Wonder Egg Priority – 13 (Fin) – Deus Eggs Machina

Instead of being represented by an angel and  a devil perched on her shoulders, Neiru works through her indecision by giving voices to her bunny slippers. She determines it’s time to be “selfish”. She encounters Ai, and they have a listless conversation about the weather before going their separate ways.

Ai returns home to find Neiru’s pet rat Adam by her door, and a text from Neiru asking her to take care of him. That’s all Ai gets; she calls and the phone rings and rings, but Neiru never answers. In a way, Ai is a good part of the audience of Wonder Egg Priority who waited three months for some kind of definitive conclusion.

Unfortunately, this is not really that. Oh, it takes a turn or two in new directions, but very few loose ends are tied up. Indeed, the first half of this special is a recap. Like Ai listening to those droning tones on the phone, we never should have expected answers would be forthcoming. Instead, we get more questions; fresh avenues for contemplation.

After the frankly obnoxious recap (the second, as the first was a necessary evil when the pandemic and time constrained production could not keep up with cruelly unrealistic deadlines), we learn that Ai and the others actually did bring their dead people back to life, only now they have no connections to them. Koito treats Ai coldly and even joins in bullying her.

Worse, when Ai calls Neiru’s office and meets her on the ground floor, Neiru tells her she won’t be her friend and walks away. Ai is so frustrated she tosses her phone, shattering the screen, and even buys a pack of cigarettes…though one sniff of one and she reconsiders actually smoking one.

It’s little moments like that, and all of the angst and depression and panic that sets in as Ai realizes the people closest to her have suddenly drifted away, that reminds me of the best this show could offer. Those painstakingly rendered quiet moments that really brought Ai, the others, and their world to vivid life. Ai decides to vent her frustrations into the mic, singing the ending theme (badly) at karaoke with Rika and Momo

Rika doesn’t like how Neiru just up and left, and suggests they return to the Accas to investigate. Momo doesn’t want to go. She, quite justifiably, doesn’t want to be hurt (anymore than she already has, of course). Rika calls her a coward, but Ai tells her how sad she’d be if Momo got hurt. Rika then says she’d just go and save her all over again.

It, and the scene of the three on the train, exemplifies the highs and lows of friendships. Sometimes we get on each others’ nerves, or have fundamental disagreements, but the bonds endure. Then Ai gets a call from Neiru’s secretary admitting that the cold, dismissive Neiru she encountered earlier wasn’t really Neiru, but Neiru’s sister Aira.

They are invited to Neiru’s house, which was once Kotobuki’s before she died…and becomes Kotobuki’s again when she is revived. Or, to be more precise, she and the other girls’ dead people aren’t the same people because they came from alternate timelines.

That whole can of worms has always been a hard pill of magical realism to swallow, and the more detail given to it, the more it starts to fall apart, so it’s to WEP’s credit they mostly wave their hands and say “it’s fine, just go with it.” Ditto Ai and Rika watching the last dream Neiru recorded, and essentially learning that Neiru…was never human, but an AI???

Rika, always quick to anger and saying things she might not mean, says she’s not willing to “risk her life for a machine.” But what is a sophisticated AI but an infinitely less complex version of the Real McCoy? We are just machines; machines we’ll probably never be able to perfectly replicate no matter how many shows and movies explore the possibility.

When Neiru does finally call Ai, Ai decides to be the one not to answer. She throws her phone over the balcony of her apartment building, then cries into her loving mother’s lap. Not all friendships are forever, and even when turning the page is in one’s best interest, it’s often far more difficult and painful than simply ripping a band-aid off of a hairy arm.

Time passes, and Ai not only leaves Neiru, but drifts away from Momo and Rika as well; sadly we don’t get to see them again. Ai changes schools, since Koito isn’t her Koito anymore, and seems to be adjusting and adapting just fine.

But then one day she walks past a familiar storefront with capsule dispensers, and suddenly all the memories of her friends and of Neiru rush into the foreground of her mind, and she decides to do what Rika wanted to do back at Karaoke: return to the Accas and get cracking. Not all friendships are forever, but not all friendships that end necessarily stay over forever.

Wonder Egg Priority – 12 (Fin?) – Over Easy

Aragorn: Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.
Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.
Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.

With Momoe and Rika seemingly completing their quests only to be met by fear and rage, respectively, Rika wants recriminations and revenge for Mannen, while Momoe simply wishes she never got involved with this business. Only Neiru and Ai remain beside each other while the other two seem lost.

Ai’s final egg is…herself. Or rather, as Acca puts it, an Ai from a parallel world who was also bullied for her eye but didn’t have a Koito, so she took her own life. Ai doesn’t judge—hell, she knows how Ai must feel, being herself and all—and doesn’t treat this other Ai any different than the other girls she’s saved from Wonder Killers.

