Wonder Egg Priority is a 13 episode Winter 2021 anime written by Shinji Nojima and co-produced by Cloverworks & Aniplex.
What is the price of a free gift? That’s the question Wonder Egg Priority asks its audience from episode 1. When 14-year-old shut-in Ai Ohto finds a mysterious talking firefly who leads her to an abandoned arcade and the special capsule machine within, she’s told: “the first time is free. After that, bring your wallet; but don’t worry. You’ll like it, it has the thing you want.”
What Ai wants is a friend. We’re led to believe that Ai’s wish will be fulfilled by giving her a chance to bring Koito, the only friend she’s ever had, back to life through buying wonder eggs and defending the souls inside from monsters that not-so-subtly represent the trauma that led those individuals to take their own lives.
However, with the introduction of the other girls who are buying wonder eggs on a regular basis, Ai gains new friends, friends who are still alive. As they fight for the people they want to bring back by helping other lost souls deal with their trauma, the girls may end up facing their own in the process.
Wonder Egg Priority is stunningly beautiful, and constantly uses color and visual contrasts to convey tone, theme, and the emotional state of characters. For example, the dreamworld in which Ai protects the souls inside the wonder eggs, is gloomy and hostile, inhabited only by Ai herself, her current charge, and the monsters who threaten them, because that’s how Ai sees things, her, and the few people she cares about, against the world.
The real world, on the other hand, is not nearly as depressing, and not nearly as lonely, it’s not overly bright or overly gloomy, it just is, implying that while it may not be perfect, the world might not be as bad or as hostile as experience has led Ai to believe. Similarly, some character designs have bright, vibrant, color palettes, while others don’t. Taken together, this seems to convey that what makes the world bright and wonderful, or dank and depressing, are the people someone has around them, and at the end of the day, it all evens out.
Ai Ohto: Ai’s development is very realistic. She starts out not caring about anything, but she slowly begins to stand up for the souls in the wonder eggs, and eventually this starts to rebuild her self-worth and confidence. Eventually, she’s ready to stand up for herself.
Rika Kawai: With Rika, the audience goes in both directions, we peel back the layers, the reasons she is the way she is, but we also see her slowly change from there. At first, she comes off as this weird, selfish person; but then we learn that the person she’s trying to save died because of a misguided attempt at kindness on Rika’s part and how the guilt of that eats her up.
We also learn about her broken relationships with her parents, and there are also hints, though it’s never said explicitly, that she may have been assaulted in the past. Her selfishness is, for the most part, a facade. As the series goes on, her emotional walls start to fall and we start to see her showing concern for others in a way the Rika we met early on would not do.
Neiru Aonuma: Neiru is the first of the other wonder egg fighters Ai meets. Through her, we learn the physical cost of using the wonder eggs when Neiru puts herself in the hospital after trying to protect multiple souls at once. She wants to complete her wonder egg mission as soon as possible. We’re told that this is because the person she’s trying to save is her sister and that she feels responsible for “letting her die”. At first, Neiru seems cold and distant, admitting to Ai that if they became friends, she has no idea what that would be like, but she’s also the first one to warm up to Ai.
Momoe Sawaki: It’s implied that Momoe might be transgender, if so, they are a girl in a boy’s body since their appearance is kept pretty endogenous for most of the series with long, loose pants and an oversized sweater being their normal attire. At first, Momoe is very self-conscious about their appearance and gender identity but slowly becomes more confident. At one point they even accept an invitation for a date and put on a much more feminine outfit, wear makeup, put a bow in their hair, only to end up getting rejected because their date was under the impression they were a guy.
The story of Wonder Egg is all about a group of teenagers overcoming trauma and loss through fighting for others and being there for each other. At first, it’s just Ai, and in the first few episodes, we see a girl who doesn’t seem to have it in her to care about or express herself, a girl without any goals or preferences, we can tell she’s on the edge of giving up. Then, her first few battles in the Egg World ask her to confront the traumatic experiences of others who had suffered in some of the same ways, being bullied, pressured, and ignored, and for what seems like it’s more than likely the first time in a long time, Ai gets angry, Ai fights back, even if it’s not for herself.
