The Ugly American In Global Cinema
With Last Year’s release and the immediate cancellation of Cowboy Bebop, a new fight over whether or not it’s “Good” has erupted over the internet, with one camp loving the cheesy dialogue and tongue-in cheek demeanor and the fact it reminds them of shows of their youth such as Firefly. Vincent reached out to me about co-writing a piece diving into the issues with Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, as both of us find it emblematic of a much deeper problem with ignorance of world cinema and a mistreatment of it compared to the past. It’s a mistreatment rooted in a very persistent myth that is shockingly common within Hollywood today and has trickled into writers rooms all over Tinseltown. It’s why Vincent F. Clarke decided to take a pen name to talk about his experiences as a writer and address some issues with how development works currently in Hollywood.
But for us to address Cowboy Bebop and how this myth ties into production, we have to go back to World War II.
On the night of March 9th 1945 Tokyo burned. Contrary to popular belief, this was the single most destructive bombing in human history: more civilians burned to death in the ensuing maelstrom than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. A fifteen-year-old boy named Kingo was on the ground that night, saving as many people as he could, running from shelter to shelter as rivers boiled and his fellow citizens spontaneously combusted from the heat that threatened to consume the city. He grew up through the American Occupation, married, got his pharmacologist’s license and had a son named Hideo. Kingo died when Hideo was thirteen years old.
But before he did he passed on the memories of that hellish night, how it had bred hatred of Americans in the face of such mass death. Over time that hatred softened as the theaters filled up with American films, and he would take his son to the ones that showed a more human side to the Americans than the monstrous bombers that burned cities to ash and the tall, steel helmeted soldiers that would often get into drunken brawls in the streets and harass civilians. Hideo would bring that complicated love/hate relationship to American culture in his own work when he created the anti-War saga Metal Gear Solid, a fusion of the staunch pacifism and his upbringing with his love of anime and American cinema.
Hideo Kojima (Death Stranding, Silent Hills) is a product of the era he was born in. During the 1960s when Kingo Kojima was alive, Japanese and American film was in a mutual conversation that spanned the Pacific. Akira Kurosawa was just as much inspired by the films of John Ford and American crime novels as he was by contemporary Japanese society and their history. American filmmakers, realizing there was no way to make a 1:1 American remake of Seven Samurai, responded to this conversation by adapting it to an American equivalent setting, calling it The Magnificent Seven. George Lucas would make Star Wars, heavily inspired by Kurosawa and French comics like Valerian. He would later repay this creative debt by, alongside Francis Ford Coppola, working as an executive producer on Kurosawa’s Kagemusha and convincing 20th Century Fox to cover a budget shortfall that threatened to derail the film.
The cross-cultural conversation would continue well into the 1990s, with a new generation of filmmakers such as the Wachowskis being so deeply inspired by anime that Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell was used as a direct reference in their pitch for the sci-fi cyberpunk blockbuster The Matrix. The film itself even contains shots that are direct homages to Ghost in the Shell. The Matrix may, in fact, be a perfect encapsulation of Japanese/American cross-cultural inspiration and expression of admiration, for while The Matrix painstakingly recreated shots from the film Ghost in The Shell, the television adaption Ghost in Shell: Stand Alone Complex includes a helicopter sequence that is itself a direct homage to The Matrix!
The fruitful exchange between Japanese and American creators, however, would be forever soured one fateful Tuesday in September, 2001.
America Becomes the Bully
A friend of the authors is a Canadian screenwriter who commented that 9/11 created a distinct thread of nationalism which permeates American artistic work. In the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, our heroes were no longer allowed to be vulnerable. As America went it alone in two wars that would destroy our reputation overseas, our television and cinema became more nationalistic and smug about its place in the world in a way that seemed almost like a justification of, or assuarance of, the righteousness of America’s latest crusade.
