Wonder Egg Priority
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?
Community score: 4.5
Content warning this week for rape and transphobic violence, since I can't talk about this episode without addressing Kaoru's backstory. You probably don't need me to tell you this if you've already watched it, but this is a rough episode, y'all. Take care of yourselves.
Apparently not finished one-upping itself, Wonder Egg Priority delivers its most traumatic—and likely to be most controversial—installment yet, swinging its gaze back to Momoe and her multi-faceted gender woes. That's at least a full episode in itself, but WEP also uses this week to give its foundations a good shakeup and brace itself for the oncoming final act. It's a lot of ground to cover, and the anime does so with its usual bombastic flair and unnerving background radiation. The result is a thrilling, if almost sickening twenty-minute blur that captures all of the qualities that draw me Wonder Egg Priority, as well as the qualities that could make it collapse with all the grandiosity of a supernova.
Gender sucks. It can be good, but society's rigid and frequently contradictory expectations put way too much pressure on anyone who exists even slightly outside the “acceptable” norms, whether by choice or not. While Momoe is a girl and wants to be perceived as a girl, it's also no wonder she envies Panic's existence outside the considerations of human gender. If the alternative is her being constantly misgendered, then maybe being a crocodile isn't so bad. That said, I do think it's clumsy for Momoe's dysphoria to so often be illustrated through the lens of queer attraction—girls crushing on her because of her masculine qualities, and now a gay boy mistaking her gender entirely. It's an odd choice when the root of dysphoria is the suffocating close-mindedness of a predominantly cisgender and heteronormative society. That's not to say that transphobia and gender policing can't snake their way into supposedly progressive circles (because they absolutely do), but on average, queer spaces would be more likely to help someone like Momoe, not harm her. However, even though I think this is an unfortunate confluence, I also don't believe it detracts from the core of her character development.
And Momoe does find unconditional solidarity this week with her latest egg ward Kaoru. Right away, it's nice to see a character be so unambiguously and loudly transgender, from his pride-colored jacket to the pink and blue projection of the Rubin's Vase illusion behind him. It's like the visual language is bellowing proudly, daring any bigots watching to deny his existence. It's also nice to see Momoe's immediate acceptance. She understands him and protects him like she would any other egg ward. There is, of course, the unspoken question about why Kaoru would show up in this system based on girls' suicides. It's entirely probable this is a transphobic oversight on the writing's part, but I think it can also work within the context of what we know about this system. Given their prior comments, I wouldn't be surprised if our two undead tech bro overseers just didn't bother to consider someone like Kaoru. From a thematic perspective as well, if we consider the egg wards to be defined not by gender, but by their victimization at the hands of an overbearing patriarchy, then Kaoru definitely fits in alongside the rest.
Kaoru's backstory is also in line with the horrible abuse inflicted on the other egg wards. His, however, also comes saddled with the weight of ubiquitous real world transphobic violence, aided and abetted by the gnarled roots of trans hatred that grip society with deadlier and deadlier vigor each passing year. Systemic and individual abuse constantly assaults the trans community merely for the crime of existing, so Wonder Egg Priority's choice to actually depict Kaoru's rape—however briefly and non-graphically—might be unnecessarily sensational, if not downright triggering for some audiences. I feel even more strongly about the mention of his pregnancy, which is WAY over the top and reeks of the kind of tragedy porn that too often haunts mainstream queer narratives. The writing didn't need to twist the knife that much to get its point across. WEP has never been a subtle show, but it's usually more graceful than that.
The coarseness of his backstory aside, Kaoru is a lovely character, and I love the brief solace that he and Momoe are able to find together. These are the small victories that fill up the heart of Wonder Egg Priority. Kaoru's narrative also means it's not possible to ignore the question of Momoe's own transness. And again, I don't believe her being cisgender or transgender is the most important detail for Momoe's character development, but it does appear to be an intentionally unavoidable one. Textually, short of Momoe turning to the camera and saying “I'm trans” or “I'm cis,” I don't think we're gonna get a direct answer out of WEP. Subtextually, however, Momoe is trans as all heck. She may as well be smothered with trans signifiers. In this episode alone, she rips open her shirt to reveal a transgender pride-colored bra/undershirt, she dons Kaoru's transgender pride jacket, she defeats a textbook-transphobia-spouting Wonder Killer who looks like a grotesque caricature of male sex characteristics, and she even affirms her gender before dealing the final blow. Additionally, Momoe being a trans girl works better for the narrative and her character development, because it means that she and Kaoru mutually reinforce each other's identities in a wholly complementary way. She processes her own dysphoria by rebuking the source of Kaoru's. And their kiss at the end, already a sweet romantic gesture, thus also becomes a beautiful symbol of trans pride and solidarity—two kids loving themselves and each other in defiance of any and all oppressors. This is just my own reading, and I don't think this absolves the aforementioned clumsiness with her arc, but it's the one that makes the most sense to me.
Unfortunately, poor Momoe barely gets any time to enjoy her newfound gender euphoria. To paraphrase the ACCA bros, she completes the game (perhaps by resolving her internal struggles?) and revives Haruka, which genuinely surprised me. I was so sure that carrot on a stick was never going to fall, but thankfully, I didn't even get to smell my humble pie before Haruka disappeared into a cruel wisp of air. There was no way this Faustian bargain would conclude without the proverbial Mephistopheles showing his face again. This scene raises a lot more questions than answers, but its construction is sublimely uncomfortable, unfolding with uncanny horror and gruesome viscera. Neither we nor Momoe have any idea who this new character is or what she's talking about, but I love her design. The oversized scythe and executioner hood evoke classic images of Death, while the butterfly head suggests rebirth, and the schoolgirl uniform just ties everything seamlessly into WEP's surreal aesthetic. It's also interesting that she doesn't just kill Panic; she eats him, and forces Momoe to eat him as well. While this reaper is clearly an avatar of death, there's more going on here than just murder, and I'm captivated by the anime's use of bold grotesqueries to hint at these deeper meditations.
