[CW: Discussions of self-harm. Big Rika episode ahead!]
What did Ai mean by her flight out of home, and her announcement that she’d be going back to school? I frankly wish that was a rhetorical question, and that I was about to unload some insightful musing on her psychology at this particular moment. Unfortunately, I’m as stumped as anyone – while it was tonally clear that the conclusion of episode six helped Ai reach some personal epiphany, the actual nature of that epiphany is unclear.
After an episode that was unabashedly constructed as an exploration of gaslighting’s debilitating power, it seems unlikely that Ai’s takeaway would be “actually, what everyone else tells me I’m supposed to feel is correct.” Her entire support network is telling her to doubt her suspicions of Sawaki – so has she decided to take those suspicions underground, and investigate Sawaki herself?
That might actually make sense, in more than just a strictly narrative sense. One of my major misgivings about the whole egg saving process is that by the time they “save” these girls, they’ve already been terribly abused – and what’s more, these trials only defeat the girls’ mental images of their harassers. In the real world, their abusers are still out there, still making life miserable for new victims. To truly change the world, these abusers must be confronted in reality, before they drive their victims to suicide. So is Ai simply taking her mission to the next level, and attempting to become a real-world egg savior?
Let’s find out.
Oh man, what a brutal episode opening. We open on a slow overhead pan of Rika’s room in desaturated color tones, leading into a closeup on her phone congratulating her on her birthday. The cold grey tones and muted sound design emphasize the loneliness and mundanity of this moment, as Rika is reminded that she only has a machine to celebrate with her. Technology can feel incredibly alienating in that way – when you’re feeling isolated, and something like Facebook or Twitter tries to get too chipper and familiar with you, it only underlines how alone you are
And so she awkwardly tries on some makeup. Rika has some very understandable insecurities about being a “woman” rather than a girl, and thus always tries to act older than her age
It sort of feels like a small thing in the context of Wonder Egg Priority’s other strengths, but this show is really, really good at using panel-in-panel screens to progress its ensemble drama. Rather than feeling arbitrary or constrained, the way these half-screen shots of the girls float past each other creates a sense of conversation in motion, echoing the momentum of their dialogue. And the on-screen LINE texts are just a generally good innovation, one that more and more shows are starting to adopt
Goddamn this confrontation between Rika and her mother. So much to point out – the casual spite of pouring her drink into her ashtray, the brief flicker of surprise at her birthday being recognized, and then the immediate disappointment of this being turned into one more transactional encounter. And the dialogue about her dad! It seems clear that Rika basically needs to hate her mother, because she still loves her father. Her father was the only one she ever looked up to – so the idea that he specifically abandoned her is unacceptable. Instead, she lashes out at her mother, redirecting all the pain of her father’s absence towards the woman who allegedly made him leave. Rika clearly has a terrible sense of self-worth; if even her father doesn’t actually love her, she has nothing at all
Rika takes a moment to collect herself before switching in to her “On” mode with her friends. With the camera following her at all times, we can now clearly see the various adjustments of her façade, and the muted affectation she reverts to when she doesn’t have to perform strength for anyone
This is also a wild structural choice; in spite of Ai’s school situation essentially serving as the impetus for this whole drama, we actually don’t see her first day back at school
“Even if I’m alone at school, I have three friends outside.” Everyone needs a support structure. Ai is far stronger now than she was at the start of the series
Oh damn. So Rika doesn’t actually know her own father – just that it’s one of her mother’s many former lovers. But an entirely absent parent can become a figure of hope and destiny, while her mother’s failures are always clear to see
Nice trick of the layout here – this combined fade/wipe cut from her mother saying “you’re definitely my daughter” to present-time Rika emphasizes the bars and blinding light of the cafeteria, and also places Rika right at the corner of the frame. The overall effect emphasizes that she is a caged animal, trapped by her mother’s words
“That woman can’t stand the idea of me meeting Daddy and getting along with him. She’ll never allow me to be happy.” Rika’s psychology essentially forces her to cast her mother as the villain here. And admittedly, her mother is easy to hate – but it’s also quite possible she’s attempting to shield Rika from the knowledge of who her father really is. The absolute worst thing would be for Rika to learn the truth, and discover her father doesn’t care about her – then she’ll have lost her source of hope, as well
Rika uses lightness of tone to carry herself through extremely heavy topics, essentially making a joke of her mother’s failures as a parent. A very common defense mechanism
As usual, Neiru doesn’t really understand tact, and stomps over Rika’s feelings by suggesting she make a clean break. I get the feeling Neiru is accustomed to people getting angry at her for saying the wrong thing, and that’s why she’s so quiet relative to the others, and expressed so little initial interest in making friends. It was only Ai’s insistence on connecting with her that brought her into this group – but she’s still herself, and her inability to gauge how her words will sound still results in moments like this. It actually seems like they might be characterizing her as slightly neurodivergent
