Wonder Egg Priority
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?
With the premise established and all four main eggs accounted for, this is the first Wonder Egg Priority episode where we can relax a bit. Finally. WEP responds to this freedom with an appropriately chill installment focusing on the girls' downtime together, and it's nice to see them kick back in between the harrowing physical and emotional toll extracted from a nefarious egg gacha machine. Unfortunately, however, I'm not allowed this same laconic luxury, because WEP also decides to throw some of its densest material yet at the audience. We pivot away from the loaded surrealism of the dreamscapes only to focus more intently on the psychologies of these characters and the many layers to their interactions. Our four egg defenders each have a lot bubbling under their surfaces, and together they're a messy recipe for both volatility and solidarity.
The carefully guarded Neiru is our focal character this week, inside and outside the Wonder Zone, and we get a much clearer picture of what she's all about via her actions. As someone who defaults to an arm's length when it comes to new acquaintances, her weapon of choice is appropriately long range, and she specializes in sniping. She's also the most businesslike egg defender, preferring not to get too chummy with her hatchlings (she's probably the only one who could've intuited that the right move was to attack one of the egg wards), as well as best understanding the transactional foundation of the system they're all entwined in. It's shocking to see her agree with a Wonder Killer about something, but her aversion to “give and give” makes sense in the context of her acquiescent capitalist worldview. She possesses no romanticism about what she's doing. She pays the price, does the job, reaps the benefit, and repeats—as expected of a CEO. This also explains why her statue remains the only victim we haven't seen in flashback. Neiru's calcification definitely belies a more complicated and traumatic relationship with her dead sister than she lets on, but the honest selfishness of her motivation is a refreshing rebuttal to the starry-eyed heroics of her companions. She knows she's being scammed.
Neiru might have become my favorite character with this episode. I love this jaded little businesswoman who possesses enough power and intelligence to do and know better, but still feels trapped in a vicious and inescapable cycle. And while she might not be interested in fighting the system (yet), she does feel compelled to fight and make it work for her as best as it can. She even finds the energy to crack cheesy one-liners. She's also the only dark-skinned member of the cast, and this episode makes it clear that Wonder Egg Priority is, at the very least, cognizant of that. Her interactions with her second beauty-obsessed egg ward are charged with casual racism and microaggressions: the Othering of Neiru's physical features (her hair), the assumption that she has the right to both criticize and touch it, and the disproportional indignation the woman expresses when Neiru correctly asserts her personal space. These weird, invasive attitudes towards black women's hair are well-documented, so I have to imagine this scene here is a deliberate evocation of that. Whether Wonder Egg Priority has the ability to thoughtfully address racism and colorism in addition to all of the other plates it's spinning is another question entirely, but once again, I certainly can't fault it for its ambition!
Rika gets a lot of good material in this episode as well, and on the surface, she appears to be the perfect foil for Neiru. She's loud, loves to say insensitive things, and actually possesses the drive to push back against the Acca bros and their egg system. However, I think Rika is a lot more interesting for all of the ways she and Neiru are alike. For one, they're the only two members who have/had careers in the adult world, and those experiences have in turn informed the guarded way they approach the egg system. If anything, Rika is probably more calcified than Neiru is, but she intentionally doesn't project that on the surface. Neiru acquiesces to the system, while Rika espouses it. Rika says a lot of sexist and misogynistic stuff, because she knows that is what adults believe and what adults in turn expect her to believe. One way to survive the patriarchy is to adopt it. Importantly, this doesn't mean Rika believes everything she says—episode 3 was all about her saying one thing while frequently meaning the exact opposite—but adopting something out of convenience can often be indistinguishable from genuinely doing so. Just because Neiru knows she's being scammed doesn't mean she's being scammed any less than the others. Rika, however, can also let her façade fall and argue against buying any more eggs precisely because she's so used to being vilified by one side or another. She can read the room and rock the boat with equal proficiency. She and Neiru make for a great, if volatile, pair, and I hope we continue to see them clash and grow together.
While Momoe is still a hot mess, she's a hot mess with friends who empathize with her, and that's no small improvement. Unsurprisingly, there's nothing revelatory about her identity, and I suspect that Wonder Egg Priority will probably continue to conform to some degree of deliberate vagueness. However, I do think the additional context in this episode helps elucidate her struggle a bit more. Namely, I believe WEP wants to comment on how even queer relationships can be subject to the cisheteronormative pressures of what's “acceptable” or not. That is, even same-sex attraction can be colored by the societal expectation of a feminine partner alongside a masculine one. The episode uses the Takarazuka Revue as a reference point, which is an all-women acting troupe with a whole culture and hierarchy based around who plays the male leads (and which has its own fascinating and thorny history with lesbians and feminism). In one respect, Takarazuka's otokoyaku can be seen as a more “acceptable” outlet for same-sex attraction, because a woman crushing on another woman in drag falls closer in line with the gender presentation society expects from a couple.