When the Seenos chase the Ais up to the rooftop pool where the other Ai drowned, a horrifically repulsive Wonder Killer rises out of the chloronated water, and of course, it’s Sawaki-sensei, with tentacles of paint that eats away like acid on contact. Calling himself Ai’s “first love”, Sawaki says Ai was simply one more woman who was easy to fool because he’s handsome.

But Ai doesn’t see Sawaki in this monster; only the manifestation of her doubts and suspicions. She asserts the real Sawaki is “much nicer,” but the monster only says he had her completely fooled like all the rest. WEP has ensured that we can’t easily dismiss our own doubts and suspicions about Sawaki, who lest we forget, named a portrait of Ai…[Shudders] “Latent Heat”.

Ai won’t give up the fight, but between defending her doppelganger and the fact the battlefield is a pool, it isn’t long before both Ais plunge into the deep end. Much like the first episode of WEP, as we plunge deeper into dreams within dreams, the same feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on, but definitely wanting to know where the rabbit hole goes.

Our Ai, identified by her triangle hairpin (as opposed to the other Ai’s X) is pulled out of the pool by Koito in a version of the school blanketed by night. She kicks off her soggy shoes and socks and runs with Koito through the school as Sawaki Wonder Killer continues to taunt her.

On the same rooftop where Koito jumped to her death Sawaki is there, in his regular human form, but as the embodiment of the temptation of death. He tells her that her pure love for him betrays an innocence impossible for adults. Adult love is “dirty” and full of self-interest, which is why she should die before she grows up.

But as Ai stands at the edge of the roof holding hands with Koito, she remembers the words of her mom, who said ‘You only live once. Enjoy it.” The Ai who took her life expresses her regret, but our Ai smashes through the barrier between the light and dark rooftops and embraces her double.

The Sawaki Wonder Killer’s final gambit is to tell Ai how her own mother betrayed her by loving the same man she did, and “tried to put her own desires first.” But our Ai recalls to the other Ai how her mom never blamed her once when she stopped going to school, worrying about her where she couldn’t see, so she couldn’t know.

The Sawaki monster is barking up the wrong tree, because our Ai has already given her mom her blessing with the real Sawaki-sensei. When she was at her lowest, her mom supported her without judgment. Now that it’s her turn to support her mom, there’s no choice. Ai summons her multicolor pen mace and blasts the Sawaki monster into oblivion.

As Ai later tells Neiru on another rooftop, she thought she wanted to hear the truth from Koito, but maybe she didn’t need to, and she thinks she’s grateful she never did. Once the Sawaki monster is defeated, Koito is revealed and quickly vanishes, and a third AI created by Frill appears: one named Kirara Rodriguez Matured XVIII Evening Star SS Plum.

No doubt Kirara is there to kill Leon and stoke fear, rage, or something else in Ai, but Ai doesn’t rise to her provocations. As Rika is banished from the Accas’ domain as a cause lost to Frill, the other Ai basically takes a bullet for our Ai, as Kirara takes her blue eye.

Ai wakes up in her house, with both eyes intact, knowing the other Ai protected her. Unlike Momoe and Rika, she got out of her dream before Frill’s creation could cause any serious psychological damage. But before she parted with the other Ai, our Ai resolved to become a warrior of Eros, fighting Thanatos, the temptation of death.

It’s a hopeful, if somewhat confusing finish to what was for me, by far, the most visually and thematically ambitious and emotionally immersive series of Winter 2021. Rika and Momoe are in rough shape, but Ai seems to be stronger than ever, and Neiru seems…fine? Even more encouraging is that this is not the end; the story will be concluded in a special that’s scheduled to air June 30. It’s too early yet to declare the fellowship failed.

However it ends, Wonder Egg Priority was a deeply visceral, powerful, unforgettable ride that would have restored my faith in anime had I lost that faith in the first place. I’ll surely be revisiting this series somewhere down the road, and most definitely checking out whatever else director  Wakabayashi Shin and writer/creator Nojima Shinji make in the future.

Wonder Egg Priority – 10 – Fried

The cold open is so idyllic and beautiful that’s it’s obvious it’s only Momoe’s dream, but it’s an instructive one, for it shows us Momoe as she sees herself and as she wants to be seen: a lovely girl, going on a regular date with a boy who likes her as a girl.

Momoe wakes up to the sound of the end credits of what was likely a romantic movie she was watching before nodding off, the flowery soundtrack of which accompanied her lovely dream, and then gets ready for the real thing.

This week, under questioning the Accas come clean about not only being affiliated with Plati, but having founded the Japan chapter. Neiru shows Ai and Rika what they looked like before they abandoned their physical bodies and placed their minds in mannequins.

But in an inspired interruption of what was shaping up to be an exposition-heavy Q-and-A, something more important comes up: Momoe reports that went on a date…with a boy. Reminding us that the garden where the Accas are always seated at their board isn’t outside but underground, Ai, Neiru and Rika hurry head up to meet with Momoe and engage in some Girl Talk.

