WONDER EGG PRIORITY: MISUNDERSTANDING TRAUMA AND GENDER

 


๐Ÿฅš PREMISE

Like many, I got interested in this anime because of Takahashi Saki’s beautiful character designs and gorgeous animation by Clowerworks, shown in trailers and in the sweet, very romantic opening.


The production quality of this show is, frankly, incredible. The attention to details, the use of colours and the camera work to convey specific emotions – without using the crutch of the score–, feels reminiscent of old school Anno cinematography.


It began seemingly with some interesting characters, on a surface level, since they are attempting to say something concrete. Later, I will explain why I am stressing the surface here.


What I wrote is based on watching the complete series (12 episodes) in Japanese with Japanese subtitles and later checking every episode in its English official subtitled release. My opinion will not change upon seeing the to-be-released actual last episode in July of 2021. 


Spoilers are present, for this is a full review of Wonder Egg Priority.


THE PLOT

I am not an anime neophyte, so if someone was to tell me the plot of the show consists of girls buying eggs, making these hatch into other girls who had previously committed suicide and protect them from the fury of little gremlins with knives and the personification (or rather, monster-ification) of their traumas, all the while being in a dream world—well, I would reply with “have you ever watched Kaiba?”. It is an odd premise, but not one that I immediately shun away if I knew it wanted to tell me something.

So I gave in and watched it. We dive deeper into the plot: every “hatched” girl seems to have different traumas related to a specific societal issue. The design of every monster the four protagonists— Ai, Neiru, Rika and Momoe—  have to fight grotesquely reminds us of that, even though the choice of making traumas look quite cartoony is… particular.

Among all these "egg-girls" we can recognise various themes. For example a victim of teacher-student bullying, a topic that is felt rather strongly in Japan, or idol super-fans who enthusiastically followed their favourite into death (a victim of a sasaeng fan [kr.], a stalker). We even have girls whose primary fear is ageing, others that fight mental illnesses and some that believed in cult-like quacks. There is even a trans boy, who we will address later.

The anime seemed direct and concise in what it wanted to show us: exploring society, its girls and how they get scarred by pressure, labels and expectations.

But as the story unravels, we move further and further away from that simple premise, leaving these traumas as an insipid and shallow excuse to build onto a more classical “There is something shady going on (but it is not society ๐Ÿ˜”)”.

So we never get any, and I mean any, critique on the topics I have just extensively listed. There is no in-depth understanding of these problems. No conscience that they should be fought. The anime does not even pause for a moment to analyze what their cause might even be. They are just accepted at face value. No further question needed, sensei!

This is a cheap trick many anime employ to avoid getting "too real". This surface-level pointing at several issues just so that they can be used as a blank canvas to craft complicated, bloated otherworldly plots. But only if you add a little bit of that real-life spice to it. Not too much, though,  otherwise, you might actually write something interesting.

It is fun if we are not dealing with traumas and young girls. At which point I feel like it has just become exploitative, seeing it as a former girl with traumas and now a guy with traumas. Such handling of these issues reflects the author's lack of interest in taking the time and effort to talk to girls and understand their experiences. What a pity.

It also serves no actual purpose in the narrative if these themes exist without any analysis accompanying them, leaving us with the idea that the show does not take them seriously.

Also, the writer had two problems on his hands: the pace and the narrative, both equally mistreated. With only 11 episodes (one is left for a recap, which was hurriedly put together because the animation producer, Umehara Shลta, was hospitalized twice due to overworking), they are trying to manage four different characters, many, many one-episode characters and two recurring mannequins, which I had referred to on my note as weirdly sexist.

By episode nine, we see all the cracks in the mirror. A completely different plot is laid in front of us and treated as “oh well, whatever that is!” by the main characters.

 

THE PLOT, 2

In episode nine, we feel less in front of an incredible plot twist and more as someone had suddenly steered the wheel of the car to change the route. Abruptly, with no apparent meaning and no previous warning.

This second plot is pure devastation of whatever thin line was holding the other episodes together. Among all the weird nonsense that WEP fishes out of its hat, we discover that Neiru is part of a test-tube-baby project.

She is a “government-owned child” of the sort, with apparently no human rights, no parents and no relationships besides another test-tube-baby friend of hers. This discovery immediately disrupts the logical assumption that the viewer was watching a reflection of our world in the story, with just some magical stuff in it. Every day Japan but with metaphors.

The other three protagonists' reaction to the news is honestly baffling, just a very standard “oh ok”. Ai is more shocked when she is told that Neiru is the president of a company at the age of 14, more than witnessing Neiru having her test-tube-friend resting in a coma in her bedroom, only saying「ไบบใŒๅ…ฅใฃใฆใ‚‹」"There's a person in there".

