Wonder Egg Priority (2021)
Directed by Shin Wakabayashi
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus described the encounter with absurdity—the intolerable “why” in our life—as a moment we must choose between “suicide” and “recovery.” Wonder Egg Priority is an animated television series about this question of “why” passed down from people who do not “recover” from this encounter. Its story centers on four middle-school girls in contemporary Japan who are contacted by two mannequin-like creatures, Acca and Ura-Acca, for a peculiar deal: buy the “Wonder Eggs” from them, descend into a dream world at night and break the eggs, destroy the Wonder Killers inside, and therefore revive a person who died from suicide.
The protagonists’ motivation to enter the Egg World varies. For Ai, it is to understand why her only friend who protected her from bullies in school jumped from the rooftop. For Rika, it is to seek a new life after quitting her job as an idol due to a fan’s suicide. For Momoe, it is to move beyond the guilt over the death of a female classmate who confessed to her. For Neiru, it is to search for her identity after her sister stabbed her and jumped off a bridge. While the protagonists’ Egg Worlds mirror the place where the people they intend to save died—for example, Ai’s world is a replica of her school—each egg also contains a person they need to protect from the Wonder Killers, which embody someone or something linked to the person’s suicide. The inhabitants of the Egg World may actively assist the protagonists in their fight, or question these unexpected saviors’ motivations. They will then vanish after their Wonder Killers are vanquished.
The aesthetics of Wonder Egg Priority resonates with the “magical girl” (mahō shōjo) genre. While the protagonists do not go through elaborate transformation when they enter the Egg World, they gain the supernatural ability to convert everyday items like pens and box cutters into magical weapons. The series also echoes the trend of magical girl anime to juxtapose fantastic combat with unsettling elements like graphic violence and psychological trauma. Both Ai and Neiru have been hospitalized for the wound they received in the Egg World, and after the precarious adventure at night, they still have to face their respective challenges at day. Fortunately, they do not fight alone. The protagonists form friendships as the story progresses, and together they rest, play, heal, and ponder the meaning of life and death.
While the series mostly manages to balance its choreography of fantastic combat with real-world struggles, it also risks presenting a few “bad people” embodied by Wonder Killers as the sole culprit of people’s suicide, thus sidelining structural factors and individual agency. A plot twist in Episode 11 exacerbates this issue. According to Ura-Acca, he and Acca once created a cyborg AI named Frill and treated her like their daughter, but Frill became jealous after Acca married and subsequently murdered his wife. In revenge, Acca locked Frill in the cellar. Years later, when Acca’s daughter died of suicide, Ura-Acca blamed “the temptation of death” Frill spread and destroyed Fill’s body. Believing that Frill still exists and her power targets only adolescent girls, he and Acca create Wonder Eggs and recruit the protagonists as “warriors of Eros” to haunt down Frill and revive Acca’s daughter. By scapegoating a cyborg AI, the series, therefore, leaves the complex issues underlying suicide, along with Acca and Ura-Acca’s violence against Frill, entirely unquestioned.
It nonetheless remains possible to read the series against its narrative, especially the opposition between love and suicide, by viewing Acca and Ura-Acca’s Frankensteinian tragedy as a result of their refusal to love Frill and recognize her humanity. In contrast, the protagonists continue to grow by learning to love others and themselves. For instance, Momoe, who often finds others misgendering her based on her appearance and wonders if she is not “girlish” enough, meets a transgender boy and is inspired by his confidence. She then learns to value herself for her ability to protect the inhabitants of the Egg World from their abusers. In another case, Ai meets herself from a parallel universe where she suffers bullying alone. Realizing that she can now protect herself and choose a different fate, Ai affirms her growth in the Egg World. Thus, not only does the existence of a transgender person in the Egg World challenge Acca and Ura-Acca’s narrow-minded focus on girls, but the depth of interaction between the protagonists and these inhabitants exceeds their scheme to simply emulate and manipulate others’ death.
As critic Kumiko Saito argued, magical girl anime often faces two questions: the tension between magic as liberating empowerment and as a momentary escape from womanhood on the one hand, and men’s appropriation of magical girls’ affective labor on the other hand. In Wonder Egg Priority, the true magic is perhaps less the protagonists’ ability to slain a three-story-tall Wonder Killer than the power of love manifested by the inhabitants of the Egg World. As a girl, Ai meets in Episode 2 intimates, although Ai could not become her friend when she was alive, she wants Ai to “think of her from time to time.” The transient Egg World thus promises an alliance breaching the boundary between life and death, and turning the protagonists’ fight into an act of ethical mourning. This mourning might not shatter any structure, but it probably anticipates a love that makes sure no death remains unmourned.
— Leo Chu
University of Cambridge