News of an American live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop was met with criticism and disdain. Wounds from Dragonball Evolution, Ghost in the Shell (to a lesser extent), and Avatar (whose place is still debated) are still fresh among fans who have seen (or heard) the horrors.
But other Cowboy Bebop fans are holding out hope, mainly because the style of the show is fairly common on American TV. Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Star Trek…there is no shortage of iconic space adventures that have been produced. However, there is one show that has been forgotten in the conversation: Firefly.
Firefly. was Joss Whedon’s brainchild following the massive success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Both stylish and story heavy shows that ran for over 100 episodes, which is a rarity for a non-sitcom or non-police procedural.
Whedon has always been known for his wise-cracking, sarcastic, not exactly “heroic” characters and stylized action. But Firefly was different. It was a space-western adventure that blended American “space cowboys” with Chinese cultural influences, much like Cowboy Bebop.
Premiering on Fox in 2002, Firefly was one of the first TV series to not make a big deal out of cultural blending. It was just an accepted part of the Firefly universe with Mandarin Chinese integrated (borrowing slang or curse words), Hànzì plastered on sets, and Chinese art design.
The characters are also reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop and fans have noticed with popular comparison charts like this.
Firefly centers around the dysfunctional crew of the Firefly, which is captained by Mal Reynolds. Mal, like Spike, has a free-wheeling style and an idiosyncratic moral code that allows him to navigate the varied personalities of his crew. Not everyone gets along, and most crew members are on the journey either for money, running from their past, or are looking for something.
Now, the biggest sin against Firefly is the series’ cancellation after 14 episodes. Fox, for whatever reason, decided to air the story-heavy series out of order! This caused characters to act in erratic ways and resulted in bizarre plot-holes. Due to this decision, Firefly had sub-par TV ratings and was canceled.
The series has maintained a cult following, and the massive sales success of the home video release allowed Whedon to direct a theatrical movie to give fans a salvageable finale. Despite Fox’s mishandlings, Firefly has maintained a loyal fanbase and proven that there is a huge market for this type of show.
It seems that anime live action adaptations often share they needed to change the story to be more “American” so it can appeal to a larger fanbase in the West. Firefly shows that a live-action TV series can have this Asian/American Space Cowboy style and not only win fans over but even resurrect the series after it’s been canceled.