Describing the boy as her “follower” (presumably on social media), he asked her out a week ago, but when she arrived for their date in a dress, he was horrified…because he thought he was asking out a boy. That’s been the story of Momoe’s adolescent existence: a round peg being hammered into a square hole by a society that refuses to see and know her the way she sees and knows herself.

She tells her crocodile friend Panic, who is of unknown gender, that it must be nice not to be judged by appearance. Panic obviously doesn’t respond with words, but by curling up in Momoe’s arm like a dog, simply being there with Momoe. No judgment, no projection…only love.

Perhaps emboldened by Momoe’s courage in putting her true self out there, Ai pays a visit to Sawaki-sensei, who confirms that he’ll be leaving school soon to pursue his career as a professional artist. He gives her a postcard for his first solo exhibition, titled “Latent Heat”, and tells her that it was a portrait he painted at school that got him noticed. Ai, of course, assumes it was a portrait of Koito. She has a statue, Sawaki has a painting.

Momoe’s next Egg Girl, Kurita Kaoru, immediately establishes himself as unlike anyone she’s ever encountered, as he isn’t a girl, but a trans boy. Kaoru instantly sees through the “Momotaro” façade, and sees a tall, cool girl—totally his type. Unlike Haruka, Kaoru isn’t a girl who loves her. Unlike her recent date, he doesn’t misgender her, and she does him the same courtesy without thinking. He even wears a jacket of light blue, pink, and white.

Momoe is more popular with the girls, who see in her the perfect man. Kaoru’s kendo club advisor—whom he once trusted and sought advice from—saw and desired him as a girl. The advisor raped Kaoru, who then became pregnant. It was as if both he and the world were denying Kaoru his true self. He took his own life, unable to live in that world.

Having heard this story and met the advisor in his grotesque Wonder Killer form, Momoe is unspeakably enraged, and prepares to stab the shit out of him. The Killer shoves her back, declaring he’ll “kill any man who makes passes at his Kaoru,” whom he’s encased in a heart-shaped glass case.

He prepares to crush Momoe, but as she summons all of her strength to lift him off of her and toss him aside, she forcefully corrects him by saying “I’m a girl!”, ripping her boyish clothes to reveal her sports bra, then launching a decisive attack on the Wonder Killer, shattering the case and catching Kaoru out of the air.

In the few moments they have after the battle is over, Kaoru covers Momoe with his jacket, thanks her and says that next time he’s reborn he’ll be the one to protect her. Momoe is flattered, but points out that not all girls want to be protected; a fair point. Kaoru then calls Momoe a lovely girl and asks if she likes younger men. Kaoru then leans in to kiss her before vanishing in a puff of smoke, turning Momoe beet red.

Kaoru turns out to be the final egg Momoe needed to protect in order to “clear the game”, and after a countdown, a curtain falls to reveal Haruka, no longer a statue. When she runs towards Momoe’s open arms, she passes right through her and fades away. Momoe says “it’s really over!”, but above her a part of the ceiling lets out a slow drip-drip-drip of water, suggesting it might not quite be over.

The Accas report that Momoe “won’t be coming anymore”, as she’s more or less cleared the game. This news compels Ai to take her leave from Rika and Neiru in order to take care of something. She comes home, bathes, pins her hair back to reveal her blue eye, and wears a dress and heels, then takes the train to the gallery where Sawaki-sensei’s exhibition is being held.

She finds the painting that launched his fledgling art career…and it’s not Koito, it’s her, heterochromia and all. Only it isn’t exactly her, and as Sawaki approaches he asks her if it resembles someone else: her mother. That’s because it’s a portrait of Ai “grown up” into a “wonderful, adult woman” like her mother; “kind, strong, and beautiful.”

Because Ai is the daughter of that woman—the woman he admits he’s in love with—he says she should have more faith in herself. Then Ai asks Sawaki something she’s wanted to ask him since Koito died: Why did she die?

We don’t get the answer, and who knows if Sawaki will be forthcoming, elusive, or abstract in his response. We also don’t know if any potential answer will satisfy Ai—for all we know, Koito took her life after being rejected by Sawaki. All we know is, like Momoe’s attempt to go on a date with a boy as a girl, she’s all the more stronger for actually asking. And Sawaki is still creepy and inscrutable as fuck.

As for Momoe, her hard-won physical and moral triumphs are all too fleeting, as the dripping water precedes the arrival of a strange entity with Haruka’s body, a Wonder Killer-like head, and a giant scythe. The Accas lament that their plans to create “warriors of Eros” to confront “Thanatos” may end up going off-course with Momoe’s recent experience of “the overwhelming fear of death.”

The Haruka-bodied entity tells Momoe she’s like to let her go out of respect for how she risked her life for friendship, but that someone named “Frill” would get mad if she found out. Unfurling her head to reveal butterfly wings, the entity proceeds to gruesomely murder Panic right before Momoe’s eyes, then takes a chunk of meat from Panic’s body, eats it, and stuffs some in Momoe’s mouth.

