This season’s latest critical darling, Shin Wakabayashi’s Wonder Egg Priority, has been described as, if Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum) and Naoko Yamada’s (A Silent Voice, Liz and the Blue Bird) respective animated series had a love child. This is a fairly apt description based on the first episode, and although many upon first hearing this will wonder what exactly that looks like and how two styles that seem fairly incongruous would go together, those styles do work and the result is Wonder Egg Priority.
If you want to be particularly meta about it, the result is the description comparing two existing directorial styles and the description is also the result. It’s something new, born of known visual languages.
Outside of the gift of a red rose — which has been commercialized and commodified extensively — there are few flowers today whose meanings are widely recognized outside of hobbyist circles or florists. Now, the language of flowers, or floriography, has primarily been relegated to a secondary visual language used (both deftly and clumsily) in art.
In Victorian England, myriad factors led to the development of flowers as a way to send emotionally-charged messages meaning everything from love to sexual desire to hatred. The Victorian Era was one of industrial progress, leading to a rising middle class and more widely-available leisure activities. Victorian morality is commonly described as draconian or puritanical. The reality is a bit more complex. For example, alongside the rise of the novel came the rise of erotica and the expression of sexual desire in written letters. Floriography accompanied this. Through flowers, people could send coded messages to each other — some that they could even wear as fashion accessories — that said what they could not speak aloud due to the morality of the time. As western floriography developed through the Victorian era, so did the varied meanings that could be expressed. One flower could mean something when paired with another flower, and carry an opposing meaning when paired with a different flower. Floriography and the written word also merged together well, with novels of the time period referencing flower language with the expectation that readers would parse their meanings.
Violet Evergarden plays with a Victorian aesthetic and steampunk-like anachronism (which is why discussing Victorian floriography is more appropriate in this case than the iconography or different meanings of Japanese hanakotoba, prevalent in other anime).
“While I was location-hunting in Gifu I started wondering what Shoya was like at that point: a kid who feels invincible but also deals with perhaps unfounded frustration. This song appeared in my mind with a bang.”
Naoko Yamada makes many precise directorial choices in her film adaptation of A Silent Voice, including but not limited to the use of flower language and other non-verbal forms of communication to form emotional snapshots of the lead characters.
The most polarizing choice was her insistence that the film lead off with The Who’s “My Generation.” This naturally created a licensing nightmare, for which Yamada took full responsibility according to multiple interviews prior to the film’s release. “My Generation” also became the primary citation of the movie’s detractors, who said that the use of the song indicated a misunderstanding of the original manga’s meaning.
“People who know flower language will be able to interpret each one’s message and that’s great, but I made it so that even if you don’t you can feel something because of the shot’s layout or the flower’s color. I’m happy to let that audience have their own interpretation.”
–A Silent Voice director Naoko Yamada on the usage of flowers in her film