Non-Cis Character Database: Cowboy Bebop

[This post contains mild nudity in the form of ambiguously presenting nipples.]

Cowboy Bebop — if you somehow aren’t familiar with one of the most classic anime out there — is a space western about a ragtag group of down-on-their-luck bounty hunters. The crew, gathered on a ship called the Bebop, is made up of gunslinger Spike, ex-cop Jet, femme fatale Faye, and genius hacker Ed, plus a corgi named Ein. It’s a good damn show and if the phrase “space western” appeals to you at all you should probably watch it, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about…

Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV

…well, that’s the thing. I’ll be honest: I had this post done, dusted, and queued well over a month ago, with a good 550 words about how Ed was agender. The night before it was supposed to go up, I figured I should probably watch the movie, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, which I’d never previously seen.

…and there you have it. My policy is to be very literal-minded with this database — if a character explicitly states their gender, that’s what I go with, unless there’s some overwhelming evidence against it. This is mostly an attempt at retaining something resembling objectivity. If I’m willing to disregard direct statements in favor of my own readings, it would be too easy for the line between my personal headcanons and the media as it actually exists to blur. So while I might personally choose to see Ed as agender, and there is quite a bit of evidence to support that reading, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it “overwhelming.” As far as this database is concerned, I must take the official stance that Ed is a girl.

For the sake of clarity and posterity — meaning I don’t want to throw out my writing — I’m including a lightly edited version of my agender reading of Ed, which covers most of the points for and against it.

Ed’s official gender is female. She’s voiced by a female VA, the character designer has referred to her as a girl, she was apparently changed from a boy to a girl to even the gender ratio aboard the Bebop, and her character profile in the Hajime Yatate manga¹ lists her gender as female. This is no doubt why translations go with she/her pronouns for Ed.

However, in the original Japanese, Ed is rarely gendered, and only genders herself in the movie. In the show itself, her gender is presented in a much more ambiguous fashion. She refers to herself in the third person, rather than using gendered first-person pronouns. At one point Faye says “wait, you’re a girl?” and Ed doesn’t confirm or deny it, just laughs. It’s the same when she’s reunited with her estranged father, who apparently doesn’t know or care about Ed’s gender any more than Ed herself does — Ed doesn’t say one way or another.

The only things that would imply gender are circumstantial. The episode where they leave the group ends with “See you cowgirl, someday, somewhere!” rather than the usual “See you space cowboy.” At one point, Spike says “the women are gone” in reference to Ed and Faye. Ed wears a dress as a disguise, and is referred to by Jet as his daughter — however, the person they’re trying to fool doesn’t seem entirely convinced Ed’s a girl, and she takes off the dress as soon as she possibly can while Jet stays in disguise. Once, Faye greets the rest of the crew — including Ed — with a “good morning, gents,” though it may refer more to Spike and Jet, who just returned to the ship.

Most of all, though, Ed just doesn’t seem to care. She exists outside of gender — the fact that her character originally conceived of as a boy before being changed to a girl at the last second, presumably without it changing anything about her, is telling. It’s especially noticeable in comparison to the rest of Cowboy Bebop, which has a rather outdated “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” attitude towards gender. There’s a lot of sweeping statements about what it means to be a man or what women are like — absolutely none of which touches Ed. Even if she is a girl, she goes by Edward, for goodness’ sakes; that’s not cis behavior.

This holds true in the manga as well, at least as far as I can tell. Digital copies in Japanese don’t seem to exist, so I’m restricted to the English, which has a tendency to default to she/her pronouns. That said, we do get something pretty close to a statement of Ed’s gender from Ed herself in the Hajime Yatate manga. Whenever someone genders her — whether it’s as a girl or a boy — her response is the same: “Ed is Ed.” That said, it’s worth mentioning that she only specifically denies being a boy.

There’s not much point in evaluating representation when I’m taking the stance that Ed isn’t representation. Her gender is never foregrounded enough that it really matters either way — whether or not you choose to read her as genderqueer, Ed is Ed. She’s weird, brilliant, autistic-coded as all hell, and the most purely fun character in Cowboy Bebop.

