Wonder Egg Priority ‒ Episode 12

5 months ago 70

Like an open sore on the inside of its cheek, this narrative has continuously poked at the mysteries surrounding Koito's suicide, Sawaki's involvement, and Ai's feelings about both of them. In its penultimate episode, Wonder Egg Priority finally—and with finality—addresses its most festering open questions…by definitively answering none of them. While that's going to be a polarizing decision for the audience, I'm going to argue that this is not only in character for the series, but also (somehow) a good and satisfying cap on Ai's arc. It's not perfect by any stretch, but this egg abandoned the prospect of perfection a long time ago. This is a messy and conflicting work about many messy and conflicting issues, and in its commitment to that messiness, it can resonate as easily as it can offend.

Ironically, the easiest part of this episode to understand is also its most shocking twist: Ai cracks her Wonder Egg only to find herself curled up inside. I won't pat myself on the back too much, but as soon as Kotobuki broached the idea of parallel worlds, I assumed we'd eventually get something like this. The precise metaphysical mechanics of this episode, however, are far less interesting than the resulting symbolic gestures that arise from our Ai defending a parallel Ai who killed herself. Ai can only move forward once she learns how to protect herself, forgive herself, and love herself, and that's exactly what she demonstrates here. This has been the true arc of all the battles in the Wonder Zone, which have been just as much about our main characters confronting their own traumas, as they've been about helping their egg wards. It's just the most blatant it's ever been here.

It isn't a one-way street either. Loving oneself is a still a reciprocal act, so the parallel Ai's growth over the course of the episode is just as important to its conclusion. Parallel Ai has a bitterness to her voice when our Ai begins to tell her about Koito and her fellow egg friends, but by the end of the episode, she's the one standing in harm's way to protect something important to her. It's a microcosm of our Ai's arc over the course of the show. Even at her weakest, she had incredible strength, and she didn't need a magic pen sword or dream altitude training to wield it.

The presence of an Ai doppelganger also creates a Lynchian sense of blurred identity, where it becomes intentionally confusing which Ai is doing or feeling what. The direction and storyboarding emphasize this aspect using mirrors, reflections, and disorienting framing that takes full advantage of her ocular asymmetry. For readability purposes, the different hairpins provide an easy way to discern which Ai is in which scene, but we're definitely supposed to lose track at some point or another. David Lynch loves to use doppelgangers in a discomforting way, uprooting any assumptions an audience might be tempted to make about his characters and their identities. Identity, his works argue, is more fleeting than we'd like to believe. Wonder Egg Priority also capitalizes on that sense of discomfort, but towards a more uplifting end. These two Ais are different people, and they're the same person. Their stories diverged, but either of them could have become the other, or they could have become entirely different versions. Ai has one life and infinite possibilities. That's a daunting thought, but through a synthesis of Kotobuki's and her mom's words, Ai chooses to interpret it as a liberating mantra. Even after killing herself, and even within this surreal limbo universe, parallel Ai finds and uses the strength to voice her regrets and fight for herself. That's powerful.

That Lynchian discomfort and ambiguity of identity really rears its head when we want to talk about Sawaki, though. His role in this episode is frustratingly vague and layered: is he the Wonder Killer of parallel Ai, a manifestation of our Ai's worst fears, the wicked interiority of the real Sawaki made flesh and paint, or something else entirely? The answer, to the degree that we can find one, involves all and none of these possibilities. Sawaki here can be best understood in the context of Wonder Egg Priority's adamant refusal to be straightforward or didactic. If it wanted to be these things, it wouldn't have centered its story and its characters' growth around surreality and symbolism. It would have jumped from Ai's question at the art exhibit straight to Sawaki's answer, without a beat in between. For better or worse, WEP is not that show. We're not going to get the answer, except in the sense that this episode is our answer. In other words, you're going to get out of Wonder Egg what you put into Wonder Egg—not in a manner of a magnitude, but in a manner of perspective.

I can absolutely sympathize with the frustrations that come with this choice of tack. I feel some of them myself, especially with a series that has dealt with and depicted delicate subjects in sometimes grossly indelicate ways. You're going to make us look directly at child abuse, but then use sleight-of-hand when it comes to your themes and conclusions? That's just not fair. On the other hand, however, this deliberate obtuseness can also be an acknowledgement of its subject matters' severity, where positing clean and simple answers might have undermined the pain and complexity at the root of the problems. Consider how episode 7 did not end with a sea change for Rika, but with an incremental and open-ended improvement. By opening itself up to projection and interpretation, WEP gives the audience space to draw their own conclusions (and with only one episode to go, that space is guaranteed to remain cavernous). Personally, I like having that space. That space is actually a large part of why I've found these reviews so rewarding to write. Even if I don't always like the conclusions I draw from it, I appreciate shows like Wonder Egg Priority for providing their obtuse and surreal fodder.

In that light, what conclusions are we to draw from Sawaki's presence here? He is, interestingly, the most “normal” a Wonder Killer has looked, but like all Wonder Killers, he's a symbol of abuse and trauma—an abstraction of an abstraction of a real person. None of these battles have had any effect on the actual abusers in the real world, because that's never been what these battles are about. You can't drag every abuser into a different plane of existence and beat them into a multi-colored pulp like they deserve. Wonder Egg Priority's real power fantasy is subtler and more attainable, because what you can do is love and support someone who is hurt (even if that person is yourself). Therefore, the more appropriate question is what Sawaki's presence and defeat here means about Ai.