Look, my best friend is in a coma! (Episode 9)

Then we get to Frill. The “Frill arc”, as I call it, begins when we suddenly have some of the classical majokko-inspired pets the girls had been using to fight, getting cruelly murdered and eaten by insect-like girls. 

I got whiplash, remembering that branch of “for girls in aesthetic but for men in meaning” stupid ass anime that came in full force after Madoka’s release as if people had woken up, thinking that “anime for girls” could be deep if written by edgy men. That it could be legitimised. 

The scenes serve no real plot relevance, besides making us feel queasy, I guess.

Frill is the cause that ultimately forces girls to commit suicide. Frill is an artificial AI, created years prior by the two weirdly sexist mannequins when they still were weirdly sexist humans. Here I am, wondering if there might be a hint of the “misogynistic gay” trope in their depiction, seeing how Acca and Ura-Acca are very much written and played as a gay couple.

This is an explicit metaphor of two men creating a child and raising her as their daughter. It is not a question of "they never said they were gay". Textually, they make us believe - like in all anime - that these two men living together in close contact and having a family, a house and an everyday relationship with one another, are straight. Subtextually, that is a clear example of a homo-parental family.


Family! (episode 11)

Anyway, when I say they are weirdly sexist, I say this going after some sentences that are thrown out there, like ็”ทใฏ็›ฎ็š„่„ณ、ๅฅณใฏๆ„Ÿๆƒ…่„ณ。」“A male’s brain is goal-oriented, a female’s brain is emotion-oriented.”  or 「ๅˆถๅพกใงใใชใ„ใ‚‚ใฎใ“ใๅฅณๆ€งใฎๅฎšๆ€งใ ใจ。」“A trait specific to womanhood is being uncontrollable”, which some translations padded them a little. 

Both of them fight over a woman at some point, but they rise Frill as their own daughter, learning from them how to be a “girl”, meaning she is jealous of other “girls” and she is possessive of her “men” (parental figures).

She learns from her misogynistic parents, seeing how these two men “are not good judges on women” (quote), blatantly seen during Acca’s wedding scene, where Frill asks Ura-Acca to make her a friend, but his reply is a dry “Don’t you want a boyfriend?”. No, dear, she just wants a friend.

The problem here is that the framing of the "Frill arc" is trying to underline how Frill is, quite literally, a disgusting non-human freak: she murders Acca’s pregnant wife in a fit of jealousy. The show does not point the finger at the nurture vs nature dilemma but follows a weird human vs artificial one. Making us see how Frill's upbringing shaped her relationship with her own assigned gender and whoever identified as a woman was out of question.

She is a product of two warped men who immediately, immediately resort to physical violence against a girl, who indeed looks like a normal 14 years old. In a fit of rage, Acca throws her in the basement and lets her rot down there for years, without qualms. No remorse. No emotions. You see, she was artificial, she deserves it.

Such an immediate 180° change in inflicting physical pain to Frill is hard to stomach, both in a narrative and structural sense. It is framed as the normal response because Frill is a deviated non-human anomaly—that somehow we should have all realised via one single hint, in one single scene, but that both men carelessly ignored.


「็—›ใ„ใฃ」 "That hurts!" (episode 11)

An AI like Frill would have no control over what information she is fed, or even on how she is supposed to respond to them. In the scene where she is brought to life, she names herself, so we deduce she has a basic knowledge of how things are supposed to work: but who gave her that knowledge? Two sexist men. Do you see my problem?

She is like a child: a sponge that receives tons of inputs without further scrutiny besides what her parents taught her. This is why framing matters.

I, the viewer, am supposed to root for Acca as he punches and kicks a girl he raised as his daughter, stripping her of humanity, reducing her to a jealous doll whose hair you can rip and harshly throw in a coffin-lookalike full of screens and wires. It doesn't mean other viewers weren't condemning Acca's actions, but the framing makes it impossible for us to empathise with Frill.


「ใŠ้ก˜ใ„! ๆš—ใ„ใฎใฏๅซŒ! ๆ€–ใ„ใฎใฏๅซŒ!」"Please, I don't like the dark! It's scary!"
(episode 11)

Anyway, do you remember our protagonists? No? Well, me neither.

For a whole episode, we stalk these two men attempting at parenting, but I suspect that by virtue of being two men they absolutely cannot be good parents, for plot reasons, you see.

However, we remember the deceased pregnant wife: her child survived her, Himari. So, now the not-gay and extremely heterosexual "Acca/Ura-Acca duo" has a new, human daughter.  