Grencia Mars Elijah Guo Eckener

Gren (as he’s commonly known) appears in episodes 13 and 14, a two-parter called “Jupiter Jazz.” To cut to the chase a bit, I’m unsure if I should even be including him in this database — his hormones were imbalanced as the result of a drug addiction, both causing him to develop breasts and eventually killing him. He describes himself as “both [male and female] and neither,” but presents and seems to still identify as male (he uses the masculine first-person pronoun “boku,” for instance), though he does disguise himself as a woman at one point.

As I mentioned, yes, Gren dies. It’s implied to be because of the same drugs that imbalanced his hormones. This is a bad look under any circumstances, but considering how similar this is to Martian androgyny from the director’s own Carole and Tuesday… Well, one gets the feeling Watanabe has some very specific preoccupations and anxieties. Putting that aside, though, Gren’s an okay character. He’s not unsympathetic. He does come across as kind of a creep, though — the camera leers at Faye when she’s in his company in a way it never otherwise does, and when she interrupts him in the shower, he pins her to the wall naked. He never does anything more untoward than that, but like his death, it’s too reminiscent of negatively stereotypical trans tropes to sit right.

This is one of those cases where my recommendation is to make it cis, as much as Gren in the anime can be said to be non-cis. He can just have a drug addiction; there’s no reason for it to make him grow breasts other than shock value.

Incidentally, it came to my attention when writing this that a nonbinary actor has been cast to play Gren in the live-action Cowboy Bebop, which certainly was a choice to have made. I can only hope this means they’re overhauling Gren’s character and backstory to match, as opposed to equating “hormonal imbalance” with “genderqueer” — unless they also think Robert Paulson from Fight Club is nonbinary.

Marilyn

“Wait just a sec,” I hear all you sharp-minded readers who watched Cowboy Bebop say, “Marilyn? Who’s that? You’re not talking about Julian, right?” No, I am not talking about Julian, an okama² prostitute who makes a cameo during “Jupiter Jazz” when Spike’s looking for his ex Julia. You’re close though. You see, Marilyn is original to the Hajime Yatate manga, but she does bear enough of a resemblance to Julian that it’s probably an homage, especially considering that one of her aliases is Julio.

In the story in which Marilyn appears, the gang is offered a large bounty to break a man named Cidne out of prison — to this end, Spike gets himself arrested and sent there. When he asks around, though, he’s directed to Marilyn, a trans woman doing sex work, at which point it becomes apparent that “Cidne” is Marilyn’s deadname, and she’s the one Spike is helping escape. This starts out about as badly as one would expect, between Marilyn’s rather stereotypical appearance and the overall predatory vibes when she initially assumes he’s a customer. Surprisingly enough, though, it’s all uphill from here for Marilyn, who apologizes for the misunderstanding and quickly proves herself to be smart, resourceful, and tough, to the point that Spike has to admit she could’ve escaped on her own. Things don’t go great for her in the end, but they don’t go badly either.

No, it’s Spike who drops the ball. He’s consistently kind of a jerk to Marilyn, deadnaming and misgendering her at seemingly every opportunity. I certainly wouldn’t say the manga is condoning it, especially considering how sympathetic Marilyn winds up being, but it’s not exactly condemning it either. The whole “trans woman doing sex work in a men’s prison” angle is also…not good, but at least everyone there gets her name right. You’d think Spike could manage at least that much — that, and maybe a comment about how she should be in a women’s prison rather than a men’s, and we’d have something resembling decent rep.


¹ – Yes, there are two manga adaptations of Cowboy Bebop, both fairly obscure and not especially noteworthy. I read them mostly because a long time ago, I heard a rumor that Ed was a boy, or at least AMAB, in one of them. This is not true.

² – Julian isn’t even the only okama stereotype to appear in Cowboy Bebop — the same scene where Ed genders herself features one who hits on her, despite Ed obviously being a child, only to say they have no interest in women. Seriously, Watanabe, can you not?

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