Again and again, this episode is using these distinctive layouts that create a set of prison bars in the background, and set the girls as tiny figures in the corners of their prisons. Rika’s unhappiness is of a very different kind than Ai’s; while Ai lives in the perpetual grey of emotion-sapped depression, Rika feels actively trapped by the conditions of her life
Ai’s such a good friend. She actually seems like the strongest of them now, as she declares they’re both the Single-Mothers Girls
“I’m Serious Rika right now.” And in light of Ai’s efforts, she’s willing to actually get frank about her feelings
Another cage, a literal batting cage, as Rika admits she can’t understand what her mother is thinking
“I can’t help saying what I think. What I think is logical and correct.” Neiru is perfectly aware of how she’s “weird,” and the effect that has on those around her
And so we learn that Neiru has never had parents. Still a lot of mystery regarding her backstory
This show is so powerful. As we reach the climax of Rika’s reflections, we get this perfect sequence of delicate character acting, acutely conveying her pain at having nothing more than the memory of his voice, and the bitter frustration of not being able to see him right now. Wonder Egg Priority would be a smart show with its script alone, but the fact that this team are able to bring KyoAni-tier beauty and intimacy to its key moments is just fuckin’ marvelous. After watching so many beautiful shows that feel like they were written by a golden retriever, I am profoundly grateful to see the best in anime visual design coexisting with the best in anime narrative design
Rika’s new assignment seems to be a woman who was mislead by a cult leader
Rika’s mother gets drunk at the same bar she works every night. Jon Taffer would have a thing or two to say about that
Woof. As expected of Wonder Egg, this is a delicate but unflinching portrait of self-harm. Telling Rika’s story honestly means acknowledging this reality, but it’s still tough to watch
Oh my god, that is definitely Jouji Nakata that they got to play the evil cult leader. What a perfect typecast
“You’re stupid. You were swindled, and then you killed yourselves.” Rika handling this egg girl with her characteristic grace and tact
“It can be easier?” Rika has no interest in joining a cult, but erasing herself to escape the pain of existence is a pitch she understands
Once again, Ura-Acca is more accommodating of the girls than Acca, and actually informs Ai of how Rika’s fight is going. But we still have no reason to trust them; this could easily be a good cop/bad cop gimmick they intentionally use to foster the girls’ trust
“Your tiny self can be part of a great energy.” For those who’ve been let down and isolated by life, the cultist’s appeal to surrender of the self and incorporation into something greater can be incredibly convincing. It’s so tiring to fight all the time, and it’s so isolating to fight without hope of a happier future – through the promise of collective assimilation, both your exhaustion and your loneliness can be assuaged
Her friends try to reach out to her, but she’s just so tired of fighting. “I’m worn out.”
God, I can really feel that sentiment. As someone who’s struggled with depression for basically all of his adult life, that sense of just being too tired to fight anymore is palpable
“Will we lose one?” “Looks like it.” Ultimately, Ura-Acca is not particularly concerned about Rika’s death
Mannen, her turtle, ends up blocking the killing blow. “He imprinted on me, so he thinks I’m his mom. And you’ve got to protect your mom.” At the very least, she cannot let herself become what she hates about her own mother
“Even if it means hurting myself, I’m going to live!” Self-harm is frequently a coping mechanism, a way of redirecting pain you cannot control into pain you can control. It’s obviously not a sign of great mental health, but to Rika, it’s a sign that she’s still willing to fight – her self-harm reflects her desire to keep living, rather than surrender entirely. This episode is staring right into the face of an extremely delicate topic, but Rika’s feelings are always portrayed with honesty and compassion, feeling less like an after-school special than a frank engagement with what really drives someone to hurt themselves. Embracing your coping mechanisms means you’re still willing to cope, willing to fight with everything in yourself, and live to see another day
“I’ll abandon you eventually, but not today.” Ending on a line that means more than Rika’s mother could know. Rika’s demons are still there, but today, she chose to live
Ahhhh godddd, what a painful goddamn episode. As it turns out, we didn’t learn a single thing about Ai’s return to school; instead, episode seven offered a vivid, claustrophobic portrait of Rika’s psychology, exploring her character and history from the inside and out. It was painful enough just watching her try to articulate her unhappiness to Ai, as they walked through an array of visual prisons. But then her actual egg trial pushed it so much further, articulating just what might drive someone to physically hurt themselves, or embrace the non-being of joining a cult. In the end, it was little more than spite and pride that kept Rika going; but at times like these, anything that keeps your head above water can serve as a life raft. I saw so much of my experience with depression in Rika’s story, and I’m thankful to Wonder Egg Priority for articulating without varnish, or some pat, easy conclusion. The best art tells the truth, no matter how harsh that truth may be.