Non-Cis Character Database: Gatchaman CROWDS

Gatchaman CROWDS — and its second season, Gatchaman CROWDS Insight — are a recent reboot of the 70’s sentai anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (with which I’m not personally familiar — from what I can see, it doesn’t seem to have much relation to CROWDS aside from a few character names) with character designs by the illustrator Kinako. This is relevant because the character designs are queer as hell, bursting with androgynous technicolor eroticism, even for the characters who are not, per say, genderqueer.

There’s a lot to talk about here, and we’re going to go through the four relevant characters in ascending order of genderqueerness, but let’s get a few things out of the way first.

A large portion of the cast of CROWDS is made up of aliens (six individuals total) and all of them wear heels in their “default” outfits except for Paiman, who is a panda. This includes femme girls (Utsutsu), nonbinary folks (O.D. and Berg-Katze), androgynous boys (Gelsadra), and otherwise masc men (J.J.), so I think it’s pretty safe to say heels are alien-coded within the context of the series. It’s not only aliens who wear them, of course — Rui does too — but it’s definitely worth noting.

It’s also worth mentioning that our protagonist Hajime Ichinose uses the traditionally male first-person pronoun “boku.” It’s not uncommon for girls to use it in anime, but it does set a precedent of pronoun choice not necessarily being linked to gender.

With those things taken care of, let’s talk about the cast!

Gelsadra

Gelsadra is a friendly alien who arrives on Earth at the beginning of Insight. While initially appearing as a being made of smoke, he quickly transforms into a more humanoid appearance resembling a young child with an androgynously feminine appearance. Later in the series, he changes his appearance again to look like an adult, at which point he looks and sounds more masculine as well.

It seems as though there was a bit of confusion regarding Gelsadra’s gender at first — the official subtitles on Crunchyroll use she/her pronouns before he ages up, which is a fair interpretation considering that they were translating episodes as they were released and (presumably) had nothing but the show itself to go on. Gelsadra uses “boku” throughout the show (see the note with Hajime) and is never referred to with gendered terms until after he ages up. After this, though, he’s fairly consistently referred to as “he/him” in the Japanese. His close friend Tsubasa even calls him her “cute little brother.”

Taking this into account, it seems fair to assume Gelsadra is male, and the use of she/her pronouns in the subs was a matter of confusion on the part of the translators — the dub,¹ which had the context of the full series, uses he/him from the beginning. That said, it’s established that Gelsadra doesn’t understand sex or romance, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t understand gender either. He is an alien, after all.

Rui Ninomiya

Rui — the only human on this list — is a genius programmer who acts as a sympathetic antagonist in the first season before officially joining the G-Team in Insight. While he’s seen wearing androgynously masculine clothes while at home, he more or less exclusively dresses femme while out and about. This is sometimes referred to as something he does as his alter ego LOAD GALAX — however, he dresses femme while appearing on national TV under his own name in Insight, so it’s clearly not just a disguise.

While he never discusses it himself, based on the evidence in the show, Rui seems to identify as male. He refers to himself as “boku,” and the AI he programmed calls him “Milord Rui” (in English, no less) at one point. Hajime refers to him once as a “kireina otoko no ko” (translated in the subs as “good-looking guy”) — while “otoko no ko” can mean simply “boy” when written as 男の子, it’s also a common term for femme/crossdressing boys when written 男の娘 — literally “male girl.” ² Without looking at a script, there’s no way to know which version Hajime intended, but either way, Rui doesn’t correct her or seem to mind. There are also several official promotional images and posters featuring the male G-Team members that include him. (Incidentally, they do not include O.D.) He’s referred to as a boy in his official character profile.

In light of this, Rui is actually a pretty stellar example of a femme boy. As far as we can see, he dresses like a girl because he likes it, simple as that. While fellow Gatchaman Sugane initially has a “that’s a boy!?” moment, it’s not lingered on, and the joke is Sugane’s surprise rather than Rui’s presentation. There are one or two instances of people calling him “perverted” or some such, but they’re internet trolls. Other than that, everyone is perfectly respectful towards him and his presentation — Tsubasa even delightedly notes that he’s “much girlier than her.”

He’s also not really fetishized by the camera. There are maybe one or two shots that foreground his body in a way I don’t love, but honestly, Hajime’s breasts get a lot more attention.

Aside: Okama

Okama from One Piece

The last two characters I’ll be talking about, Berg-Katze and O.D, are coded in very similar ways, so it probably makes the most sense to talk about said coding up top.

So. Let’s talk about okama. Full disclosure — this is a fraught, potentially offensive term with a lot of different nuances depending on context, and I’m not an expert on queer communities in Japanese or the terminology used for and by them. I’m going to be discussing it primarily in the context of the trope/stereotype as it appears in Japanese pop media.

Within said context, okama is a term used to refer to effeminate gay men, crossdressing men, and/or trans women. It’s close to transfem-coding, but not exactly the same; the stereotype is generally of an individual with a clearly masculine body whose mannerisms are performatively feminine. In terms of other characters in this database, Nathan from Tiger and Bunny (who is nonbinary) and Hana from Tokyo Godfathers (who is a trans woman) are both okama-coded.

