Wonder Egg Priority
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?
Wonder Egg Priority has had a running gag about how little the girls care about the Accas and whatever their whole deal is. While I can understand how that may have been frustrating to some viewers, I loved it! I took it as tacit acknowledgment that Ai's, Neiru's, Rika's, and Momoe's stories were ultimately more interesting and more worthy of focus than these obviously shady dummies, and I think I've even expressed the hope that the series would conclude without ever validating the Accas with a proper backstory. Well, for better or worse, the day of reckoning is here. In its unquestionably strangest episode to date, Wonder Egg Priority digs into the past lives of the once fleshy Accas, throws a Hail Mary full of additional thematic spaghetti at the wall, and blissfully ignores that the pot it's had on the stove all season is still boiling over.
In a series that has so far thrived in the surreal abstraction of its dream worlds, this episode straddles the line between straightforward origin story and metaphor. Revelations about Neiru and Plati in the back half of the season have done the work to make this story about lab-grown children and rogue AIs “believable,” but nonetheless, we're primed to think about it in a less literal sense as well. This is also aided by the manner of its delivery. While the context gives us little reason to believe that Ura-Acca is deliberately lying about anything, we have to consider how these events would be colored by his perspective. For instance, how different might the story be if we heard about it from Frill herself? He fast-forwards through the 14 years she spent trapped in their shed. I doubt she had the same luxury. As a result, I'm going to be as uncharitable as possible to the Accas in my interpretation of the events, and I encourage everyone to do the same.
The Accas' creation and subsequent rejection of Frill as a monster obviously echoes Frankenstein, but given the more obvious gender politics of this situation (and in Wonder Egg Priority overall), I think we have to go back even further and consider the myth of Pygmalion. Ura-Acca goes out of his way to explain that they created Frill with human-like flaws, as if he understands the intrinsic skeeviness of bringing to life the perfect woman homunculus. However, that's still what they did. On a selfish whim, they incubated and hatched an idealized daughter figure with algorithmically-correct precociousness and no raison d'être besides keeping them company. He can't even stop himself from parroting textbook misogyny like “being uncontrollable is the essence of femininity.” These are not the dudes I'd want raising any daughter, let alone an experimental artificial intelligence they pieced together in a bathtub. Ura-Acca recalls their first year together with fondness, but this is a horror story that began with the moment of Frill's birth, and she was never the monster.
It's telling that even within the skewed frame of Ura-Acca's unreliable narration, he and his bespectacled partner come across as the most villainous figures here. They're not mustache-twirlers, but they're perfect embodiments of the more benign yet overwhelmingly pervasive net of oppression woven by unwarranted arrogance. It would have been so easy for them to consider that Frill needed the opportunity and space to thrive outside of their cloister, but they never do, neither in the present nor the past. Note how Frill's response to the wedding is to ask for friends, the implications of which seem to fly straight over Ura-Acca's head. Familial bonds are important—just not at the cost of all other social interaction. They made Frill for a singular purpose, threatened to take that purpose away from her, and then lashed at her when she lashed out. But even Frill's murderous acts of rebellion exist within the confines they imposed upon her. She either can't or won't harm her fathers, so she instead directs her frustration towards the nearest vulnerable person, and it's no surprise that this turns out to be other women. Oppressive systems (even one as huge as patriarchy) thrive especially well when oppressors are able to redirect the inevitable ire away from themselves and back within the oppressed community.
The episode's direction also emphasizes Frill's victimhood. Editing choices prevent us from seeing the exact moment of Azusa's murder, but we do have to watch Acca brutishly beat a little girl in a fit of rage. While the shock factor is arguably unnecessary, this use of violence to punctuate its messages is nothing new for Wonder Egg Priority. Beyond the graphicness of the violence, however, this scene emphasizes that Frill's humanity was always fundamentally conditional, and once her fathers found it inconvenient, they ripped it away from her. Acca tells her as much before he shoves her into a coffin and shuts the lid—an image lifted straight out of Kunihiko Ikuhara's visual dictionary for systemic oppression and silencing. And in a sense, Frill had been trapped in this same coffin her entire existence. Maybe that's why she never bothered to escape.
This upsetting act of child abuse is followed up by the disquieting speed with which Acca and Ura-Acca's affections shift to Himari. Instead of reflecting on their mistakes, they wallow in undeserved self-pity until they're “saved” by what they would probably consider an “improved” version of Frill. Himari, thankfully, is afforded a life bigger and richer than her two weird dads, but I have to emphasize that all of their happy memories with her are haunted by the unseen child trapped in their shed. Tellingly, Frill doesn't return to their thoughts until they're met with another tragedy, at which point Ura-Acca's instinct is to blame anyone but himself.
