Wonder Egg Priority – 02 – Poached

Episode one was such a feast of beautiful and weird imagery and sound, twisting time and space, and unblinking glimpses of hard truths that we as the audience necessarily needed a little time to find our footing. This week focuses Ai’s new role as plucky heroine saving “damsels in egg-stress”, but also her efforts to connect with the taciturn Aonuma Neiru.

Unlike the other girls with whom Ai has interacted so far, Neiru is both alive and inhabits the same real world as her. Which means Ai can make a real friend! Trouble is, Neiru is singularly focused on processing as many eggs as possible in order to save her little sister, i.e. her Nagase Koito. So while Neiru gives Ai her number, it’s only so they can arrange not to meet.

Neiru makes it clear that while they have similar roles, they’re different people. For one thing, she “loves” herself, while Ai hates herself. We’re reminded of the struggles Ai faces when she comes home to find a therapist is there, and grudgingly goes through as session with her mom present. While we know she’s out doing good in the world, her mom likely suspects she’s engaged in some kind of self-destructive behavior.

Regardless, Ai continues her work, determined to “save” Koito even though “saving her” may not bring her back physically but rather heal Ai—I’d call it an elaborate means of working through the trauma and not allowing it to consume her life. As with last week’s egg, this newest one contains another girl who is already gone, but thanks to Ai, is able to exorcise her demon, AKA her “Wonder Killer.”

In the case of timid Suzuhara Minami, the Wonder Killer is her abusive gymnastics coach. Minami doesn’t like the situation she’s in, but blames her own weakness, and we witness the psychological power of the coach when she arrives on the roof and places a hand on the submissive Minami’s head.

In a nice visual tough, as this week’s “captured maiden” Minami wears a frilly leotard under her hoodie, emphasizing her status as a princess for Ai the knight to rescue. The resigned Minami urges Ai not to bother with her, but as her head is turned, the coach transforms into a grotesque monster.

Ai looks back to when the bullying of Koito started. Koito’ uniform was torn and thown in the mud, which she calls “classic harassment”. The other girls were jealous of the extra attention she, as a transfer student, got from their teacher. She had Ai hide in a locker and film the bullies physically abusing her, but Ai was too scared and didn’t capture any usable footage.

Even so, Kotio smiles her sad smile and thanks her friend for “doing the best she could.” Disgusted that she didn’t do more when it mattered, Ai resolves to save Minami no matter what she says. She heads to the gym, where the monster coach is holding her by the head and repeatedly slapping her in the face.

Of course, the “tough love” the coach is dishing out is nothing more than abuse, and Ai won’t stand by and watch. That said, her giant rainbow key weapon proves useless against the coach. When Minami tries to stop her from hurting Ai, the coach tosses her aside and her yellow ribbon goes flying.

Ai realizes the ribbon is the weapon she needs to use, and while the coach squirts a thick pink liquid from her teat to blind Ai, Minami serves as her eyes, telling her where the coach is and which way to dodge. She eventually lands a coup-de-grace, and the coach explodes in a spatter of paint-like blood.

In the aftermath, Minami thanks Ai for saving her, and wishes they had met earlier so they could have gone out for burgers together. Instead, she vanishes in a puff of smoke just like the first maiden, after asking Ai to think of her sometimes.

While it’s gutting to watch Ai gain the trust of and befriend someone two weeks in a row, only for them to disappear moments after she saves them, that pain is mitigated by two factors: Ai is working towards saving Koito, and she’s met a real friend and fellow heroine in Neiru.

After Minami vanishes, we find Ai in the hospital with her mom, wearing a neck brace. As with last week, the injuries she sustains in her battles with Wonder Killers remain with her in the real world. No doubt her mom is horribly worried for her daughter, having no idea what’s going on. It could also be that nothing we’ve seen Ai do is actually real, but all in her head.

That said, Neiru fares worse than her, ending up in the ICU after trying to handle too many eggs at once. Ai visits her in the hospital and asks if they can be friends. Once she’s recovered a bit, they head up to the hospital roof and discuss what being friends entails. Ai talks about going out for burgers and fries, as Minami wanted to do.

Over sweet-smelling peach-orange sodas, Neiru texts Ai back a thumbs-up, indicating that she’s willing to give this friend thing a try. In a wonderful little piece of elegant animation her resting neutral face slowly turns upward into a gentle smile, and Ai’s smile subtly widens in response.

Even though  I’m rarely sure what’s real life or not (which is likely the point), the scene of Ai and Neiru on the roof seemed realer than most. We’ll see if the two only hang out in between separate maiden rescues, or if they decide to join forces and aid one another in their respective goals. Now that I better know the structure and rules of those rescues, like Ai I feel a lot more comfortable and optimistic.

Wonder Egg Priority – 01 (First Impressions) – Over Hard

Well, what have we here? Only the most mind-bending, cerebral, downright trippy anime of the season, featuring absolutely stellar animation and direction and music. It’s one thing to be good-looking; Jobless Reincarnation is good-looking. But to be downright gorgeous, while also featuring an instantly sympathetic main character you just want to gather into a protective hug as she rides a psychological roller coaster through shifting space and time?