Himari seems to have a regular, happy childhood, with her two not in a homosexual relationship "dad" and "uncle". She is intelligent, friendly and a good kid all around, so we are lulled into a false sense of 'so men can rise a child' mentality. 


「ใใ—ใŸใ‚‰็ตๅฉšใ—ใฆใ‚ใ’ใฆใ‚‚ใ„ใ„ใ‚ˆ」"Then, I'll marry you." (episode 11)
 

And yet, when Himari turns thirteen or fourteen (she is a second year in middle school), she attempts flirting with Ura-Acca. This scene is not framed as uncomfortable. Ura-Acca is just surprised by this, he does not shoot it down. He simply tells her not to be "so precocious". 

His reaction is of an embarrassed man-baby, hit on by a fourteen-year-old girl, telling him that since she looks like her mother and she knows he had had a crush on her, he should wait for her to grow up.

Perfectly healthy.

We are just supposed to look at this scene and think… what, exactly? It is not played as twisted or weird, Ura-Acca’s reactions are not what a 40+ years old supposed “parental figure” should be. This scene comes right before the one where Himari commits suicide, quite suddenly and with no warning. 

We later find out that it was not society pushing girls to suicide. It was Frill all along.

Let's all remember 13 years had passed since the AI was segregated alone in a basement. There is no explanation on how she connected online (?) and how she was forcing girls and women to kill themselves, but we understand that it is because she is jealous of her men, she is envious of other girls.

Ura-Acca goes to the basement to scream at her some more before making her (still sentient with pain receptors active) burn.

Who paid your electric bill anyway? (episode 11)

We are supposed to relate to these men. Whatever this whole charade meant, it left us with nothing.

The last episode reminds us the four protagonists exist. Better said, Ai is the one that exists. Nothing feels fulfilled. By the end of episode 12, you are tired of trying to patch together a plot that does not hold itself together.

Many do not seem to realize that the viewer is not supposed to make absurd conjectures and what-if scenarios to link things together. Some works are just badly written. This is an example. 

And sometimes, you must make your intents clear—leaving everything to the viewer’s interpretation is shoddy and used to avoid confronting the fact that the story has gaping holes filled with cool sakuga. If themes are strong enough, they will float on the surface, even if the plot makes no sense. 

Sadly, WEP fails at both.


 ๐Ÿฅš CHARACTERS

ลŒTO AI (AND NAGASE KOITO) (AND HER TEACHER)

Ai's introduction to us sets the tone for what we expect the story to be about. Trauma. She is a shut-in, bullied because of her heterochromia and general shyness. 

Her homeroom teacher bids her weekly visits to encourage her to come back to school—and when we learn one of the reasons she refuses to go back, her decision is pretty understandable.

Her trauma stems from her only friend committing suicide, whose body is neutrally shown to us with an interesting bird-eye shot as if we were looking through Ai's eyes.

Nagase Koito is the girl who jumped off the school’s balcony. She had me thinking her character would fill more prominent shoes in the story and yet, most of her interactions with both us and Ai happen in the background, far away from any attachment we could create with her. Her image is kind of nebulous. 

Koito is introduced (episode 1)

Her relationship with Ai hints of latent homosexuality that we are not supposed to formally address in the story since it is never brought up, but it is clearly there. Another sign that we are piling themes up without deciding what to do with them.

Ai, on the other hand, begins quite strongly as a relatable 14-year-old but she never sticks the landing. Even though we look at her and see this sweet yet resolute side contrasting another deep, scarred side, we never manage to get into her head. The rushed pace does not want us to. So she is the face of the anime, kind of an empty husk of unfulfilled potential.

The last episode left a particularly sour taste in my mouth—the idea of Ai having a crush on her homeroom teacher would be fine if throughout the series we had not seen a constant barrage of accusations of paedophilia towards him. It reminded me of the Danish movie Jagten (2012, directed by Thomas Vinterberg). He is accused with no resolution, even though he has been canonly dating Ai's mother. 

The framing, as usual, made him look shady enough (the portrait scene), but, yet again, we are hanging on a question, the mystery of whatever happened between him and Koito.


Said portrait scene (episode 10)


What happened to Koito? Why did she kill herself?

This is the big “side story”, added upon the two other main plots, even though at first this mystery seemed to be our main goal

So, when the anime dumps us into this “Did he? Didn’t he?” type of narrative, we are left wondering what function this has. What does it mean? I asked myself, not in any metaphorical or symbolical sense, but in a what the hell does this actually mean way.

Ai, in the last episode, meets another version of herself. This Ai did commit suicide due to constant bullying and because she had never met Koito. The reading of this part would be a very compelling plot point, if the story was not already in the middle of handling, as I said, two main plots, three other subplots and various types of subtextual plots.

