Wonder Egg Priority Episode 12

“An Unvanquished Warrior”

Ai comes face to face with the last person she was expecting to find in the dream world…herself.

Zigg’s Thoughts

So. It’s basically impossible to talk about this episode without talking about the out-of-universe issues surrounding the show, and where those issues have ultimately driven the narrative. So let’s get that stuff out of the way first, because the story deserves analysis independent of some of problems on the production side.

Rumours of troubled production have been swirling around Wonder Egg for the majority of its run, as we first mentioned in the episode 7 writeup, and those rumours have only solidified the further through the show we’ve gotten. Despite claims to the contrary, the episode 8 clip show was not planned ahead of time and was instead a last minute measure to try and give some breathing space to a team increasingly out of control of their schedule. Anybody who’s been paying attention to the credits will also probably have noticed an increasing amount of the animation is being outsourced, never a particularly good sign. Darker rumblings of team members being hospitalised and the remaining animators working inhuman schedules have cast a shadow over what should have been a triumphant finale.

The net result of all of this is that this show is simply not finished. This episode doesn’t offer any sort of conclusion to the ongoing story, and indeed it doesn’t even try. In fact, the episode itself shows signs of being severely rushed¬† – there are several notably low quality shots (the excruciatingly long still zoom right at the beginning is perhaps the worst example) and so down to the wire was the work that masters were only delivered to streaming partner Funimation at 8pm EST, nine hours later than usual. Immediately after the episode aired on Japanese TV, the official website made the announcement that a ‘Special Edition’ will be broadcast on June 30th, effectively a bonus episode that will act as the true finale.

It’s frustrating and disappointing that Wonder Egg‘s run had to end this way, and needless to say we utterly abhor and condemn any kind of crunch working conditions. It’s clear that the team have huge passion and investment in the production and wanted to do whatever they could to make it a success, but that doesn’t mean they should be working themselves into the hospital. Really it should be the job of Cloverworks’ management to prevent that, but sadly overwork has become de rigueur in the anime industry for many years now. The silver lining is that the studio clearly cares about the show enough to give it a proper conclusion, and the three month break will hopefully allow the production to take five and work on the story in a slightly less insane environment.

So after all of that, what about the episode itself? Well, honestly, I thought this was a really good one, and probably the strongest episode in a few weeks. It helps that we’re largely back to the focus on one girl and their companion which defined the early parts of the show. Also, this is the first episode in a while we’ve had that’s solely focused on Ai, as she’s been more of a reactionary observer to recent events than a full on protagonist. In fact, not content with giving us an episode of Ai, the show decides to double up and give us two entirely separate Ais for the price of entry.

This is a fascinating development, and it’s obviously pretty interesting to contrast ‘our’ Ai with the much more morose and subdued version from a different timeline. Ai’s gone through some pretty significant character development over the course of this narrative, and as result she’s clearly a more confident, outgoing person than Ai2. Crucially though, the show takes pains to emphasise how close the two actually are to each other, which it does in a couple of ways. One is the light vignettes set back in the ‘real’ world, where Ai struggles with going to school, and instead decides to stay at home with her mother. It’s a nice reminder that as much progress as she’s made, she’s not ‘fixed’ yet and that recovery is a process with peaks and valleys. It’s also a nice insight into Ai’s mother’s character, who once again comes across as kind, patient, and understanding of her daughter’s issues.

The other way the show makes explicit a connection between the two Ais is to increasingly visually conflate them, a classic technique of surrealist cinema. They start out as two very distinct entities, easily told apart by their differing manners of dress. But once ‘our’ Ai is put into a matching school uniform the show increasingly plays fast and loose with which version of the character it is we’re seeing. This deliberate confusion over the identity of the character is mirrored thematically, as ‘our’ Ai deals with her own feelings of unhappiness and desire to take her life, before the two versions of the character come together to reject those feelings and the false Sawaki who represents them. The ultimate culmination of this is in the episode-ending showdown, where it’s very clearly ‘our’ Ai who takes the killing blow, but she’s suddenly replaced by her alternate self instead. There’s no rational explanation for this, but it makes sense in abstract – Ai2 has been so inspired by the vision of what ‘she’ was able to become that she gave up her own existence so that her stronger, happier self would be able to continue on. It works as an emotional climax rather than a logical or mechanical one, which is clearly the point.

