Wonder Egg Priority is rethinking Magical Girl characters unlike any anime

[Ed. note: This article contains general spoilers for Wonder Egg Priority. It also contains mentions of self-harm and suicide that may be unsuitable for some readers.]

Even among prominent follows up and adjustments, couple of anime series have actually stuck out from this winter more than the incredibly entitled Wonder Egg Concern. CloverWorks’ animation is extravagant, with regularly amazing designs and illustrations throughout its discussions and its battles. However under everything is an unusually dark core. The directness with which series director Shin Wakabayashi and author Shinji Nojima method uncomfortable subjects quickly sets Wonder Egg Concern apart from its Wonderful Woman anime predecessors.

In Wonder Egg Concern, 14-year-old Ai Ohto grieves after the suicide of her only good friend Koito, and goes into a dream world where she should battle to safeguard the spirits of dead ladies, housed within “Wonder Eggs.” To assist them discover peace, Ai needs to battle weird, cooking area knife-wielding satanic forces called “Seeno Evils” and bigger beasts called “Wonder Killers.” Ai has her own program: her unusual benefactors, strange mannequin males called Acca and Ura-Acca, guarantee to return Koito to life in exchange for her services. As Ai undertakes her objectives, she satisfies and befriends 3 other ladies doing the very same, for their own mainly obscured factors. That consists of Neiru, a taciturn and separated kid of wealth; Rika Kawai (“as in ‘kawaii’ because I’m so cute!”), a previous young idol whose obnoxiousness masks unmentioned discomfort; and most just recently Momoe, calm and positive in all locations other than when dealt with with preconception towards her androgynous look. Weekly, they purchase Marvel Eggs from magic gachapon devices and carry out objectives to conserve Egg ladies in their own unique dreamworlds.

As with other Wonderful Woman programs, a transcendent familiar grants access to capabilities that empower the ladies to improve the world, enact their firm, and feel ensured in themselves. Wonder Egg follows that custom in some locations however breaks from it in remarkable methods. On its face, the program is a mash-up of mental scary and coming-of-age drama, with clear impacts. From the start are detailed layers of visual language that remember the work of A Quiet Voice director Naoko Yamada (especially her usage of flower language) and the subjective, wonderful realist representation of truth that made Satoshi Kon a name. There’s even some Personality 5 in the method the program’s teens deal with the ethical failings of grownups.

Wonder Egg’s method right away turns the principle of the Wonderful Woman into something threatening; Ai’s “benefactors” alert in the extremely first episode that “the first one is free. The rest will cost you.” This is mainly actual as Ai needs to purchase each egg, though the other expenses are yet to be seen. That underlying concept that the very system in which the primary characters run (in this case, patriarchal and capitalist) is itself exploitative remembers both the well known Revolutionary Woman Utena and Kunihiko Ikuhara’s other program Mawaru Pengiundrum. One program that will enter your mind for numerous is Puella Magi Madoka Magica, another series that overturned the Wonderful Woman subgenre by revealing it through a more scary lens. For audiences of that program, the possibly Faustian deal in between Ai and her so-called benefactors need to right away trigger alarm bells. It stays to be seen how far Wonder Egg will go with those ramifications, however there are certainly bad vibes, as Acca and Ura-Acca see their life-and-death battles with callous detachment.

The ladies are given strength, though even in its more overtly wonderful woman minutes, the characters don’t change themselves even their understanding of the world. They imbue items with power instead of the other method around. Not that the trope of change is dated, however the ballerina-like glamour and grace of a Sailor Guardian isn’t totally befitting of Wonder Egg, in which a lead character who is bullied for her distinct look is finding out to be comfy with herself as is. It’s important that Ai battles while impersonated herself — it’s not another person’s power, however her own, from her point of view and willpower.

The series likewise foregrounds the ugliness of truth. It’s not slightly “about trauma” like some programs are content to be however really traces particular problems back to their systemic root in addition to the impulses that enhance them. In the show-stopping 3rd episode, “A Bare Knife,” the ladies that Ai and Rika need to safeguard are commentaries on the poisonous side of idol culture, Rika herself being both a victim of and complicit in the exploitation of girls browsing that area. It’s likewise the sadly uncommon anime to take unwanted sexual advances and attack seriously, dealing with intrusive actions as the petrifying risk that it is, instead of brushing it off as an unrefined joke. Wakabayashi and Nojima don’t pull punches, that makes it a tough program to advise generally — numerous will discover the program’s rather direct expedition of self-harm to be an overwhelming difficulty. However up until now, the program never ever sensationalizes such product, with mindful and frequently lyrical representation of the covert injuries born from prevalent, predatory cultural systems.