This was predicated by one of the earliest flat-out adaptations of a Japanese franchise for the blockbuster era American audience with Sony’s 1998 adaptation of Godzilla. While that film has in and of itself a fraught production history, the final product was a film which drastically weakened and changed its titular character into something which could be easily killed by American missiles and that ran away from the unstoppable might of the American military. American franchises evolved to reflect this desire to project strength: Die Hard evolved from a franchise about an average cop barely scraping by and caught up in extreme situations into a one-man army effortlessly mowing down bad guys while barely sustaining a scratch.
While the change was more extreme, it was hardly new. In many ways, post-9/11 American cinema was a return to the mindless kill-fests and paranoiac plotlines of the Cold War: everyone is out to get us, nobody is safe, and only rugged individualism and military strength can protect us. It was during this post 9/11 fugue that I was in college. I have a distinct memory of political science professors and Supreme Court Justices referencing the outlandish plots of 24 in talks about moral relativism. 24, a show about a government agent skirting the bounds of the law to stop terrorists secretly embedded within the country, was treated in both scholarly and legal discourse as a barometer for actual policy.
The rare exception was the James Bond franchise, which by 2006 had created a far more traumatized, brutalized, and vulnerable character. No more did the superspy fight against cartoonish villains hellbent on world domination from their volcano-bases, or parasail away in the nick of time from tidal waves created by space lasers created by North Koreans disguising themselves as members of the House of Lords.
Unfortunately, 9/11 also started affecting the conversation we had with other cultures. As America became far more imperious in both business and foreign policy, Hollywood began treating non-American film industries less as equals than as overseas backlots. Canada and Australia found themselves with a far more profitable proposition than shoring up the next Mad Max or Videodrome like they were in the 1980s; leasing out their crews, talent, and studio facilities to massive productions their domestic budgets couldn’t even hope to compare with (the large exception being South Korea, which fought against the demands of both Hollywood and the State Department to open up theaters for more American productions).
This bullying behavior also trickled down to adaptations of foreign media as IP became king. Gone were the days when American film was in a conversation with its overseas peers. Now Hollywood determined the best way to legitimize foreign films was to fully remake them in the Hollywood Formula; as one working writer told us, “Hollywood invented film, and Hollywood is the king of film.”
Neither of those statements are true, the first feature length film was made in Australia, but one must consider the work of Russians such as Dziga Vertov, or how the Soviet-funded Sergei Eisentein basically invented the modern grammar of editing (see: TOWARDS A THEORY OF MONTAGE). Even the very language we use to talk about the semiotics of film is rife with non-Americans — does “the Khuleshov Effect” or “Mise En Scene” sound like they were invented by Hollywood?
This narrative of Hollywood’s dominance was largely assured by the destruction of film industries in Europe through 2 World Wars and the fact by and large our studios never had to deal with bombs being dropped on them, putting our markets in the perfect position for our films to flood the screens of places like Tokyo, Berlin, Rome, and Paris, where viewers were transported into magical neverlands far divorced from the scars of war around them.
After 9/11, long after the first pioneers of American Film fled New York to California so goons hired by Thomas Edison wouldn’t threaten them for copyright infringement had shuffled off this mortal coil, this persistent myth took hold in American creatives. The idea that only an American Touch could create The Best Stories. It’s ahistoric and destroys the collaborative legacy of the past for a bigoted history that never really existed.
As for the move towards the dominance of existing IP, one must question the wisdom of using an established brand for the existing audience if you change everything about it. As Vincent can attest, the real reason for this actually has nothing to do with built in audiences who aren’t the targets for these adaptations and has more to do with job security and risk mitigation of the execs in charge, who find themselves at greater risk for signing off on an original idea as opposed to one with an established brand even if they change everything about it. It’s not like new things can’t be massively successful. Just look at Squid Game.
The truth of the matter is that Hollywood is much like the New York Yankees, they have a lot of capital behind them so they can afford to bring the best of the best across the world to their roster. It’s not anything intrinsic about L.A. or California that makes great storytelling, much like there’s nothing intrinsic about Yankee Stadium being in New York that magically creates good baseball players. It’s just where all the money is.