Berg-Katze

I would like to start this by saying that I really have no idea what pronouns to use for Berg-Katze, intergalactic shit-stirrer and primary antagonist of CROWDS. They/them is very safe, so it’s what I’m going with, but the only time Katze is gendered in the Japanese is by Gelsadra, who uses he/him, and Gelsadra really doesn’t seem like the type to misgender anyone. The English dub also uses he/him throughout, and the Crunchyroll subs use it/its, which I personally rather like. At the end of the day, I highly doubt Katze would care. Let’s say they/he/it.

Anyways. Katze is pretty much an okama. Putting the alien-coded heels aside, they wear red lipstick and nail polish and carry themself in an exaggeratedly feminine manner. They refer to themself as the English “me,” which I’m reasonably certain is not a thing anyone does in real life, but crops up occasionally in anime — Iyami from Osomatsu-san is probably the best-known example. I’d describe the impression it gives as “performative and weird,” which is a pretty good description of Katze on the whole, really. They’re an alien; they’re a troll.

There’s also a lot about them that falls into stereotypes of predatory queerness. Katze’s main schtick is that they can take on others’ appearances by kissing them — this is almost always done forcibly and non-consensually, for the express purpose of fucking things up. The first time we see them do this, their lipstick and effeminate mannerisms are transferred to the man they’re impersonating in a way that’s clearly intended to be creepy/gross.

So yes, this all sounds very bad, doesn’t it. It would be, if not for…

O.D.

O.D. — a half-alien member of the G-Team — is even more okama-coded than Berg-Katze. They also wear lipstick and nail polish, and sometimes eyeshadow as well; they have the same performatively feminine mannerisms; they use the gender-neutral first-person pronoun “watashi.” ³ Unless I missed something while watching, they’re never gendered by anyone in the show, either in the Japanese or the subs. At one point, they tell a child not to touch their boobs — they say “oppai” and everything. They’re actually referred to as an okama quite a few times — by Katze⁴ because Katze is a shithead, internet trolls, and once by a child. Apparently this is a thing, but it still felt like getting hit upside the head with a brick.

Here’s the thing — O.D. is great. They’re easily the most mature, perceptive, and open-minded member of the G-Team, willing to listen to outside perspectives and think things over carefully rather than jumping to conclusions as other members are prone to do. They’re a supportive parental figure to Utsutsu. Even Paiman, the ostensible team leader, admits that they’re the one holding the team together. O.D. might not fight, but it’s not because they’re weak or cowardly — it’s because they’re so powerful that just being in their Gatchaman form⁵ annihilates everything around them. They’re the one to deal the final blow to Berg-Katze, weakening them enough that Hajime can seal them inside her. While they never need to fight in Insight, they take on the role of PR spokesperson to support the rest of the team. O.D. is depicted as nothing but admirable — and they’re coded in almost exactly the same ways as Katze, only more so.

This is the importance of context and variety in representation. If Berg-Katze was the only genderqueer character in CROWDS, they’d be pretty awful representation — as it stands, they’re perfectly fine, because we have O.D. as proof that queer doesn’t equal creepy or gross or predatory. Katze just happens to be all those things, and that’s okay. Villains can be queer; that queerness can even be linked to their villainy. It’s just a matter of making it clear that there’s more to it than just that.

I usually close out these posts with an assessment of how the representation could be improved on — I’m honestly not sure if there’s anything to be said about CROWDS. I don’t love the way okama is thrown around in reference to O.D, but like I said, I’m really not familiar with the nuances of how the term is used. Overall, this is just a really great example of queer representation — and it’s a great show on top of that. I really can’t recommend Gatchaman CROWDS highly enough.

¹ – Full disclosure — I haven’t actually watched the dub, just skimmed it, because the point of this project is to examine how genderqueerness is depicted in Japanese media, rather than in English translations of said media. That would also make for a very interesting project, but my hands are already full with this one.

² – It’s also a common term in hentai, where it’s usually translated as “tr*p” — I personally really hate this, considering how non-judgmental the Japanese term is.

³ – “Watashi” can be kind of feminine based on the context, particularly when coupled with casual language, since it’s usually associated with polite speech. I don’t know how to explain this well, or if it matters. Just trust me on this one.

⁴ – To make a terrible cross-linguistic pun, this is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. (Okama literally means “pot.”)

⁵ – Their transformation is also reminiscent of an angel, which I think is very genderqueer of them.

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3 thoughts on “Non-Cis Character Database: Gatchaman CROWDS

  1. I’ve always interpreted Rui as nonbinary; not really having a preference for what gender they present as.
    I also love how sassy Berg Katze is and how O.D is the mother figure of the team.
    Btw, the high heels aren’t just an alien thing. Kinako, the character designer, loves to draw men wearing high heels and that’s what makes her style so unique. Even queer media doesn’t usually depict masc men wearing high heels .

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    1. I’m also v much in favor of nonbinary Rui, and I personally think of him as such — but in the interest of retaining some kind of objectivity, I have to admit the text leans more towards him being GNC and identifying as male. (Doing this database means arguing against my own headcanons annoyingly often.)
      I didn’t know that about the heels, though it’s not at all surprising from what I’ve seen of Kinako’s work. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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