Wonder Egg Priority
Episode 3

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 3 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?

The first one is free. The rest will cost you. This is one of the first lines of dialogue in Wonder Egg Priority, and Ai learns this long before she comes to understand what the eggs even are. A different show might have buried this lede for later, shrouding the Faustian nature of this system in fog, but most of this world's worst evils have long outgrown obfuscation. They manipulate and legislate in plain sight. While Aca might gently chide the girls for taking on too much work, he still won't leave the comfort of his garden chair. After all, he's the one getting paid; and in this system, the payment, not the product, is the priority, which is a dynamic that inevitably tilts the balance of power away from the person coughing up the proverbial dough. This transactional frame of reference can be seen hugging every corner of Wonder Egg Priority, and especially so in its third episode.

Former idol Rika steps into Ai's story swinging an oversized box cutter and projecting a similarly oversized personality. Whereas Koito slipped inside Ai's shell with kind words and gentle gestures, Rika crashes through like a rude freight train, lobbing insults, hogging fruit, and inviting herself into her new friend's room. Ai turns visibly annoyed in spite of her best efforts, but the audience should pick up much more quickly that Rika has quite the shell herself. Hers has hardened into a thick carapace of brusque behavior and forced idol mannerisms designed to deflect anybody who might notice how much pain she is in. This includes herself, as even in her moments alone with Chiemi's statue, she cloaks her true feelings in familiar insults in order to distract herself from her crushing guilt. Like Ai, Rika is the messy amalgamation of both victim and perpetrator. Love and hate swirling together torrentially. Another cog in the gachapon machine.

Rika's circumstances most clearly reflect the exploitative transactional spine of Wonder Egg Priority's overarching system. In the glibbest perspective possible, idols are a devious manifestation of capitalism that manages to exploit both the performers and the fans by preying on their emotions. In another sense, they're a refreshingly frank manifestation of it, not unlike the sinisterly honest workings of the egg system. You exchange money for a bit of emotional labor. It's simple. It's even fair. But “fair” systems can be twisted into manipulative ones, especially when feelings are involved. And naturally, those systems don't care when they force a person to steal, or to lie, or to self-harm, or to kill themselves. After all, there are plenty of expendable conduits out there to keep the money and power flowing in the correct direction. In fact, wouldn't it be all the better if you also found a way to monetize those already-expended conduits?

Payment comes in all forms. The “cost of living” isn't some grandiose philosophical concept; it's a number, and it goes up every year. Ai's first egg was “free,” but it still ended up costing her a bloody nose and a trip to the hospital. Neiru's businesslike ambition costs her even more bodily harm on a more regular basis. Rika's kayfabe-enshrouded affection cost Chiemi enough to make her shoplift. Rika's misdirected attempt at genuine affection cost Chiemi her entire life. Chiemi's statue might someday cost Rika her own life. Ai's silence cost Koito her life, but Ai, wracked with pain, admits that Koito's silence also contributed. Would Ai have let Koito kill herself if Koito had been as loud about her trauma as Rika? Would Chiemi have killed herself if Rika had possessed Koito's sense of diplomacy? Nobody here is singularly responsible for any of these tragedies, but that knowledge is small comfort compared to guilt's ironclad ventricular grip. So they'll keep paying whatever it takes.

I simply don't have enough space here to explore all of my complicated feelings about idol culture and fandom, but I can highlight an important reference in the text. This week's egg girls killed themselves after their favorite idol Yu-Yu committed suicide. Given the name and the circumstances (and the age of the screenwriter), this is almost certainly a reference to real-life idol Yukiko Okada (nicknamed Yukko), who committed suicide at age 18 in 1986. It was sensationally covered by the media, and this in turn inspired a string of copycat teen suicides in what was sensationally dubbed “Yukko Syndrome.” As usual, Wonder Egg Priority keeps one foot in a pond of surreal abstraction, while the other foot twists uncomfortably within the gnarled root of reality. The burial shroud wrinkles like pallid skin around Chiemi's unseen anorexic corpse. The texture of Rika's self-inflicted scars looks faithfully rough. As much as I continue to love the series, it's very possible Wonder Egg Priority screws up and cheapens these powerful, awful images. It's trying to do a lot, and it might not have the sensitivity nor the time to address everything with the care it deserves. Ambition is worth a lot in my estimation, but it's not everything. As for Yukiko Okada and her fans, I can't and won't speak for why any of these people killed themselves. I don't think anyone can. That's kind of the point. All I know is that this world chews people up and spits them out.

I haven't talked about the actual quality of the episode yet, and I also feel like this is going to be the pattern for future episode reviews. Wonder Egg Priority feels so self-evidently “good” that I'd rather use this space to sort and digest my brain's disjointed commentary on it, rather than do a beat-by-beat review. I mean, you don't need me to tell you the show still looks incredible. Rika's character acting shines and endears the audience to her while she acts out like a horrible little gremlin. Even the moments of lower-framerate animation are by-and-large beautiful and feel purposefully integrated in a way that fits the dreamlike setting. The action scenes also remain eye-popping and kinetic, and this week's battle really takes advantage of the Wonder Killer's kaiju-esque scale.

Actually, if I do have one critique worth digging into, it's that this week's Wonder Killer feels a lot more superfluous than the other two. A big acrobatic fight with a grown-up idol stalker doesn't have a whole lot to do with Rika's inter- and intrapersonal conflicts, and I also fail to see how she's the main entity responsible for the egg girls' trauma and death. On the other hand, maybe that's the point. Trauma is rarely inflicted or enabled by a singular actor. It's a confluence of many actions and inactions, and of many abuses both acute and systemic. Trauma isn't some big monster you can cleave in two with your magic sword. In fact, I think the Seeno Evils are a much better (and creepier) abstraction of it: thousands of smaller cuts inflicted with uncanny malice, kept at bay at best, but never completely eradicated. That doesn't mean these Wonder Killer fights are pointless—Utena's duels were fake projections created by a planetarium, but that didn't stop them from being “real”—but maybe we should keep questioning the basic tenets of this Wonderland. Who is pulling these girls into these dreams, who is making them fight these monsters, and who is really benefitting from it?

Alternatively, I could just be overthinking things! This could all just be WEP's magical girl DNA expressing itself, while its future subversions lie elsewhere. Like I said, I'm going to be rambling in these reviews, so I hope you're ready for a lot of that. Wonder Egg Priority is uncommonly rough to watch, and tough to think about, but it fills me with excitement about anime's present visionaries and future potential.

Rating:

Eggstra! Eggstra! Read All About It!

This may or may not be the title of what may or may not be a regular feature, but I'll keep linking other essays or odd observations here as I see fit.

  • The indomitable sakuga fiend kVin wrote a tantalizingly long and intimidatingly informative companion piece to the first two episodes. Heaping spoonfuls of great analysis here, with an emphasis on the artists who make it all possible, and the artists who made those artists possible.
  • Emily is back at it. She might even put another essay up in between me posting this and it getting published. You should really just save me the trouble and bookmark her blog.
  • Eerily, earlier this week, before this episode aired, I decided to listen to Yukiko Okada for the first time in a while. Specifically, I wanted to explore her later catalog. When I first heard about her, it struck me as a little too macabre to listen to the album she had released just a few weeks before she killed herself. Turns out it's really good. I don't know how I feel about that.
  • 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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