Wonder Egg Priority
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Wonder Egg Priority ?
I've been in the anime game long enough to know that a slam dunk premiere doesn't necessarily portend a winning series. However, sometimes that dunk is so slammin' that it breaks the backboard, burns the eyebrows off the spectators, and buries the ball so deep in the earth's mantle that it shows up on a seismograph. Wonder Egg Priority commands attention within its first seconds, and it only tightens that grip as the debut spirals ever wider and weirder into a haunted Faustian Wonderland. I'm biased towards even the most miniscule amounts of thoughtful surrealism, so this egg, from its pointier end to its rounder end, is extremely My Shit.
I'm both excited and apprehensive about being able to review it weekly. Just like Ai finds her egg too hard to crack at first, Wonder Egg Priority is intimidatingly dense with symbols, layers, and staging. Honestly, I'd be most comfortable examining it scene-by-scene with a pause button in one hand and a laser pointer in the other. That's not exactly conducive to either text or word counts, however, so instead I'm going to take a note from Ai, slam this egg against the wall, and hope for the best.
Wonder Egg Priority's immediate impression is that of a television series punching at a weight class usually reserved for films. And hell, there are plenty of anime films that don't even look this good. Its character designs, liberal use of photographic effects, and meticulous attention towards minute body language are all reminiscent of KyoAni works, and more specifically reminiscent of Naoko Yamada. She has one of the most distinctive directorial voices in the industry today, so it's unsurprising (and nice!) to see her influence begin to creep into other animators. WEP director Shin Wakabayashi, however, can't be accused of soulless mimicry. Wonder Egg Priority uses the careful, grounded weight of its animation as a purposefully quotidian contrast to the sinister and fantastic threads writhing just under its surface. I'm reminded of Hiroshi Nagahama's Flowers of Evil adaptation, which used rotoscoping in a deliberately uncomfortable way to embrace the manga's symbolist influences. Wonder Egg Priority analogously invokes realism in pursuit of surrealism—seeking and honing the disquieting gaps between dream logic, where a locker for hiding can be an escape route, and the soul of a dead friend can trickle out of a statue's teardrop.
Plenty of other influences also spring to mind. Flip Flappers and its bizarre magical-girl-infused mindscapes are probably the nearest anime antecedent. All girls tumbling down mysterious subterranean holes at the herald of a talking animal can trace their way back to Alice in Wonderland, of course (and on that front, I doubt the show's title is an accident). I also can't help but recall Kunihiko Ikuhara's fondness for eggs as symbols, but I find this primarily useful as a good way to start thinking about Wonder Egg Priority in more abstract terms. What is a Wonder Egg, and why does Ai have to collect and smash them? Ai herself is something of an egg, and the show visually emphasizes this many times: the oval of her face bound tightly by her hoodie, the clear delineation between her room and the outside world, the canopy enveloping her bed, and even the way she sits. Ai's shell has many layers, but that doesn't stop Koito from breaking through them.
Wonder Egg Priority's frank depiction of bullying, abuse, and suicide will make it a rough watch for most and an impossible watch for some. Ai is, by all appearances, helping the souls of suicide victims so that she can earn enough favor to be reunited with a friend she feels responsible for killing. She's at the terrible crossroad of having been bullied herself and bearing the guilt of ignoring Koito's suffering to assuage her own. The Seeno Evils pass her by because she's one of them. This is heavy, triggering stuff, and WEP's success will rest on how deftly it handles these themes and their development. Scriptwriter Shinji Nojima has never worked on an anime before, but he is well-known for writing TV dramas that don't shy away from trickier themes, so it's possible he can spin all of these precariously perched plates. And for what it's worth, my first impressions are very positive. The writing—especially the dialogue—feels understated and layered in a refreshing way. It's difficult to quantify, but it doesn't feel like typical anime writing. I love, for instance, how Ai's playful conversation with Kurumi contrasts meaningfully with the way she runs from Koito during their first meeting, and how both of these relationships are mended by the deceptively mundane return of a personal item.