Our dive through Ai's problems inadvertently makes it even clearer how it should have been a one-character story. We should have seen more of Ai's inner struggles, her relationship with her mother, her juvenile crush for her teacher, her friendship with Koito, loneliness, bullying.


Ai and Ai (episode 12)

The last episode just shows how the general pace was non-existent, or at least very poorly managed, leaving us disappointed and not expecting much from the “actual last episode”.

AONUMA NEIRU (AND AWANO KOTOBUKI)

I have already mentioned almost all that is to Neiru's character.

My first impression was of praise as her design seemed to be implying her being a haafu (Japanese person with mixed ethnicity). Well, technically she is but she is also the only one who is barely introduced as having human emotions, being extremely distant and awkward during social interactions.  

Neiru has some genuine character development throughout the series, though, as she opens up more and more towards the other girls, symbolically shown through her hair. First tied up in a tight braid, then leaving her hair free of any constrictions. 


From episode 10

The story introduces us to the concept of Neiru being "a test-tube baby", as I have already mentioned, which is… again, interesting, if not straight up malicious. After all, Neiru is the only half-black character of the cast, besides her secretary (who the story hinted as also being a shady figure herself).

I do not want to imply this choice was made on purpose, but this also shows, yet again, how little care the writing staff has about the stories they are trying to tell. I would not have complained (too much) if this anime's premise was not showing me current-day Japan and its problems.

Anyway, Neiru introduces us to Kotobuki, another child prodigy and a professor, an expert on death and near-death experiences. During an experiment, she got too close to death and never managed to pull back, basically condemning her into a vegetative state, virtually brain dead. 

Neiru manages to meet Kotobuki in one of the egg-dreams and, after giving us a very weird statement of "scientists who don't believe in (a) god are incompetent", we finally see her having a full range of emotions (smiling, crying). Such a reaction is probably because Kotobuki had been the only one that understood Neiru, both of them "not [being] children of (a) god" (?). 


From Episode 9

Kotobuki tells Neiru to keep her body away from the government, as she hates the idea of being touched by adults. The character of Kotobuki portrays her own trauma as nothing of importance, giving us a lot of mixed signals. Her cartoonish monster is supposed to depict a rival scientist, an adult who wanted to study her (dead) body and yet Kotobuki's reaction is「ใ“ใ‚ŒใŒ็งใฎใƒˆใƒฉใ‚ฆใƒžใ‹。็ขบใ‹ใซใ“ใ„ใคใซใ ใ‘ใฏ่งฃๅ‰–ใ•ใ‚ŒใŸใใชใ‹ใฃใŸ」"So this is my trauma, uh. Well, it's true I didn't want this guy to dissect my body".

Kotobuki, then, asks Neiru to let her die and plug her off the machine. Seeing how Neiru wants to close that chapter of her life, she accepts. As soon as she just hovers a trembling finger on the 'shut off' button, she is met with extreme aversion from the rest of the cast. 

Momoe tells her she "might regret it" as if respecting Kotobuki's wishes was up to debate. She was not going to get back up and walk as if nothing had happened since Kotobuki is, quite literally, brain-dead. We all know that. That was just fanfare and drama to have the girls fight over something that seemed important, painting Neiru, again, as a straight and emotionless person.

In the end, Ai and Neiru end up fulfilling Kotobuki's desire to die.


(Episode 9)

Neiru is not a bad character; she just is, much like Ai, unfulfilled. Her behaviour reminds me of a half baked Ayanami. She had the potential for a real character arc, but we ultimately only see her as overly complicated.

KAWAI RIKA

Rika is probably the most problematic, so to speak, but also the most interesting. She seems the perfect poster child for someone brought up in a misogynistic society who has internalised weird concepts about gender, womanhood and female agency.

I like her since she probably is the most purposeful character for such a story. 

From episode 7

Rika has had contacts with the idol world from an early age, which warped her sense of beauty, seeing fat as ugly and worthy of being condemned, a constant plague of every contemporary society. The girl Rika wants to save is Chiemi (also nicknamed ใŠ่ฒกๅธƒใกใ‚ƒใ‚“ "little wallet" by her), one of her fans, who also happens to be overweight. 

Chiemi kept supporting Rika's idol career by buying her merchandise and the sort until Rika found out Chiemi shoplifts. That reveals that the girl had problems of her own, building on hyperfixations to a fault. Rika told Chiemi she was fat and ugly, demanding her to never show up to one of her concerts again. After a while, Rika learns that Chiemi commits suicide by starving herself.