Back in the real world, Momoe can’t dispatch the horror of tasting Panic’s meat out of her mind, and vomits into the sink during dinner with her mom. She cowers at the foot of her bed, trembling in a blanket, unable to sleep. As expected, the Accas only ever offered a bitterly sore deal, with victory only bringing more trauma and suffering.

Wonder Egg Priority – 09 – Meringue

Wonder Egg Priority is back after an recap week, and everyone is wondering if Neiru is sick or something, because she’s inviting everyone to her place. The other three girls soon learn that her “place” isn’t remotely like any of theirs, and not because it’s a mansion.

In fact, Neiru seems to live at work. When the others arrive they sit in a theater and watch a video presentation of technology the Aonuma group is working on that can convert people’s dreams to video, enabling them to watch Neiru’s egg battle on the bridge.

The question rattling around everyone’s heads is “who is Neiru?” and her invitation to her home and workplace seem aimed at attempting to answer that question. Her assistant tells them she’s a literal genius and member of the Japanese branch of Plati, a MENSA-like genius organization.

We also learn that Neiru doesn’t know her parents because as far as she’s concerned, she doesn’t have any. She was born via artificial insemination of a member; a planned pairing with no emotional connection between the egg and sperm donors. Is it any wonder she’s such a logical person, in addition to being a genius?

The girls take an elevator to level B9 (presumably deep underground) where Neiru takes them to her habitation area, which is full of books and strewn with papers. There, Momo breaks out the takoyaki grill, and after they eat, she and Rika paint Momo and Neiru’s nails, with everyone getting the same purple accent on one finger so they match.

Momo is very skilled at painting nails, which leads to discussion of everyone’s futures. Momo wants to be a dietician; Rika wants to live abroad and marry a foreigner; Ai wants to try living alone. When they turn to Neiru, she changes the subject, and then leads them behind a curtain to show them the reason she invited them.

In the next room is a capsule containing a an albino girl. She’s Kotobuki Awano who like Neiru was a genius born at Japan Plati. She became a doctor of psychiatry, and in order to attempt to analyze “the mysteries of life” she conducted near-death experiences on herself. After one of these, she didn’t come back, leading to her present persistent vegetative state.

Neiru reunites with Kotobuki in an Egg Dream, on the bridge, when she’s being pursued by a Wonder Killer based upon a jealous rival scientist whose job he believes she stole. Neiru just wants to know why Kotobuki didn’t come back, and her friend’s response is poetic: it’s said you see a field of flowers in the moment before death; she wanted to pick one and bring it back to her.

Kotobuki levels with Neiru: the her in the normal world is already dead; her body is simply a container. But in exchange, she was able to confirm that parallel worlds do exist, like the ones in the fantasy stories she loved. She likens what happened to her as having her mind and body abducted by “innocent sorrow”.

Neiru is determined to go to the place where Kotobuki died and bring her statue back to life, but she’s not listening. Kotobuki died in an abstract place Neiru cannot go. Meanwhile, the government will soon come for her physical body, and she “doesn’t want adults touching it.” So she’s asking Neiru to do the thing she can’t do herself, now that her body and soul are separate: disconnect the life support.

Neiru really doesn’t want to do this, but Kotobuki says it will be fine; after all, Neiru made new friends, and she can tell they’ve already “softened” her a bit. Kotobuki wants Neiru to enjoy her life with those girls, while she’ll befriend them in another “world-line”.

Their talk is interrupted by the Wonder Killer, Dr. Seki, who’d always wanted to dissect Kotobuki, underscoring the importance of keeping her body out of adult hands. When he nabs Kotobuki, Neiru powers up her weapon and uses it to fly to where Kotobuki is and snatch her. Then Seki gives them a math question of all things that turns out to be a trick question.

After that, Kotobuki bids Neiru farewell, asking her to take care of her body in reality, and Neiru agrees. We pull back and see that Neiru’s assistant is watching the video of Neiru’s dream. Back in the present, as Neiru prepares to switch off Kotobuki’s respirator, she gets strong pushback from both Rika and Momoe, who think it’s “too much” to kill a person in the real world.

Neiru maintains her logical perspective, which is that Kotobuki is already effectively dead, and when Momoe pushes back by saying that as her friends they’re worried about the trauma or baggage she might incur. Neiru says she won’t get “sentimental” about stopping “a dead person’s respiration”.

At an impasse, Rika and Momoe storm out.  Ai, stuffing her face in her hood, follows them at first, then turns back. Momoe and Rika agree that perhaps Ai can get through to Neiru on her own, since she’s closest to her of the three of them.

Then Momoe and Rika walk in on a conversation between the Accas and Neiru’s assistant discussing how Neiru has gotten closest to “the truth behind the temptation of death,” and how they are the “root cause” of why they’re fighting. It’s not as if didn’t think the Accas were up to something underhanded, but it’s particularly chilling to hear them discuss it openly.

