Convenient Monsters: The problem with Frill and Wonder Egg Priority’s take on trauma

By: Alex Henderson August 11, 20210 Comments
Seen from above, Frill lying in a coffin full of wires, lit by the blue screens around her head

Content Warning: Discussion of domestic abuse, sexual violence, sexual harassment, suicide

Spoilers for Wonder Egg Priority

Wonder Egg Priority is a series about society’s “monsters,” its early episodes intent on addressing the many all-too-real abuses and social pressures faced by teenage girls through a lens of dreamlike metaphor. As the story progresses, however, the script’s critique of predatory adults and systemic violence takes a sharp pivot. By the time the curtain falls, what Wonder Egg ends up suggesting is that the root of all evil is a single, vindictive individual: a rogue AI in the form of a young woman who is somehow encouraging girls to commit suicide. 

Just as the dreamscape Wonder Killers provide a convenient and killable representation of the issues that harm young people, the writers of the show invent a convenient “monster” and pin the blame for those very issues on her. As a result, a lot of the nuance in the series’ treatment of trauma and suicide is lost.

Before sci-fi genre conventions arrive to convolute things, Wonder Egg’s fantasy setup is fairly straightforward: buy an egg from a gacha machine. Go to sleep, and enter a dream world where that egg will hatch into a girl (or, in one case, a boy). Protect that “captured maiden” from the monsters that populate the dream. Defeat the Wonder Killer, the biggest monster of them all, the beastly creature that represents the person that drove the “captured maiden” to suicide.

With every victim you rescue, you get a little closer to saving a dead person of your choice—in protagonist Ai’s case it’s Koito, her only friend, who committed suicide for reasons that remain mysterious to Ai. Crack the egg, fight the monster, save the girl. It’s a pattern that Ai, and the other members of the main cast, fall easily into.

These battles present two sides of a teetering coin. On one hand, the Wonder Killers are as grotesque in concept as they are in character design. Is it in good taste, to create a monster-of-the-week format out of traumas that have driven young people to suicide? Many would argue it is not. However, the Wonder Killers also potentially represent a power fantasy: the fantasy of being able to fight, and defeat, the “monsters” that these young people don’t have the power to stand up to in the real world. The idea is cathartic, for the characters and by extension for the audience.

Wonder Egg Priority’s monsters are adults who have failed to protect children. Sometimes this stems from malicious compliance and wilful ignorance, as is implied in Ai’s very first dreamscape, where a cheery voice on the school P.A. system reminds good students to look away when they see someone being bullied. Often, though, there is direct violence involved. The next monster Ai fights is the mutation of a gymnastics coach who was physically and emotionally abusing her students under the pretence of “tough love.” No one stepped in to stop her. Until Ai, of course, who arrives to disrupt this power imbalance and strike down the monster with her trusty magical weapon.

Ai flees down a hallway from a group of tiny red-faced monsters wearing murderous grins and wielding knives

This is the fantasy that Ai is chasing when she dives into the world of the Wonder Eggs: this idea that complex, difficult problems like bullying, abuse, self-esteem issues brought on by societal expectations, and mental illness can be solved by a single and awesome act of heroism. So often the struggles of these teenaged victims were rendered invisible. By manifesting their abusers how their victims see them, it externalizes the power imbalance into something tangible, visible, and obviously negative. Most importantly, it manifests them as something obviously bad that can be fought head-on and defeated. 

But life has a nasty knack for being more complicated than that. Even early on, Wonder Egg begins to suggest that there is more to combating these problems than “crack the egg, save the girl.” Episode 3’s Wonder Killer is an obsessive idol fan, and while this fight and defeat is satisfying, the toxic industry that encouraged this individual to objectify and commodify the performers in the first place remains intact.

In Episode 4, egg warrior Momoe protects a girl named Miwa who was groped by one of her father’s co-workers. Her Wonder Killer manifests as a cartoonishly gross, spindly creature spouting sexist and victim-blaming rhetoric in a reedy voice. Momoe defeats the schlocky demon who represents Miwa’s attacker, but it feels like a hollow victory. Miwa quietly adds that her mother tried to silence her, told her she should simply put up with the repeated sexual abuse, even told her she was “lucky.”

Ai wrapped up in a monstrous tentacle. A voice from offscreen shouts "Stupid brats are just prey to adults!"

It’s clear that in the world outside there are many other power structures and social biases protecting powerful adults and silencing their young victims. Ai and her friends may be able to “save” the maidens in the dreamscape, but when they wake up the systemic issues that caused their trauma—misogyny, rape culture, victim-blaming, oppressive beauty standards, the list goes on—are still intact.

It’s a cycle of violence and tragedy, not helped by the egg system itself, which places the unfair onus on the kids to “save” their peers from these monsters while not doing anything to combat the problems that led to the captured maidens’ trauma and deaths in the first place. As the series progresses, it seems to be heading towards an interrogation of these deeper injustices. Episodes increasingly highlight the characters’ inner turmoil, how being a hero in the egg world is not solving their problems in the real one. Tension mounts continuously between Ai and her teacher, Mr. Sawaki, who may have had a hand in Koito’s death—a potential “monster” who, unfortunately, looks very human.