Welcome to the oddly-titled but brilliant CloverWorks original anime Wonder Egg Priority, created and written by Nojima Shinji (his first anime), directed by Wakabayashi Shin (his directing debut), and starring Aikawa Kanata (her first voice role). All of the elements that make a great anime hum along in perfect harmony with the precision and assuredness of far more seasoned staff.

It starts simply, and without holding our hands. This is a show you just have to go with and trust it won’t lead you astray. The lonely Ooto Ai finds a dead lightning beetle in the road, and upon giving it a proper burial it immediately resurrects, talks to her, and has her follow him down a proverbial rabbit hole. When she wakes up in her bed she finds a strange egg, and wonders what to do with it.

Ai sneaks out late at night often, and when she does so I couldn’t help but remember all the times I’d sneak out late at night, often not for any particular reason than I couldn’t sleep and needed some air. I could feel that distinct tingling you feel in the darkness, and the excitement of going out on your own.

But does Ai actually leave her house? Perhaps not physically, but she does enter a bizarre dreamworld that uses her school as a template. When she spots two classmates with pixelated faces and mocking grins defacing her locker with dozens of “DIE” tags, she retreats to the bathroom—where she most likely often retreated in real school to avoid the bullying.

Then the damn toilet paper shapes itself into lips with the same voice as the lightning beetle and demands that she break the egg. When she tosses it against the stall door, it grows to the size of a person and bursts to reveal a redheaded girl in a school uniform.

When the two leave the bathroom, a pixelated bully throws an axe at the redhead, leaving an ugly gash just above her shoulder, and she and Ai run from a swarm of “Seeno Evils”, no doubt a symbol of the evils peers pretend not to see in school.

Ai is also wounded in the liver area, but when the two girls successfully escape through a narrow broom locker, her wound vanishes while the redhead’s remains. The girl says Ai is virtually immortal, because this is her dream. If they can hold out until the next bell tolls, they’ll be home clear. But when the Seeno Evils return, Ai stays put, and the girl has to run off on her own.

Ai’s dream takes a funereal turn when she walks through a hall of white flowers, then walks through a floating door that leads to the school roof, at the edge of which a bronze statue is mounted. Ai recognizes it as that of Nagase Koito, a girl in her class who committed suicide by jumping off the roof.

Ai recalls the day Koito transferred to the class and immediately tried to befriend her. Ai tried to keep her distance, calling herself ugly, but Koito thought her differently-colored eyes were beautiful.

Koito visited Ai at her house, entered her blue womb-like bed, took Ai’s foot in her hand, then gave her a big hug, again asking if they can become best friends. We return to Ai on the roof’s edge, the statue cradling her, lamenting how she betrayed Koito even though she was her one and only friend.

She’s snapped out of this lament by the sight of the redhead down below, still being chased by pixelated bullies and the horde of Seeno Evils. Ai decides she’s had enough of sitting around doing nothing and springs into action.

She takes her multi-color pen, raises it like a sword, and takes a running leap down to the ground to deliver a devastating strike to the lead bully, obliterating her in a cloud of red-stained rubble and leaving a crater in the ground. Ai then returns the smile and double peace signs the redhead gave her.

Surprised and grateful for Ai’s help, the redhead introduces herself as Saijou Kurumi. But no sooner do they shake hands than Kurumi disappears in a puff of smoke, just after telling Ai not to forget her. The lightning  beetle’s voice says it’s a shame, but she has to cheer up if she wants her best friend back.

Ai starts to make sense of her experiences, and figures that the egg she was given contained someone she needed to save: Kurumi. But there are more eggs, which means more girls that need saving.

Cut to Ai back home about to tuck into breakfast with her mom, when her nose starts bleeding. The wound in her side that healed in her dream is back in the real world, and Ai is hospitalized. Her parents have no idea what the hell happened, but assume it happened when Ai snuck out one night.

hen Ai recovers, she races back to the odd escalator in a cave, which leads to a trap door and a chute that leads to a room filled with hundreds of eggs in washing machine-like tanks. From there, she finds herself in a strange garden with a blue sky that on closer inspection is merely paneling, suggesting an interior.

There she meets two figures with sewn heads, as well as a normal human girl who is collecting eggs. Ai seems instantly smitten with this girl, but the girl says nothing. And so begins, presumably, Ai’s quest to resurrect her friend by collecting eggs, freeing those trapped within them, and saving them from foes, which the bug promises won’t be as easy as the Seeno Evils this time.

Honestly, watching this episode made my brain bloom, explode, then slowly reconstruct itself. It was so sumptuous, so confident, and so goshdarn strange. At various times I was reminded of the work of Akiyuki Shinbou, Maasaki Yuasa, Ikuhara Kunihito, Kon Satoshi, and Shinkai Makoto, as well as Paolo Sorrentino, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson. In other words, this was some proper auteur film shit. There’s nothing else like it airing this Winter.

I particularly liked how few answers we got early on, while the info the bug provides later about How This Is Going to Work can’t necessarily be taken at face value either. What is reality and what is a dream is often deliciously unclear. But here’s what I do know: Ai, a troubled, profoundly lonely girl bullied at school for her eyes and suffused with guilt for what happened to her best friend, has been given the means to possibly make things right. I truly cannot wait to see what weirdness befalls her next time.