Naoko Yamada’s influence throughout the anime industry, particularly with various directors’ use of flower language, continues to impress me. In Shin Wakabayashi’s Wonder Egg Priority, flower language is front and center throughout the entirety of the first episode as running visual commentary alongside Ai Outo’s journey to save her friend, Koito Nanase.
It’s no coincidence that the first large flower reference we see is a white lily — outside of cherry blossoms, white lilies are one of the most ubiquitous and obvious flower references in anime. Above all else, a white lily in a Japanese animated television series typically points to one, if not more, of the women in said anime being lesbians (or at the very least, realizing their attraction to other women). A white lily, or yuri, became a moniker for the entire girls-love genre. More generally, white lilies mean purity and chastity in Japanese flower language. Similarly in Victorian flower language, a white lily meant innocence, modesty, and virtue. They’ve become funeral flowers as a way to represent one’s return to innocence in death.
Coupled with a few off-handed remarks from Ai about another girl at the end of the episode, and the nature of her relationship with her now-deceased best friend Koito, it’s probably safe to assume from the appearance of this lily in a prominent place, that Ai is not straight. Furthermore, a connection can potentially be drawn from the lily, to the obvious bullying that happened — particularly in a flashback where Ai claims that people shouldn’t get involved with her because she’s “ugly” — that Ai’s sexuality has something to do with the treatment she received at school. White lilies also appear in the doorway through which Ai remembers her friend’s death as funerary flowers.
Upon Ai’s return to school, albeit in her dream/otherworldly sequence where she ends up fighting a spectre of school bullies, the white lily appears in the foreground, obscuring her classmates from our view. It overrides them.
Ai herself wears a sunflower hoodie throughout most of the first episode. It’s her default uniform when she’s outside of her reality of being a shut-in (presumably following Koito’s suicide). Her sunflower is shown in close-up shot once, immediately after she is injured in the alternate reality.
Sunflowers represent radiance or brilliance, passionate love, and respect in Japanese flower language. More broadly, sunflowers can mean lasting happiness, positivity, strength, and longevity. This is particularly interesting in the context of Ai, who sees herself as anything but these various traits despite boldly wearing a sunflower. It could be commentary on how others, particularly her best friend, see her despite her outward gloominess. The fact that the one close-up is shown in tandem with an injury tells us that she may once have been a more positive, happy person, but isn’t one anymore or had that part of her directly “injured” by various circumstances.
The flowers around the feet of Koito at her death appear to be pink evening primroses. Generally in Japanese flower language, primroses mean desperation. In Victorian flower language they represented young, volatile love, inconstancy, or a desperate “I cannot live without you.” They can also have a meaning tied to women/femininity as well as youth. Like the white lily, if these are primroses, the meaning supports the fact that Koito and Ai’s relationship was something beyond friendship (even if they didn’t openly express this to each other).
Wisteria flowers are used to transition Ai from the “real world” into a garden where she can buy the eggs she believes she needs to “save” Koito, or return her from the dead. Representing long life and immortality, due to their own longevity, wisteria are often used to symbolize a strong love that can stand a test of time. By contrast, in Victorian flower language they can also be a word of caution to overly-strong love or feelings towards another person.
Years of watching anime taught me a basic lesson in flower language: if there’s a white lily on screen, someone must be gay!
I remember reading a manga that says sunflowers could also mean “longing” and “gazing at your beloved”, which (if that’s right) may apply to how Ai can only long for Koito and gaze at her statue now.
(Source: https://mangadex.org/chapter/1002146/19 )
Besides the flowers mentioned, I spotted a calla lily in AI’s room right before Koito visits her. A few minutes struggling with google translation reveals the meanings of “beautiful like a dream” and “maiden’s gracefulness” (definitely what I feel from the two’s meeting). White chrysanthemums and some other probably funerary flowers appear alongside the white lilies in the hallway. There are also some white daisies shown next to the new girl at the egg gachapon. So many flowers indeed!
I actually screenshotted the calla lily in Ai’s room and then…forgot…to add it to this post because I had to do something for work and my writing was interrupted. I’ll definitely bring it up in another post (since it looks like I’m going to be blogging this if/when I have the time). There are also a ton of flowers to get through in the garden itself, so I’m going to be mainly focusing on any that the show gives particular attention to.
Well, that’s mostly superstition. White lilies are very often used in Japanese culture to highlight someone’s ideal femininity and purity, no less often than for the “gay sign”. Any symbol should be studied in context and not read as a primitive label.
>Generally in Japanese flower language, primroses mean desperation.
This comment got mentioned in a Japanese discussion on 5ch (they seem generally amused that it’s more popular in the west than in Japan and are translating various comments back and forth).
They’re saying that’s incorrect. The flower is indeed the pink evening primrose, but they disagree with the flower language interpretation. They didn’t say what they thought was correct though…
I’ve found a few different interpretations of primroses in Japanese flower language and the most common one was a desperate love or a love that is really intense in its desires. The other common meaning was an intense desire/long-lasting love, which I’ll add to the post now. I wonder what else they were thinking of (I definitely don’t mind being corrected so if you find it, please let me know!)
Really thank you for the useful post
Thank you for such an attentive analysis! I read this back at the beginning of the series and it inspired me to watch each episode with hananokotoba.com open on my phone! Doing so has most definitely enriched my viewing experience, so I really appreciate it. Fantastic!