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.

Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 12 (Fin)

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Tanaka-kun ends pretty much the way it began: quietly, with neither too much flash or too much kookiness. Sure, we’ve never seen Tanaka more focused, intense, or quick on his feet, but when his precious classroom seat is being threatened, he makes sure he puts in the effort to preserve his ability to be listless in class.

Opportunities open up for him, but switching with Miyano (trapped behind the Great Wall of Ohta) means he’s also next to Shiraishi, who sees the switch as fate, and this week she turns on the effort afterburners to get Tanaka’s attention.

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Predictably, none of the classic girl moves work, save opening her shirt, and even then she’d get any teenage guy’s attention; she wan’ts Tanaka’s. But cracking the nut that is Tanaka isn’t something you can learn in a magazine, nor is it even something that can be achieve the way his cushy new seat was acquired, and how Shiraishi has accomplished so much to reinvent her image: hard work.

Indeed, all her hard work trying to get closer to Tanaka results in him very nearly crushing her dreams by telling her he prefers to be alone, even if it’s less about her specifically (which is its own problem) and more about him not wanting to trouble people other than Ohta.

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In the end, Shiraishi comes to an understanding and a way forward—basically, stop rushing and take your time—when her monologue in what she thought was an empty classroom at sundown is interrupted by Tanaka, who just so happened to be sleeping in there.

Tanaka isn’t sure what Shiraishi is up to, but he won’t let her accept failure as the end-all-be-all; to him, failure is a fact of life, and leads to lessons learned that can be used to overturn that failure. All it takes is time. If Shiraishi is meant to be with Tanaka, it will happen eventually, just not in this final episode. And that’s okay.

Of course, Shiraishi and Tanaka end up in a bit of a quandary when the latter’s friends see him walking home with her in glasses-and-braids mode, assuming she’s a different girl and his secret girlfriend. This leads to lots of teasing and unwanted attention, and Tanaka reacts by pushing everyone away.

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Despite Echizen’s desire for Ohta to sweep her off her feet, his offer to platonically carry her Tanaka-kun elicits only a swift punch to the gut. Just as there’s a proper, specific way to Tanaka’s heart, there’s a proper, specific way to Echizen’s, and that ain’t it.

As for Tanaka, while walking home alone he runs into all kinds of obstacles he wouldn’t have had to deal with had Ohta or another friend been with him. The whole system depends on the kindness of and proximity to others, a lesson he relays to a Rino who’d rather he only rely on her.

Just to drive that point home, the next morning all is cleared up thanks to Shiraishi talking with Ohta and creating a new, more plausible story for everyone that still preserves her secret alternate look. And while the ordeal has only made Tanaka dread having a real girlfriend, to Shiraishi’s dismay, I imagine given enough time that position will also soften.

Tanaka-kun was a hoot, and it did it by staying understated and consistent. It was head-and-shoulders above any other shows I watched this season, and the school-based rom-coms and slice-of-lifes that are coming this Summer have big shoes to fill. Naturally, I also wouldn’t mind another twelve episodes of this some day. But there’s no rush.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 11

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You’d think a pool episode would wear Tanaka out, but he can always float listlessly on the surface. When his normally relaxing, ordinary school life is infected by vigorous preparations for the cultural festival, we learn what is truly anathema to him.

In preparation for the bedlam, he tries to perfect his cloaking device, but to no avail: he has to perform some task, and the final ones available to him and Ohta turn out to be the role of haunted house ghosts.

Of course, initially, Tanaka doesn’t scare Shiraishi so much as surprise her when he so nonchalantly flashes her while switching how he wears his funeral robe (fortunately, he was wearing underwear).

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Ohta and Tanaka also have a sweet moment when they look on proudly as Echizen interacts with people other than the two of them and Miyano (though she resents their pride as somewhat mocking).

The haunted house turns out alright too, with a couple of little issues: Rather than a ghost in a well, Tanaka looks more like a leisurely bathing spa patron.

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As for Ohta, he’s far more scared of the house than anyone else, and so he must be replaced as star ghost. Miyano steps in, but ends up charming patrons rather than scaring them with her adorable demon catgirl get-up, even posing for pictures. Hey, it’s not what they were originally going for in a haunted house, but if the customers come away happy, who cares?

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During Tanaka’s break, he sees class 1-E has a Maid Cafe, and as a girl with very similar long black hair runs off to watch the drama club, I was all but convinced Tanaka would be forced into a maid outfit to substitute, with hilarious results. Instead, we got something even better: Echizen in a maid outfit, complete with bubbly welcome.

Of course, she realizes far too late who she’s welcoming, resulting in the longest—and best—comedic pause of the episode, ending with Echizen reverting to her usual brusque nature, demanding Tanaka go home and forget what he saw.

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Tanaka continues his quest for a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the festival, barging in on a kissing couple and coming up against a sign barring roof access. He settles on a cardboard box near the roof door, where he soon falls asleep. Ohta, who lost sight of him during the break from helping everyone who asked, searches desperately for his friend, stopping at nearly every food and sweet stall on the way—this is a cultural festival, after all, one must sample all they can!

When he does find him, Tanaka is so accidentally scary-looking that Ohta clean passes out. All Tanaka can do is sit by him and wait for him to come to, but of course he dozes off in the process. When they both come to, it’s time to clean up and celebrate a festival well done. But Ohta doesn’t forget the ghoul he spotted, and presents Tanaka with consecrated salt to ward it off…even though “it” was Tanaka himself.

Another wonderfully solid and hilarious Tanaka-kun, adding new life to a well-worn anime theme two weeks in a row with its uniquely bizarre and unexpected yet warm and charming comedy. I hope it gets a second season!

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