Wonder Egg Priority – Episode 4

Hello all, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m eager to dive back into Wonder Egg Priority, and at last catch up on the ongoing discussions. Wonder Egg Priority is such an aesthetically compelling, intellectually intriguing production that it’s essentially brought anime blogging back to life. kVin has already written multiple essential posts regarding its production, Emily’s consistently illuminating the nuances of its flower language, Steve’s putting in overtime work over at ANN, and even my friends at Isn’t It Electrifying? have been throwing their hats in the ring.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious: Wonder Egg Priority is a critic’s delight, combining Naoko Yamada’s cinematic approach to visual storytelling with a surrealist, thematically driven narrative that juggles sharp-edged topics with ease. It is equally confident conveying the precise emotional tenor of witnessing a classmate being bullied, and also the fantastical disorientation of falling into another world. For those who see anime as a uniquely compelling vehicle for conveying intimate human feelings, Wonder Egg Priority feels like an avatar of our faith in practice.

Just as Flip Flappers illustrated the wild discord of our dreamscapes as a path to knowing ourselves, just as The Eccentric Family used a dash of magical realism to evoke the jubilant freedom of young adulthood, so does Wonder Egg Priority use its fantasy flourishes to convey the overbearing weight of social stigma, self-hatred, and alienation. Its heroines are playing a game they are presumably designed to lose; meanwhile, the steady procession of victims and villains illustrates how all young women are set up for failure, where abusers frequently benefit from institutional support, and victims are taught to blame themselves. Even if the eggs weren’t purchased from a gacha machine, it’d be clear this is a rigged game. All Ai and her friends have is solidarity, but as a group who’ve been selected precisely because they feel they drove others to suicide, can they really learn to trust each other, and love themselves?

Let’s find out.

Episode 4

We open on a long-haired girl affecting what seems like a strained smile. It’s an abrupt opening; rather than integrating us into the tone of a scene with establishing pillow shots, we open on a held shot on her face. This disorients us somewhat; we feel unprepared for this meeting, presumably much like this girl does

Her name is Miwa

The speaker’s name is Momo, or “Momotaro,” as Miwa decides. By continuing to hold on this shot and avoiding the speaker for so long, the show emphasizes the sense that this is an interrogation of some kind, where Miwa is under a spotlight

“I was molested.” And apparently, she is

This confessional seems to be taking place in an overnight train car

“But why me? I’m not even that feminine.” So many of Wonder Egg’s characters are just buried under the weight of society’s expectations regarding their appearance. The overbearing demand that girls be traditionally cute and feminine is always in frame; and at the same time, they’re frequently abused and consumed for that by the adults in their life, like Chiaki and the gymnast

“That guy was an executive at my dad’s company. My dad got fired. My mom asked why I couldn’t just put up with it. She said being groped just proved how cute I was.” Again and again, they are failed by the systems and people that are supposed to support them. Institutional abuse gets swept under the rug, the accepted byproduct of a society with a strong patriarchal slant. Ai’s parents embrace a lighter version of the same behavior – rather than actively attempting to reach out to her, and understand why she has separated herself from the accepted adolescent path, they shame her. How could she reach out to them, when they likely trust the abusive school counselor more than their own daughter?

“Don’t worry. None of that is your fault.” Momo’s our final girl from the intro, so clearly we’re watching one of her egg missions now

Miwa says “you have broad shoulders,” and Momo grimances. Aw jeez, are we doing a femininity and gender episode?

I love this frantic running animation as we return to Ai and the idol fans. This show makes excellent use of the kagenashi style, wherein shading isn’t really used, and instead flat-color silhouettes make a stronger impression of panicked movement

The idol fans give Ai their penlights, which she uses as a more effective weapon. This echoes the pattern in the second episode, where Ai’s pen wasn’t effective, but the gymnast’s ribbon worked. It’s an interesting choice; are they implying the eggs must take a role in their own salvation, or simply that solidarity between these girls makes all of them stronger?

Momo is essentially wearing a boy’s school uniform

Once again, these tentacle strike attacks demonstrate Wonder Egg’s uniquely space-aware approach to combat. You really get a sense of this forest’s three dimensional volume through the camera movement and the way Ai’s distance from the frame is rapidly varied, while the excellent character animation of her tumble at the end ensures it feels grounded and painful, rather than weightless

On both Momo and Ai’s sides, the egg victims take a brave stand to save their savior

This is a wild structural shift from the first few episodes, and I’m delighted to see it. Episode three was already veering somewhat away from the structure of the first two, but now we’re in fully unknown territory, contrasting two egg battles against each other. This is good; structure is an easy way to help audiences initially understand a story, but this show’s aspirations are clearly aimed higher than “Ai completes all of her egg tasks and gets a happy ending.” The sooner we diverge from the monster-of-the-week model, the sooner we can start exploring what this show’s truly saying

Incidentally, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s last show lost me for pretty much exactly that reason – he got too enamored with his episodic structure, and left too little time to actually explore beyond it. Ikuhara loves repetition, but you have to budget your time effectively!