But this attitude is shockingly common. And that brings us to the main issue, the thing that inspired both of us to team up and for Vincent to take a pen name and talk about a certain show. A show that shows an institutional failure writ large. A monument to hubris and lazy mediocrity that has the gall to call itself an adaptation.
The Netflix Adaptation of Cowboy Bebop
Watching the recently-canceled Cowboy Bebop feels like watching an Iron Maiden cover band with a Spirit Halloween skeleton and some cheap gel lights instead of an elaborately crafted live experience.
It’s been frequently compared to looking like it has the production value of a cosplay fan film shot on the weekend rather than a product worthy of the Hollywood touch. Gone are the impressive cinematic touches and almost David Fincher level eye for background detail in the animated show, and replacing it is something that feels like it really wished it would rather be remaking Firefly, shooting for coverage, cheaply made sets and all. Part of that can be chalked up to half the episodes being directed by CW alumni, a network notorious for cheaping out on their productions, also a key producer being Marty Adelstein, who was responsible for the middling TV Remake of Snowpiercer that changed the source material a critique of capitalism and class systems to a bog standard police procedural on a post apocalyptic train. It fundamentally lacks the sincerity that is a huge staple of anime as a medium and instead relies on ironic detachment and quips as though it’s afraid of any real emotional weight.
But that’s not the worst of it by far. As reviewer Walter Chaw commented on Twitter, the worst sin it commits is that it feels like it fundamentally hates itself. It’s filled with dialogue that makes fun of things in the original anime despite numerous claims of those involved that they love and respect the source material. It feels like the writers got caught in an obvious lie. Nobody in their right mind handed the reins to a property like Bebop could ever admit that they didn’t like the source material. A lot of the language about it is obfuscated by talk of “fixing” problems with the original. And people lie in press junkets to protect their careers.
After all, your job is to promote the project even when you know it failed.
Just look at David Ayer claiming the theatrical cut of Suicide Squad was his cut and then reneging after the Snyder Cut debuted on HBO Max, when it was safe for him to admit that the film was taken away from him. Cowboy Bebop does boast a queer writer on staff, but both of us have been able to find very little of her public comments on it. Most of the press junket around the show has been largely dominated by actors trained in media relations who want to play the good soldier so they can get their next gig. At least until news of cancellation hit.
However, one big outlier has been writer-producer Javier Grillo-Marxauch getting extremely defensive about criticism of his show on Twitter like a petulant child mad that his school science project didn’t get the grand prize (or at least was until he deleted his tweets on December 16th). Marxauch is probably not the sole point of failure in this project, but he was the most visible and the most unwilling to admit failure publicly, as opposed to writers like Karl Taro Greenfield who took the failure of the show to heart. It’s probably almost everyone behind the camera in some capacity who is responsible. It’s the producers who attach their names to IPs without caring about the content.
It’s showrunner Andre Nemec missing the point of characters like Vicious and Julia and believing the proper course of action was to flesh them out in a way that ruins the mystique of what they are supposed to be: living ghosts of Spike’s past come back to haunt him that he can never truly run from. It’s the directors pulled from cheap CW shows who don’t know how to make an expensive show pop on screen and lack the technical skills to follow in the cinematic footsteps of the animators of Sunrise.
It’s not like Netflix was unable to deliver compelling visuals. Just look at the Season 2 opener of The Umbrella Academy.
Outside of the opening sequence and action scenes, nothing particular in Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop stood out to us about it’s direction, largely borrowing shots from the original in pale imitation, yet we remember so much of the sequences of the original show.
We came up with a theory as to why that is: the huge cultural difference between Japanese Gen Xers and American Gen Xers.
