Wonder Egg Priority
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?
For better or worse, Wonder Egg Priority continues its perfect streak of uniquely challenging episodes that playfully dangle their thematic legs over a river of bubbling lava. This sixth installment swings its gaze sharply back on Ai, as she's forced to confront some uncomfortable possibilities and deal with even more uncomfortable truths. “Discomfort” really is the key word with Wonder Egg Priority. In divergent yet complementary ways, the story and direction both seem hell-bent on poking the audience where it's most tender. There's even something wickedly gleeful about it, like the creators themselves are faceless mannequins yukking it up at the expense of the people on the other side of the screen. I tend to enjoy art that burrows under your skin like that—provided that it's thoughtful enough to do so purposefully, and compassionate where it still counts. In that regard, this egg hasn't scrambled itself yet, but that yolk is looking mighty wobbly.
Not everything in Wonder Egg Priority is intentionally obfuscated, thankfully. Some components remain unambiguously exploitative and terrible, such as the egg game itself. This week, the Seeno Evils evolve into an even more dangerous faceless mob called the Haters, because of course things are going to get more difficult as the girls get better at it. I'm also deliberately calling this a “game” now, because both the framing and the Acca Bros' language continually evoke video games and their terminology: mission clear, power ups, bosses, etc. Whatever the girls believe they're accomplishing, it's all happening according to a script that the Acca Bros know and, in all likelihood, control. They half-heartedly recite tired management mantras while the girls fight for their lives. And I mean, how convenient is it that as soon as a powerful new enemy pops up, they happen to have the perfect counterweapon at the ready? And look, how nice of them to give it away for free! Naturally, any gacha game veteran can tell you that freebies only exist to encourage users to play—and thus pay—even more.
At least the egg defenders' new allies are cute enough to be mistaken for gacha game summons. Plus, I've been saying that this is just a normal magical girl anime, and now we have the magic familiars to prove it! The girls' reactions to their new buddies are all priceless, but like everything else in this game, I don't think we want to take their cartoonish reptilian charm at face value. I could be looking at the largest, most adorable chameleon in the universe, but if someone told me that its diet consisted solely of “envy and spite,” I'd think twice about entrusting my life to it. It's also telling that the Acca Bros focus so intently on the presence of the Haters, going to eye-rolling lengths to spell out the obvious symbolism of their name and presence. They want the girls to use these familiars and strengthen themselves in opposition to this new enemy—this is a sharp contrast to what we saw (and I what I argued) last week, which had our heroines fostering strength through their developing friendship and solidarity. Communities built solely on mutual hatred (even a hatred of Haters) are doomed to fail when that collective hostility inevitably points its talons inward. The Acca Bros' encouragement of that is, of course, utterly unsurprising.
For the time being, however, Leon and his big appetite for Haters do help Ai protect her current egg ward. Yae's suicide, she explains hesitantly and tearfully to Ai, was precipitated not so much by her belief she could see the dead, but by the way she was treated by the living. I've heard and read plenty of horrific testimony from people hospitalized against their will (especially after suicide threats/attempts), thrown into institutions that (in America especially) are woefully unequipped to deal compassionately with mental health issues. Yae was abandoned. She was rendered invisible. That's what killed her. Ai, too, can't understand Yae at first. Even as she's being flung violently through the hard ceramic of a bathroom wall (and kudos to the animators for making a battle against an invisible enemy look so visceral), Ai still can't see the monster. It's an on-the-nose, yet potent metaphor for the callous way that women's trauma is so frequently ignored and gaslit into presumed nonexistence, until it's too late to do anything about it.
Yae's treatment also reflects what happened to Koito. Ai admits to her friends this week that it's not just Koito's suicide that haunts her, but the fact that she didn't (and still doesn't) know why Koito did it. Or if she does, she hasn't yet accepted it. Ai's motivation to continue the egg game probably has less to do with the prospect of reunion and resurrection, and more to do with her search for any kind of closure. That search takes big symbolic and literal steps forward this week as Ai finally does see the Wonder Killer tormenting Yae after touching her prayer beads. Again, a totem from the egg ward proves instrumental in banishing their trauma, but I think this has less to do with some intrinsic magic property in these items and more to do with the empathetic symbolism of Ai accepting a part of these girls that she would not have understood otherwise. By holding onto these prayer beads, Ai confirms her desire to stop running away and finally confront the truths swirling behind her memory of Koito's wistful smile.