Ai's friendship with Koito forms in a beautiful and quiet shared moment, heightened by the patient tenderness of its animation. WEP's precise attention to detail—the movement of the eyes, the choice of perspective, the involuntary twitches, the soft rustle of clothing—draws the overwhelming affection out of Koito's sing-song yet guarded manner of speaking. These characters feel like actual people with actual bodies. WEP doesn't just use this power for the sake of good, either. On the other side of the coin, this realistic sense of weight and fragility clashes sickeningly with the enemies patrolling the Egg School (look, I don't know what else to call it right now). Ai takes a hell of a beating in episode 1, and episode 2 doubles down wickedly on the blood and bruising. Every hit makes me wince. However, that brutality strikes me as an apt way to depict fantasy violence when it's fused so tightly to real violence against children.
If I've learned anything from my time on this planet, it's that wherever there's violence, there will be someone there to monetize that violence. Here, Aka and Ura-Aka, the keepers of the eggs, have set up a nice exploitative system for themselves where they can string desperate young girls into fighting for the sake of their departed loved ones. Wonder Egg Priority, to its credit, doesn't try to distract from the opaque and sinister overtones of this system. From minute one, the insect tells Ai that she'll have to pay up for these eggs (and any veteran gacha player knows that a free pull is only there to tempt you into paying even more). By the end of the episode, it's also clear that she'll have to pay a heavy physical price as well. Yet, for better or worse, I don't think we'll be able to completely escape comparisons to Madoka Magica. Honestly, though, the second episode reminded me of classic Sailor Moon more than anything, with Minami's coach transforming into a grotesque monster reflecting her sins. Granted, I don't recall any of the Sailor Moon monsters squirting paint out of their second pair of breasts, but they did get pretty weird. Unlike Sailor Moon, however, WEP embraces horror to a degree that fits the horrific actions of these abusers. By making Minami fear her own puberty, her coach distorts into a mutant mockery of exaggerated womanhood. In an unsettling way, WEP's Easter-Egg-bright palette only makes its crimson splatters of blood look all the more saturated.
For now, I'd wager that Ai's salvation lies less in the almost-certainly-hollow promise of Koito's resurrection, and more in the bonds she's forging with both the egg girls and her coworkers. Her time with Kurumi and Minami, abbreviated though it was, gave her space to reflect on her motivations and begin the hard work of chipping away at the boulder of guilt she's carrying everywhere. Her new friendship with Neiru might also be able to accomplish this on a more consistent and reciprocal basis. Deeply ingrained and unfair systems are almost impossible to escape, but that doesn't preclude solidarity between its victims. The OP hints at other yet-unseen egg girls, so Ai's circle of allies might just become strong enough to crack this biggest shell of all and truly revolutionize the world.
Obviously, there's a lot I love about Wonder Egg Priority. Trust me, if I had infinite resources and possessed a casual disregard for my editors' free time, you could expect a few thousand more words here. However, I also think that one of the most wonderful things about this egg is how open it will be to others' emotional and intellectual interpretations. Having a conversation about these episodes is going to be just as integral to the egg experience as watching them. In that regard, I hope I can use my space here to stimulate and elucidate as best I can. I have a feeling Wonder Egg Priority might end up as one of the most difficult anime I've ever tried to interpret on a weekly basis, but it also might just end up the most eggcellent one.
Eggstra Content: In case you, like me, are hungry for further Egg interpretations and information, here are a couple of essays and resources I've enjoyed since the premiere dropped last week.
- My friend Emily is anime blogging again. As anitwitter's resident floriography expert, she's already provided a bouquet of unique and thoughtful insights into the Egg Zone, and I'm sure she'll have plenty more in the future.
- My friend Adam wrote a lovely essay on the first episode on our shared blog. We have a lot of similar thoughts on the show, but he's able to translate them into words much more eloquently than I can.
- This is an interesting Twitter thread by user @AnimesocMegan on scriptwriter Shinji Nojima's writing career. It makes me eager to speculate about a lot of things, especially given his history with LGBTQ themes, but for now we'll just have to set this egg timer and wait.
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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