Why Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop Was Canceled

Netflix has canceled its live-action remake of anime classic Cowboy Bebop for some of the oldest reasons in the TV book.

Ein, the very fluffy corgi, from Cowboy Bebop
Photo: Netflix

The live-action remake of beloved anime Cowboy Bebop had all the makings of a Big Deal ™ for Netflix.

In development since 2017, the show was intended to honor Sunrise animation’s 1998 sci-fi neo noir classic while hopefully introducing its world to a new generation of fans. Prior to the Cowboy Bebop’s release, Netflix even unveiled a trailer to depict how the show would closely mimic the anime’s kinetic style.

Now it looks like all those high hopes were for naught. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix has canceled Cowboy Bebop just a few weeks after its Nov. 19 premiere. The show starred John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, and Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine – all bounty hunters (called cowboys) in the year 2171 trying to make a living in a corrupt Solar System. The show’s first season ends with a setup for a now extinct second season.

 Anytime a big budget streaming series featuring a recognizable IP is canceled, it is bound to generate post-mortems across the internet trying to figure out why it happened and what it all means (like this very article you find yourself reading right now). In the case of Cowboy Bebop, however, the culprits seem to be the two usual suspects one would expect: quality and budget.

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Simply put: Cowboy Bebop wasn’t particularly well-received. The show’s Rotten Tomatoes score is 46% among critics and 55% among audiences. An RT score is never an ironclad metric for objective quality but it’s an excellent jumping off point when assessing whether a TV or movie is working or not. Meanwhile, here at Den of Geek, we found the show to be generally unsuccessful, with Joe Matar writing:

“It only makes sense to compare a remake to the original but, if I try to separate it anyway and assess this on its own, it would still be a tonally-confused, low-quality show. This is Netflix chaff. This is the kind of series they shovel into the web en masse that quickly and quietly disappears into the folds of their impossibly vast show catalog. Unfortunately, it’s Netflix chaff that happens to share its title with one of the best anime series ever made.”

Perhaps due to that lack of quality, Cowboy Bebop ultimately didn’t find a big enough audience to justify its continued existence and costs to Netflix. Details on Cowboy Bebop’s budget are not publicly available yet but the need for CGI spaceships, elaborate sets, and complicated fight choreography certainly makes it more expensive than a traditional Netflix drama. For comparison’s sake, Altered Carbon (another sci-fi Netflix series) reportedly cost $7 million per episode. Cowboy Bebop was likely around that number as well.

Though it may not always feel like it, we’re still relatively early on in the streaming era. When Netflix’s marketing team decides that one of its series is worth an aggressive pitch to the public, the failure of that series can seem particularly shocking. But despite an increase in budgets and ambitions, even the streaming world often operates just like the traditional TV world of yore. All the ambition and money in the world mean nothing if the public isn’t vibing with your show. 

If nothing else, it was all worth it for this blooper reel of Ein wandering into and ruining shots.