Unfortunately, all roads towards this closure go through Sawaki, and I've deliberately saved this part of my analysis for last, because he's the scariest part of the show on multiple levels. There's so much to talk about this week, yet I'm reticent about doing so, because there's so much more that's still hanging in the air like a giant asteroid dangling on a string. If I speculate about every single possibility, I'm never going to get anywhere useful. Also, like I said last week, Wonder Egg Priority is blatantly using Rika to let us know that it knows that we know all of the monstrous things Sawaki could be. I still doubt that the truth will be this obvious, but I also don't believe this means we should exculpate Sawaki of any wrongdoing. There's more than one way to hurt people.
Absent any other context, Ai's reaction to their awkward sukiyaki dinner is completely reasonable. No teenager is going be stoked about their teacher dating their mom. However, we know that there are complicating factors here, even if we're not sure of all of them. Ai had been under the impression that Sawaki's frequent visits were about getting her back to school, but now she knows there was an ulterior romantic motive. Does she resent him and her mom for not caring about her truancy as much as she thought they did? Does she resent Sawaki for pulling her mom away from her like he did to Koito? Does she resent her mom for pulling Sawaki away from her like Koito did? Does she resent herself for not knowing precisely why she's upset? Ai is a confused and frustrated mess for most of this episode, and despite her friends' prodding and theorizing, I don't think she gets anywhere close to a resolution.
Until the final scene, that is. Ai grabs her prayer beads of sight, leaves her hoodie behind, sprints through the rain, crosses her school's threshold, and clasps onto Sawaki's arm. The framing here is so intentionally and downright mawkishly romantic that the audience can't help but expect a love confession out of Ai. Maybe Ai had expected to give one too. However, at the last minute, she beams and instead jovially declares that she's going back to school. Obviously she's undergone a huge sea change, and we have a full week to speculate about why. For my money, and based on my earlier conclusions, I think her happiness at the end has less to do with Sawaki and more to do with the marigolds she had just run past. Marigolds are sometimes called the flower of the dead, and they're an important part of the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexican culture. Perhaps Ai has finally resolved to confront the specter of Koito haunting her—and to look directly at the specters that haunted Koito.
I should also note, however, that as of writing this, Emily hasn't published her latest flower language post, so I'm totally flying by the seat of my pants here. A quick Google search also tells me that marigolds can symbolize jealousy, so what do I know? And I also wouldn't put it past this series to exploit those conflicting meanings explicitly.
Despite the myriad moving and competing components to Wonder Egg Priority, its storyboarding and direction continue to synthesize them beautifully. WEP doesn't hold itself to an arbitrary standard of linearity, and there have been plenty of examples (particularly last week) where it has played around and spliced the order of events in order to communicate a character's deeper psychological processes. Episode six's jumbled timeline reflects Ai's confused state of mind, and it also contextualizes her important moments of defeat and epiphany. Not that this makes the conclusion any more definitive, but it definitely makes the overall presentation more artful and compelling. The repeated sight and sound of water throughout the episode also suggests that most of the narrative this week arrives packaged as a flashback while Ai soaks in the tub, further emphasizing how intently she must be meditating on her own feelings.
Here, at the halfway point, Wonder Egg Priority remains a dense and rewarding series to watch, reflect on, and write about each week. Until it's over, I don't think I'll ever be able to banish the fear that it might crush its fragile subject matter like so many eggshells, but even in this incomplete state, it's made one hell of an impression on me.
Wonder Egg Priority is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
Eggstra! Eggstra! Read all about it!
- No bonus content this week! Instead, your assignment is to cook one egg-based dish you've never attempted before and report back with the results next week. I will be doing the same. May the yolk be with you.
Steve is thinking about those eggs. Please direct all egg and egg-related inquiries towards his Twitter
discuss this in the forum (139 posts) |