Ai, Rika, and Neiru meet yet another egg purchaser, the boyish Momoe, who rescues girls from sexual abusers.
I’ll say straight up front that this is the weakest episode of Wonder Egg yet, and definitely displays a few causes for concern to go alongside its previous exemplary showings. Yet crucially the ways in which it is weak are still interesting and provocative, and hopefully some of the quality we lose here is a tradeoff for better things down the line.
My main issue with this episode is that it’s kind of bitty. The first three episodes had very strong through-lines, as we basically stuck with Ai and experienced things happening alongside her. They were also all fairly complete arcs – 1 & 2 literally so, as we saw the ‘rescue’ of a character from start to finish. While episode 3 ended on a cliffhanger, emotionally it felt like a complete statement, what with the revelation of Rika’s motivation and Ai’s big comeback, crowned off with that spectacular action scene. Maybe that’s why the actual denouement this week feels a little underwhelming. There’s also the fact that it’s a much more conventional action scene, as nicely choreographed as it is, and it’s the first time Wonder Egg has felt…ordinary, for want of a more exact term. Admittedly part of this might just be my general dislike of idol culture and the associated tropes, but I wasn’t wild about the ‘fan solidarity’ protecting them either. At least there are still some very choice bits of animation to feast the eyes on.
Fortunately, I’m much more enthused about the other major plot thread this week, which is the introduction of our fourth girl, Momoe Sawaki. Even more than anybody who’s come before, there seems to be a whole mess of issues surrounding her, and I’m interested to see how the show starts picking them apart. Naturally, the big one here is that the girl she spends the majority of her time ‘saving’ is a victim of sexual assault. This is obviously a very delicate subject, but I also think it’s an essential one for the show to address, given how its entire premise is about the struggles of teenage girls and the abuse they face. Any story that didn’t include discussion of sexual abuse would be turning a blind eye to what is a huge problem for young women everywhere. For the most part, I think that Wonder Egg does well in its first explicit stab at the topic, correctly highlighting the pressure to remain silent and the unjust consequences that can ensue from speaking out. I’m less keen on the ‘girl takes off her shirt to tempt the monster’ scene but they keep it tasteful at least.
Abuse of some sort has been key to the backstory of all of our protagonists, but Momoe seems particularly tied to romantic, sexual, and physical abuse. As the flashbacks reveal, the girl she is trying to save, Haruka, confessed her love to Momoe, along with an unusually forward physical proposition, and that’s clearly echoed in the fact that every girl she saves seems to fall in love with her. There’s also a huge amount of emphasis on her physical appearance, which is deliberately gender ambiguous – not only does she physically resemble a boy and dress in what are stereotypically considered ‘male’ clothes, she also uses the the personal pronoun boku, which is typically used by pre-adolescent boys and young men looking to show deference. Only once does she switch to the more typically feminine watashi, which is when she meets Ai at the very end of the episode. I thought at first the character might be trans or genderfluid, but she fairly clearly identifies as female, as the scene with the monster and the ‘Women Only’ train car makes clear, so there must be some other subtext behind her deliberately ambiguous appearance. Like much of the character it’s a mystery at the moment, but one I’m very intrigued to find out.
Speaking of gender, I think it’s important to examine one scene in particular here, which is the moment where the mannequin folk talk to Neiru and Rika about why there are no boys in the dream world. Their answer is…problematic to say the least, with one declaring that “Boys’ and girls’ suicides mean different things. Men are goal-oriented, women are emotion-oriented. Women are impulsive and easily influenced by others’ voices”. They do also go on to say “don’t get hung up on gender”, but as an explanation it clearly carries some unpleasant implications. I guess the key factor here is how one interprets the authorial voice. To me, this was always meant to be a deliberately inflammatory and incorrect statement, and I felt that Neiru’s rather outraged expression and indignant “what?” were testament enough to the fact that she clearly disagrees with the mannequins’ opinion. But I concede that that’s far from conclusive, and clearly director Shin Wakabayashi agreed, since he tweeted out a clarification along with the revelation that a cut line was meant to make Neiru’s opposition more explicit (helpfully translated by ANN). I’m glad the show, which has been extremely good to its female characters so far, isn’t deliberately falling into classic misogyny, but if you’re going to make a statement like that I damn well hope you’re going to actively do something with it rather than let it fade into the background. Add it to the ever growing pot of mysteries swirling around this fascinating story.
- The understated twist which this episode ends on is that ‘Sawaki’ is also the name of the teacher who keeps coming to Ai’s house to try and persuade her back to school (and who may have been involved with her friend Koito). Momoe’s full name is actually revealed much earlier in the episode, but we don’t make the connection until Ai herself notices it, a delightfully subtle and deft bit of storytelling.
- The name Miwa chooses for Momoe, ‘Momotaro’ is the name of a famous Japanese folk hero, associated with peaches (momo).
- Turns out the lady I thought was Neiru’s mother is in fact her secretary. We also once again learn nothing about her sister, or what happened to her.
- I really like the small touch that Rika tries exactly the same story on Neiru as she did on Ai, showing she’s basically a grifter at heart.
- The train tracks beneath the statue of Haruka are strewn with lilies, the flower often used in anime to represent lesbian relationships. Kunihiko Ikuhara, is that you?
- No seriously, this episode, especially with the gender-crossing Momoe, gave me extremely strong Revolutionary Girl Utena vibes.