Wonder Egg Priority – Episode 1

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll once again be embarking on an unusually timely journey, and exploring the first episode of the now-airing Wonder Egg Priority. Not too much was actually known about Wonder Egg … Continue reading →

Wonder Egg Priority – Episode 1
Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll once again be embarking on an unusually timely journey, and exploring the first episode of the now-airing Wonder Egg Priority. Not too much was actually known about Wonder Egg Priority prior to its broadcast, given its anime-original nature and unusually limited marketing materials. With no big trailers or source material to go by, it’s mostly just animation enthusiasts who’ve been hyping the show, due to its remarkably talented key staff. What we know so far is that the character acting will be nuanced and plentiful, and that judging by his 22/7 web shorts, director Shin Wakabayashi is a clear student of the Naoko Yamada school of direction. Wonder Egg Priority has all the right qualifications to be exactly my sort of thing, but with so little information to go on, this premiere could really go just about anywhere. Without further ado, let’s explore the first episode of Wonder Egg Priority! Episode 1 We open on lightly repeating piano keys and a soft-focus overview of a quiet neighborhood. The overall effect strongly conveys the sense of that specific predawn stillness, just before the world comes to life Our presumed heroine is in the street, watching a firefly slowly die. A car honks at her to move, and her sullen turn towards the driver is conveyed with remarkable fluidity and personality This bright yellow raincoat makes for a harsh contrast with the surrounding scenery. Given the title card was also presented in saturated yellow, it seems clear that the show is making a point of this girl’s separation from the world around her This may also tie into the yellow light of the firefly, implying the girl feels some kinship with this short-lived creature, and perhaps telling us something about her larger trajectory Incidentally, oh my god, it is always so nice to start up a show and see it’s already dabbling in intelligent visual storytelling. I enjoy plenty of less precisely constructed media, but immediately being informed you’re watching something that was directed with purpose is a wonderful feeling Ooh, nice use of rapid cuts as we transition out of this slow scene, and quickly flash through the process of burying the firefly. It feels like the cutting is matching the tempo of our heroine’s feelings – she lingers over the bug for some time, not sure what to do, then the process of burying it is rushed through in a hurry, implying her own discomfort with this process Her name is Ai Ohto, and now a bug is talking to her “You don’t like dreams? Would you prefer reality?” And this story feels so confident, too! It reminds me of Madoka’s opening, where it hit the ground running and expected the audience to keep up or shove off. I mean, most good stories are like that – the more you hold the audience’s hand, the less confident and impactful your story will feel, while additionally making the audience feel less invested in its progress (since they were never asked to invest some thought in it themselves) Of course, this runs the risk of alienating audience members who want everything explained to them – but frankly, most challenging, interesting art is going to alienate general audiences, because general audiences just don’t spend that much time thinking about art. No story is for everyone – what one person finds simplistic, another will find iconic, while what one person finds confusing, another will find rich and alluring. You have to choose your audience, and as a selfish viewer, I’m always happy when a story actually challenges my understanding of media, rather than fitting into a familiar pattern The bug tells Ai of a special gacha capsule, that “has what you want in it” So far, this feels like an Ikuhara story directed by Naoko Yamada, which is an insanely powerful combination “You know what you want. A friend.” And so she wakes, with an egg beside her in bed. Ikuhara by way of Yamada indeed! More lovely incidental shots as Ai prepares for her day, with detailed background art that really brings her home to life, and very careful use of lighting and character acting. I guess I’ll have to stop saying how Yamada-like everything is at some point, but seriously, it is wonderful to see her style filter into anime at large Apparently Ai’s been skipping school, as we learn from her teacher dropping off printouts. A graceful way to convey this, avoiding any “as we both know” exposition, or clashing with the slow-burning tone of this opening More excellent nervous character acting as Ai sneaks out, and I like how these zoom shots convey a sense of clandestine action; zooming in on details like the door lock emphasizes Ai’s own preoccupation with these details, as she tries to avoid making a noise The scenery outside her home is briefly one of broken cement, but then we flip to a high school hallway. Mysteries