When Ai returns to Neiru, she’s sitting in the dark with a compact planetarium projecting stars on the walls and her body. Ai, armed with ample emotional intelligence in this instance, says she’s not there to convince Neiru to do or not do anything. She’s there to hear more about Kotobuki. Neiru says she didn’t want adults to touch her; Ai says if only she’d said that, Momoe and Rika would have better understood her.

Ai then recalls when she and Koito tried fortune-telling using Kokkuri. They asked if Koito’s crush (whom Ai assumed to be Sawaki-sensei) liked her back, and the coin said yes. Ai didn’t think she’d moved the coin, but when she saw how happy Koito looked, she couldn’t have moved it either. Ai wonders if she actually did move it without knowing to make her friend happy. That, she says, is fantasy.

Ai applies that same principle to Kotobuki’s life support system. She brings her finger right beside Neiru’s on the Shutdown button—their purple nails matching—and the button is pressed like the coin was moved: by one of them, by both of them…and by neither of them. Kotobuki in voiceover then recites famous quote by Baudelaire:

“It is the hour to be drunken! To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.”

Kotobuki Awano’s death wasn’t the result of contempt for her life or a desire to end it, but pursuit of the ultimate truth for which all people of science strive. She escaped her physical bonds and the yoke of the waking world, freeing herself to explore other worlds.

That said, Kotobuki was still sentimental about and protective of her physical body, and while she knew it was selfish and painful to ask her friend to stop that empty body’s functions, she also knew Neiru would do what she asked, then go on living and getting “ceaselessly drunk” on the enjoyment of that life with Ai, Rika, and Momoe.

Wonder Egg Priority – 08 – Leftovers

Whelp. A week after calling WEP the best thing on television right now, it airs…a recap, narrated by Acca and Ura-Acca, as a kind of advertisement for joining the Egg-saving game. While it confirms the two mannequin men only have a transactional interest in their four charming “top customers”, we already knew that; it doesn’t provide us with any new information. Acca and Ura-Acca only hint at telling us about themselves in the next episode.

We usually don’t assign scores to recaps, and that will continue here. I won’t begrudge the Cloverworks staff getting a week off of what is clearly an extremely challenging show to animate (and one of three series they’re working on this season). But if that was the reason for this I would have preferred no episode at all to a frankly pointless recap.

All of the previous episodes are extremely re-watchable due to their visual and thematic density; compressing them like this does them a disservice. It’s just a real bummer that real-world practical limitations are threatening to doom a once-in-a-decade masterpiece.

Wonder Egg Priority – 07 – Oyakodon (Parent-Child Bowl)

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”—The Dread Pirate Roberts

It’s Rika’s birthday. On one level, that’s a good thing: a cause to celebrate with her new friends, while also celebrating Ai’s retirement from shut-in-dom. Ai describes her sudden change of heart as having realized beating herself up at home wouldn’t solve anything.

On another level, Rika’s birthday also a reminder that she is one year older, one year closer to possibly becoming her lonely, alcoholic mom, and no closer to learning who her father was. Her mom agreed to tell her when she got into middle school, but she doesn’t know herself, and gives her five possible candidates. It could be one of them or none of them.

It’s instructive that Rika lives above a bar her mom owns. That bar has not only been the place where her mom no doubt met these many men over the years to try to quell her loneliness (and drown it in booze when she failed) but before Rika could enter her home she always had to walk past a gauntlet of drunk men.

Rika takes her birthday celebration as a chance to air some grievances, albeit with her usual irreverent tone that implies she doesn’t care. In truth, meeting her real dad is almost all she cares about. She believes her mother never wants her to meet him, since they might get along.

She calls her mom a “tragic heroine with a persecution complex” who has never apologized for anything and has nothing but her own pride. She thinks her mom believes she could have been happy if only she didn’t have her. Neiru, ever calm and logical and correct, asks rather tactlessly if Rika hates her mom too, and if “that’s what they call co-dependence.”

This angers Rika, who storms off, but she fully expects Ai to chase her, and she does. Ai is ready to continue the mom-insulting session, calling the two of them the “Single-Mother Girls”. As they wander the abandoned entertainment center and Rika swings and misses at the batting cages, “Serious Rika” comes out of her shell to talk about all the bad stuff that she remembered at once. As Ai listens, Rika wonders what the hell is even up with adults, who presumably bang and marry because they like it, yet end up like her mom.

Neiru and Momoe are worried about Rika, but when they hear her yell they’re confident she’s okay. Neiru wonders whether she’s too honest and direct for “female society”, but Momoe tells her she’s fine that way, as she hates when everyone pretends to agree. Neiru cops to being a straight-up orphan who never knew either parent, and notes it seems to have spared her “a lot of trouble.”

On the rooftop, Rika asks Ai about her dad, who she sees at least once a month, and thus is still her daddy even though her parents broke up. Rika can’t even remember her dad’s face—only his gentle voice when he once told her “a beautiful woman never needs a wallet.” After shedding a few tears of frustration from wanting to see him and not being able to, Rika declares “Moping Time” over and takes off.