This episode also gives us insight into two other important characters in Ai’s life, or at least her perceptions of them. It’s fairly unsurprising to see Sawaki here, as so much of the show has been about exploring the relationship between himself, Ai, and Koito, but there’s some enlightening stuff in the way he’s portrayed and the way Ai reacts to him. The monsters inside the dream world have typically represented the subject’s greatest fears, and often the thing which drove them to take their lives in the first place, so it’s interesting that Ai’s would be Sawaki. It often seems that this monstrous Sawaki is equally focused on ‘our’ Ai as he is on Ai2, who is supposedly the person who birthed him, which is another example of the above-discussed tendency of the episode to deliberately conflate the two and show they share the same fears and insecurities at heart. What’s especially interesting is that Ai is fairly passionate in her defence of the ‘real’ Sawaki, somebody who we the audience are still fairly ambivalent on.¬†Wonder Egg continues to hold back the contents of the conversation that ended episode 10, and would presumably give us closure on the true nature of Sawaki and Koito’s relationship, but given Ai’s words here, and her later actions in giving her mother “full support” for her relationship, we can assume that whatever was said was enough for Ai to put her suspicions to rest. The monstrous Sawaki though goes out of his way to undermine her rationale, and in doing so stokes the audience’s suspicions back up in a way that has to be deliberate on the part of the writers. They keep playing with our perception of him and stringing this part of the mystery along, so I do hope that whatever we end up getting is something a bit more fulfilling than just a binary creep/not creep.

Koito is the other major presence in this episode, although as with Sawaki we only see a false version of her rather than any representation of the true character. She looms large once again though, this time as the deciding factor which split ‘our’ Ai from Ai2. I’ve got mixed feelings about this – it’s certainly effective at conveying just how important Koito was to Ai and how much that single relationship was responsible for her hanging on. On the other hand it can feel a little insulting to boil down subjects as complex as depression, bullying and suicide to a fairly simple ‘I’m better because I have friends!’. One thing the episode does make forward progress on though is that it shows Ai once again coming to terms with an aspect of Koito’s suicide, in this case the fact that she probably regrets her action and wishes she hadn’t gone through with it. All along Ai’s motivation in this process has been trying to uncover the true reason why Koito took her own life, but bit by bit the show has been demonstrating that there’s no simple one-size-fits-all answer to that question. In the process of trying to understand Koito, Ai has also come to understand herself a little more. Compare her admission in episode 3 that she would have died with Koito if she’d been asked, to her forceful rejection of such an idea here. Ai doesn’t necessarily have the answer that she’s seeking yet, but she’s learning bits and pieces around the edges that both grow her own character and provide tantalising hints as to what the real Koito was actually like.

Where does that leave us then? Ultimately while this episode is a great character piece, it doesn’t move the overarching plot significantly forward. We are given some teases about where this is all headed though, with the Accas locking Rika out of the dream world, and Acca admitting his ultimate goal is to bring his daughter back to life. That’s one step further than anything we’ve yet established is possible, so it’s certainly an ambitious plan worthy of a climactic arc. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait a while for that climax. I’m glad though that Wonder Egg Priority was able to end its ‘main’ run with an episode like this – smart, insightful, and a little sad, it’s a good summing up of the show as a whole.