Miwa sacrificing herself to this monster evokes memories of embracing some girl at school for Momo

Excellent use of this diegetic idol track for these contrasting setpieces

“Women are quick to deceive.” Even to the end, this molester is an utter bastard in every regard, who never saw women as humans for even a moment. This show has great sympathy for angry, self-hating kids like Rika, but there are lots of genuinely monstrous adults out there

Rika returns! As she says, they’re invulnerable in this world, though I imagine “full body petrification” is going to translate to some real aches and pains back in the real one

God, this fight animation is so good! How goddamn lucky are we that the most narratively compelling show of the last few years is also this incredible showcase of new animation talent. I guess it’s like Flip Flappers, or Deca-Dence; the overall anime industry may be constrained by the tastes of boring otaku, but great artists want to create great art, and so they’ll go where the interesting projects are

The shift between that triumphant win and the quiet, grayscale conclusion of Momo’s journey is so stark. A great way to convey Momo’s loneliness via contrast

And now we shift from that exuberant, webgen-evocative fight animation to this delicate character acting, conveying the gradual process of Momo slumping into these chairs. Much like Rika’s slide down the wall last episode, carefully articulating a series of movements like this really helps their fatigue land

Gosh, this shot of Rika in Chieki’s arms is beautiful and devastating

And Neiru is released from the hospital. The crew is assembling!

Neiru hits a nice balance of clearly undersocialized, but trying her best to be a good friend. She steps on Ai’s toes regarding her school issues, but then confides that she doesn’t go to school, either. Does Neiru have a home at all?

Apparently it’s quite the opposite – Neiru is loaded, and has luxury cars available on demand. So presumably she’s always lived in a private world, and that’s why she has trouble communicating casually

“You’re trusting, Ai. You forgive easily.” “I’m hopeless that way.” “No. You’re lovely that way.” Neiru is so good! It’s easy to see how she might dislike herself, in spite of her words to the contrary. She’s undoubtedly aware of how her cold affectation pushes others away, but you can’t stop being the person you are

“We need someone like that sometimes, or we’ll never be saved”

Neiru is the president of this company?!

Initially it seemed odd that Ai had such a sunny personality in spite of her situation, but now I realize the show understands that. She’s the outlier, the most upbeat of our leads by far, and the only one who could ever bring them together

They keep contrasting the brightness of Ai’s world against the darkness of Momo’s

“This is a women-only car! If you want to ride, get it out! I’ll chop it off for you!” “I have a right to ride on this car, too!” God damn. So we’re certainly diving into perceptions of gender with Momo, who’s already being persecuted for their ostensibly masculine features

“My real name is Momoe Sawaki.” So she actively hides the fact that she’s a girl, by always wearing traditionally masculine clothes?

Her egg dungeon is a train station; as her statue makes clear, the girl she’s trying to save jumped in front of a train

The statue’s name is Haruka

Haruka said she loved her. The tension of this flashback is palpable; the cicada sounds, orange-hued light, and drops of sweat all emphasize the sense of a muggy summer day, and an uncomfortably intimate silence

The statues are such a great device! All these girls with heads bowed in worship to the friends they’ve lost, captured in their final moments, bound by that persistent shawl. There is such a dignity and power to these statues; neglected and abandoned in their own lives, they are memorialized with all the glory they deserve, in the minds of those who loved them

Rika is such a convincing asshole. I like how they convey her behavior whenever she says something particularly egregious; she’ll sort of pause and hold her breath for a second, gauging the reaction, and then decide whether she was kidding or serious based on the effect she creates

“I was kidding.” “Then stop. It’s not funny.” Rika relies on our assumed social niceties to get away with being a jerk, but Neiru doesn’t really care about social niceties, and so she plows right through Rika’s defense

Acca says “boys’ and girls’ suicides mean different things. Men are goal-oriented, women are emotion-oriented. Women are impulsive and easily influenced by others’ voices.” The arbiters of this process buy into the very systems that oppress women in the first place, if it weren’t already clear that these guides cannot be trusted

Their arbiters frame these suicides as a result of women being “led astray by their emotions,” rather than being crushed by a system that’s explicitly designed to crush them. But as every episode so far has demonstrated, none of these girls “casually” chose suicide; they were pushed and persecuted and violated until they couldn’t take any more

“This? It’s my favorite, so it’s practically all I wear.” The sunflower hoodie is a comfort item for Ai, a source of stability in her depression. A very Wonder Egg twist on why characters always wear the same clothes

And Done

This show just doesn’t stop, huh? After episode three accelerated us past the initial monster-of-the-week model, four managed to shatter that model entirely, as it illustrated new heroine Momo’s character largely by contrasting her against Ai’s behavior. Momo’s story was conveyed almost without words, and yet not just the roots of her pain, but also the felt experience of her most charged memories came through clearly. And this in an episode that also featured two dramatic egg fights, the integration of Neiru into the overall group, and some major reveals regarding the perspective of the Wonder Egg overseers. My greatest fear for Wonder Egg was that it might languish in monster-of-the-week theatrics, rather than explore the assumptions of its premise more deeply; well, it seems those worries can be safely put to bed. I can’t imagine where the show will go next, and I couldn’t be more excited about it!

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