Wonder Egg Priority, Episode 11: “The Temptation of Death”?

Wonder Egg Priority is a beautiful, uncomfortable, moving and confusing series that starts out engaging all the things we don’t talk about—self-harm, abuse, rape, bullying, gender dysphoria, and homosexuality, to name a few. Our silence and blindness to these issues have a weight and pressure to them, and WEP shows how this reinforces the isolation and hopelessness of the young women of the “eggs” who turn to suicide for relief. The first ten episodes have been exhilarating and exhausting alike.

And then there is Episode 11. This past week, the series took a bit of a turn, leaning hard into the sci-fi-philosophical, with appearances from Greek gods, a murderous artificial intelligence, and really, really disturbing insect girls, one of whom, despite being a brutal killer, is apparently a vegetarian. Has the show gone off the rails? Has it lost its way in departing from the familiar procedural approach of engaging a differing social or mental health issue with each episode?

Such a critique is perfectly legit, but before you write off the penultimate episode of WEP, just hear me out on why the abstract, meta turn in episode 11 may just be the most valuable thing this series has to offer so far.

Yes, this is a fantasy series, but it also speaks deeply to our reality, as hinted at by the opening credit sequence.

Before we begin though, a little recap of what we learned this week. In episode 10, we hear the eggheads, Acca and Ura-Acca, discuss the need for warriors of Eros to battle Thanatos. This is our first hint that things are about to get lore-full and maybe a bit weird. Eros and Thanatos are of course gods in the ancient Greek pantheon, Eros being the god of love, and Thanatos, of non-violent death. Within the first minute or so of episode 11, it’s clear that the eggheads’ hope is now focused on Ai becoming the long-awaited warrior. At this point though, rather than continuing with Ai’s story, the episode shifts into flashback mode and we are finally introduced to the villain, an artificial intelligence created by the eggheads back when they were still human. Their lives gradually come to revolve around her: She is the fulfillment of their obsession to create life, and she is good.

Frill is associated with hydrangeas, which symbolise heartlessness and pride in Japanese flower language. But is it her heartlessness and pride, or that of her makers?

(Atelier Emily has done an outstanding series of posts on the flowers in WEP. Check it out!)

Only, it turns out she doesn’t play so nice when others join the happy family. After killing Acca’s wife, and putting the life of the unborn baby at risk, the AI—who named herself Frill—is unrepentant, all traces of her seeming humanity now revealed to be illusory, a mere affectation. Acca locks her away in a hole in the cellar. Years pass. The baby, Himari, grows up and is a ray of sunshine. But after effectively confessing to her ‘uncle’ (why does anime always do this?), she commits suicide. Ura-Acca discovers that Frill is still very much alive and active from her hole in the cellar, having powered up all the discarded monitors and laid down reams of electrical cables—to what end, we do not yet know. Though Ura-Acca surmises that she has somehow influenced Himari to take her own life. How else would the girl have known about Ura-Acca’s admiration for her mother? Where else would she have learned to make what will forever be to me now that uncannily sinister popping sound?

Here’s where it gets weirder. Unlike the suicides of subsequent egg girls, there is no indication that Himari, Frill’s apparent first victim, struggled with any mental health or other issues that would motivate her to take her own life. Indeed, her ‘uncle’ did not even reject her confession. (Again anime, why you do this thing?) Instead, the eggheads explain Himari’s suicide as being on account of the “temptation of death.” What now? 

This is implying that death is somehow attractive, not just to someone facing overwhelming brokenness, trauma or pain, like the egg girls we’ve met so far, but to someone on the verge of stepping from a (relatively) happy childhood into young adulthood, with the promise of potential love to look forward to; someone who has not known suffering, but rather only smiles and cake. (To be fair, it is always possible that she experienced trauma in the womb, or was more deeply affected by her father’s sadness than Ura-Acca’s memories belie.)

That’s my question too, Ai.

The notion of death as somehow attractive or even beautiful is rather alien to Western culture. Certainly, there will always be some who romanticize death, à la star-crossed lovers (Shakespeare, I’m looking at you). But in general, Western culture views death as something ugly and frightening, something to avoid until it is staring you directly in the face, and even then, closing your eyes in denial is a perfectly reasonable response. Death is one of those things we don’t talk about. In my experience, Anglo-American culture is not very good at even mourning death. We lack the grieving rituals and observances of other cultures, and instead seek to confine death to the sealed, sanitized spaces of hospitals, care homes, and funeral parlors. We keep it shrouded tightly in silence. How could there ever be anything like the “temptation of death”? How could we ever consider death to be something desirable? Are the eggheads or CloverWorks simply aestheticising suicide and death here to make it sound deep and philosophical?

No, I don’t think that’s it. Instead, Acca and Ura-Acca are doing what all good researchers do—and indeed what all Christians, as believers in an unseen spiritual reality, are also called to do: They are looking more deeply into phenomena that seem, on the surface, to already be explained. The two idol fans were consumed with their obsession, so when their idol killed herself, they followed suit. The young woman whose identity was wrapped up in her own appearance ended her life to preserve her beauty. The abused gymnast saw no way out, no hope in ever living free from torment. Some explanations may be more sympathetic than others, but they all possess their own internal logic. Contemporary society is full of a vast array of pressures and stresses and each one, taken to breaking point, can result in death. Case closed. This might very well be our conclusion from the first ten episodes.

