“There’s nothing to be scared of. They only come after me.”
Kurumi Saijo, Wonder Egg Priority, Episode 1
The gathering of Ai Ohto, Neiru Aonuma, Rika Kawai, and Momoe Sawaki under a streetlight at the end of Wonder Egg Priority‘s fourth episode marks the end of the series’ first arc. With the four major players of its perverse game assembled, the series can now take a turn into further exploring not only the individual trauma of Ai and her counterparts but the societal pressures that drove them to enter a losing battle to bring their friends back to life. And the pressures that drove their respective charges to commit suicide.
Here, the series already gives us an answer of how these girls can defy the system. Regardless of how many eggs they break, their friends aren’t going to return but what they can do is forge new friendships with each other — bonds that can hopefully stand whatever tests the system has in store for them going forward. This is presuming a lot and is based on Wonder Egg Priority‘s obvious influences, but the groundwork is all there.
With that in mind, here is a closer look at the monsters in the system of Wonder Egg Priority and what they can tell us about Ai and her newfound friends.
Episode 1 — The Domain of Children
An introductory episode does a lot of heavy lifting for any anime series, but this goes doubly for a show like Wonder Egg Priority, which is dealing in thematic nuances, magical realism, and (presumably) dismantling existing societal norms. The Mawaru Penguindrum premiere had opening and closing monologues from two of the three main characters that to this day are stuck in my brain and memorized. Wonder Egg Priority doesn’t have similar monologues but it is a visual assault that’s just as memorable, with pieces that only become clear after watching later episodes. Given the series’ technical prowess thus far, if it continues on its current trajectory and sticks the landing, this first episode will continue to be a font of information on successive watches.
Although we don’t know this until later in the series, The Domain of Children gives us a clear summary of not only how the basics work but of Ai’s personal world: the world she will always go to when fighting for each “egg girl” or as the series calls them “captured maidens.” Ai’s world is her school, where her friend Koito Nanase killed herself. We learn that Ai is a shut-in, and presumably hasn’t been to school since Koito’s death, but returns to this scene of her trauma every time she fights — the domain of children.
“All of you at school today, a question: What should you do if a classmate is being bullied? You got it! The right answer is: Pretend not to see!”
-announcement over the school PA system, Wonder Egg Priority, Episode 1
Kurumi Saijo, the first captured maiden that Ai has to “save,” is the perfect introductory charge. No sooner does she hatch from the egg that Ai breaks than she dusts herself off and complains about the fact that Ai opened the egg in the bathroom. Kurumi has a nonchalant air about her that speaks to the fact that this is hardly the first time someone has showed up and fought. Her words inadvertently touch upon Ai’s guilt when she talks about how her attackers will only attack her — recalling Ai’s memories of how she herself was a bystander to Koito being bullied. Not-so-coincidentally, bystanders or “seenoevils” are what the smaller monsters in this world are called. Alongside the larger “wonder killers” that Ai is conceptually introduced to in the second episode, seenoevils are the smaller jabs — the thousands of cuts that build upon each other and lead to a death.
Although the concept of a wonder killer has yet to be introduced in this episode, Kurumi’s wonder killer is likely this short-haired girl with an axe, in tandem with the two faceless girls by the locker. Kurumi talks about how she had friends, but none of them were best friends — people she could actually trust and open up to. The driving force behind her suicide seems to have come from multiple bullies rather than one concrete source.
In Ai’s flashbacks this episode we see that Ai was previously bullied and Koito reaches out to her first. When Ai tells Koito that she shouldn’t hang out with her, Koito immediately pushes back and tells her that the thing Ai is being bullied for, her heterochromia, is beautiful before asking Ai to be her friend. These memories lead to Ai’s choice of taking an active role in fighting for Kurumi, even after she previously had guiltily apologized to Kurumi without interfering or trying to stop the seenoevils.
A few other important bits of this episode are the pen that Kurumi leaves behind which becomes Ai’s primary weapon. Additionally, this is the first time we hear Ai say her fighting catchphrase, “Now I’m mad!”
Most importantly, we see how Ai’s relationship with her captured maidens is going to work: she is looking for a close friend, and her interactions with the girls in this world always reflect that, from Kurumi onward.
Episode 2 — The Terms of Friendship
Ai’s greatest strength is her ability to reach out to others, and we see this on full display in Episode 2 through her interactions with fellow fighter Neiru and the captured maiden of the week, Minami Suzuhara.