「ๅ‹้”ใฃใฆใ„ใ†ใซใฏๆฅใšใ‹ใ—ใใชใ„?」"Having a friend like her would be so embarrassing." (episode 3)

Rika feels responsible for her death, but it is not clear if that is because, following the narrative, she is supposed to or because the character itself understood she showed a twisted behaviour. We see Rika self-harming, but we do not know if that is just because of the Chiemi accident or if she had been doing so beforehand.

Our cocky character has a lot of grudge against adult women, especially her mother, an alcoholic, who, in her youth (and presumably even when the story takes place) was quite the man-lover. Rika resents her mother, referring to her as "that woman (pejorative)". She believes her mother "abandoned" her father and not the other way around, even though Rika tells us her mother kept hinting she has never been happy since Rika's birth. 

We could see a thought-provoking approach to the idea of motherhood in Japan since many Japanese women do not want to get married anymore because marriage is still tightly connected to the traditional meaning of bearing children as the union's result. Carrying a child in Japan automatically (or almost) means putting a woman's career on pause more than in many other countries; there is still a lot of stigma on contraceptives and divorces. But of course, it is just something I immediately linked to the topic.

After all, Rika's father is a stranger she has no memory of, besides this pretty sexist sentence, "beautiful girls should never carry wallets". She is traumatised by the lack of a father in her life. Her mother played it out as a game, showing Rika five pictures of men: one among those might be her biological father.

From episode 7

Rika is the character that will make gender matter the most. People do things because they are men or women. Her bursts of anger are not because she has problems dealing with her emotions but because she is a woman. Ai's teacher is dating her mother to get predatory with Ai because he is a man

With Rika, we probably find the most genuine attempt at putting ourselves into the shoes of a girl who has to disentangle herself from the pressure of our current society, moving in these little boxes dived in only two opposite and almost antagonistic roles. She just does not understand! Same, Rika! I get you!


SAWAKI MOMOE

Momoe is what brought me to write this review.

I get the intention behind her character; I truly get it. Momoe might be the first glimpse at gender dysphoria for a lot of cis people. Except, to everyone who has had an extensive history of questioning their own assigned gender, her character feels disingenuous at best and like mockery at worst.

Momoe's troubled life stems from the fact that she is a cis girl, yet the world mostly reads her as a boy. Growing up and seeing one's own body changing while going through puberty and not recognising the person who stands there in the mirror is extremely common among teenagers, especially girls.


She's like Balto. (Episode 4)


But Momoe, by the assumption of her being cisgender, seems to behave as she was suffering from gender dysphoria. Her character, however, has shown many, many times to enjoy "girly" things, owning and wearing feminine clothes, actively wanting to be seen as a girl. A lot of fellow trans (and cis) viewers have read Momoe's character as a trans girl (mtf) narrative, pointing at various things: from her longing to do/get stereotypically feminine things, to her presumptuous "birth name" being Momotarล. Is she, though? I will explore this theory by explaining how the text relates to her.

First of all, as a note for everyone: there is a canon trans character in WEP. It is not Momoe. Not stating one of your main characters is trans but allowing a background character to be so is weak. It reinforces the idea that the author only wanted to add the gender-queerness of Momoe as a cool wink, without putting any explicit label on her by stating she is trans. Anyway, the character of Momoe is cis by the text and here is why.

Episode 4

Interestingly enough, the idea that her birth name might be Momotarล is pretty odd, considering such a first name is rare in Japan. It has been used, of course, and is used here and there for people, but it is a bit like naming your child "Dante" in Italy. There are people called like that, but it is not as common as one might think! 

That name was given to Momoe on our first meeting with her in episode 4, by one of the egg-girls. Our protagonist states her name clearly but the "egg girl" mishears the "-e" part, only registering "Momo". She then adds the common male name -tarล ad the end, quoting the also extremely famous Japanese folk story, Momotarล the peach boy. The girl is nicknaming Momoe, upon perceiving her as a boy. Momoe could correct this mistake anytime. 

Momoe will keep using this masculine nickname in the story, but it gets found out pretty quickly as just that, a nickname. It is not seen as a real name in the text.

Moving on, watching Momoe unchanged during her gender journey irked me since her character would just need to wear a bit of makeup and a colourful top to be taken as a girl. It is not questioning the life of a more masculine-presenting or butch cis girl. It is just confusing.

Episode 10

The second part on why Momoe is cis focuses on her meeting a trans boy in the dream world; his name is Kaoru. The rules of the dream world are clear: only people born female are allowed in. These are actual rules stated and reiterated in episode four by Neiru, who mistakes Momoe for a boy. If we include AMAB people (assigned male at birth) in the equation, then... where are they? Why have the girls not met any?