Gen X, Missing the Point of Star Wars, Ghost in the Shell, and Cowboy Bebop
The difference between Japanese Gen X and American Gen X is that Japanese Gen X had parents who were on the losing end of World War II, and that cultural memory stuck with them. They had parents that crawled through the rubble of destroyed cities before they could even shave. They were determined that they could make things in a Japan that could be a world player culturally, if not militarily. Keiko Nobumoto and Shinichiro Watanabe wrote Bebop in the aftermath of the Lost Decade when the bubble of the 1980s exploded, leaving a prolonged economic depression with people struggling to get by.
They were in their thirties, fresh from their first gig on the excellent Macross Plus, young, hungry, and eager to prove themselves. American Gen Xers were already brought up in a Hollywood that dominated the world and were assured of their greatness. A lot of them were brought up in a closed system, isolated from the economic turmoil Millennials would face due to the 2008 recession and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them were making comfortable livings off of residuals, smart business investments and paychecks they had cashed in the early 90s and the 2000s.
And as executive producer Javier Grillo Marxauch put it in a 2014 article in the L.A. Review of Books:
“After graduating with a screenwriting degree from the same school as George Lucas — my heart’s desire was the same as every other filmmaker of Generation X: to remake Star Wars over and over while being hailed as a creative visionary”
Now he could be being facetious here, and for the record we do want to mention how genuinely helpful Javier Grillo-Marxauch has been to up and coming writers by posting his pitch decks and scripts publicly for study since Vincent was taught on his scripts back in film school, but one must ask: How the hell are you going to get hailed as a creative visionary when your reference points are just Star Wars and nothing else? Cowboy Bebop was a show that pulled from American Noir, Westerns, The American Jazz scene and 1960s Crime Capers, all filtered through the brain of deeply media literate Japanese writers who wanted to prove themselves to the world, rather than a team of people who have long since paid their dues and now could retire comfortably if they needed to.
Star Wars was a cross cultural conversation done with respect/ It owed a creative debt to Kurosawa, one which Lucas paid in kind by helping Kagemusha get finished. Now it feels like that kind of mutual respect has gone the way of the dodo and has been in turn replaced with a terribly ironic detachment that is genuinely mean-spirited even when it claims to be otherwise.
Overseas, Americans are often viewed as self centered loudmouths, insistent on dominating conversations and sticking their noses where they don’t belong. Nu Bebop is a symptom of this cultural illness blown up and broadcast on the TV in Times Square. A lot of Americans will eat this up, but for those who are aware of the larger cultural context, they can’t help but have a bad taste left in their mouth. But Bebop wasn’t the first adaptation that felt like it was done by a bunch of loudmouth, mediocre Hollywood types that thought they were better than the original.
The 2017 Ghost in The Shell film by Rupert Sanders is a big example of taking a big Sci-Fi anime and Americanizing it without understanding the core. While the film’s reception started out struggling with it choosing to cast Scarlett Johanson in the main role, it only got worse as the film came out. In an effort to respond to the criticisms made about having a white actress take the role of a traditionally Japanese character, reshoots were done to add in a lofty and offensive subplot about how the Major was Japanese after all, just a Japanese woman’s brain in a white body. It is this tone deafness that unfortunately permeates a lot of Hollywood anime adaptations.
Something else noticeable with the 2017 Ghost in The Shell film is a clear sign of how aesthetic with western anime adaptations is valued above all else, with little thought or focus given to the core of these characters, stories, or worlds: Kuze and The Puppet Master, two very different characters with very different thematic explorations at their core, were merged together in the 2017 Ghost in The Shell film without either of their main thematic points being done well or even that fleshed out.
Instead it feels as if the filmmakers were so focused on hitting on the aesthetic marks, such as replicating the shot of The Major sitting by her window, that all the focus was put on that rather than considering the thematic nature of these shots. A similar thing can be seen in Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, where shots are recreated without understanding their thematic metric and often pale in comparison when it comes to visual quality due to the lack of technical attention.