Of course, this is NOT to say that a relationship between a butch woman and a femme woman is somehow “less” queer than one between two femmes, or that bigotry and homophobia still don't find ways to suppress the rights of all LGBTQ people. These are matters of degree, and this is where Wonder Egg Priority is going to have to be really careful about its messaging. But I do believe this gets at Momoe's whole deal: she loves women (and, quite obviously, is loved by them), but societal expectations won't let her do that as a woman. Hence, she's pressured to conform to a masculine presentation, even though it makes her uncomfortable. On the other hand, Haruka's insistence that women are allowed to love women as women also blindsides and frightens Momoe due to that conditioning, so now she's one big gender mess. Now, whether or not this is the most important queer narrative that Wonder Egg Priority can tell, or whether it's the one it is best equipped to tell—that's a different story. If it can be thoughtful and authentic about Momoe's struggles, however, I think it can resonate with the audiences who need it.
This brings us to our stalwart egg protagonist Ai, who's more of a supporting member of the cast this week. Her most compelling material is the additional context we receive regarding hers and Koito's relationship with Mr. Sawaki, whose vibes remain absolutely rancid. It's worth noting, however, that Ai is our POV character, and we've already established that the girls can be unreliable narrators, so how much of Sawaki's framing is influenced by Ai's perception remains a pivotal question. The blitheness with which Rika spells out all of the horrible thoughts I've already had about his role in the story also makes me put my guard up. Sometimes I feel like Rika becomes a genre-savvy mouthpiece just to troll audience members like me, and I can't say I don't respect it. Regardless, even in the most flattering context, Sawaki sucks. His way of “helping” Ai involves isolating her, clamping down on her insecurity, forcefully molding it into a piece of art, and then putting that art on display for his sole benefit. It's parasitic, and I can't help but think back on the harrowing 15th episode of Penguindrum. Koito's response is also interesting. She gently pressures Ai into letting Sawaki submit his painting of her, and this points at a more complicated relationship between the two of them than Ai initially let on. Maybe Ai resented her for that. Maybe that too is why Ai feels as guilty as she does.
At least there's no question about the Acca bros being bastards! In case you missed it, director Wakabayashi clarified on Twitter that he had meant for there to be a more explicit refutation of their comments last week. Like I stated in my review, I thought the intent was clear there, but a little word of God never hurts. And in case we needed any more clues, this week the creepy mannequins are laughing it up maniacally at how easy it was to manipulate the girls with a little bit of bowling and reverse psychology. Under no circumstances should anything they say be taken at face (or in their case, lack of face) value.
Beneath all of these complex and tragic moving parts, however, this episode is also about the simple joy of spending time with new friends and having receptive people to talk to. Rika and Neiru would probably say they hate each other's guts, but Rika is also the only person whom Neiru lets touch her. Neiru gives Momoe some space to admit that it's not all bad being an effortlessly handsome ladykiller. Rika's obstinacy, while grating, can also be a force for good that opens up an entire arcade for them. And even though their more serious moments together are cut short this week by the ensuing friction, the connective tissue between their past traumas and current excursions means they have an insight into each other that nobody else possesses. This, more so than any number of eggs, could be the key to them properly processing their grief. A bunch of girls just hanging out, being honest, and supporting each other might be the most powerful, most radical force in all of Wonder Egg Priority. That's why this episode is so deceptively complex, and that's why they're going to have to work hard to protect this bond.
Eggstra! Eggstra! Read all about it!
- I hope this is a given with any series of reviews I write for this website, but I want to stress this for emphasis here sooner rather than later: I'm an idiot who can't speak authoritatively on pretty much anything. Nevertheless, it's my intention to be as thoughtful and sensitive as I can be in my writing and analysis, and especially so considering the breadth and weight of the topics Wonder Egg Priority is intent on covering. Inevitably, I'm going to be outside of my depth and/or lane on some stuff, so if I get anything egregiously wrong, please don't hesitate to hit me up on Twitter. I want these essays to help, not hurt. Alternatively, please feel free to call me a moron on the forum comment thread without any fear of confrontation, because I don't read those. Scout's honor.
- Emily finished a monster of a post this week on WEP's monsters.
- Keeping in line with the stationery theme, Neiru's weapon is a compass, which I'm presuming is also what her sister used to stab her. I could be wrong, but that would also fit into my read of her not being as ambivalent about her sister as she would want everyone to believe. I'd definitely like a bit more context about what happened there before commenting on it, though—which, to be fair, could be said of pretty much everything else in this show.
- Please look at this key art for the photo booth set the girls took together, provided by the illustrator. I love these dorks, and I adore the one where they're all flexing together. Here's to another week of being egg strong.
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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