Wonder Egg Priority Episodes 8-9
On the heels of an intermission recap, Wonder Egg Priority returns with its strangest and most uneven episode yet. And while I enjoyed my eggstra week of vacation, I'm glad to see the anime return with a rail-buckling reminder that this train has no intention of slowing down, no matter what obstacle it barrels into. This egg is still full of surprises, and many of them are tinged with science fiction this week. Dream machines, mad scientists, conspiracy, and parallel worlds all crowd into the narrative's already-cluttered toolbox. At the center of it all is Neiru, who needs to reckon with another specter from her past, lest she too be dragged into the flower fields of Thanatos.
I definitely left this episode feeling colder than I had with any prior installment of Wonder Egg Priority, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's the predominant audience reaction. Ideally, all of the high concept sci-fi stuff surrounding Neiru should have been teased and developed over multiple episodes (or even seasons), easing the audience into this angle. However, since absurdly ambitious original projects don't have the luxury of time, WEP has to be as economical as possible here in order to set up its final arc. It's not elegant, but it's functional. It also doesn't help that Kotobuki's story embraces the show's most abstract approach to death yet. It makes for an odd pair with the recent Rika episode, where the story was arguably at its most raw and sentimental. Kotobuki's experiments with death, coupled with her distanced interrogations of life and death in the grand cosmic sense, form a particularly lumpy thematic chunk for the viewers to swallow. Wonder Egg Priority has never been remotely “audience-friendly,” but it feels particularly clinical here.
Despite all that abstraction, Neiru brings plenty of humanity with her layered internal struggles. My previous joke about her being a Boss Baby has sadly borne fruit, as it turns out she (alongside Kotobuki) is a designer baby produced by Mensa for the sole purpose of being a child genius. I shouldn't use the word “child” there, though, because she hasn't been allowed a childhood. She's been in the care of this weird IQ cult for her entire life, and she's been president of this company for lord knows how long. Her friends (and the show itself, thankfully) seem to realize how messed up this is, which fits into the prior indictments of manipulative adults and exploitative capitalism. And I think Neiru realizes it too. Neither she nor Kotobuki voice any dissent, but we can read in between the lines regarding her obsession with parallel world fiction. Neiru, when wracked with guilt and confusion over Kotobuki's fate, turns to her new friends for help, and Kotobuki imagines a world where she was able to befriend them all as well. They're still children. They're still people. They need—and deserve—support from their peers.
Kotobuki's presence, both physical and metaphysical, explains a lot about Neiru. When Ai and the others start talking about their future plans, Neiru can't imagine doing anything beyond the job she's currently shackled too. Instead, she introduces everybody to her comatose friend. Neiru is chained to her past, and that's the yoke she must break out of this week. To be fair, though, all of our egg defenders are stuck in the past in some way, or else they wouldn't be buying Wonder Eggs in bulk. Neiru's an advanced case, however. She doesn't need a pair of magic mannequins to manifest her lost loved one as a tragic statue standing forlornly in the fields of her psyche—not when she's been keeping the vegetative body of her past partner on ice in her room for far too long. Kotobuki is her statue.
For someone so chilling and abrasive, Kotobuki makes Neiru open her heart more fully and painfully than anyone else in the series so far. She's a tricky character to parse. At times, she seems like an indictment of logic-drunk scientists who pursue ever narrower and more obsessive progress, at great cost to themselves and their loved ones. At other times, she seems like an open-minded free spirit, enlightened by abstraction and theory, who just wants to help Neiru. These facets aren't mutually exclusive, of course, and that friction is likely intentional. She also visually and behaviorally evokes Evangelion's Kaworu, who's a useful reference point for her otherworldly yet affectionate presence. Neiru, to her credit, doesn't accept Kotobuki's loftily philosophical explanations for herself. Neiru only softens her rebukes when Kotobuki lets herself open up ever so slightly and admits her baser fears about her body becoming government property. But I believe even this belies her true motivation, which is to push Neiru towards a future without her. Deep down, she loves Neiru, and she doesn't want to see her weighed down by a living corpse.
