Acca and Ur-Acca present the girls with animal companions to help them combat a new enemy form, while Ai has a difficult situation to deal with at home.
This episode, even more so than episode 4, is totally all over the place thematically and tonally. It’s a good job I like interesting messes, because a mess is probably the best way to describe this instalment. That said, that possibly even works to its advantage, as the weird mix produces a sense of palpable unease that’s very appropriate to what’s happening. Let’s dive in.
More than any episode before it, this one is dominated by the looming shadow of the elder Sawaki. He’s lurked in the background for a while now, a troubling figure on the periphery of the action, an embodiment of the difficult place Ai finds herself in her life, and potentially a harbinger of the darkest possible cause of Koito’s death. One of the things which makes this episode work so well is that everything Sawaki does seems so eminently reasonable at first glance. He wants to date Ai’s mother, but that’s fine because they’re both consenting adults. He’s doing the right thing by bringing Ai in to talk to her about how she feels before making any commitment. He’s still going to work to bring her out of her shell and back to school. It’s all above board, responsible and clean.
Except…it isn’t really, once you think about it. A recurring thing with Sawaki is that he’s been doing things that might be fine in isolation but seem a little sketchy once you start to join the dots. Sure, he’s being straightforward with regard to dating Ai’s mum, but she’s still the mother of a student. A student who he directly taught. A student who’s deeply traumatised and who he’s responsible for trying to coax back to regular life. A student whose house he visits regularly. Remember last episode, where he wanted to paint Ai for a competition (something we see a flashback to here also), and Koito said she should let him or it could ruin his chances? That same flashback also sees him praising Ai’s heterochromia, established as one of the main reasons why she’s bullied, as charming. Again, devoid of context it’s an innocuous and even a helpful comment, but convincing targets that they’re ‘unique’ and ‘special’, and can only be understood by the speaker is classic abuser behaviour. All throughout the episode multiple sources conspire to try and exonerate Sawaki, from Ai’s mother, who’s happy to have a man in her life again, to Momoe who’s upset that the character of her uncle would be attacked, to Neiru who’s convinced that Ai is hiding her own complex behind her upset. Everybody is trying to tell her that she’s not seeing the picture correctly, that her suspicions are unfounded and the result of her own flaws, be they jealousy, confusion or infatuation.
In other words, this plot is about gaslighting, and Wonder Egg makes that very explicit by tying Ai to this week’s girl to be protected, a former mental patient named Yae. Yae took her own life not because she can see dead people (the show helpfully makes the pop-culture reference so I don’t have to), but because nobody would believe her when she told them. Instead they threw her into a mental hospital, the most dangerous place possible given her powers, and fulfilled their own prophecy – Yae really did go crazy because everybody told her she was already crazy. As it has before, the show has been able to take a genuine problem many teenage girls (and let’s be honest, women of all ages) face and integrate it into its narrative. Ai gains Yae’s power to see the monster when she picks up the prayer beads, but it’s visions of Sawaki and the voices defending him that fill her thoughts, and the parallel is obvious. Only by trusting her own instincts and learning not to doubt the things she saw were truly real is she able to realise her honest feelings about Sawaki – she doesn’t love him and still thinks he might have had a role in Koito’s death. With her eyes unclouded, she’s able to see the monster and defeat it, and she acknowledges the pain and fear that Yae went through when everyone was telling her the same thing, that she was wrong and the things she thought were real weren’t.
What’s particularly clever is that this only makes sense once you’ve seen the ending of the episode, which is expertly shot and framed to look like an classic cliched imminent confession of love. We’re meant to believe Ai’s powerup came from finally accepting her feelings and making peace with her crush on Sawaki. Except that makes absolutely no sense thematically, and so the swerve at the end is very welcome and clearly deliberate. It does raise the question of why Ai felt the need to run through the pouring rain to tell Sawaki to his face that she’s coming back to school, but maybe it was a spontaneous expression of triumph and an ‘in your face!’ moment so to speak. Regardless, I’m pleased that the episode was able to tackle the doubts and conflicts of our heroine in such a well-plotted way, and it’s another sign of Wonder Egg carefully tiptoeing its way through a potential minefield…just…and delivering some keen commentary on happenings both inside and outside of the story.
The messiness which I alluded to in the beginning though is that this fairly nuanced, detailed psychological plot is paired with a bizarre doling out of Sentai-esque powerups. In this case that means adorable miniature animals who can combat the evolution of the Seeno Evils into ‘Haters’. Wonder Egg has always kind of been a stealth magical girl show, but this hard swing into a classic anime trope (complete with obligatory scenes of the girls cooing over how cute they are) butts up uncomfortably against the much more dark, psychological themes at play in this episode and the clash is fairly disorienting. If I had to guess the familiars (because let’s be honest, that’s what they are) are here to emphasise the gamelike nature of the Egg world, and they certainly fit into the gradually developing plot thread of the mannequins presenting themselves as allies while obviously having other motives. There were probably better ways to reach that goal though, and it’s a shame that this somewhat bizarre side story disrupts the atmosphere of another exquisitely dark chapter of character drama. When you’re taking this many swings I guess they’re not all going to land, but I’m glad the staff continue to try.
- Interestingly, Rika is the only character who seems to believe Ai’s suspicions about Sawaki, citing in typically blunt fashion the (sadly all too true) tendency of abusers to date women to gain access to their children. The show feels like it’s constantly reminding us that it knows the conclusions we’re leaping to about Sawaki, so I have to imagine they have something more complex and layered than simply outing him as a paedophile. You’d certainly hope so after foreshadowing this explicit.
- It’s deliberately unclear how much of this episode happens in ‘real time’ and how much of it is flashbacks and anachronistic order. It doesn’t really matter either, because the scenes are arranged in the sequence which makes the most sense from an emotional and storytelling perspective.
- I like the inclusion of Ai’s childish outburst about not looking after her mother and Sawaki in their old age and putting them in a home. It’s a good reminder that she’s in many ways still emotionally immature and will sometimes act as such.
- Sawaki wears a cameo with an image of a white dove on it, the traditional symbol for peace. I’m sure that’s exactly what it means in this context
- Another late post I know. Again, I’ll try hard to get this week’s one out a bit more promptly.