Wonder Egg Priority
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?
This week, Wonder Egg Priority crashes into gender with all the subtlety of a runaway train slamming full-speed into a huge and ancient monolith bearing the word “GENDER” carved into its weathered façade. It's not a shocking development; any thoughtful story about women's trauma is inevitably going to have to delve into femininity, because so much of that trauma is intertwined with misogyny. This also isn't the first time Wonder Egg Priority has broached this subject textually. Episode 2's Wonder Killer transformed into a grotesque personification of secondary sexual characteristics in response to the fear of puberty beaten into an aspiring gymnast. However, the introduction of Momoe in episode 4 drags this subject all the way into the spotlight. Gender is now clearly one of this egg's priorities, and it feels like someone has poured concentrated hydrochloric acid into the recesses of the myriad plates it's been spinning since the premiere.
We hear Momoe before we see her. Actually, we see what she's seeing before we see her: An almost uncomfortably long cut of her companion Miwa's introduction kicks off a quiet two-minute scene backed only by the muffled clatter of the moving train, muted further by the cluster of red curtains. It's not the follow-up I expected to last week's cliffhanger, but it sets the tone and subject of the episode. Without leaving the confines of the train or their discussion, it quickly becomes obvious that Momoe is another egg defender, and the girl with her is her current egg ward (not the official terms, but they're the ones I'm using for now). The absence of action also gives Miwa the space to talk about her molestation. It wouldn't have felt right to pair this confession with a dazzling fight against a colorful monster, and the somberness of this conversation, punctuated by plenty of silence, feels about as delicate as her trauma warrants. I don't know if Wonder Egg Priority's end result will justify the weight of the abuse it invokes, but at least it's on the right trajectory with scenes this potently understated.
Gender also rears its ugly head in this introduction. Momoe immediately plays the role of Momotaro, named so by Miwa after the famous Japanese folk hero who is, among other things, a boy. Sure enough, when we see Momoe, she appears boyish and acquiesces to the name with a small, wistful smile. She reassures Miwa's femininity in a gentle way that combats the associations with her abuser, and she physically comforts her when Miwa begins crying. Momoe is good at playing this role. She's done so before, and even though she isn't Momotaro, her genuine desire to protect these girls in her dreamscape takes priority over her own identity. She only falters at the end of the scene, almost imperceptibly, after Miwa compliments her broad shoulders. While Momoe stands a head taller than the girl, she's dwarfed by the size of the train, extending infinitely in both directions, swaying back and forth with the curve of the tracks. Her voice breaks. “Not really.”
I've already seen lots of people come away from this episode with a lot of different interpretations of Momoe's gender identity. The only concrete fact right now is a lack of them, and given the personal nature of this, I can only speak personally. In that respect, I think the fuzziness and uncertainty is part of the point (for now, anyway). Given the historical oppression and repression that has plagued queer voices and representation, I totally understand the reactive movement towards clarity and explicitness. However, I think this reaction also sometimes loses sight of the inherent difficulty of translating any part of one's identity into language and art, which compounds exponentially when considering the inner, interpersonal, and societal complexities of gender and sexuality, neither of which are binary, nor necessarily rigid. I don't want to lose sight of these messier and more muddled musings, because honestly those are the ones that have always resonated with me the most. Momoe, for instance, might be a trans girl struggling with gender expression, or she might be a cis girl struggling with gender expression, or she might be somewhere in between. These struggles don't completely overlap, and some readings are likely to suffer as Wonder Egg Priority explores her character and backstory more. Nevertheless, the acknowledgement of this struggle is a good place to start.
And I mean, what even is gender? I don't know! That hasn't stopped me from using terms like “boyish” and “femininity” in this review, but if you asked me to define them, I wouldn't be able to give you anything useful. I don't think Momoe has a clue either. She cries after Rika and Neiru casually assume she's a boy. She's at her happiest when Ai affirms that she sees her as a girl (reciprocating the kind words Momoe delivered to Miwa earlier in the episode). She switches between using watashi and boku, and only sometimes does it seem deliberate. She furiously asserts her right to be in the women's car on the train. She adopts the name Momotaro again, then rescinds it, and then sweats nervously when her egg ward doesn't care what gender she is. She wears masculine clothes and cuts her hair short. She revels at the opportunity to participate in some girl talk. Some of this might be related to her yet-unspecified trauma. Some of it might be related to her sexuality. Some of it might not. None of that makes any of her feelings and actions here any less authentic. Gender is fake and a construct but it's also extremely real and painful and euphoric.
The most essentialist of gender thoughts in this episode come from the adult figures. Miwa's Wonder Killer wastes not even his death rattle when it comes to being gross towards women. Momoe later fights a TERF Wonder Killer who polices her appearance for not being feminine enough. Then, the Acca bros lay down some pretty brazen claims about the differences in motivation between male and female suicides. It's ironic that Neiru's concern about boys in their secret egg garden is addressed by the pair of grown mannequin men who have been blithely playing Go this entire time. This is one of many indicators that we should be critical of their words, but this also doesn't mean we can dismiss them entirely. After all, there are differences between the genders when it comes to suicide, but only because there are so many differences between how society treats and perceives those genders. The Acca bros gravitate towards a clean delineation, because doing so probably benefits them in some way. But like gender itself, this issue is a whole lot messier than a short binary platitude.
Now that Wonder Egg Priority has cultivated a briar patch of personal and systemic traumas, the looming question is whether or not it can actually stitch together a narrative that navigates it without getting torn to shreds. I respect the ambition a lot, and I'm frequently biased towards series like this one because of their ambition. However, I think it's also prudent to be skeptical of stories with the whiff of sensationalism, and this one has a lot of paths to choose from—all precarious, and very few satisfying. Of course, I hope it has meaningful things to say. They don't even have to be all that poignant! I love the frank lack of eloquence in the way Neiru describes Ai as both hopeless and lovely, which feels like the closest thing to a genuine thesis statement we've gotten. After all, it's Ai's heartfelt hopelessness that finally pulls Momoe out of her spiral. Even a temporary reprieve can ripple permanently in the waves of memory. And temporary reprieves might be the only kind these girls are afforded. After all, the egg machine is always calling.
Eggstra! Eggstra! Read all about it!
- Wow, this time I wicked do not feel like I covered anything in the episode. I apologize on behalf of gender for taking up the whole review, because there's so much good stuff! Ai with the penlights (seems like she can only defeat Wonder Killers with a totem from the egg wards). Rika's triumphant return. Neiru's perfect 10. Neiru owning an entire freaking business. Momoe's beautiful umbrella fencing form. Rika teasing Neiru and instead getting mercilessly dunked on in return. I'm really glad the series lets its characters have fun, and also lets itself have fun with the characters. For now, anyway.
- Thanks to my inadvisably meticulous screencapping habit, I was able to confirm that Momoe's last name Sawaki is the same as the teacher who keeps visiting Ai (his name has been mentioned maybe twice). Since he's obviously implicated in Koito's death in some way, and because he gives off bad vibes in general (what kind of middle school teacher wears a bolo tie??), I'm super dreading how this thread unravels.
- Adam, Emily, kVin, and daily streaming reviews veteran Nick all have more posts about eggs 'n such. It's been a while since I've seen any anime spark this much critical discussion in my (admittedly small) circle on Twitter, so if nothing else, Wonder Egg Priority has provided something invaluable 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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