Wonder Egg Priority Episode 5

“The Girl Flautist”

The four girls hang out in the real world and begin to question their mission, while Neiru remembers some of the girls she’s met on her journeys into the dream world.

Zigg’s Thoughts

In previous pieces I’ve praised Wonder Egg for how it has carefully blurred the line between dreams and reality, but this episode eschews that habit, and is all the better for it. What we’ve got here is classic two-story structure, with a central narrative of our four leads bonding, and a background story of Neiru’s flashbacks. They’re both interesting in their own right, and taken together they give this episode a good mix of exciting action, fun humour, and some important character insight and self-reflection.

We’ll start with Neiru’s flashbacks first, because ironically they’re probably the more straightforward of the two. Most of the stuff that we see in the dream battles is not revelatory, but rather serves to reinforce our existing perceptions of Neiru. Her interactions with the other three have already given her the air of someone who is no-nonsense and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and here we see that that extends to her fighting style and, tellingly, the girls she’s ostensibly protecting as well. Pragmatism is the order of the day here, and Neiru repeatedly makes it clear that she’s not doing this for anybody but herself, to the extent of targeting the person she’s ostensibly trying to save. The entire segment with the ‘sunglasses girl’ is a pretty explicit statement of intent in fact – Neiru doesn’t care about things like her youth, her beauty, or the inevitable future, because she’s focused on the now, the immediate goal. That focus allows her to see through the facade that sunglasses girl puts up about her death, and throughout both this and previous episodes she’s shown to be unusually perceptive, correctly intuiting that Momoe is not entirely displeased with the attention she receives from her admirers for example.

That single-mindedness and zeal comes into focus at the end of the episode, with the revelations about what happened between Neiru and her sister. Given how evasive the character has been about their relationship, I think we all suspected something was not quite on the level, but personally at least I definitely wasn’t expecting the attempted murder/suicide that’s implied here. It’s a fascinating development that further distances Neiru from the other three girls (well, presumably – we don’t know too much about what happened between Momoe and Haruka) and also ties back into the episode’s themes of guilt and the desire to know why things happened the way they did. For Ai, Momoe, and Rika, their quest is to bring back people they loved, and questions are raised about whether those people even want to be brought back, and whether those people would rather their friends do their best to move on with their own lives. Neiru, by contrast, is unfettered by such concerns, because she only cares about the why. As she repeatedly says, she’s doing this for herself and nobody else.

The dichotomy between that guilt and those unanswered questions, and the most ‘normal’ things we’ve seen these characters do since the show began, is the tension at the heart of this episode. I really like the choice to let the narrative breathe a little, but also not to entirely sideline the Big Themes™ that the show has been dealing with. The easy path to take would have been to devote most of the runtime to frothy fun shenanigans and then hit us with the big emotional gut punch at the end, but by keeping the heavier topics bubbling under throughout, through methods such as Momoe’s photo of Haruka and the presence of the elder Sawaki, it gives the characters a more fully rounded, realistic feel and their actions more verisimilitude. The transition into questioning their mission feels natural and the logical endpoint of the things they experience in this episode. Little touches like crossing the road or shouting in the subway add tiny little bits of character insight as well as enhancing the generally relaxed, more layabout mood.

I’ve seen some fairly extensive criticism of Rika in the aftermath of this episode airing, suggesting her idea that they abandon their attempts to bring their friends back is cold-hearted and callous at best and downright evil at worst. I have to say, I don’t agree and I think those criticisms are missing the point of what the scene is trying to suggest. Like most good stories about death, and especially suicide, Wonder Egg Priority has been as much, if not more, about the people left behind as those who went to their deaths. Survivor’s guilt is a real and tangible condition that clearly three of our four leads have had intense trouble dealing with, and while Ai and Momoe’s situations are somewhat ambiguous (Momoe notably does not answer when Rika asks her directly if she’s responsible), Rika is clearly at least partially to blame for the death of Chiemi. The guilt and shame of such a thing weighs on her extremely heavily, which is something she tries to hide through putting up a front of carefree rudeness and self-confidence.

The thing about guilt though, is that it makes you desperate for some way, any way, to escape from it. So I see her suggestion as a frantic gambit to get herself out of the terrible danger and responsibility she finds herself bearing. Rika wants to be told that it’s alright to abandon their quest, because being told that is tantamount to being told she’s forgiven for her sin, which is something she cannot do herself. Is that a cruel and cowardly approach to take to the problem? Perhaps, but I also think it’s an understandable one, especially for someone who is still a child. I see the same thing in her echoing of the mannequins line from last episode about women being swept away by their emotions –  it’s a clear attempt to justify her mistake, partially to the others but mostly, of course, to herself. The audience can see these attempts are completely transparent but again, she’s desperate for any reason to be free of her burden. That doesn’t make her evil or malicious, it makes her human. For our characters to be fully rounded and fleshed out they have to be capable of making mistakes, especially when they’re as obviously vulnerable as traumatised teenage girls tend to be. You don’t have to approve of her actions and I honestly don’t think you’re meant to, but her brattishness is just as important to the makeup of the show as Ai’s sincerity. In a story that’s about death, everyone is going to react differently, and that’s a strength rather than a weakness.

Random Observations

  • The title is a bit of a puzzle to me. I don’t recall a flautist being mentioned at all, even tangentially, and there’s not really an appropriate metaphor either.
  • There’s a lengthy conversation around the idea that Sawaki-senior might have been in a ‘relationship’ with Koito. It’s proposed by Rika, so how serious she’s being is questionable, and naturally Momoe is fairly peeved at the suggestion, but I do like the show anticipating what the audience is thinking and trying to stay one step ahead. The flashbacks we get with Koito are intriguing and suggest there’s more story to be told there.
  • If there was any doubt those mannequins have their own agenda, I think it can be fairly definitively laid to rest. They’re clearly manipulating Ai and company, but as yet there’s no indication why.
  • Neiru says her sister ‘stabbed’ her but those scars tell a different, and much more gruesome, tale.
  • One of my favourite touches this episode is Ai’s mother’s understated but obvious delight that her daughter has brought new friends home.

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