If only AFAB people (assigned female at birth) are allowed in the dream world, Momoe is cis. That is it. That is the text right there. 

Kaoru, the trans boy. You see, he is trans because he is also wearing the trans flag.
(episode 10)


On a side note, Kaoru is seen as a female by the narrative, making his character immediately invalidated but extremely easy to 'grasp' for cis people. I do not care for this "biologically x but born in the wrong body" or "biologically x but feels like y" narrative since it links back to how shallow the writer's understanding of transness is, underlining its poor writing and how out of touch it is.


Episode 10

And now that we know Momoe is cis... or do we? If we are not able to understand whether she is or not, can we really consider her a well-written character? Good representation? A representation of who, exactly? What is her character's intent? See, that is the problem is in leaving everything to the viewer's interpretations.

Changing topic, we enter the second problematic point of her character: the realm of Momoe gets entangled in a kind of homophobic ordeal

Haruka, a friend of hers and the one Momoe is fighting for, committed suicide after Momoe had rejected her advances. Haruka had pushed her boundaries a little too far by placing Momoe's hand on her chest and telling her to "touch her" before removing her clothes in front of Momoe. We see how that impacted our girl's relation with others (especially girls). 

Momoe, throughout the anime, seems to kind of give up on the concept of "being seen as a girl", mostly because Haruka was the only one that「ๅฅณใฎๅญใจใ—ใฆ่ฆ‹ใฆใใ‚ŒใŸ」"Saw me (Momoe) as a girl", feeling betrayed and hurt by her friend's actions.

 (Episode 4)

That is harassment, not an extreme case, but it is still obviously not consensual. It immediately rang to me as the predatory lesbian trope, extremely popular in yuri works and other media that deal with lesbian characters. Momoe does not seem interested in dating girls, which is perfectly valid in itself. However, the story wants us to relate to this feeling so much by making Momoe constantly uncomfortable with any new "egg girl".

Momoe's comfort zone is never taken into consideration: we see other girls being pushy towards her, especially those that are actually into girls or do not care about Momoe's gender (coding them as either lesbian or bi/pan girls). Such poor writing perpetuates the false idea that queer girls are bound to pursue their crushes or love interests in a predator-prey dichotomy, mirroring how (cis heterosexual) men are generally taught to behave.

Episode 8

At some point, Momoe is finally asked out by an older guy (there is nothing creepy here, he is just a couple of years older, I guess), but upon them meeting for a date, he dumps her. She wears normal feminine clothes for the occasion; he was gay and wanted to date a boy. 

Ten minutes of our time wasted on a scene that is there just for us to pity Momoe. The date does not feel organic, as, logically, they must have talked beforehand. I know Japanese allows people to hide gendered words, but this is straight-up absurd and contrived. These scenes' purpose is to show us that Momoe is straight. She wants to date a boy but gets rejected by... a gay guy? See, how unfair!

Look, Momoe. Honey. Even if your narrative were to be an mtf girl, you do not just come out on the day of your first date with a stranger you seemingly have not even talked to beforehand. However, by the end of the series, she does get a kiss by a boy... it is Kaoru. That is at least one positive thing I can get out of this mess. 

I understand the intentions of exploring gender were there, or maybe the writer felt so incredibly on par with lgbtq+ issues, so sure he was describing a trans girl narrative, but it fell flat. The world depicted in the anime does not validate Momoe as an mtf girl or Kaoru as an ftm boy. 

Episode 10

๐Ÿฅš GENDER AND TRAUMA

Much like I said in my analysis of the plot and the characters, WEP lacks a basic understanding of how to portray both gender issues and trauma, to an extent that almost feels insulting. 

Girls who have just entered high school and puberty live under different societal stress than boys. Cis girls live under different societal stress than trans girls, trans boys or non-binary kids. The way WEP tries to approach these problems with the eyes of an adult cis man, wanting to grasp the expectations society puts on girls without giving us any reason to question them, is frankly... bad.

It is not because "men can not write women" as a general rule, but because these narratives need to be thoroughly understood before dropping them into the script for a cool looking anime. Otherwise, as I mentioned before, it is exploitation.

WEP was not written with women or girls in mind, at least not as its primary audience. That audience is adult men or edgy boys that feel like they got what 'tis all 'bout.

The way gender is portrayed in the show is strange. Anyone who has been living as a girl for five minutes knows what is going on with these girls or how they address themselves, each other and the world they live in. However, I can not stop thinking about WEP being a ready-made meal for cis men, who seemingly have never thought about any of these issues. Expect better writing, cis men. Honestly, do not get spoonfed.