The episode then shifts between Rika’s latest Wonder Egg battle and the battle she fights every day by having to cross a gauntlet of drunk men and her mom to gain access to her home. This Egg Girl and her family were members of a suicide cult, but still loves her Wonder Killer and wants Rika to join them in cosmic bliss.

She gives Rika the hard sell, telling her how her family was cursed by karma from their past lives, so they abandoned their attachments to the physical world. The Wonder Killer, whom the girl calls “the teacher”, talks of a flawed world “fixated on worthless appearances and hierarchies” in which the haves grow arrogant and the have-nots envious.

Once up in her dark room, Rika pulls out her box-cutter and draws it close to her arm. In the battle, the Egg Girl notices the sleeve on Rika’s arm covering her scars and tells her to “erase herself”, revealing more of the same scars on her own arm as a show of solidarity. The Egg Girl was once like her, hating, envying, and drowning in pain and despair, before becoming one with the teacher and becoming part of a “vast energy.”

Normally Rika might not be so easily taken in by this new age gobbledygook from the child of parents who bought into what someone was selling, but it’s her birthday, and “all the bad stuff” is still foremost on her mind. The pain of still not knowing her dad, the fear of becoming just like her mom; they weigh on her, and the Egg Girl and teacher’s offer to “erase her karma” sounds like a good one in the there and then.

In this psychologically vulnerable state, the Egg Girl and Wonder Killer are tag teaming her towards her doom. Aca and Ura-Aca even worry that they could lose her. Ai, Momoe and Neiru, sensing she’s in trouble, use their pendants to snap Rika out of it, but their voices fade out as the Wonder Killer tells her to relax and surrender herself to his “hug of life.”

The only thing that saves Rika from oblivion is the fact she too is a mother; a fact she’d forgotten in the haze of the cult proselytization. Her turtle guardian-child, Mannen, grows to full size and blocks the Killer’s hug, saving Rika. She realizes because he imprinted on her, he thinks she’s his mom, and that she almost turned into a “selfish, piece-of-shit” mother by giving up and abandoning her child.

Declaring death to all fake men who ask women for money, and partners with Mannen to give the teacher the “slice of death.” The Egg Girl is devastated, asking why Rika, who like her cut her own arm to endure the pain of life, turned down a chance at sweet release. But Rika wasn’t buying what the teacher was selling. Dying isn’t the answer; not for her. Even if it means hurting herself, she’s going to live.

Rika reunites with her extremely worried and relieved friends. Neiru doesn’t join in the group hug but makes it clear she’s glad Rika is okay. Later that night Rika goes downstairs, after the bar has closed, where her mom is where she always is, drinking herself to sleep. Rika takes the cake out of the fridge and has a bite, confirming her mom’s worry the cream has dried out.

Her mom laments having gotten “old” before she knew it. Rika points out she’s only 40, and her mom corrects her; she’s 38. She says she’s sure Rika will abandon her, too. Rika concurs, but after a pause, sais “…but not now.”

* * * * *

This episode shines as a heartwrenchingly sober examination of the duality of parents and children as both curse and blessing to one another, how they hate, blame, and envy or resent one another, and how society only seems to make things worse. And yet, life and all its pain is presented as preferable to the bleak, defeatist alternative rapacious charlatans have offered since time immemorial.

Rika may not know how to win, if winning is possible, or even what victory looks like in this painful, fucked-up world. But no matter how many cuts she receives—by her own hand or otherwise—or batting cage balls she swings through, one thing she won’t do is stop playing. If she does, she knows she’ll lose, and she wouldn’t be the only one losing.

If this is all feels a bit heavy and complex for a cold cloudy Tuesday afternoon…well, I can’t blame you. I’m just glad a show like this exists, frankly presenting such ideas about these girls’ lives juxtaposed with the mundane heartaching beauty of the world in which it’s lived. It’s the kind of breathless ambition and thematic richness all too many anime would rather not adopt, instead pursuing the easy buck and assured popularity.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a time and a place for that stuff too!—but it’s shows like Wonder Egg Priority that confirm that murmurs regarding the decline of anime are grossly exaggerated. This isn’t just the best anime on the air. It’s the best television show, period.

Wonder Egg Priority – 04 – Sunny Side Up

WEP made no secret of there being four main girls, so with its fourth episode it introduces the fourth girl: Sawaki Momoe. Still, Miwa, the egg girl she’s helping, calls her “Momotarou” because she’s so tall and manly. Miwa was driven to suicide by her dad’s boss who molested her, then fired her dad when she accused him.

Meanwhile, Ai is running, loath to fight the Wonder Killer alone, but it turns out she doesn’t have to: Yu-Yu’s fans lend her penlights, which turn into new weapons with which she slashes the Killer’s many tentacles. It’s a case where the Egg Girls won’t just stand passively by and wait to be rescued, but actively aiding their heroine.

