Whether it’s implied or has been asked directly on social media, a question lingering around Netflix’s live-action adaptation of “Cowboy Bebop” has long been “why?”

The answer, as it often is for any major cultural output, is the chance to make big bucks. Anime is likely Japan’s strongest pop-culture export, and in the past decade it has enjoyed even further growth. Even though it experienced a dip last year owing to the pandemic, the forecast moving forward remains bright, especially outside of Japan. The Association of Japanese Animations recently announced that overseas sales surpassed the domestic market for the first time ever.

Netflix has invested heavily in anime during its existence, but the live-action “Cowboy Bebop” aimed to be something more. It’s an attempt by the streaming behemoth to take an existing intellectual property — in this case one of the most loved series to come out of Japan — and transform it into mainstream fare. Seeing as the current state of Western entertainment revolves around reboots and long-gestating sequels (at time of writing, the top movie in the United States is a “Ghostbusters” nostalgia trip), it’s a valid approach.

It’s tough to do right, though. Live-action remakes of anime series are common in Japan and are increasingly being tapped for content by overseas studios, though these come under a lot of scrutiny from fans. With good reason, as many adaptations end up being terrible. Notable flops include a live-action “Dragonball,” a remake of “Ghost in the Shell” featuring Scarlett Johansson, and Netflix’s own disastrous interpretation of “Death Note.” It’s possible to find a creative take on an established series — the Wachowskis’ 2008 film “Speed Racer” impressed audiences — but the misses far outnumber the hits.

Netflix’s “Cowboy Bebop” hasn’t garnered as much scorn as those flopped titles, but the reaction to it underlines the challenges that anime-to-live-action adaptations face. Reviews have been mixed at best if not leaning toward the negative, with many wondering what purpose this update serves when the original anime can be streamed on the very same service. Fans, meanwhile, have been critical of the uneasy balance between departing from the anime and being too reverent to the anime. In the process, they’ve shared some of the better commentaries of what seems off about it.

In some ways, that’s all Netflix needed. Reactions — good or bad — help the show gain attention, which has, according to the streaming service’s own self-reported rankings, allowed it to perform well in the U.S. at least. Simply taking up space in the fragmented media world of today might be enough of a win.

It’s possible that fans are content with the anime itself, though, and they don’t need to see it adapted. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” succeeded in getting those who weren’t into the fantasy books interested in the political aspects of the show. The Marvel movies bring in audiences that weren’t necessarily into comics. Instead of aiming to get anime fans on board with a franchise they already love, Netflix should concentrate on creating anime-inspired live-action franchises — and there’s no better place to see a successful example of this than “Squid Game,” this year’s breakout TV hit.

The South Korean series isn’t a direct adaptation of anything specific, but creator Hwang Dong-hyuk has said that the idea was inspired in part by Japanese anime and manga. That’s clear both in his narrative choices and the show’s striking visual style. Yet anime influences are just part of the show’s larger creative DNA — they enhance “Squid Game” but never get in the way of Hwang’s distinct perspective.

This is how anime — and, by and large, Japanese pop culture in general — travels in the world. “The Matrix,” “Black Swan” and “Inception” are just a few of the films that owe a debt to animated movies from Japan. Anime might not be able to command the sort of mainstream attention that Netflix wants, but it can connect with a very strong niche and influence future hits.

With the “Cowboy Bebop” origin story out of the way — and actor John Cho in particular doing a good job of bringing main character Spike Spiegel to life — perhaps a sequel could take the spirit of the anime and create an entirely new scenario for its characters. Spike in a film noir with cold-war machinations in play? Maybe that will please the masses.

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