Trauma, on the other hand, seems to be coherently detailed. The first theme we get is 'bullying', which is widely understood by everyone to a certain extent. Except, the way the monsters' designs are attempting at personifying trauma is in poor taste. Not because I do not get that they are supposed to look odd, but because their designs seem to poke fun at the issues they represent. 

The style used is cartoony and exaggerated, almost distracting. It is ill-conceived and way too cryptic to define any references, meaning it is not a great character design choice, either. There are a couple of exceptions, like Kaoru's monster, Kendลbu Komon, whose nose is indeed a phallic symbol, or Sachiko, a female monster with tentacles instead of arms as she embodies the image of a stalker fan. 

Without addressing gender or trauma (caused by society) critically, the anime boldly takes the stance of pointing at them, but then chickens out to the more "vague plot of a big baddie doing all the evil things". By playing out this type of storytelling, the boys and men watching do not feel involved in the conversation. But they should, they must. Girls and women watching WEP might enjoy it, of course, but to some of them, the sour taste will linger in their mouths.

Or maybe they just want to enjoy this single anime that finally does not sexualize young girls and has very pretty animation.

๐Ÿฅš THE AUTHOR CONTROVERSY

Nojima Shinji, writer and creator of WEP, had his anime debut in 2021 but prior to this, he was mostly known for writing dramas, especially for the Japanese broadcasting network Fuji TV.

Not counting 2021, his most recent work was a 2019 yuri drama called "Yuri dano kan dano", also known as "Yuri or another". The English reviews on Mydramalist span from 1 to 4 points out of 10, which is really telling for his content. Nojima's writing in this drama is uncomfortable, offensive and disgusting. I can not defend it in any way.

The main character, Yuri, is constantly harassed by the other openly lesbian deuteragonist, Kairi. In the span of the first episode's twenty-five minutes run, Nojima manages to portray a woman being stalked as a funny gag, sexual harassment as no big deal if it is a woman doing it, showing a lesbian woman acting manic and frankly extremely, extremely creepy, perpetuating the idea that fat is ugly while sprinkling in some sexist boyfriend for Yuri. 

I wonder why it was even considered a yuri drama since the two protagonists do not get together by the end, but with the idea that being a lesbian is a "phase", that will end as soon as a woman finds just the right man.

I am quoting an equally disturbing interview Nojima released for TV Dogacchi:

ไปŠๅ›žใ“ใ‚“ใ‹ใ„ใฎไฝœใ•ใๅ“ใ•ใใฒใ‚“ใซใคใ„ใฆใฏ、ๅฅณๆ€งใ˜ใ‚‡ใ›ใ„ๅŒๅฃซใฉใ†ใ—ใฎๆ‹ๆ„›ใ‚Œใ‚“ใ‚ใ„ใ‚’ๆใˆใŒใใคใ‚‚ใ‚Šใฏๅ…จใพใฃใŸใใ‚ใ‚Šใพใ›ใ‚“ใงใ—ใŸ。้›ขๅฉšใ‚Šใ“ใ‚“ใ‚„ไป•ไบ‹ใ—ใ”ใจใงๅฟ™ใ„ใใŒใ—ใๅฝผๆฐใ‹ใ‚Œใ—ใ‚’ไฝœใ•ใใ‚‰ใชใ„ๅฅณๆ€งใ˜ใ‚‡ใ›ใ„ใŒๅข—ใตใˆใฆใ„ใ‚‹ไธญใชใ‹ใง、ๆœ€ๅพŒใ•ใ„ใ”ใซใฏๅฅณๆ€งใ˜ใ‚‡ใ›ใ„ๅŒๅฃซใฉใ†ใ—ใงไธ€็ท’ใ„ใฃใ—ใ‚‡ใซๆšฎใใ‚‰ใใ†ใชใฉ、็”ทใŠใจใ“ๅฅณใ ใ‚“ใ˜ใ‚‡ใฎ้–ขไฟ‚ใ‹ใ‚“ใ‘ใ„ใŒ้™็•Œใ’ใ‚“ใ‹ใ„ใซใใฆใ„ใ‚‹ใ‚ˆใ†ใซๆ„Ÿใ‹ใ‚“ใ˜ใพใ™。ๆœฌใปใ‚“่ณชใปใ‚“ใ—ใค็š„ใฆใใซใฏๅˆ†ใ‚ใ‹ใ‚Šๅˆใ‚ใˆใชใ„、็”Ÿใ„ใ็‰ฉใ‚‚ใฎใŒ้•ใกใŒใ†ใ‚‚ใฎใจใ„ใ‚‹ใ‚ˆใ‚Š、ๅˆ†ใ‚ใ‹ใ‚Šๅˆใ‚ใˆใ‚‹็จฎๆ—ใ—ใ‚…ใžใใจไธ€็ท’ใ„ใฃใ—ใ‚‡ใซใ„ใŸๆ–นใปใ†ใŒๆœ‰ๆ„็พฉใ‚†ใ†ใ„ใŽใ˜ใ‚ƒใชใ„ใ‹。ๅฅณๅญใ˜ใ‚‡ใ—ใŒใƒˆใ‚คใƒฌใซๆ‰‹ใฆใ‚’็น‹ใคใชใ„ใงใ„ใใ“ใจใฎๅปถ้•ทใˆใ‚“ใกใ‚‡ใ†ใงใ‚ใ‚Š、ใ‚คใ‚ค็”ทใŠใจใ“ใŒใ„ใŸใ‚‰ใฟใ‚“ใชใงๅ…ฑๆœ‰ใใ‚‡ใ†ใ‚†ใ†ใ™ใ‚‹ใใ‚‰ใ„ใ‚ใฃใฆใ‚‚ใ„ใ„ใ‚“ใ˜ใ‚ƒใชใ„ใ‹ใจๆ€ใŠใ‚‚ใ„ใพใ™」