It’s such a problem in modern cinema that the recent release of The Matrix Resurrections commented on this surface level fixation through it’s story, remarking on the soulless cash grab remake that misses the emotional and thematic core, which is a love story in defiance of conformity and consumerism.
Now what was Mr. Grillo-Marxauch’s response to this blatant commentary evident from minute one of this film?
That’s right. “Why don’t we have a pharmaceutical company push their product via a movie tie in”. With this kind of thematic blindness it’s no wonder he missed the Noir core of Bebop.
However, franchise filmmaking doesn’t have to be this way. Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla films, particularly the one which started it all in Godzilla (2014), show how you can take a Japanese property and keep its core and soul intact. Legendary’s Godzilla, and its director Gareth Edwards, made sure to keep the original’s tone and style when deciding to revive the franchise in the west. This came with keeping a dark and grounded tone while also focusing on the innate human suffering and what it would be like to be at the ground level of these events, much in the way the 1954 film did. Unlike the 1998 film, never once is the US Military shown to be on an equal level to the monsters in Godzilla (2014). Even afterwards when breaking from the more grounded tone in Godzilla: King of The Monsters, that film still feels in-line with the franchise, just with the latter films of the 70s, 90s, and 2000s being looked to for inspiration more.
The same can’t be said for Cowboy Bebop, which gives the impression that perhaps the showrunner wasn’t the one who watched the show but compiled an outline based on notes from assistants who did. It’s a surprisingly common practice in Hollywood. Vincent has friends who worked on a show where only one person on the writing staff actually read the source material. He’s seen top of the line writers complain, publicly on Twitter, about having to do homework for the IP they’re writing. It wouldn’t be surprising if that were the case and it speaks to a fundamental lack of interest in putting in the work to make a good adaptation.
The Erasure of Poverty in Nu Bebop
In the new Cowboy Bebop there is a distinct lack of understanding of poverty. Something that can be understood by Showrunner Andre Nemec claiming in interviews that “Cowboy Bebop is not Dystopian”
Really, Andre? A show in which a moon disaster made the Earth fall into a dark age, where people can get tricked into medical debt they could never afford to pay off and are forced to act as bounty hunters in the hopes of one day landing a big payday isn’t Dystopian?
One must wonder how they thought softening all the gritty depictions of the reality of the gig economy would make things more relatable.ell, maybe for rich guys who have forgotten what it was like to struggle with bills and have nice offices loaded with expensive memorabilia that’s understandable. This is further seen in the changes made to their adaptation of the anime’s first episode, whereas in that episode Katerina and Asimov were looking to make enough money to go to Mars, thinking it would be better than their current situation. Meanwhile in Netflix’s adaptation Katerina is instead a rich heiress trying to escape her father.
This drastically changes the story being told in a way that makes their dynamic more akin to Bonnie and Clyde than two people just trying to break free from the bonds of the lives they were born into. It makes one think about how out of touch the showrunner must be if he thinks a rich heiress trying to escape her father will be more relatable than someone desperate enough to fall into crime in order to have the chance of a better life. In a way it feels like erasure and painting over the social critique of Bebop’s world because they simply cannot comprehend what it is like to go hungry, or the belief that this is far too icky and gross for their precious audiences to handle.
One must also take into account that the majority of the social critique of corporate control in Nu Bebop is from characters our heroes are actively bounty hunting. The rage against the machine that lies at the heart of Bebop’s noir influences is largely gone aside from lines from characters antagonistic to our heroes. In a good noir flick the villains are the rich and powerful who manipulate the systems we rely on and ruin the lives of countless others in the pursuit of financial gain.
In Nu Bebop we get the writer’s version of Abdul Hakiim who rants about how the rich have ruined his life before he is promptly shot to death by members of the police who don’t want to pay the bounty. Unlike the ending of Chinatown where the death at the hands of the corrupt is played for tragedy, our heroes merely shrug it off and move on to their next bounty, completely unfazed by the needless death of a surrendering man. This is, to borrow a phrase from Guillermo Del Toro,
“A Coca Cola commercial of Noir” where there is “no poetry of disillusionment”. There is no real tragedy between the haves and the have-nots because this is a show written by those who have.