upon mysteries Clearly she was being bullied at school. Her tormentors’ faces are obscured, a trick that both helps this feel more like a nightmare, and also prevents us from localizing her suffering as anything more specific than “bullying at school.” We’re not introducing specific villains, we’re just illustrating the context of her feelings The voice that previously came from a bug is now creating a mouth out of toilet paper. A uniquely nightmarish image Her egg is the titular “Wonder Egg,” and this voice wants her to break it. Beyond echoing Ikuhara’s style of dream logic, we’re leaning so heavily into the specifics of Utena imagery that I have to imagine it’s intentional Angered by the voice, she actually cracks the egg, which grows and breaks to reveal a full-grown girl. The friend that the voice mentioned, presumably? This new girl is sullen from the start, and immediately asks why Ai broke the egg in a bathroom Aaand now we’re bounding into straight horror territory, as another girl with no face throws an axe at Ai’s companion, surrounded by bounding devils. This premiere isn’t explaining shit and I love it – it’s got a whole world to convey, and it’s not going to waste any time The creatures are called “Seeno Evils,” obviously a compression of “See No Evil,” which seems to imply they’re another reflection of Ai’s perspective on bullying – just as the announcer stated earlier that “the response to seeing bullying is to ignore it,” so too is this bully now surrounded by minions whose names emphasize their complicity in the bullying They escape through a locker into another room. This show’s dedication to dream-logic is admirable Ai’s cuts disappear, but not the new girl. This is reality to her “You’re immortal in this world as long as your eyes and heart are okay.” An oddly specific clarification, that may carry some greater meaning “This is happening because you bought the egg.” “They said the first one is free.” “Nothing costs more than a free gift, huh?” This girl’s analysis of high school friendship feels both sharp and naturalistic. Strong dialogue so far The specificity of their expression work is so good, too. Ai’s combined look of fear and shame as she remains in her seat, her new friend’s dawning recognition as she realizes Ai’s not coming with her “It’s true. They don’t attack me.” This nightmare has essentially forced Ai into the position of complicit spectator, acting out that “ignore bullies” philosophy that once contributed to her own bullying A ton of flower imagery in this episode too, from Ai’s own hoodie to the surrounding scenery Oh, wow. Reaching the rooftop brings back painful memories of a friend who committed suicide by jumping. This show doesn’t shy away from the most uncomfortable parts of its difficult material. It seems like Ai actually was a spectator, and still feels the guilt of not stepping in to help her friend Koito Nagase was the other girl’s name. Some lovely pillow shots, evoking the sense of a rainy afternoon in characteristically Yamada-esque fashion, lead us back into a flashback of their initial meeting Soft focus enhances the intimacy of this moment, along with those staple partial body shots, as Ai attempts to focus on anything but the girl initiating conversation We see everything surrounding the point of explosion – Koito alone on the steps after Ai ran away, and Ai in the rain, having abandoned her belongings in her flight away from Koito If Ai was already this antisocial before the suicide, I can easily see how it’d drive her to retreat from school entirely Huh, they actually acknowledge Ai’s heterochromia. Apparently that’s why she gets bullied God, these shots on the rooftop are beautiful. What an incredible realization of Ai’s psychological reality, from the ways other characters in this world echo key lines in her own life, to the astonishing fluidity of these surreal jumps in location, to the pure aesthetic wonder of it all After being reminded of Koito, Ai decides she’s not going to let this happen again. And so she doesn’t! Love this Gainax-reminiscent pose as she crushes the nightmare girl Kurumi Saijo is her egg friend And so she’s assigned her quest: save a bunch of girls like this, in order to revive Koito But her injury returns in the morning. This is a tough system! And Done Oh, wow. Oh, wow wow wow. Folks, I think we might really have something here. In all aesthetic terms, Wonder Egg Priority’s first episode is astonishing – incredible character acting, inspired direction that draws from the best influences imaginable, richly detailed background art, etc. And in terms of narrative, we’re looking at a personal yet theme-rich psychological drama, one that uses fantasy to illustrate human truth in the way all the best anime tend to (Eva, Utena, Madoka, etc). This could easily fall apart, or become more of an episodic action-fantasy show than a genuine classic, but so far Wonder Egg Priority is doing basically every single thing right. A truly top tier anime is a rare and wonderful thing, and I desperately hope Wonder Egg Priority stays this good! This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.