Ai meets two other girls who are also buying Wonder Eggs – the quiet and detached Neiru Aonuma, and Rika Kawai (like ‘kawaii’ because she’s so cute).
Coming out of our First Look process, Wonder Egg Priority was the overwhelming standout show of this season, as we praised it for its delightful visuals, surreal mood, and the careful balance between comedic and tragic elements. Naturally, there was a fear that this might not persist into future episodes, but I’m happy to report that these follow ups not only match the opener, in some ways they actually exceed it. Let’s dig in.
The important thing that these episodes do over the premiere is of course add more characters to Ai’s quest, in particular establishing the fact that there are girls other than her looking to use the Wonder Eggs to bring back people close to them. For a show that’s so reliant on atmosphere and a dreamlike state, adding other characters can be something of a double-edged sword. You expand your narrative possibilities sure, but you also risk disrupting the very personal, closed mood you’ve created. Fortunately Wonder Egg neatly dodges that by successfully integrating both of its new characters into the narrative smoothly, albeit in very different ways.
Neiru is introduced in the more conventional way, or rather the way you’d more expect in a show like this. She’s presented as a complete enigma, a puzzle box for the viewer to gradually solve. I’m automatically wary of the emotionless girl trope because it’s been the basis for so many tired non-characters down the years, but I do like the small insights we get into her personality. She’s quiet and clearly uneasy around other people, which makes her an interesting contrast to Ai, who is antisocial on the outside but quiet friendly and outgoing once opened up.
Interestingly, Neiru directly states what she feels another major difference between the two of them is – she doesn’t hate herself. Neiru outright states that Ai’s real reason for braving the challenges of the dream world is to try and change her perception of herself. There’s a few possible interpretations of this – perhaps the implication is that Ai wants to bring back Koito because Koito was the only person who made her feel needed or wanted, or perhaps she’s suggesting that the act of fighting and protecting the dream girls itself is giving Ai the purpose she craves. In contrast, Neiru seems to imply her desire to resurrect her own sister is ‘purer’ because it’s allegedly done without self interest, but we’re very obviously meant to see that for the bullshit it is. She admits she’s responsible for her sister’s death, and her outward stoicism is betrayed by how hell-bent she is on her target, buying up literal suitcases of eggs and being undeterred even after a trip to the ICU. It’s clear that there’s guilt and a complex series of other emotions present, even if she’s not showing them.
Speaking of guilt, it’s the major emotion which powers our other major new character, Rika. I’m a huge fan of how she’s introduced, initially as an abrasive freeloader, but more gradually as a young woman who is carrying with her a tremendous burden and isn’t entirely equipped to deal with it. It can be tough to make characters in this kind of show genuinely abrasive, since everyone is a cute-but-troubled girl, but I think that the script does a pretty good job of balancing the unsavoury aspects of Rika’s personality, such as her shallowness and avarice, with the obviously devastating responsibility she takes for what happened.
It’s also fairly obvious that a lot of her mouthy attitude is a defence mechanism, a leftover habit from her idol days that she uses to shield her much more vulnerable true self. Framing the incident with Chiemi inside the device of the idol industry and its quasi-parasitic relationship with its fandom is not a new idea, but it makes more explicit the themes around power and veneration in this odd, lopsided friendship. Rika made her mistake because she was unable to be honest about her intentions, because of the way she had been coached, by both her father and her position as an idol, to look down on her fans and maintain a haughty distance from them. She abused her position of implicit trust because it was emotionally safer than being honest, with the best intentions but with ultimately terrible consequences.
This concept of abuse of power by those who have it is threaded through these two episodes in a multitude of ways. Obviously of course there’s Minami’s coach, who boasts of her connections to gymnastics association to justify her ‘tough love’ of her students. But it’s also expressed in subtler ways, like the girls who gleefully admit they killed themselves because that’s what their idol did. Most chillingly, there’s the unspoken implication that Koito had…something going on with the school counsellor Sawaki. In general these two episodes work to deepen our understanding of Koito and Ai’s relationship, bringing it beyond the surface level ‘best friends’ to something more complex. Ai fiercely defends Koito at every turn but also obviously still has unresolved questions over her death and her flashbacks are exclusively of how Ai ‘failed’ her when she was still alive.