"I did not want to write a romance between two women. The number of women who are busy with work or getting divorces is increasing and in the end, they will end up living with other women because of the barrier between them and men in understanding each other. Since they can not be fully understood [by men], wouldn't it be more useful to be surrounded with one's own [gender]? That is why women hold hands in the bathroom. I think it would be nice if they could even share the same good man."

But there is more! In 2009, Nojima wrote a two volumes manga series called "Sunu sumu muriku no koibito", drawn by Taamo and published by Shogakukan.

The story, once again, is filled to the brim with misunderstandings on various gender topics, related to both transness as a whole and the man/woman dichotomy. Many issues that appear in this manga recur in WEP: transness, being abandoned by parents, art teachers being creepers, dismissal of trauma, sexism related to gender, fatphobia.

Nono: "Nao-chan, this is a punishment. God is punishing me. I've mutilated the body God gave me.
I want to die. Nao-chan, please kill me." (note: Nono is using ๅƒ• boku, a male pronoun)
(chapter 5)


The manga's narrator is Naoki. The spotlight is on him, a cis man who speaks over someone else's story, Nozomi's, also known as Nono. She is a trans girl (mtf) whose narrative lacks empathy and shape. All the characters in this story will make decisions for Nono, whose character has no agency in either her life or body, framing her friends and family as the sole judges of what is best for her as a trans person.

Nono gets beaten up as a child after getting kidnapped and "mistaken" for a girl, her privacy gets disregarded multiple times. Then, she gets outed publically in her school and we readers should feel thankful for this!

She perceives herself as a "monster" and the narrator wants us to know that she is a "beautiful monster", though. Nono also gets almost molested by a teacher, attempts suicide and has a full-on break down after getting sex reassignment surgery (SRS) because she has "mutilated her body". The best part is that the narrator, who has lusted after Nono for the whole manga, has sex with her on the hospital bed she had been trying to recover at, completely disrupting her new genitals.

All these poorly handled "themes" I have just listed are only those following Nono's character, though, which means the rest of the cast is not safe either. There is a complete ignorance on how to address many if not all the topics this manga tries to introduce us, peaking in confusing bisexuality with transness.

"I'm bi." "Bi?" "Bisexual. It means I have the body of a woman and the mind of a man."
 "I have a friend who's the same, but the opposite. They are a boy but their mind  is of a girl's."
(Chapter 2)

I will not excuse any of this by saying "it was 2009" or something along those lines. This can not be excused. Admittedly, there was an attempt in telling a story about gender, but seeing how Nojima still addresses the question makes me believe his views have not evolved very much. WEP has also been accused of sexism for a specific scene but that is peppered everywhere in the narrative.

I am one of those people who seek to understand a work of fiction by getting to know the author and how they see the world; doing otherwise is just disingenuous to me. Understanding who the author of WEP is cleared a lot of the mist on several issues I have described in this post.

๐Ÿฅš CONCLUSIONS

So, we are concluding. This is a TL;DR part.

Did I like WEP? No, not really. 

Should you watch it? I am in no position to ever tell you to watch or not watch something. I can suggest you watch it and draw your own conclusions. Compare it to my views and write a comment about it! I would like to discuss other points of view or maybe something I missed.

Is it bad? It is a disappointment.

Is it worth it? I could say no, you are not missing out on the next generation Evangelion here. People are already forgetting about it, for a reason.

The score is all about the gorgeous animation as well as the effort these poor animators, voice actors, producers and staff put into completing this cracked egg. Except for you, Nojima.

 61/100

 

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