That answer isn't much clearer, however, thanks to our pair of doppelganger Ais and the entangled psychological roots of this conflict. Evidence that our Ai did indeed have a crush on Sawaki is tempered by the presence of her parallel self. Evidence that Sawaki is an abuser is tempered by Ai's protests and the aforementioned degrees of separation between a Wonder Killer and their real counterpart. At the very least, we have an acknowledgement and reckoning of Sawaki's potential as an abuser, and of Ai's determination to fight back should that prove to be the case. Literally one of my worst fears had been that WEP would either ignore or invalidate the accumulation of Sawaki's creepiness as framed over the course of the entire show. This episode could be construed as that, but I believe the intentional vagueness still keeps that sinister possibility on the table. Because Sawaki being a villain feels almost too correct, however, Wonder Egg Priority throws a symbolic veneer over him, suggesting he may also represent Ai's doubts, insecurities, and systemic abuse at the hands of the school system. Unfortunately, this doesn't provide a straight answer about Sawaki's culpability in either Koito's or parallel Ai's suicides, but this, again, is the fuzzy space that Wonder Egg Priority chooses to operate in.

Whether or not this is an appropriate way to treat a figure like Sawaki is its own issue entirely. His true nature is left up to interpretation, but my interpretation leans towards him not being a malicious child abuser. The most important piece of evidence is the Wonder Killer's temptation of death, which tries to convince Ai to die while she's young to preserve her innocence. This is diametrically opposed to his advice at the art gallery, where he encourages Ai to look forward to adulthood. This suggests that the real Sawaki would not have encouraged Koito to kill herself; however, it ignores that Sawaki's actions have still been wildly inappropriate for a teacher. I won't recapitulate the whole laundry list of shit you shouldn't do or say to your student here, but it's a long one. Whether this is result of WEP's refusal to be didactic, or of ignorance towards what constitutes an appropriate relationship between a student and teacher, it still kind of sucks.

I don't think it's as bad as it could've been, but Sawaki's significance in the narrative feels like a missed opportunity to comment a little more definitively on the legitimacy of bad vibes within uneven power dynamics. There could have been a way to do that in WEP's preferred open-ended style. He doesn't have to be straight-up evil to be in the wrong. I think this episode's ambiguity is an attempt to communicate that nuance, but this is one place where a little clarity of intent would have gone a long way. Instead, I have a feeling Sawaki will stand out as one of Wonder Egg Priority's biggest blind spots. To be fair, though, there's still the possibility that the finale might make it better. Or worse.

Nevertheless, this episode is about Ai first and foremost, and I really like where her arc wraps up here, especially in regards to Koito. Ai's primary motivating force has arguably been not so much resurrecting Koito, but finally learning the truth behind why her best friend decided to kill herself. Again, if the show wanted to, it would have had Sawaki explain everything in episode 10 and tie a neat bow on that question for good. Instead, Ai's grief settles in a fittingly bittersweet place. Many people just don't get closure after a loved one commits suicide, and Ai is no different. It's been a long journey for her, but here, she finally accepts the many things she may never know. In their place, she chooses instead to focus on how much Koito meant to her, especially after confronting the hard evidence that Koito saved her life by being her friend. Even if there's a lot Ai doesn't and won't ever know about Koito (and props to the always tactful Neiru for calling her a “fake friend”), that doesn't invalidate how important their relationship was to her. In that light, Ai chooses life, refusing to let Koito's specter pull her into oblivion, and answering the painful question she left hanging in episode 3. Koito's suicide left a gaping hole in Ai that she filled with anxiety, fear, and depression, but now she's going to fill it with love and support for the people who love and support her. Like most of Wonder Egg Priority's conclusions, it's a satisfyingly unsatisfying act of emotional incrementalism—a small and important step forward.

The episode, rather clumsily, frames this change of heart around Ai's relationship with her mom. Don't get me wrong, it's a sweet gesture, and I really like the way Ai acknowledges all of her mom's unseen tribulations. However, her mom isn't exactly the most developed character in the show, and this also has the doubly fraught effect of dragging Sawaki's messiness into the situation. This is a point that would be much better illustrated between Ai and her fellow egg defenders, especially in light of their conflict at the beginning of the episode. My guess (and hope) is that the finale will focus on the rekindling of their solidarity, with Ai's newfound strength and determination dragging all of her friends out of this low point. As long as we get these character beats and a proper redemption for Frill (which Ura-Acca's comments would have me believe is indeed the intended endgame), then I don't care how weird and obtuse the finale ends up being.

And now we have a three month wait! A sick part of me (the part that enjoys how Twin Peaks season 2 ended) would not have minded this being the final word on Wonder Egg, but I'm glad that the staff will get the chance to end the show on their own terms. Between the unplanned recap and the obviously intensifying crunch of the final few episodes, the production collapse leaves me feeling as conflicted as the contents of the show itself. Do I laud the talented and hardworking artists and producers who kept the anime looking dazzling and dynamic, or do I bemoan the unreasonable and overloaded labor conditions that necessitated the crunch? I guess I'm doing a lot of both, and living with that discomfort. The discomfort elicited by the show's messy ambitions is, on the other hand, much more bearable to me. Whether or not Wonder Egg Priority ends up as good as it could have been, it's always been interesting, and I generally value interesting things more than good things. Give me a weird arthouse flick over a competent blockbuster any day. But of course, it's all the better if art can be both interesting and good, and for the most part, that's how I've found this big eggy mess. While it's far beyond the point of delivering a perfect ending, I think it can still give us one that feels correct.

Rating:

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This is already too wordy as-is, so I just want to thank you all for following me through my long and labyrinthine reckonings with the Egg Zone. This has been a tough, yet rewarding show to write about, and I'm proud of these reviews. See you in June!

Wonder Egg Priority is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.

Steve is thinking about those eggs. Please direct all egg and egg-related inquiries towards his Twitter

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