And hey, why not add euthanasia on top of the precarious 100-story thematic Jenga tower that is Wonder Egg Priority? For what it's worth, I think the narrative does arrive at the correct answer here, even though Rika and Momoe's objections also come from understandable places. And furthermore, I think the euthanasia angle is almost ancillary to the emotional core of this final struggle. Rika and Momoe only throw up resistance because Neiru tries to project distance from the situation—she even goes as far as echoing Kotobuki's words to do so. However, we already saw those appeals to logic fall flat in front of Neiru, and they fall just as flat when she tosses them to her friends. She's not being honest with herself, and they can tell. When Neiru opens up to Ai's sympathetic ear, she's finally able to accept that accept what she needs to do, both for herself and for Kotobuki. However, she can't do it alone, and that leads to Ai's anecdote about herself and Koito.
Friendship isn't a clean 50-50 distribution of burdens shared between two people. It's much fuzzier. It's more quantum. It doesn't matter whether Ai or Koito moved the coin; what matters is that Ai's presence let Koito be happy, and Ai, in turn, shared her happiness. Similarly, neither Ai nor Neiru will ever know which of their violet nails actually pressed that button. But together, they created enough uncertainty—enough fantasy—to let Neiru say goodbye. Like last time, it's not a clean conclusion, nor is it a particularly happy one. But it's still a step forward.
I suppose I should also talk about the whole conspiracy between the Acca bros and Neiru's secretary, shouldn't I? It's yet another weirdly clinical scene crammed into a strange and overstuffed episode, but I actually dig its dearth of fanfare. We all already knew these guys were bad news, so there's no reason for it to be framed like a big shocking reveal. Heck, last week's clip show was structured like one of those dreadful propaganda-slathered training videos that management (in this case, the Accas) makes you watch after you're already hired. They know they're shady, and they don't care, because they hold all the cards anyway. I'll refrain from speculating too much about what it means that they're the “root cause” of the suicides, but taken as metaphor, that falls right in line with them as the system's patriarchal overseers (a la the Judges from Yuri Kuma Arashi). Similarly, while I don't quite yet want to wax poetic on the difference between a “temptation of death” and abduction by an “innocent sorrow,” I think the distinction between a “temptation” and the more violent “abduction” is thematically important. Regardless, we're definitely gearing up for a final confrontation between our heroes and this infernal egg gacha, and I'm excited to see that develop.
I was also excited to see the episode conclude with a passage from Charles Baudelaire! Little did I know, when I used the anime Flowers of Evil as a reference point in my first review, that it would repay me so kindly. Neiru quotes Baudelaire's prose poem Enivrez-vous, which is translated in the subs as “Be drunken,” but could also be more crassly interpreted as “Get drunk.” Here's the full text of the poem, translated by Arthur Symons (which is the same version the subtitles quote):
Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually.
Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken.
And if sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock, of whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: "It is the hour to be drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.”
Unlike the main character of Flowers of Evil, I won't pretend to be a Baudelaire scholar, but I think this is a wonderfully raucous and appropriately ambiguous musing on the intoxication of passion itself. It doesn't mesh with our perception of the quiet and reserved Neiru, but that's the point. This is a turning point for her, and she's moving on after being mired in her grief for Kotobuki. The choice of a literary quote also hints that Rika might've been on the nose in guessing that Neiru hides a writerly disposition. Perhaps it's also a sign that she'll be pivoting away from the destructive scientific exploits that claimed Kotobuki's life (and that she was clearly uncomfortable with) and will instead pursue the arts as her means of truth-seeking. Even with this uplifting context, though, there's an undeniable bite to the choice of poet and subject matter. Wonder Egg Priority never passes by an opportunity to draw a little blood.
Although Wonder Egg Priority's shell is finally beginning to crack under the pressure of its ambition, it still manages to deliver its signature moments of sublimity. The animation, while still good, definitely shows the signs of a schedule that caught up to them. The storyboarding and scene composition, however, are as strong as ever, and Ai and Neiru's final scene together beautifully evokes the pathos it needs to. This is WEP's most uneven episode to date, but it still revealed layers to me upon a second viewing, and my enthusiasm for what this anime is, and what it might still become, hasn't waned in the slightest.