Only the case isn’t closed. Because there is a question that has pervaded every episode until now, but has remained unspoken: How is it that death could even become an option for the egg girls? Why does reaching a breaking point trigger suicide? What made death seem like a savior to these girls? This is the question that episode 11 tackles, in its own admittedly obscure way. The eggheads are focused on the underlying, deeper reality that unites all the eggs’ stories, as disparate as they are—the common thread, which is the idea that death is a release, a rescue, a beautiful ending, and as a result, it is tempting.

“But we wondered if there could be another push that drove them to suicide,” explains Ura-Acca.

This is a really important question for us to be asking. Because it’s not just these traumatized, vulnerable girls who fall for the seduction of death. We do, too.

Just ponder for a moment: Have you ever anticipated how wonderful it will be when, in heaven, you no longer struggle with that particular temptation? When your temper is no longer so short, when you’re not afraid of being hurt anymore? Or maybe you think about how one day, on those gold-paved streets, you won’t have to worry anymore. All your hard work coping and just keeping it together will finally pay off and you’ll cross that finish line and heave a sigh of relief, knowing that you made it in the end. Have you ever contemplated these kinds of things? I know I have.

But here’s the thing: When I expect my liberation to come only after I die and not right here, right now, then it is not Jesus who is my savior, but death. I am waiting for death to free me from temptation and sin and fear and brokenness, and usher me into eternal life. I make Thanatos my god. 

The temptation of death is not limited to the drastic act of suicide, but also permeates all the accusations and fears that inspire us to put off living the fullness of life in Christ here and now. It’s the temptation to believe that it is death that will ultimately solve the more difficult and painful problems in life.

Acca and Ura-Acca seek to create a love that suits their ideals, just to relieve their stress.

The source of this “temptation of death” in Wonder Egg Priority is Frill, the AI. That is, a man-made, artificial version of love—with ai meaning “love” in Japanese. According to Ura-Acca, they made her “just for fun,” as a way of dealing with the stress of their enclosed lives. They designed her to suit their preferences, to make it easier to love her and forget that she was artificial. In this sense, Frill is the fruit of their self-centeredness, her every characteristic designed to satisfy their own ideals of how a daughter and woman should be. And this artificial love born of selfishness brings death into their midst and beyond, spreading it through the horrendous deformities of girlhood that she in turn creates, in imitation of her fathers. (Only perhaps her creations are less deceptive than theirs, wearing their monstrosity plainly on the outside…) 

Frill’s creations. We’ve met Hyphen (right) and Dot (center), but who is that on the left? And is her name Morse??

To counter her destructive influence, Acca and Ura-Acca need true love, a genuine love. They need Ai, a messy, at times very weak human being, but one who nevertheless is willing to fight to live up to her name and maybe, just maybe, become a warrior of Eros. 

There is also a deep, underlying force at work in our world, one that connects all despair and the actions born of it. A wide range of social issues, traumas and mental health challenges can and do trigger suicide, but they do not explain it fully. The deeper reality is the existence of an enemy who seeks to manipulate us into believing our true savior can only be death, whether it is right away by our own hand, or more subtly, decades from now by natural causes. But this is a lie, and it is one that we can combat. Just as I’m sure we’ll see in the final episode that Ai is equipped to wage the coming battle in WEP, so too are we armed, here and now, with the power to overwhelm the enemy’s “temptation of death”—we possess already the words of life, given to us by our true savior.

Jesus began his ministry with a public announcement that he had come to heal heart wounds, comfort those in pain, fill broken lives with beauty, and wrap those in despair with reasons to praise like a warm protective blanket, so that they might celebrate with joy once again. He came to bring freedom to prisoners and captives alike, giving a fresh new life to those locked up because of deeds done wrong, and those punished and injured at the hands of others. He came to take the outcasts, the weak, the traumatized and broken and transform them into mighty oaks, clean and strong; into people with the vision and skill and compassion and fortitude to rebuild a broken world (Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 4:18),

He came to rewrite and restore our experience of life here on earth, and through us, to redeem our communities, cities, nations, and the world. God does not withhold the fullness of life from us until we finally make it to him in heaven. No, instead he moved heaven and earth to get right up close so that he could pour his own life out into us, even going so far as to breathe his very spirit into our hearts and bodies and minds. We don’t need to wait for death’s rescue—our hero has already come. But we do need to remind each other and ourselves of this truth pretty often, and let it work down deep into all the cracks and bruises in our souls until it strengthens all our weak spots.

In Deuteronomy 30:19, God tells the Israelites that he has given them the authority to choose between life and death. But he also tips the balances in their favor, urging them to choose life. In Jesus, he comes to tip the balances even further, making it possible for us to step into eternal life here and now, immediately and forever. So let’s do it. Each day, through each struggle we face. Let’s choose life and not death.

Warrior of love? And is Ai’s himawari (sunflower) related to Himari somehow?

Join me (in spirit) for the final episode on Tuesday to see Ai’s love triumph! (At least, I really really hope that’s what happens!)

Wonder Egg Priority can be streamed on Funimation.

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