Wonder Egg Priority (WEP) has felt like the successor to Puella Magi Madoka Magica in many ways throughout its run, but in episode seven, it almost went full Madomagi by driving the stakes to their utmost height—to the death of one of the main characters. But as has been consistent with WEP, what it did instead, after some moments of true worry, is to instead deliver hope in the face of pain, resolve against overwhelming circumstances, and strength in weakness.
The series returns to Rika Kawai’s story in this episode, which starts with her turning 14. And on her 14th birthday, after leaving her hungover mother halfway asleep at the bar she works at and which they call home, Rika opens up to the rest of the girls, explaining that she doesn’t know her father (it could be any of five possibilities, or even more) and her mom won’t reveal any further information about him. As she trashes her mom, Neiru and Momoe are incredulous, which only drives Rika away from them. And though Ai goes to comfort her, Rika is in a terrible state of mind as she enters her next fight.
This was a difficult episode to watch. They’ve all been somewhat hard since the series never shies away from brutal and violent situations impacting young people, but I found myself squirming especially here as Rika’s cutting takes center stage. At one point, she decides to cut herself and it seems certain she will, before her turtle-like partner, Mannen, prevents it from happening.
Challenging, also, is how strained Rika’s relationship is with her mother, who’s life revolves around drink—alcohol both pays the bills and helps her forget how miserable her existence is. And in the midst of all the bad behavior in this episode—the usual Rika talk, her mom’s alcoholism and neglect, and the selfishness all around, one begins to feel deeply sorrowful for the Kawai women. Yes, Rika is often obnoxious, but her family life is in shambles, and she still exhibits goodness, including a curiously gentle relationship with Mannen. And Rika’s mother is a tragic figure, used by men and quite on the road to an early death, it would seem, unable to lift herself out of the gutter as she tries, in her own sloppy way, to protect and reach out to her daughter.
It’s in this hopelessness that Rika turns again to cutting, and then finds herself tempted by something even more dangerous. Her foe this time is a religious leader who led the egg, a follower who continues to believe in him, to commit suicide as a way of “connecting” with the universe (Heaven’s Gate, anyone?). Rika decries the ghoul as a charlatan, but is confronted with her own weakness when the egg shows her own scarred arm to Rika, revealing that she can tell that the latter cuts just like she did. And then she explains that Rika can be released from this pain.
The scars, evidence of what Rika does to cope with her pain, now become the weakness that they truly are, revealing how hopeless she feels, and how powerless she is against the mechanizations of her family life. And defeated, she’s about to allow herself to be killed when a surprising savior comes along—a turtle. Mannen attacks the spiritual leader, to Rika’s surprise as well, until she remembers that he has imprinted on her. Rika is Mannen’s mom, and as he did when he prevented her from cutting, Mannen is again protecting his mother.
The conclusion that Rika reaches is unusual but inspiring. She understands, in this moment, the need to protect one’s mom, finally admitting to herself in a de facto way that maybe her mother is in need of love, too. It’s funny to consider the need that mothers have for love since culturally and socially, they’re always seen as the providers of it. But of course, they need it in return, especially when they falter. My own mother is sick right now, and I think of the support I need to give her and the lack of that I’ve provided through the years.
My mother was a good one, however. Rika’s, on the other hand, has struggled with the charge, which reminds me of a story from one of my favorite books, The Ragamuffin Gospel, about another bad parent—a far worse one, in fact, and a real one. I’ll quote part of the passage from chapter seven:
“‘Our daughter Debbie wanted a pair of earth shoes for her Christmas present. On the afternoon of December 24, my husband drove her downtown, gave her sixty dollars, and told her to buy the best pair of shoes in the store. That is exactly what she did. When she climbed back into the pickup truck her father was driving, she kissed him on the cheek and told him he was the best daddy in the whole world. Max was preening himself like a peacock and decided to celebrate on the way home. He stopped at the Cork ‘n’ Bottle–that’s a tavern a few miles from our house and told Debbie he would be right out. It was a clear and extremely cold day, about twelve degrees above zero, so Max left the motor running and locked both doors from the outside so no one could get in. It was a little after three in the afternoon and…’
The sound of heavy breathing crossed the recreation room. Her voice grew faint. She was crying. ‘My husband met some old Army buddies in the tavern. Swept up in euphoria over the reunion, he lost track of time, purpose, and everything else. He came out of the Cork ‘n’ Bottle at midnight . He was drunk. The motor had stopped running and the car windows were frozen shut. Debbie was badly frostbitten on both ears and on her fingers. When we got her to the hospital, the doctors had to operate. They amputated the thumb and forefinger on her right hand. She will be deaf for the rest of her life.'”
