Cowboy Bebop as a much beloved anime show with a twenty-year fandom and a massive footprint in the American market, that same box-tickery that put John Cho in the lead and brought back Yoko Kanno’s iconic score, all that robot number-crunching that tells Netflix what to do and how to do it, reported back in record time that Cowboy Bebop did not justify a greenlight for season two.

But do not despair, a whole bunch of people are still sitting pretty. At a very basic level, the cast and crew of Bebop got paid to make their show. But the real winners from the whole debacle are the owners of the anime. Because while fandom is carping about the remake, the hype over it has functioned as a massive advertising campaign for the original. My inbox lit up for weeks with journalists in search of anime punditry, and even NEO got in on the act with that lovely cover story. That’s not bad attention for a show that is 23 years old, and which is still just as good, just as fresh and just as fun this month as it was last month.

Like every disappointing remake, it stands a good chance of bringing in thousands of new viewers to appreciate the original, which has to be a good thing. And if people are wondering what all the fuss is about, they can even see the original right now… er… on Netflix.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #216, 2022.

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