On the other hand, I'm not very invested in how Wonder Egg Priority's overarching plot with the ACCA bros will resolve itself, and to its credit, the show agrees with me. Neiru's big bombshell about their former human identities is overshadowed by Ai and Rika's adulations over her new hairstyle, before it's downright eclipsed by Momoe's new boy troubles. I still want a satisfying conclusion, of course, but the narrative particulars are second-fiddle to my thematic and character concerns. That's a lot of preamble to justify the fact that I'm not going to speculate too much on the many remaining questions, but I do want to say that I don't think the butterfly reaper is some last-minute villain showing up to raise the stakes. As much as it pained me to watch Momoe watch Panic get skewered, I have gone on record saying I don't trust these familiars due to their link to the ACCA bros. Given what we now know about them, Plati, and Kotobuki, this egg game is likely the latest gambit by a pair of incorrigible scientists trying to understand and cheat death. The butterfly reaper, then, strikes me as a natural corrective force arriving to oppose them.
Supporting this defiance of death, the ACCA bros use the terms Thanatos and Eros when discussing the future of their plans. These are the names of Greek gods, but in the context here, they're better understood as the Freudian terms meaning a person's “death drive” and “life drive,” respectively. I don't have the space here to cover these terms in depth, or get into how fraught Freudian psychology is, but there is plenty of literary precedent using these concepts. And to be fair, a pair of tech bros basing their life (and death) philosophy on outdated psychological concepts seems pretty on-the-nose to me. In the simplest terms, though, Thanatos can be understood as our tendency towards self-destructive behaviors, while Eros is our drive to affirm and extend our lives via creation and creativity. These are oppositional forces in Freudian psychology, but I'm curious to see how Wonder Egg Priority will use them (especially with so little time left). Clearly the ACCA bros see the girls as their warriors of Eros who will fight against the forces of Thanatos, which presumably includes the reaper girl. But there's something about that butterfly head that makes me suspect something else is going on here. Truthfully, I just hope WEP's visual language follows suit and becomes even bolder and weirder in support of its conclusion, whatever it ends up being.
The scariest part of this episode has nothing to do with raw crocodile, however. Sawaki's unfaltering gentleness unnerves me like nothing else, and Ai's journey into the belly of the beast is every bit as tense as Momoe's standoff against the reaper girl. While he talks about aging Ai up in his painting, all I hear is cartoonishly deafening alarms drowning out his words of “encouragement.” At this point, I'm dumbstruck by how inappropriate Sawaki's actions consistently are, and how closely the show still insists on keeping his cards to its chest. I have to believe the writing knows how much of a creep he's being (especially when paired against yet another abusive teacher this episode), because the alternative is too staggeringly tone-deaf. There's a galaxy-wide gulf between Ai dressing herself more adult-like, inspired by Neiru's and Momoe's makeovers no doubt, and Sawaki comparing her to her mother, who he is currently dating. Ai is stepping outside her comfort zone in order to steel herself against the truths behind Koito's fate, while Sawaki is stuffing her into a convenient box based on his sole selfish perspective. Best case scenario, Sawaki is the Tobias Fünke of saying things that accidentally sound predatory, but the show still needs to rebuke him. Thank goodness Ai musters the courage to ask him about Koito directly. It's a cliffhanger as painful and lingering as a papercut, but at least it means we'll get some resolution next week.
Also, “Latent Heat” is the absolute worst thing he could have named her painting. So gross.
While this was a huge downer of an episode, I'm more invigorated than ever to see how Wonder Egg Priority will follow through on its now-stratospheric ambition. Momoe's story has its rough patches, and the stuff with Kaoru may be too insensitive for the audiences who otherwise would resonate with its messages the most, but I think the heart of the show is just as powerful as ever for audiences who make it past this arc's traumatic sieve. I just hope Momoe doesn't have to spend too much more time alone, and that our four egg defenders will realize that they're the only real allies any of them have. They've been pawns in a labyrinthine chess game for too long now. Maybe it's time to start flipping the board.
Eggstra! Eggstra! Read all about it!
- Neiru's new hairstyle looks lovely, and Momoe looks great in that dress, in and outside of her dream. And while I'm still partial to Ai's peep-yellow sunflower hoodie, her fancier getup for the exhibit visit is nice and classy. Only Rika doesn't get a new ensemble this episode, but the shiteating gremlin grin she beams at Momoe during their girl talk is beautiful in its own way. Good for all these girls.
- When Kaoru infers that Haruka is a lesbian, Momoe looks for a second like she never even considered the possibility, which I'll laugh about only to make her feel better about being a complete dunce. At least now she should hopefully be able to look past her dysphoria and notice the people who love her for being herself.
- Emily has written a new post about Momoe in response to this week's episode, with another forthcoming, so I hear.
- Sakuga Blog also has a big post on Wonder Egg Priority and SK8, and more generally, on why we can't have nice things. I could fill another full review with my thoughts about this in the context of all the spectacular contributions from foreign animators this week (and if any of y'all are reading, you nailed it), but suffice to say, animators need to unionize, and we need to help them.
Wonder Egg Priority is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
Steve is thinking about those eggs. Please direct all egg and egg-related inquiries towards his Twitter
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