Survivor’s guilt is a common reaction to the suicide of someone close, and the theme of suicide is present in every moment of Wonder Egg Priority‘s runtime. Koito, Chiemi, and the two idol fans in episode 3 all died by their own hand, and given what we see of Minami’s life it’s not hard to conclude that may have been her ultimate fate also. Rika self-harms, and even Ai admits that if Koito had asked her to die alongside her, she probably would have done so. The contrast between the show’s breezy, surreal art and the darker themes that lay beneath was already part of the appeal in episode 1, but I’ve been impressed by how far first-time writer Shinji Nojima has pushed their ideas in only three episodes, and how open and blunt the show has been about those subjects. Mental illness and suicide remain taboo subjects universally to a certain extent, but that’s especially true in Japan’s highly conservative society, so the frankness with which the show approaches the matter is to be commended, as is the (so far) tasteful handling of it. Rika’s calm but immediate riposte that suicide is ‘not easy or casual’ reassures me that the showrunners will use this darkness in meaningful ways.
The richness of the themes present is rivalled only by the fantastic visual imagination applied to how the show looks. Wonder Egg might not have the smoothest animation or the most frames-per-second, but it barely matters with art direction this strong, and which compliments the story so well. The striking use of colour is perhaps the biggest factor here, with the ‘real’ world using a more restrained pastel palette with lots of cool blues and rich, warm yellows and browns, while the inside of the dreams are bold, bright neon hues with the saturation pumped way up. The Seeno Evils continue to be creepy little bastards but the real standout here are the monster-of-the-week designs, memorably colourful and grotesque nightmares that somehow enhance the creepiness rather than deflate it. Coach in particular is a standout, very Go Nagai-esque with her terrifying oni face and gross, paint shooting boobs.
While the emphasis of the show is definitely not on the action, it’s hard to find anything to complain about on that front either. Episode 2’s battle with the gymnastics ribbon is dynamic and well-choreographed, but even that pales in comparison to the climax of Episode 3. In a frankly astonishing series of animation cuts, Ai and Rika leap off the top of the lighthouse and battle the Asagaya Madame in breathtaking free-fall while the camera swoops around them. It’s an unforgettably striking moment, an instant of endless catharsis after the weight of the episode which proceeds it. CloverWorks has chosen to let Wonder Egg be lead by a relatively fresh roster of faces, such as Animation Director Iori Histake and Harumi Yamazaki, who was the key animator on this cut, and it looks to be paying off handsomely as they turn their tremendous raw talent into superb visual invention.
It’s hard to overstate how impressed I was by this pair of episodes. Wonder Egg has proven it’s got the makings of a terrific show, provided it can keep up to these extremely high standards. There will be lots of questions going forward about whether they’ll be able to weave their compelling individual stories into a satisfyingly complete narrative, but the sky’s the limit and I’m incredibly excited to see them try.
- I love the big, slow choral opening, which is unusual but fits the show’s melancholic mood perfectly. The peppy, cast-performed ending isn’t half bad either.
- Neiru’s exact ethnicity is left open but she’s clearly darker skinned than the other characters and her mother has a classic African-American hairstyle. It’s always nice when people of colour show up in anime and the show doesn’t feel the need to make a big song and dance out of it.
- Neiru’s card identifies her as the Vice-President of BlueCorp.
- Another terrific example of visual continuity is the deliberate echoing of shots between the idol handshake events and Chiemi’s funeral.
- The photos in the ending portray the main cast (including the as yet unidentified fourth girl) alongside the girls who they’re fighting to save…except Neiru, whose sister is not shown at all.