The Accas can only deal with women when they're in convenient boxes: daughters, wives, victims, etc. Consider the paternalistic tone they always take with Ai and her friends, but also consider how they treated Frill the moment she stepped out of line (which was to shove her into a literal box). Ura-Acca, similarly, can't process Himari's weird behavior on the night before her suicide, so he chooses to brush it off. It's difficult to parse exactly what's going on here, especially because it's being filtered through his recollections, but the implication and visual language point towards the spirit of Frill “possessing” Himari in this moment. Even if that's not literally what happens, figuratively it tracks. As Himari grows out of being their adorable and perfect daughter, she's going to take on those qualities of womanhood that the Accas make no effort to understand. Granted, Himari's suggestive behavior feels like a particularly gross creative choice in a show that's centered itself so much on the sexual abuse inflicted on young women. There are definitely better, less loaded ways to communicate her maturity, but I wonder if this wasn't Frill taking another jab at her fathers' supposedly chaste motivations for creating her. Again, the myth of Pygmalion looms menacingly.
I genuinely think this is a good and multi-layered episode on par with the artistry I've come to expect from Wonder Egg Priority. Unlike many of the prior installments headed by new creative voices, this one is storyboarded and directed by an established talent, Noriko Takao, who's also a Kyoani veteran. In Ura-Acca's backstory, she navigates an exceedingly tricky space between nostalgia and voyeurism, and I think she nails it. His idyllic recollections get undercut by a deliberate discomfort in framing that grows in magnitude over the course of the episode. I also love Ai's nighttime exploration of the Egg House, which strips away the usual bright and friendly colors and turns the scene into a tense, horror-inspired invasion of an unfamiliar space. In general, the way the episode frames the Accas' house as either inviting or suffocating, depending on the context, is really impressive and helps sell the Accas' arrested development. Having abandoned their bodies, their home is now nothing but a dollhouse, frozen in time by its pathetic owners.
HOWEVER (and I really do need to emphasize the hugeness of that “however”), even though I think this is a good episode, I don't think it's the one Wonder Egg Priority needed right now. My extremely charitable reading of this story leads me to the conclusion that the Accas aren't great dudes…which is something I already knew. It'd be bad enough if this episode accomplished nothing, but it's worse because it introduces all of these new characters and concepts that serve to gum up what was already a dangerously overloaded narrative. Even though Ura-Acca's explanation implicates the two of them even more, he really shouldn't have been allowed to explain himself in the first place, and definitely not for a full episode. It's not that their additional characterization here is poorly executed; it's just that it's tertiary to the far more important issues the series has broached.
Likewise, while I understand the intent behind Frill, the last thing this show needs is even more complicated and more potentially fraught metaphors for the way society punishes women. Frill isn't the real villain here, but now the show is going to have to go out of its way to properly communicate that point, lest it leave room to misconstrue her presence. It's incredibly insensitive for the show to suggest that suicides are not just caused by all of the myriad abuses it's already highlighted, but also by this rogue AI who has somehow invaded the collective unconscious of teen girls like an anime Freddy Krueger. I don't think it's a lost cause, though. Frill can work as a metaphor for societal oppression of women that, on top of individual abuses, definitely contributes to suicide. However, that's a hell of a thing to bring up in your eleventh hour, with so many other spinning plates in danger of shattering.
And speaking of those plates, what about our egg defenders? I didn't mind Momoe's traumatic conclusion last week because I assumed the rest of the girls would leap to her rescue. Instead, we open with a recapitulation of that scene starring Rika, only it's even crueler here due to episode 7. Devoting a full episode to the Accas means ripping away precious time from the heart of the series—the girls' friendship—when that heart has consistently been the most important quality of Wonder Egg Priority. At this point, we've progressed far beyond the possibility of WEP delivering an ending that satisfies the grandiosity of its ambition. I'm okay with that, though, as long as we get an ending true to its heart, which has consistently emphasized the relationship between Ai, Neiru, Rika, and Momoe. Pivoting away from them in their most dire hour, in order to flesh out ancillary and overly-baroque plot points, is a grave miscalculation.
Now, I'm nothing if not an incorrigibly indefatigable optimist, so if Wonder Egg Priority is doomed to spin out of control, then I hope the rest of its final act is as unpredictable and possesses as much brazen confidence in itself as the swerve here. However, I really hope that the remainder of its conclusion shifts the focus back to Ai, her friends, and their camaraderie. It has to do that on top of exculpating Frill and rebuking the Acca bros, ideally, but the emotional core of the story should be prioritized above all else. Individual episodes' prior focus on small victories also gives WEP an excuse not to solve every issue it has raised (and, quite frankly, I wouldn't want to see it attempt to “solve” something as heavy and massive as suicide). Still, there's so much left on this plate—not the least of which is Sawaki, who doesn't even appear for one freaking second this week—that I don't envy the staff's coming struggle to tie some sort of bow on everything. I can only wish them the best.
Eggstra! Eggstra! Read all about it!
- Singer-songwriter Momus, one of my problematic fave musicians, wrote a song called “Pygmalism” interpreting Pygmalion from Galatea's perspective (originally written for Kahimi Karie, but I'm linking the version he sings himself). It's a lot more lurid than anything in this episode, but it ends with Galatea killing her creator, and that's the kind of energy I had in mind while watching and empathizing with Frill's story.
- This is a shitpost I thought of while I was writing the review, but it's too poignant to bury on Twitter: Episode 11 is about two malewives who manipulated and mansplained so hard they accidentally created the ultimate girlboss.
- Which I guess makes her two minions Gaslight and Gatekeep. Damn, I should've made this my thesis instead of that huge mess up there.
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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