The most contentious character in Wonder Egg Priority continues to be Ai Ohto’s teacher, Shuuichirou Sawaki. Outside of what exactly is going on with Aca and Ura-Aca’s seeming quest for immortality, who is on what side, and (in my opinion the most and only important part of this) how young women’s pain is exploited by a variety of people in powerful positions, the most spirited discussion of the series has revolved around Sawaki. More specifically, whether Sawaki is a benevolent, perhaps a bit too-involved but still well-meaning teacher. Or if he’s predatory and trying to forcibly insert himself into Ai’s life.
In my other post on the series’ tenth episode, I mention that Momoe Sawaki’s induction into the group of egg fighting girls introduced two specific wrinkles to the series. The first was a discussion of gender, which Episode 10 — pointedly titled “Confession” — returned to as a framing device for Momoe in her own focus episode. The second was that of Sawaki and the fact that she’s his niece and therefore has a positive opinion of him, going as far to vehemently defend him to Rika Kawai when Rika insinuates that he could have taken advantage of Koito Nanase by potentially impregnating her, indirectly leading to her suicide.
Despite being firmly on the side that Sawaki is, at best, someone who is unintentionally predatory due to his place in society relative to the young women he teaches and at worst, a legitimate predator, it’s important that he remains ambiguous, especially if the truth trends more towards the worst. After all, most predators aren’t always bad, even to their victims, during every moment of the day. In most cases, part of the manipulation is that they will express genuine concern or love, casting doubt over any overtly predatory actions that they take.
Observing Sawaki’s actions in a vacuum, without paying attention to any floral language, body language, or Wonder Egg Priority‘s cinematography, he hasn’t done anything technically wrong. The most overtly off-putting thing without considering context would be the fact that he draws her after school in an art studio where the two of them are presumably alone.
However, the visual framing of Sawaki is specific and sinister. He’s initially presented as an outsider, in tandem with Ai’s mother. The series makes it a point to present them as a unified front, even while he insists that he’s only dropping off print-outs in Episode 1. He goes as far to show up and comfort Ai’s mother when Ai is in the hospital at the end of the same episode, and by Episode 2, the two are united, as pictured above. Many of his shots include him looming over Ai, presented in sections not entirely within the frame or as specific body parts, often through something like a doorway or window.
(As an aside, others in various community discussions have mentioned that his broach is a bird of prey, which could be another visual nod towards him being a predator.)
In addition to the visual framing and his actions against a very specific backdrop of a young woman having committed suicide — a young women whom he embraced in a classroom which is wildly inappropriate even if he had the best intentions — there is also the flowers that the series specifically chooses for Sawaki in Episode 10.
The first is a vase of daisies on his desk when Ai goes to see him. Purple daisies in western flower languages can mean pride, beauty, or fascination. Daisies typically represent a return to innocence or childhood and in Japanese flower language symbolize faith. I’ve already spoken at length about how Sawaki follows the Kunihiko Ikuhara mold set by men like Revolutionary Girl Utena‘s Akio Ohtori of characters who work in a school being trapped by some (usually traumatic) event in their childhood, or a longing to return to their own childhood. The daisies on Sawaki’s desk support this theory.
2021/03/19 UPDATE: A few commenters have said that they identified the flowers on Sawaki’s desk as asters instead. I’m going to update the post with their meaning here (which is also some interesting framing). I didn’t initially identify them as asters given the leaves and spacing between the petals, but whichever flower they are, the meaning is actually pretty interesting. In Victorian flower language asters symbolized a dainty nature, unique charm, and patience. They were given as gifts to promise patience and or advise being patient (presumably in that relationship). This is particularly off where Sawaki is concerned since it could point to him waiting for Ai. Purple asters specifically can point to a royal/noble beauty and a rare charm (like Ai’s heterochromia which Sawaki has mentioned multiple times as her charm point).
Yet, the coup de grace is Sawaki’s painting, which Ai goes to see at the end of Episode 10. It features an aged-up Ai surrounded by red and white camellia flowers.
Sawaki has never been subtle in his pursuit of Ai. Even if his end goal was only an innocent model for his painting, he purposefully sought her out and drew her while commenting on how he wants her to embrace her beauty — particularly her heterochromia for which she was bullied in school.
First, there’s the fact that he aged her up in the painting all while making comparisons between Ai and her mother and speaking about how much he loves Ai’s mother. It’s no coincidence that in these shots, Ai looks more like her mother than ever with her hair pulled back in a similar way and a longer dress rather than her tomboyish sunflower hoodie or school uniform. Coupled with his pursuit of Ai as a model, this scene is remarkably uncomfortable to watch. It grows even more so with knowledge of what camellia flowers mean.
White camellia flowers were featured prominently in Violet Evergarden by another Wonder Egg Priority directorial inspiration, Naoko Yamada. There they painted a backdrop for the love story between a fourteen year-old princess who is being married off to an older man that she met when she was a child. In Japanese flower language, white camellias carry a message of waiting or divinity. Like many white flowers they can also mean purity and additionally have symbolism around the love between a mother and child. By contrast, red camellia flowers represent romantic or passionate love and desire. The combination of the two, against the backdrop of the older Ai in the painting and Ai’s dress could easily carry the meaning that Sawaki is waiting for Ai to become of age to pursue her romantically. He tells her specifically that it’s her when she grows up and even draws the comparison between Ai and her mother for Ai, telling Ai that soon she’ll be a strong and beautiful woman like her mother.
Even if Sawaki isn’t waiting for Ai in that way, his actions as framed by the series are at best, ambiguously inappropriate.