Miwa looks poised to stand passively, but when Momoe starts having some trouble, she uses herself as bait to give her heroine an opening. She also taks the opportunity to tell the pervert to touch his wife whom he loves—not her. Back with AI, the Yu-Yu fangirls help their own case further when they stop the Wonder Killer in her tracks with a video of their shared idol.

They buy enough time for Ai to hang in there until Rika returns—as has been established, they’re immortal, so her petrification eventually wore off—and de-tentacles the Killer, allowing Ai to deliver the coup-de-grace, completing the rescue of the fangirls, who also declare themselves fans of the two-girl unit that is Ai and Rika before vanishing.

Momoe also says goodbye to Miwa, who insists on being held in the arms of the person she fell in love with in their short time together. Momoe is left alone on the train platform, no doubt wishing at some point one of the egg girls she rescues won’t see her as a man and fall in love with her.

At the hospital, Neiru makes a fast recovery to the shock of her healthcare providers, demonstrating she’s ready to be discharged by performing a brief but perfect floor exercise in the rehab room. As Ai confirms with her firmer abs, their exertions in eggland don’t just bring real injuries into the real world, but also increases their muscle tone, stamina, and general physical toughness.

Ai learns that Neiru doesn’t go to school either, but for a very different reason. After riding in her sumptuous Mercedes Maybach Pullman and heading up to the top floor of a snazzy office building, Ai learns that Neiru’s dad doesn’t work there, she works there…as president.

Momoe is urged by the two sackheads to make friends and look for the sunflower—a clear reference to Ai’s shirt. But as Ai and Neiru amiably chat, they walk right past Momoe without noticing her.

When Momoe tells her next Wonder Killer target that she’s actually a girl, the egg girl who falls in love with her doesn’t care; she loves her anyway, and leans in for a kiss before vanishing just like the others. Momoe visits the statue of Haruka, the girl she’s trying to save, who—you guessed it—also loved her.

Momoe returns to the egg gachapon, where Neiru and Rika are waiting for Ai. Rika immediately misgenders Momoe as a handsome, strapping young lad, but protests to the sackheads that boys shouldn’t be allowed. The sackheads tell Rika not to get hung up on gender, since they made this place for anyone who wants to bring children who succumbed to the “temptation of death”—i.e. suicide—back to life.

As the sackheads presumed, it would take a sunflower for Momoe to make friends among her fellow egg girl heroines. She stares into her reflection, desperate to be seen for what she is rather than have others project what they want her to be, and weeps. Ai approaches and asks if she’s okay, and Momoe asks her “What do I look like right now?” Ai gives precisely the answer Momoe needs: “Like a crying girl…who looks like a model.”

Ai, whose mom once ran a fashion magazine, has seen female models of all shapes and sizes. She’s seen femininity in all its forms, not just the “classical” or “conventional” ones (though I admit those are both super-loaded adjectives). She goes on to compliment the contours of Momoe’s neck, as Momoe recognizes Ai is the sunflower she sought.

With the ice broken, Neiru and Rika join the conversation about necks and Adam’s apples, with Rika half-jokingly asking for an assessment of her neck, which is likened to a “puppy’s”, leading all four to eventually join in the laughter. We’ve seen what Ai and Rika were able to do working together. I imagine that the four of them fighting as one would be more effective still!

Wonder Egg Priority – 03 – Soft-Boiled

The bright colors and dark themes continue to intermesh as the third girl of the series is introduced. Kawai Rika’s ash-blonde hair is set off by a hot pink highlight and a magenta-and-purple jacket. Like Ai, she has a statue of someone she’s trying to save, though she makes a point to tell her she’s fat and ugly and her palm sweaty. When Ai meets her at the egg gachapon, Rika is on the ground, holding her ribs, but soon recovers miraculously.

After commenting on Ai’s heterochromia, and promptly asks for some spare change. Aka and Ura-Aka, always seated around a game of go, aren’t concerned with the injuries the girls endure; it’s part of the job. Ai’s excitement to meet a new egg heroine quickly shifts to bemusement, as her interaction with Rika feels like a “one-girl handshake event”, as Ai puts it to Neiru, with whom she’s now texting on the regular.

Between barging in on Ai’s visit with Neiru, always making sure people know her name is Kawai because she’s so darn cute, calling the doctor hot, labeling Neiru a tsundere, and most distressingly eating up all the kiwi, Rika creates the impression of a superficial, shameless, self-involved brat. Nevertheless, she keeps following Ai around, inviting herself over to her house (causing Ai’s counselor Sawaki—whom Rika also calls hot—to leave) and unilaterally deciding to sleep over.

When Ai tells her about why she’s currently a shut-in, Rika immediately jumps to the conclusion Ai is seeking attention from the hot Sawaki. Then Ai tells her about Koito, then asks about the person Rika is trying to save. Rika makes clear the “ugly fatty” Chiemi isn’t her friend, but her fan, and also refers to her as a patron and a wallet. Ai is more or less appalled.