Unlike Kurumi, who acted as a guide to Ai in this strange new world of monsters, Minami is confused and knows nothing about what is going on. It’s up to Ai to play (and later truly become) the hero in this situation.
Once again, we’re in the school, the setting of Ai’s trauma. All of Ai’s flashbacks to Koito start somewhere on the school premises and here we’re shown a scene where Ai finds herself unable to film Koito being bullied for fear that retribution would also fall onto Ai herself. Ai’s fear is both palpable and relatable, as is her guilt. It makes sense that she wouldn’t want to immediately invite bullying back into her life. She hates that Koito is being bullied, but also doesn’t want to become a target again. This reiterates themes introduced by Kurumi’s monsters in the first episode: which were more scattered and faceless young women, presumably classmates of Kurumi’s or even her friends. I know in my personal experience, the harshest bullying I received was from people in my own friend group.
By contrast, Minami’s bullying can be pinned onto one primary source: her gymnastics coach. Through Ai’s flashbacks we’re also told that one of the reasons why Koito is being bullied is perceived special treatment from one of their teachers, Shuuichirou Sawaki.
Others have brought up that the gymnastics teacher’s transformed wonder killer form resembles a kerakera-onna or other youkai specifically related to and/or representing older women as monstrous or the feminine as monstrous. This furthers the framework established in the first episode that Wonder Egg Priority is specifically dealing with women’s societal issues. Minami’s coach berates her for things out of her control, like body changes during her period, and then says it’s tough love, reiterating that it’s Minami’s fault. In a system that automatically pits young women and women in general against each other as enemies to keep them from being allies, it’s pointed commentary both visually and baked into the language used.
Before Ai can say her, “Now I’m really mad!” line, Minami interrupts Ai and assures the teacher that it’s all her fault. Minami agrees with the teacher that she’s not good enough or dedicated enough, and submits herself to the teacher’s abuse, causing Ai’s weapon to immediately de-transform. It’s not until Minami accepts that the treatment from her coach isn’t deserved and says goodbye that Ai is able to say her line and eliminate the monster. She also uses Minami’s lasso with Minami instructing her on how to avoid being beaten up en route to defeating Minami’s teacher.
This sets a precedent and makes it clear that the captured maiden needs to accept that the situation was not their fault before Ai vanquishes their wonder killer. The title The Terms of Friendship is perfect for this episode since the “terms” framed are those set by things beyond the girls’ control (hint, hint: the social system). It’s heavily hinted that Minami was separated from her peers due to her coach’s treatment of her. While she was being abused by her coach, Minami was also perceived by her peers as receiving special treatment and isolated from them, unable to make friends. Friendship here is all-too-often on the terms of others.
While the first episode put in relief that Ai’s only true friend was Koito (following up on Kurumi’s speech about how she didn’t have real friends) this second episode frames adults’ involvement and how they affect or hinder these friendships.
Episode 3 — A Bare Knife
This is the first episode where we see a world outside of Ai’s, which gives us a lot of context into Ai’s world by extension.
Former junior idol Rika’s world is a field of white and/or orange lilies near a lighthouse with her former fan, Chiemi, in the center of the field. Ai’s statue of Koito is located on the roof because that’s where she killed herself. Rika’s Chiemi died (killing herself through slow starvation) and Rika saw her last in a bed of funeral flowers. These lilies also change color from yellow to orange depending on lighting or setting, which changes their meaning from purity/innocence or a return to innocence in death (as funeral flowers) to a clear message of “I hate you.”
Unlike Ai, who befriends her captured maidens as part of her fight and that friendship becomes a large part their goodbyes before they disappear, Rika gets a simple “thank you for protecting me” here before the person she protects in the first few moments of the episode vanishes. This is also (presumably, based on the monster’s voice and lines) the first time Wonder Egg Priority shows a predatory man in the role of a wonder killer although he’s dispatched quickly by Rika. Later in the fourth episode, Rika is shown to receive a similar idolization from two girls that she and Ai save that she did from Chiemi. Rika has a different relationship to Chiemi than Ai has to Koito and it’s reflected in their settings, their lines, and the way that the captured maidens interact with them.
Later in the episode Ai and Rika revisit Rika’s world and are tasked with protecting two zealous idol fans named Miko and Mako who killed themselves after their idol committed suicide. Their wonder killer is another fan of the same idol who was an older woman and a stalker. Again, ageism towards women rears its ugly head and its also perpetuated by Ai, Rika, and the two idol fanatics.
