Note: This article contains discussion of suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
When Wonder Egg Priority was first announced last year, most attention went to its title, which undeniably is odd in a specific way that really catches the ear. Early trailers were sparse on much plot information. The (wholly incorrect) impression I got from the initial promotional materials was that this would be a youth drama of some kind, something in the vein of A Place Further Than The Universe or O Maidens In Your Savage Season. What Wonder Egg Priority actually is is still something of an open question, as we’ll get to. But its first episode “The Domain of Children” is perhaps the strongest original anime debut since Flip Flappers some five years ago. Wonder Egg is also similar to that series in some other ways, but we’ll get to that.
I normally like to kick off this sort of thing by explaining, broadly, what the series is about. That’s a bit hard for Wonder Egg Priority, so let’s instead tackle another aspect; the visuals. Wonder Egg Priority is the best-looking anime of the young year, and it has virtually no competition. CloverWorks make good-looking shows in general, but their collective talent pool has never done anything quite like this before.
The series’ backgrounds are rendered in hauntingly liminal laser-precision by what simply must be a crack CGI team. In the coming days you will probably see someone say that Wonder Egg Priority is denpa. There are a lot of reasons that this is true, but one is its recontextualization of a school building as a place of terror. Other anime have done this, but it’s been ages since I’ve seen it done so effectively. Every internal shot of the school looks like it’s had the air sucked out of it. Faceless figures stalk the hallways. When they attack, the windows are framed in paint-like blood.
Its characters are brought to vibrant life through gel-pen-esque digi-paint. Every single one shines. Main character Ai Ohto is the greatest triumph so far here; her oilslick hair, distinctive heterochromia (actually a plot point!), and yolk-yellow hoodie evoke the image of a cracked-open egg or a newborn chick depending on how she wears the hood. A cutesy nod to the show’s title and a nice bit of symbolism all in one.
All this is a flowery way of saying Wonder Egg Priority looks amazing. I found myself absentmindedly tapping my “save frame as screenshot” key every few seconds. It is very rare that almost any given still from an episode could make a compelling screengrab, but it’s true here.
Four paragraphs about the looks and nary a hint of what the show’s actual subject matter is. As mentioned, explaining what happens in the first episode of Wonder Egg Priority is a bit difficult. The episode makes fairly heavy use of non-chronological order, and it becomes clear about a third of the way through that we’re dealing with a “real world / mental world” sort of divide. (Or at least something similar.)
The gist though is this; Ai is a hikkikimori. Why? It’s not directly spelled out for us, but we’re shown here that her only friend, a girl named Koito Nagase, threw herself from the rooftop of Ai’s high school. Which, yes, means you can add Wonder Egg Priority to the long list of anime that have a suicide in the first episode. A sad reflection of a despiriting reality.
This heavy subject matter is contrasted by the series’ fantasy elements. Ai begins the show by coming into possession of a mysterious, titular “wonder egg”. The short version is that these allow her to enter….mental worlds? Afterlives? Other universes? It’s not totally clear, and rescue, or at least attempt to rescue, people from being pursued by mysterious, malevolent figures known as See-No-Evils. Ai’s only guidance here is offered by the apparent ghost of a beetle, a truly weird take on the “magical girl animal companion” trope if ever there was one. Towards the end of the episode, he implies but does not outright say that helping enough of these pursued people may somehow bring Nagase back.
The details matter less than the emotional force. Ai is able to break through her own apathy (“pretending not to see”, as she, and others, phrase it) to help the person she needs to help, even before doing so to bring back her late companion enters the equation. The episode’s climactic emotional moment is hard to put into words. Basically; she goes full Pretty Cure on the See-No-Evils. It’s just, you know, much more violent and surreal. The lingering trauma of Ai losing her only friend, her own frustration with herself for failing to prevent it, her determination to never let it happen again, it all builds up to a single, powerful thwack. It’s the single most viscerally satisfying moment I’ve seen in an anime in ages.
And thus does the first episode of this denpa-action-mystery-fantasy-magical-girl??-thing come to a close.
Where does Wonder Egg Priority go from here? First episodes need to make a strong impression, and without a doubt this is the best I’ve seen so far this year. (With apologies to BACK ARROW, which must now settle for second place.) The simultaneous benefit and curse of having such a strong one is that now the expectations are sky-high.
Yet–and I of course could be wrong here–I just have a feeling about this one. While watching this episode I couldn’t help but tap on my desk excitedly, at the climactic scene above I whistled aloud, and my mind didn’t wander for even a second. Whether it will do all it strives to do is an open question, but we are unquestionably in for an absolutely wild twelve weeks. In the realm of anime, I can ask for nothing more.
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