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The amazing intersex hero from “Cowboy Bebop” gets wronged in Netflix’s version

Gren, Cowboy Bebop, Netflix, live action, cartoon
Gren, one of Cowboy Bebop's queer characters, in the cartoon and live-action versionsPhoto: Funimation and Netflix screenshots

A big mystery arose when Netflix first announced its live-action version of the 1998 sci-fi noir anime series Cowboy Bebop. Queer fans of the anime immediately wondered whether the Netflix series would include Ed, a quirky and androgynous female hacker who joins the series’ bounty-hunting team and is often mistaken for a boy.

Ed didn’t appear in the Netflix show’s pre-release marketing, and though she stars in a majority of the anime’s episodes, she only pops up briefly at the end of the Netflix series. But people fixated on Ed overlooked another of the series’ character who is infinitely queerer — a military veteran turned musician named Gren.

Related: Am I nonbinary? A guide to what it means to identify outside the gender binary

Gren, short for Grencia Mars Elijah Guo Eckener, appeared in the original anime’s 12th and 13th episodes (titled “Jupiter Jazz” parts 1 and 2). He fought as a military veteran in the Titan War, a horrific war on Saturn’s moon that involved the Mars Army and nanobot experimentation.

In the cartoon, Gren befriended a fellow soldier named Vicious. Vicious accused Gren of spying for the enemy. His testimony led to Gren’s imprisonment. The betrayal upset Gren so much, that the prison medical staff made him take experimental calming drugs that caused him to grow breasts as a side effect.

Years later, Faye Valentine — a female member of the series’ anti-heroic bounty hunter foursome — is taken in by Gren, who now works as a music bar saxophonist. Gren tells Faye that being in a sexual relationship with a woman is “not his style” (revealing him as possibly gay or asexual).

After Faye learns his backstory, Gren leaves to have a dramatic showdown with Vicious, who has since become an infamous mafia hitman. Gren dies in the battle, but successfully bombs Vicious’ fighter aircraft.

When Netflix announced its groundbreaking decision to cast nonbinary actor Mason Alexander Park as Gren, some LGBTQ fans complained. After all, Gren’s cartoon backstory has its own problematic aspects. He was a badass, but his intersex features came from a prison medical experiment. The fans saw Gren as a tragic figure rather than some positive non-binary icon for Netflix to market.

 

In Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Cowboy BeBop, Gren is a draggy master of ceremonies at a hot Martian jazz bar that serves mafia capos. In the cartoon, Gren identifies as a man and first presents largely as masculine, though with noticeable breasts later on. In the Netflix adaptation, Gren has a much more ambiguous gender presentation: They’re a rough-voiced, short-haired blond who first appears in fishnets, a padded skirt and a golden neckpiece.

André Nemec, Cowboy Bebop‘s showrunner, said he wanted to update Gren’s story and make their non-binary identity part of the series’ canon.

“Gren does not have a good history of becoming a nonbinary character,” Nemec said. “[It’s] dark and didn’t feel like the story that I thought was important to tell. I never wanted Cowboy Bebop to be a picture of a dystopian future. I wanted it to be nostalgic, but also hopeful.”

Despite that hope, Gren rarely appears in the live-action series and isn’t given any backstory. They hold a gun in both hands during a near-shootout and advise the main character’s female love interest, Julia, to leave an abusive relationship with Vicious. But the only other time we see Gren is when Vicious throws them across a table and threatens to kill them — scenes that don’t show Gren as particularly tragic or heroic.

Gren’s depiction is one of many times that the Netflix adaptation flattens the cartoon’s sophisticated complexity with one-dimensional simplicity. Park does their best with the material — the writing just leaves them little to work with.

Nevertheless, Park’s casting still represents a positive step forward for nonbinary visibility onscreen. Park played Hedwig on the first Broadway national tour of the transgender rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. They will also play Desire in the upcoming live-action TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s dreamworld epic The Sandman.

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