“I understand. There was a part of me that resented her. We were friends so why didn’t she talk to me? If she’d asked me to die with her, like those girls did, I’d…I’d have…”
-Ai Ohto, Wonder Egg Priority, Episode 3
Although the connection of a different type of stalker as these girls’ wonder killer can seem tenuous — after all, in the eyes of non-idol fans these two types of fan are likely equal — Ai’s words regarding Koito tie everything together. It makes sense that these two young women are afraid of this older woman who became a stalker or to borrow a Korean idol fandom term, a sasaeng. It’s like a look into their own future that they’ll now never have. Wonder Egg Priority continues it’s balance on a (watch the pun, I’m so sorry) knife’s edge by showing how this toxic system that again, pits women against each other, continues to do so. The entire character of Rika, who lashes out and bullies others while also having been obviously mistreated herself, encapsulates this.
With every captured maiden, Ai has flashbacks to Koito and learns something about herself. Here it’s the genuine resentment she has towards Koito for not confiding in her prior to her death. There’s a real hint that Ai may have considered killing herself alongside Koito, or following Koito regardless because Koito was Ai’s first and only friend at school.
The bare knife of the episode title refers to Rika directly and how she hurts herself while also hurting others, but also is a direct reference to Ai’s words here and Miko and Mako who killed themselves to follow their idol.
Episode 4 — Colorful Girls
Momoe Sawaki adds several more layers of nuance and societal issues to an already packed slate. Where Ai is looking for a best friend (a reflection of her relationship with Koito) and Rika’s interactions reflect her relationship with Chiemi as Chiemi’s idol, Momoe’s catchphrase is an angry “Get lost!” and she takes on the role of a dashing protector who earns the love and/or admiration of her captured maidens. This references her relationship with the girl in her statue, who committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train — Momoe’s setting is a train and a train station. It’s no coincidence that Momoe presents as “Momotaro” a boy hero from Japanese folk stories and her use of both “watashi” and “boku” as well as the one flashback to the person she’s trying to save points to confusion around her gender and possibly sexuality. The only reason I’m using she/her pronouns at all is because Momoe seems discontent with the fact that others perceive her as a boy and is happy when Ai immediately recognizes her as a girl.
From its opening moments, Momoe’s introduction is much different than Rika’s because she is listening to Miwa and giving Miwa space to process her trauma before jumping into fighting her monster. Coupled with Miwa’s role in luring out her predator so Momoe can kill him, it’s again a very delicate balance that I believe Wonder Egg Priority pulls off, but just barely. The words of the wonder killer are disgusting and reflect deep-seated misogyny against women — a theme that continues throughout this episode.
I cannot stress enough that Wonder Egg Priority is continuously showcasing how the system is responsible for nearly everything that’s going on, with the caveat that it could all fall apart if the show doesn’t more decisively show that by series end.
All of Momoe’s fights are interspersed throughout the episode with Ai and Rika’s continuing fight against the two idol fans’ wonder killer in Rika’s world whose words reiterate the one from Momoe’s in that women have an expiration date. This ties into the fears of the two idol fans and the words of Minami’s coach in the second episode. To defeat this wonder killer, the two fans step up and play the idol’s music, give Ai their lightsticks to use as weapons, and at the end of it all, proclaim themselves big fans of Ai and Rika.
Before her death, the wonder killer asks the two of them, don’t they want to go colorfully? The otherworldly fights are often explosions of color, especially as paint trails follow the small seenoevil monsters wherever they go. It’s a loaded question to ask in a show that’s specifically talking about suicide, especially when the two captured maidens of this episode killed themselves to follow their idol, Ai expressed similar feelings around Koito’s suicide if Koito had only asked that of her, and the gendered words on suicide of Aca and Ura-Aca in the garden.
Oh ageism is a good point that slipped my attention! I wonder how the narrative will handle it long term. They really need a good adult to show up or we’re really having an “all adults are evil” theme, which isn’t very nuanced, but does bring Ikuhara and Enokido in mind.
The question about colourful death, especially since it comes from a monster related to idols, I think has nothing to do with broad strokes judgement towards suicide and more a commentary of how idol fans may idealise suicide themselves like the twins.
I saw the colorful death as a continuation of the ageism thing (aka. don’t you want to go before “it’s too late/while you’re still young?”). I didn’t think the show was passing judgment.
Apologies. I misinterpreted “the loaded question”.