Max—a real person, mind you—was a successful, well-liked man, but his drinking problem led to an unconscionable decision and profound failure as a parent. And yet, this book is about grace, an idea which to humans feels unjust, but which has the power to change hearts and tear down walls, sometimes literally.
Could Max be given grace? Could Rika’s mother? If not directly, she’s done her own physical damage to her daughter in the form of those cutting scars (difficult and perhaps triggering images below). As mentioned earlier, the egg that she’s helping knows her pain and insists that letting go of everything, including life itself, is the way to peace. After all, to a young, suffering girl, what else could these scars mean?
But in the midst of giving up, in the moment that she actually capitulates (and this episode takes you 99% to the edge, both in the cutting scene and in the apparent death scene), Rika experiences something powerful. She experiences grace.
Have you ever been challenged to forgive someone when you don’t want to, when you feel completely in the right? Maybe it’s easy for you, but perhaps it isn’t. The girls surrounding Rika experience differing degrees of this with her sometimes maniacal and often hurtful behavior. Ai forgives easily. Momoe gets fired up and then equally seeks to make peace. And Neiru…well, Neiru holds onto “justice” more than love (setting up what I imagine will be the most powerful transformation in the series of all, in true Homura fashion). But in the moment that Rika is about to give her life, the girls yell out their love for her, even Neiru, and then more profoundly, without any hesitation, Mannen puts his own life on the line to stop the death from occurring. Rika has already given up, but this turtle hasn’t—not for his mother, whom he loves very much.
And experiencing that love from a different angle, Rika is changed just a bit. She begins to see her weakness as a “mother,” failing her turtle-child, and thinks of her own mom who is overwhelmed by hurt and a failure as well. And if just a little—for as the final scenes indicate, it is just a little—the path toward forgiveness begins.
But a little bit of grace is like a little bit of a flood—its power overwhelms, and it defeats the enemy, whether that means bitterness, a physical person (or manifestation of one), or the devil himself.
When Rika returns from the event, having killed the cult leader monster, it’s interesting to note that she isn’t a wholly different person. She’s changing little by little. And her scars remain. In fact, as she admits, she probably will cut herself again. But strangely enough, those scars now represent something different. They show someone trying—failing, yes, sometimes considerably and maybe very often—but trying, and only able to try because love was shown her, and through that, she is now able to show love as well.
You may have such scars in your life, physical or emotional, battered by the world and by people. I hope that you can develop relationships that help you heal as well, and that you’ll also remember that there are other scars which are meaningful to you, but which you cannot see on your person, scars that were borne out of a desire to heal you. Christ took the piercings, on his head, hands, feet, and side, so that while your heart and flesh may be cut, your soul need not be. And through his wounds, you may be healed.
The grace offered through Christ is one that, as he explains about everlasting water at the well to the Samaritan, for now and through eternity. The egg seeks peace forever by dying, but Jesus, unlike the cult leader, died for us so that we may not have to. He took the nails, the cross, and the spear so that we don’t have to inflict pain on ourselves and receive the punishment of our actions against him and others. He is our scar.
That’s grace. That’s the power that it has. And it can reach anyone—even a terrible dad, an alcoholic mom, a tempestuous child, and, and most significantly and personally—you.
If you’re suffering and in pain, maybe self-inflicted, we encourage you to explain such to a parent or trusted adult and ask for help. It’s a difficult first step, but one that will help you begin recovering. And we also advise that you turn to Christ for help—in prayer, community, and scripture. He provides people to us that will aid us in our times of need, as well as himself and the Holy Spirit if we are believers.
Additionally, there’s a scene in this episode where triumphant, Rika concludes that cutting is okay. That’s said in the context of her moving forward bit by bit and forgiving herself for her failures, even the upcoming ones. That’s an important lesson, though we must certainly be careful not to let it be a license to continue cutting with impunity.
Wonder Egg Priority can be streamed through Funimation.