As Rika bathes we see scars on her arm from cutting, which she’s promised to stop. It was clear she was using a veneer of carefree bravado to hide deeper issues, but the scars confirm it without anyone saying a word. She says everyone’s the same in that when you “scratch the surface” they’re all “slimy”—something you could also say of an egg. Neiru texts Ai to be careful with Rika, warning that “junior idol could mean bedroom stuff.” That Ai earnestly asks “like pillow fights?” really says it all about Ai’s sheltered existence.

Ai dreams of a memory of her walking in on Koito crying while in Sawaki’s arms, adding a fresh dimension to their past together. One could interpret such a scene in any number of ways both innocent and otherwise, but Ai quickly apologizes and shuts the classroom door, believing she’d seen something she shouldn’t have. She’s also pondered ever since whether Sawaki was a factor Koito’s suicide. She wakes up in her cocoon bed, over 50% of which is being taken up by the smaller Rika.

Ai then awakes in Rika’s dream. Due to their proximity in bed they “synchonized”, as Ura-Aka tells them, and it’s Rika’s dream because she’s apparently the one with the stronger feelings. They crack their eggs at once, revealing two fans of the singer “Yu-Yu”. They were so fanatical, in fact, that when Yu-Yu committed suicide, they did the same. When Ai says “just like that?” Rika corrects her: their choice was neither easy nor casual. She knows, because she had a fan.

When the usual horde of Seeno Evils (which Rika calls “bystanders”) starts to swarm, Rika and Ai get to work smiting them with their weapons; Rika’s two swords resembling giant versions of the box cutter she used to cut herself. It’s determined the field of flowers is too wide open, so the four girls head to a lighthouse within the nearby woods. It’s there, while they have a couple minutes to catch their breath, that Ai asks Rika to tell her about Chiemi.

After hand-waving the scars Ai spots as “just a youthful whatever”, Rika starts out by explaining the formal and emotional context of a junior-idol handshake event. When you’re only mildly popular like her group was, the lines were shorter, which meant the same fans would line up over and over. Chiemi did this with Rika, who shook her sweaty hand many hundreds of times.

Eventually, Chiemi would give Rika money. Rika accepted it, and began to expect and even rely on it. Like the two Yu-Yu fans who had “sugar daddies”, Rika saw Chiemi as a rich patron. She later learned Chiemi was shoplifting and fencing stuff to make money to give her. When Chiemi started to think of them as friends, Rika ended their relationship, ripping Chiemi off like a Band-Aid and telling her she was too fat and ugly to be anything more than a fan and a wallet.

She never saw Chiemi again until her funeral, and was forever haunted by what she saw that day. In a gutting inversion of the geography of the handshake event, Rika and Chiemi have switched places. Peering into the open casket, Rika saw nothing but skin and bones, like a mummy. Knowing she’ll never be able to forget her if she tried, Rika took Chiemi’s hand one more time. Since then, she’s vowed to kill as many Seenos and Wonder Killers as it takes if it will bring her back.

The Seenos break through, leading to a frenetic chase up the spiraling lighthouse stairs. Ai stumbles, still processing Rika’s heartbreaking tale, but also acknowledging that while she receded into the Seenos at a crucial time due to fear, a part of her also resented Koito for never talking to her like friends should; the kind of talking she just experienced with Rika, which helped her understand better where she’s coming from and why she is the way she is.

She also looks on the Yu-Yu fangirls with a measure of envy. They were able to die with their idol. If Koito had asked her to die with her, she thinks she would have. But what’s done is done, and what was left unsaid remains so. Ai gets back on her feet and powers up her rainbow mace, striking a very cool heroine pose at the top of the steps and assuring Rika she’ll kill ’em all with her. Rika’s quizzical reaction is priceless.

From there, we meet the fangirls’ Wonder Killer, an older woman who stalked Yu-Yu and pushed her into suicide. Ai and Rika spring into action like the pair of valiant heroines they are. Rika frees the fans by slicing off the Killer’s arm, while Ai delivers a crushing blow to the face with her mace.

What follows is why it’s particularly hazardous to engage in boss fights before you’re aware of their special moves. The Killer unleashes a cloud of dark smoke that everyone is able to dodge except Rika, who is immediately paralyzed and soon turns to stone. Before her face petrifies, she wishes Ai good luck. It’s all up to Ai now: she must protect the petrified Rika and the helpless Yu-Yu fans while defeating the biggest toughest Wonder Killer yet.

Perhaps Ai and/or Rika haven’t considered that Aka and Ura-Aka are just using them. Or they’re fighting even while part of them is well aware they may end up getting cheated. But in either case they have no other choice. Now Ai’s mettle will be tested like never before. Hopefully she can get the job done and wake up beside Rika, with neither of them too seriously injured.

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.