“The color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline.”
-The Tale of the Heike
During her time at Kyoto Animation it was a truth universally acknowledged that any Naoko Yamada work must use flower language in some capacity. This remains true in her first work with Science Saru, an anime adaptation of the Japanese epic, Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike).
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.
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.
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 should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of Naoko Yamada that flowers and flower language have their place in her latest film: Liz and the Blue Bird. For Yamada, flowers take the place of things left unsaid when people are unable to express their feelings for each other due to a physical disability (A Silent Voice), mental illnesses or internal fear (also A Silent Voice), societal expectations (her episode of Violet Evergarden), or myriad other reasons. When important context goes unsaid, Yamada frequently turns to flower language to do the emotional heavy lifting.
Her usage of flowers in Liz and the Blue Bird has a defter touch than A Silent Voice and Violet Evergarden‘s camellia princess. Many things go unsaid or unspoken between leads Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki and Yamada wisely uses what unites them — music — to express most of them. Flowers create a secondary, background context, featured more prominently in the Liz and the Blue Bird storybook — used as another framing device for Mizore and Nozomi’s relationship — with a few flashes to real-life flowers at key moments between the two.