Non-Cis Character Database: Momoe Sawaki (Wonder Egg Priority)

Wonder Egg Priority is one of the most audacious anime I’ve seen in a long while. The very premise is ripe for controversy — four girls fight symbolic dream monsters to defend the souls of girls who were driven to suicide, hoping through this process to earn the liberation of their friends who took their own lives. It’s a brutal show, unflinchingly depicting not only suicide, but the systematic pressures that drove these girls to suicide in the first place — particularly sexual and emotional abuse, often from adult men.

WEP also has a decided focus on gender, which is something for which I’m personally very grateful. It’s impossible to have a complete examination of the ways in which women and girls are oppressed without also touching on what exactly it means to be a woman or a girl — or someone who doesn’t fit neatly into those categories. Momoe Sawaki — one of our main four girls, and someone who is most likely trans — is one such individual.

I say “most likely” because the specifics of Momoe’s gender are never made clear in the text, and what we see is both vague and full of contradictions. In fact, I initially read her as intersex, before rewatching certain scenes and realizing that interpretation was built on flimsier ground than I initially thought. I’ve now come around to reading Momoe as a trans girl, as that seems to line up the most cleanly with what we see of her and makes the most thematic sense, but I want to emphasize how unclear this really is.

That said, Momoe obviously is a girl. She’s upset and uncomfortable at being perceived as male, happy and relieved to be recognized as female, and delights in femininity when she allows it to herself — she clearly identifies as a girl. There is also an extremely strong case for her as trans thematically speaking — she defends her right to be in a women’s-only train car (these are a real thing in Japan), forms a strong bond with a trans boy she defends, and is uncomfortable with how often girls are attracted to her, presumably because she sees it as a result of the masculinity she wishes she didn’t possess. (As an AFAB nonbinary person, I am terrified of men — even queer men — being attracted to me as a girl.)

However, the ways in which she performs gender and her gender is perceived are deliberately extremely ambiguous. Though she attends an all-girls school, the casual outfit in which we usually see her is somewhere between masculine and androgynous, and she’s often mistaken for a boy and doesn’t always correct that assumption. She even introduces herself to the girls she protects as Momotaro — a masculine name referring to the demon-slaying hero from Japanese folklore — and uses both the masculine first-person pronoun “boku” and the feminine “atashi” depending on the circumstances.

None of this contradicts the idea of her being trans. It’s perfectly believable that she might attend an all-girls school — so long as she’s admitted, it seems more likely she’d be accepted as a girl, albeit a charmingly boyish one, by her fellow students. Outside of that inherently gendered environment, though, it might be easier and less scary to lean into masculine presentation than risk facing transphobia. Ironically enough, gender presentation is policed much more harshly for men than it is for women — better to be seen as a girl in pants than a boy in a skirt. It also makes sense that she’d be upset to be read as male by the other protagonists when they first meet, despite her presentation. There’s a sharp difference between presenting ambiguously masculine while going about one’s business and being actively misgendered, even if it’s an honest mistake.

Incidentally, I don’t think Momoe dresses masculine because she prefers it. Speaking from personal experience as someone who dressed to be as invisible as possible at her age, her clothes look like a defense mechanism — shapeless to hide her body, androgynous to give her plausible deniability no matter how she’s read. These aren’t clothes chosen because they’re comfortable, or because they look good on her, especially compared to the dress she wears on her date. They’re armor.

Some details of Momoe’s circumstances don’t quite line up with the idea of her being assigned male at birth, though. One particular sticking point for me is that the show goes out of its way to point out that Momoe does not have an Adam’s apple — not all AMAB people do, of course, especially 14-year-olds who are in all likelihood taking puberty blockers and/or estrogen. Still, it’s so specifically a male secondary sex characteristic that I have no idea why they’d mention it all if not to inform the audience that she is not AMAB. It’s just confusing to me.

Gender is complex and full of contradictions, even for cis people, and all the more so for everyone who isn’t. In a perfect world, the specifics of Momoe’s biology wouldn’t it wouldn’t matter — she’s a girl who is seen as a boy in ways that upset her, and the reasons why don’t change the narrative weight of that. But as it stands, there are so few examples of well-realized trans, nonbinary, intersex, or otherwise genderqueer/non-cis characters in media that it does matter, making the ambiguity with which Momoe’s gender is presented rather frustrating.

It more or less goes without saying that the way to fix the issues with Momoe’s representation would be to clarify in the text that yes, she is trans. A good way to do this would be to show her home life — in fact, it’s rather strange that we don’t, since the home lives of all the other protagonists get a fair amount of focus. We can only imagine her parents or guardians are supportive, since she’s attending a girl’s school. On top of just clarifying her transness, it would be a nice bonus to see a trans character with a supportive family, since that’s quite rare in media.

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4 thoughts on “Non-Cis Character Database: Momoe Sawaki (Wonder Egg Priority)

    1. You’re gonna have to give me a better reason than that, buddy. The post, if you read it, already says her gender is presented in ways that are vague and ambiguous — if you want to read her as cis, I’m not going to say that’s wrong, but that’s not my reading.

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  1. I like the interpretation that Momoe’s casual clothing is her armor. It never dawns on me before, i yelled in my head that outside of school, she can wear what she wants, guess i was wrong. I think i myself too would like to try on certain clothes, but probably never will, for fear of certain repercussions. But then again, maybe she just actually like to dress that way as it suits her taste and only forces herself to wear dress when try dating boy for the first time, would all girl automatically like to wear dress? No. Would all tomboys like to be seen as actual boy? No.

    They’re fictional charaters, so we can never just go ahead and ask them to confess their true feeling, even real person will have a hard time to articulate their true feeling too. So we can only interpret their character with any explicitly given detail that matches our real life experience.

    Momoe’s home life would be enviable, because real life parents who let their trans kid attending all girl’s school is yet never heard of, so they must have either really been progressive or really loved Momoe to let that happens, but again, when does the show explicitly say that her school is an all girl school anyway. The show’s ambiguity just leaves thriving ground for all kind of feeling and interpretation.

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