The trick is in the elegance of its presentation. While the program is often direct, it avoids exploitation even when the imagery is explicit, and does well to balance its contrasting material, linking charming comedy and tough social commentary. Wakabayashi and the other episode directors show restraint in the right moments, taking a necessarily oblique approach to its most difficult subjects. The heaviest details are shown through incidental reveals: Ai catches an accidental glimpse of another character’s scars, and her own experiences with bullying are revealed simply through the appearance of her dreamworld. The nuances of its naturalistic character acting are combined with smart juxtaposition that imbues objects and the world around them with emotional significance. In one scene, news of a great change in Ai’s life is timed to a rivetingly detailed cut of sukiyaki, a raw egg shattering as the space of her home becomes even more uncomfortable.

While Wonder Egg picks apart much of its thematic material through quiet and careful observation, it also does so through loud and spectacular action. Each episode culminates in cathartic, astonishing sequences that never ever lose sight of authorial intent, even as the animation becomes more playful and experimental. The third episode’s final, high-flying action sequence that borders on the abstract as Ai and Rika display the power of their mutual understanding, heroically leaping to the Egg Girls’ rescue. And while each girl retains their distinctive but down-to-earth character designs (courtesy of Saki Takahashi), there’s still Magical Girl transformation, just with things that Ai interacts with: Her favored pen transforms into a battle-ax; a gymnastics ribbon into a whip; penlights into small lightsabers. The show’s subjective visual approach to reality and the girls’ worldview also applies to Egg’s genre thrills.

The show uses bursts of action to expound collective rage at commonplace predatory behavior, as each of the aforementioned “Wonder Killers” has a clearer allegorical purpose. In other hands, this might feel too literal, so it’s a testament to Wonder Egg’s craft that it feels complex, with the action serving as an extension of each episode’s character study. “A Bare Knife” might be the most potent example, as episode director Yūki Yonemori’s uses what appears to be animation on the threes early in the episode, the juddery movement reflecting new character Rika’s disruptive personality. Conversely, in the fifth episode, Neiru’s big fight moves with the slickness of a spy thriller, her magic weapons based around distance and precision.

The drawings bringing these moments to life feel unparalleled in the consistency of their detail and quality. It’s all propelled by DE DE MOUSE and Mito’s bouncy, off-kilter electronic score that isn’t far off from that of Satoshi Kon collaborator Susumu Hirasawa. Such scenes assert themselves from their peers with surprisingly frank brutality, the violence specific and painfully real even in large-scale, earth-shattering brawls. While most of these battles are thrilling and fast-paced, the show’s horror roots reveal themselves every so often, like in the episode “Punch Drunk Day,” which finds terror and desperation in a close-quarters fight against an invisible enemy. The impact of the blows against Ai are painfully clear.

The combination of violent combat and traumatic backstory is anything but gratuitous. Wonder Girl Priority is extremely charming and funny in its portrayal of its main player’s quirks and how they compliment and clash — Rika’s persistent needling of her friends, Ai’s friendliness and idealism, Neiru’s straightforwardness, Momoe’s calmness. Their revolt against the yolk of abusive adults and even complicit peers is but one part of the journey, as each girl begins to break out of their shell and confront their isolation thanks to their newfound support system — something more empowering than any of their otherworldly abilities. The show’s approach to the Magical Girl subgenre is emblematic of the rest of its sometimes indescribable appeal, even with its influences worn plainly on its sleeves, Wonder Egg Priority has a slippery approach to genre and tone, remixing each element into something more than the sum of its parts.

This is an anime with the potential for all-timer status, though there’s a sense it could fall apart as writers continue to pick at incredibly uncomfortable product. It’s unknown whether Wakabayashi and company will stick the landing, but it’s rare that a series comes out of the gates as consistently exciting, challenging and gorgeously-animated as this. Wonder Egg Priority is like many things that came before, but ideal now, nothing else is like it.

New episodes of Wonder Egg Concern air each Tuesday on Funimation.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.