Random Observations

  • Although this episode occasionally bears the scars of its troubled production, there are still some downright gorgeous visuals, particularly in the sequence where Ai ‘breaks through’ the sky to join her parallel self.
  • In case you’re wondering how to tell the Ais apart, ‘our’ Ai has her neon green triangular hairclip, while Ai2 has a more nondescript cross shaped band.
  • There’s a recurring visual of barefootedness throughout the episode. Ai2 drowned herself in the pool while barefoot, ‘our’ Ai takes off her shoes and socks upon meeting Koito, and Koito herself is barefoot throughout. Barefootedness can represent childhood and innocence, but is also a classic signifier of the dead. In Japan especially, removing your shoes is seen as a precursor to suicide.
  • Monster Sawaki introduces himself as Ai’s mother’s ‘fiancee’, specifically using the French word. That’s obviously not true in the show’s ‘main’ reality, but could it be foreshadowing?
  • Ai’s mother tells her YOLO, which aside from being inadvertently funny, was also (as Ai herself points out) something Kotobuki said. Considering Kotobuki was researching parallel universes, the link is highly appropriate.
  • All of the bug girls are voiced by Ikue Ohtani, better known as the voice of Pikachu. No, really.
  • Thank you everyone who’s stuck around to read these extremely long posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and rest assured we’ll be back for the finale at the end of June. In the meantime I’m going to be covering SSSS Dynazenon, so feel free to join me there in the coming days.

Jel’s Thoughts

I’m going to put the production issues with this episode aside because I’m assuming that’s been well documented by the time you’re reading this. I’ll just say despite the obvious dip in quality, I feel bad for the staff. It’s amazing this looked as good as it did considering some of the horror stories coming out. This episode was not worth that human cost, and it never is.

Adjusting my expectations now that there is theoretically one more episode in the future, I find myself in a similar mindset as I was at the end of episode 11. What is the point of all this? Why did we just squirm through twelve episodes of teenage girls being abused? What is the series trying to say? I don’t feel like we have a clear picture of that, and I’m not wild about the possible answers on the table.

Episode 11 dropped some big plot developments that led to my biggest concern of the series. To recap, I felt the introduction of an external, anime magic reason for the girls’ suicides was completely out of left field and undermined the themes of the show up to now. That is barely relevant in episode 12, which shifts the focus back to Ai’s story. On paper, I liked the idea of Ai saving her parallel self. It was a convenient way to tie the struggles of the main girls to the ones they’ve been saving, and reinforcing the idea that their position could have been reversed in different circumstances.

But I have to go back to my big question of what are they trying to say with all this? The key difference between parallel Ai and the current Ai is Koito’s friendship (real or perceived), and her eventual friendships with the other egg hunting girls. I would like to think Wonder Egg Priority is not presenting something as trite as the Power of Friendship as the solution to suicide, but it kind of feels that simple? I’m not saying having supportive friends doesn’t help if you are feeling suicidal, but it’s also not a magic solution to the problem.

In a way it plays into another idea I mentioned last time, that the girls “should” have been able to save themselves rather than blaming the real causes i.e. societal ideas and issues that perpetuate abuse. These girls shouldn’t have needed “saving” in the first place. I don’t think the writing in this series has had to nuance to convey that properly, so it has been much easier to try and identify a single solution for the problem.

With episode 12’s shift back to Ai’s story, I was left wondering why Episode 11 even exists. You could have easily gone directly from the end of episode 10, which ends with Ai confronting creepy teacher about Koito, to episode 12 and her metaphorical struggle with that question. My big concern from episode 11 about some magical external reason driving the girls to suicide is not really addressed. I’m assuming there will be some attempt to tie it all together in the final episode, but at this point I don’t see how the Frill flashback has contributed anything relevant. It feels like a potentially interesting story idea that the writer wanted to add that probably should have been edited out and used for another series.

So once again, we are left waiting to see what happens. And once again, I feel like my mind is mostly made up about Wonder Egg Priority. I don’t see a clear path for the story to clean up all its loose ends and deliver a strong, appropriate message worthy of the subject matter. They can certainly make things a lot worse, so at least I can hope that doesn’t happen. If you think I’m being harsh, I will conclude by reiterating I have enjoyed the show and there have been some really great individual moments. But there is so much potential here, enough to be an all time great masterpiece, and because of that I am holding Wonder Egg Priority to my highest standards. It has not hit that bar, and unfortunately I don’t think it will.

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