This extends to characters like Gren who is is no longer the victim of exploitation and experimentation by the prison industrial complex, and has been reimagined as a happy David Bowie-esque androgynous singer who improperly uses Japanese pronouns because a writer wanted to reference a Contra Points video without actually making any real leftist commentary in any meaningful way.
Such talk is for the scary people our heroes take in.
The biggest way this show makes it clear it’s fixated on aesthetic rather than themes is the point where we hear Spike talk about how he only has four woolongs to his name as Jet pleads for money to get his daughter a toy for Christmas.
In the very next scene Spike has a top of the line, brand new sniper rifle.
He uses it to punch a round into Vicious’s armored car as a way to say “I can reach you anywhere and anytime” and simply leaves this expensive precision weapon on the rooftop because that’s what badasses do.
How much can a sniper rifle cost? Four woolongs?
Woke But Still Racist, The Hollow Progressivism of Nu Bebop
The entire production feels rooted in a feeling of American exceptionalism, to the point it is genuinely blind to the racism and sexism brought to the forefront under the guise of “fixing it”. Showrunner Andre Nemec had never headlined a space opera show before, and his pre launch interviews gave the impression of someone that fundamentally does not understand the source material. As Nemec told the L.A. Times, “Spike, Jet, Faye, Vicious, Julia — they’re such delicious characters in the anime. … This felt like a great opportunity to mine their stories and to answer some of the things that I felt in the poetry that was the anime. To dig into a deeper narrative in places for these characters.”
The thing about Cowboy Bebop is that it works on minimalist storytelling.Stuff like Spike’s backstory is glimpsed in passing with enough detail for the viewer to fill in the blanks and project onto the characters. Vicious works much on the same principles of a low budget horror movie monster, he’s much more terrifying the less you see and know of him.
He’s Michael Meyers, the Xenomorph and Jaws with a katana. He doesn’t need an elaborate backstory. He just needs to command a scene and give glimpses of a cunning and brutal individual underneath who leaves ruined lives in his wake. In the show all that is brought to the front and center in a way that ruins the effect on the story. Did Nemec truly believe he was fixing the original by delving deeper into these characters? And what does that say about his beliefs towards the original? It’s extremely hard to imagine it’s anything but contempt towards the source material based on the way he views this kind of storytelling as a flaw.
We find it interesting that Christopher Yost , the creator of this bastardized adaptation, also worked on The Mandalorian, the closest thing to Cowboy Bebop western media has given us. And yet he seems to have completely forgotten what he learned on that show with it’s semi-episodic structure and looseness. Spike and Julia as characters work on the same principle as Vicious as layers are peeled away and we see fleeting glimpses of the real person underneath. Julia is a ghost from the past, returning only to serve as an omen of that past catching up to Spike. But by turning her into a villain responsible for why Vicious is the way he is (after showing her being repeatedly abused by him) the writers haven’t saved her from fridging, they have just made another misogynistic, scheming villainess archetype who in some way “deserved her abuse”.
This is not digging deeper. This is applying your own biases and problematic tropes and believing you’re fixing something that fundamentally was never broken and making it so much more misogynistic. We have to question whether or not Nemec and the producers understood the source material or instead thought it was the perfect vehicle to make their own quippy space opera show like Firefly. But it’s not 1999 anymore, and you have to make it more diverse. But guys who got their start in the 1990s when Hollywood was a far less diverse, more racist, more sexist and more homophobic place probably aren’t the best people to write to a more queer and diverse Millenial and Gen Z crowd.