That said, around episode 10, the story does take a dramatic shift from realistic drama and psychological horror, into sci-fi and human experimentation. In hindsight, there were hints of this within the first couple of episodes, but unless you already know it’s coming, it’s a stretch to make that leap.
Wonder Egg Priority deals with some pretty heavy topics that don’t always get the attention they deserve from other forms of media. These include bullying, teen suicide, sexual assault, and gender identity. For the most part, it handles these things with respect, realism, and nuance, giving them exactly the kind of mature take they deserve. For the most part. There are choices the show makes in the last few episodes that call the handling of these discussions within the show into question, I’ll cover that at the very end of this review. That way if you decide to watch the show, you can still go in blind about the plot if you choose to.
Wonder Egg Priority is not a binge and chill type of anime. This is an anime that a lot of people will see themselves in, and even if you don’t it’ll make you think. It’s an emotional roller coaster, but a very enjoyable one. However, it might actually prove to be too real and hit a little too close to home for some viewers. I would encourage those who are or have dealt with the issues Wonder Egg goes into, to evaluate whether seeing them on screen in this way is something they can handle.
What went wrong with the finale?
The finale was touted as a two-part special and was delayed, airing a few months behind episode 12 of the original Japanese dub (it has yet to drop in English dub at all). It hasn’t gone over well at all with fans, the main reason being the fact that it was delayed and because when it finally dropped, the first half of it consisted of a recap episode. Call me crazy but an anime this short shouldn’t need one recap episode and Wonder Egg has two.
I’ll start by saying that the animation is a feast for the eyes, the characters are compelling and likable, and I absolutely adore the opening song. However, ultimately, Wonder Egg Priority felt like an anime having an identity crisis, like the creators couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a psychological drama or a sci-fi so they made both and tried to cram them into one thirteen-episode season. The first half, episodes 1-8 are superb, and had the series stayed on that path it could’ve been one of the most nuanced and compelling anime I’ve ever seen.
I really appreciated the mature take with which it presented issues that aren’t talked about nearly enough in Japan or the US (mental illness, bullying, suicide, sexual assault, obsession, trauma, etc) but then it felt the need to taint that by creating a villain behind all these suicides and a backstory about murderous AI and the family drama between two scientists who I still can’t figure out if they’re supposed to be brothers or if they’re in love. In the end, I give the series a ⅗. The parts that are good are really good, and the parts that are bad, are really, really bad.
*SPOILERS START HERE!!!* Discussion of Episodes 10-13
In episode 10, the girls who have been buying wonder eggs a little longer than Ai start to finish what they started, the statues of the people they were trying to save disappear, and they are told that person has returned to life. They are then promptly greeted by a new enemy who resembles the monsters they fought before but appears to be on the stronger side, whose first action is to kill the animal protectors each girl was given midway through the series. For the duration of the episode, the only thing we know about these new foes is that they’re taking orders from someone else.
Episode 11 has Ura-Acca telling Ai the story of what led him and Aka to create the wonder eggs. In the interest of keeping the spoilers to a minimum, I’ll skip most of the story and only go into the parts that impact the girls’ story. The wonder eggs were created as an experiment in an effort to figure out “the temptation of death” the thing that pushes unhappy adolescent girls over the edge. Yes, you read that correctly, for all the intelligence and nuance of the first half of the series, the views these two scientists express about teen suicide are decidedly sexist, namely that boys are more goal-oriented in their reasons for doing so, and girls are more emotional and more easily manipulated. Yes, that is as wrong and infuriating as it sounds, and yes it does undermine a lot of the good the series had done in this regard in the first half of its run.
Episode 12 sort of redeems some of this, sort of, with Ai cracking a new wonder egg only to find an alternate version of herself inside. This Ai never met Koito, or the others, and thus never had any relief from the bullying she suffered. She died in Koito’s place, with her as the one who jumped off the building that day. The other Ai’s trauma is Mr. Sawaki. Our Ai has long suspected her guidance counselor of having a role in Koito’s death, and this appears to be correct because other Ai died the same way Koito did, implying that in a world in which Koito either doesn’t exist or never met Ai, Other Ai took Koito’s place in the course of events.