Faye Valentine’s character has also been changed to reflect a more western ideal, going from from East Asian Singaporean to a queer Latina, but in doing so they also changed her in a way that is approached more as ‘fixing her’ than anything else, which results in a less compelling character. She is now the sort of quippy, leather jacketed action heroine who dominates the airwaves of every network TV show on the air.She is tough, but not allowed to make mistakes or have any character flaws, while her male counterparts are allowed to fuck up, make mistakes and grow from them. In the original, her flaws were realistic and rooted in a fear of crippling poverty, causing her to get in over her head and allowing her to be a more well-rounded person who was allowed to fail, screw up, and be human. It is also bizarre how the original origin story for Faye, which had lots of commentary on how men take advantage of women, was changed to make the man who stole Faye’s money and left her with crippling debt a woman.
This is emblematic of not understanding the behind-the-scenes elements of the original show, such as how the original Cowboy Bebop was mainly written by a female screenwriter. Something the staff of largely Gen X Men claim to be fixing. This obsession with “fixing” the original Cowboy Bebop can be found beyond just the Faye Valentine and includes other characters such as Gren as we mentioned earlier. The writers didn’t understand what it was that Gren represented and was meant to be a commentary on, such as military misconduct (Agent Orange in Vietnam) and pollution. It seems they assumed that Wantanabe messed up trying to make a nonbinary character when that was never the intention. Watanabe has famously said in interviews that Anime can and should be more diverse, and yet here that seems to be talked over by a bunch of rich, out of touch Americans who assume they know diversity better than the rest of the world.
Now you may ask, aren’t both Watanabe and Nobumoto producers on Nu Bebop? Yes. But unfortunately due to the vagueness of actual job duties within Hollywood it’s impossible to determine what their actual involvement was, or if they were even cut a paycheck. During his work in development Vincent F. Clarke has heard firsthand accounts of producers getting their names on films despite doing almost nothing to actually produce them. If a teleplay for the show is based on one of their scripts, they would still receive a credit, even if they had zero say in how their work was adapted. The language barrier also is a key issue here, and based on comments from the showrunner we find it extremely difficult to believe that Watanabe and Nobumoto were involved in the day-to-day production of Bebop. In fact, Nobumoto’s contributions were never mentioned in interviews with The L.A.Times when Nemec and Pineda talked about fixing perceived “issues” with Cowboy Bebop‘s women, despite her being an executive producer on the show.
It was so blatant that the Korean-American screenwriter of Mandy, Aaron Stewart Anh had to weigh in on this erasure. With the recent death of Nobumoto due to cancer, this feels like a huge slight against a dying woman who contributed so much to Japanese animation in order to further a very western-centric view of what female characters can be: an army of leather-jacketed girl bosses who are not allowed to have flaws. And while we acknowledge the changes to Faye’s costume were for the practicality of stunt work the changes to her character itself removed the overarching flaws that made her shine.
One of the reasons why we wrote this article, to be blunt, was in direct response to seeing a publication essentially try to argue that Netflix Cowboy Bebop is mediocre, and that’s ok. But considering the larger forces at work here, the apathy of both showrunners and the ignorance of the larger cultural context to viewers, this feels like the failure of modern Hollywood writ large. A fundamental institutional laziness where nobody wants to go the extra mile and everyone would rather use an existing IP as an excuse to do their own version of something else. Nobody wants to make the next Matrix or the next Star Wars.
Everyone just wants to make a Star Wars, a pre-existing IP they can project their own stories onto without understanding what made Star Wars or The Matrix work. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We all can demand better shows with more diverse writers who possess personal experiences of issues like poverty and the horrors of the modern gig economy, instead of a group of comfortable aging men obsessed with remaking their childhoods and in doing so shitting on the work of filmmakers who put far more effort than they did in their adaptations.
We don’t have to settle into mediocre defeatism and accept the flaws of the system designed to deliver entertainment. We can and should demand better. We should demand a more just, equal system that respects world cinema and doesn’t use half-assed diversity measures that fall into racist traps as a cover for its own flaws.
Vincent F. Clarke is a freelance screenwriter who has written for video games, comics, and shows currently in development at major production companies. His name has been changed to protect his career.