The series seems to be saying, “Look, these issues are complex because humans are complex, and there are complex power structures in place that let bad things happen. It’s not as simple as pointing all your wrath at a monstrous vision of an abuser, defeating them, and going home.”

It seems to be saying this… and then it introduces Frill.

Frill, a redhaired girl in a frilly white dress pulls back an orange blanket, fanning out around her head

Frill is an AI created by Acca and Ura-acca—the mannequin-like figures who run the Wonder Egg system—when they were still inhabiting their living, human bodies. According to Ura-acca, who recounts the tale of her creation and then destruction to Ai one night, Frill was built to be the perfect daughter. Yet she became a little too human, and struck out for bloodthirsty revenge when she felt she was being denied the love and attention of her creators. Even after the Accas locked Frill away in the depths of their basement, she was somehow able to influence the mind of their new daughter and drive her to suicide. 

They believe that Frill is responsible for the prevalence of suicide in teenaged girls, and have set up the Wonder Egg system to try and prove this and/or stop her. While the Accas do nod to “other factors” alongside Frill’s involvement—including their musings about how girls are more psychologically prone to suicide—these suggestions are essentially window dressing, and the narrative is content to lay the blame on Frill.

After the raw depictions of trauma response, the many complicated ways abuse can manifest, and the power imbalances built into society that leave adolescents open to be preyed upon… suddenly suggesting that what really drives girls to suicide is the psychic meddling of a rogue AI is a sharp shift in gears. Upon first watching Episode 11, when Frill is introduced, I held out assuming that this might be another metaphor. Another note about how it’s convenient and easy to reduce complex issues to a fight with a single being, but that ultimately, we should look deeper if we want to make real change.

Frill smiling, while Acca looks at her with concern

The Frankenstein-esque backstory is told by one of the creators, after all, and Frill’s perspective is missing from the narrative. Acca and Ura-acca are obtuse and morally ambiguous; it would not be unreasonable to presume they were placed deliberately as unreliable narrators to demonstrate yet another dangerous power imbalance between young people and adults. Right?

However, by the end of the series—all thirteen episodes—Ura-acca’s narrative about Frill being the root of all evil has not been disproven, or even really interrogated. Ai seems to take it at face value, and, given that Ai has been our view into this world so far, the audience is presumably meant to follow her lead. Frill’s insect-headed minions appear to torment and further traumatize the main characters, and Frill herself cameos one final time in the dreamworld, suggesting she does have a hand in this cycle of death and “captured maidens.” 

We’re meant to accept, then, as a worldbuilding truth, that suicidal ideation in teenagers is caused by the vengeful machinations of a robot.

What this presents is a double-punch of victim-blaming. Frill is clearly the recipient of abuse, with the series unflinchingly depicting Acca physically hurting her, shouting all the while that Frill is vindictive and terrible. The narrative sides and agrees with him, positioning Frill as a murderous mastermind whose evil minions are sent to hurt the protagonists. With Frill not granted a narrative voice and this story framed entirely through the Accas’ point of view, her own victimhood is glazed over. While this backstory potentially presents a space to explore the cycle of abuse, the series does not make time to examine Frill’s own trauma, positioning her as the source of everyone else’s and leaving it at that.

Frill lying in a divot in the floor, surrounded by wires and glowing computer screens. A grown man stands over her, looking down

Through the suggestion that suicide ideation is Frill’s fault, the abusive human adults—the ones who manifest as Wonder Killers, so plainly terrifying and ruinous—are absolved of their guilt. It was not their deliberate harm and endangerment of children that made this happen. It was not an insidious social structure of patriarchy, violence, and the devaluing of young voices. No, it was an evil girl-shaped robot. 

Frill almost becomes the Wonder Killer of the story itself. Just as Ai and her fellow egg warriors are told to focus on the fight with the scary monster and not address the deeper horrors that lurk beneath the surface, the audience is told to focus on Frill. A rogue AI is the real reason young people commit suicide. Pay no attention to the systemic violence and lack of mental health support behind the curtain.

The device of the Wonder Killers is schlocky, making a spectacle out of a serious topic. But that’s why it’s so potentially cathartic. The bombastic battles let these young characters have power and agency in ways they do not get to in their real lives. They get to show their anger and frustration at the hurtful, careless nature of adults, and have a voice where they are usually silenced. The pain and fear of the victim is validated, and they are positioned as someone worthy of protecting, in the most heroic, ridiculous, anime-fight-scene way possible. We know—and the characters know—that this is only a one-off representation of a bigger problem that can’t be slain with a single cool finishing move, and that’s why it’s great to lose ourselves in the moment and celebrate the victory and the closure that comes after.

Ai holds aloft a pen that glows with raws of light and cosmic energy above her head.

With the Frill reveal, however, it suddenly seems as if the writers of Wonder Egg Priority have started to believe the Accas’ marketing spiel, too. The abrupt introduction of this character, and her immediate scapegoating, pivots the series from its more nuanced depictions of mental health and trauma into a simple “us versus her” fight (a conflict that, as a bonus, is never resolved by the series’ end). With the way Frill is demonized—and the way that Koito is similarly dismissed as a troublesome temptress in Episode 13—I’m forced to question whether this series was ever really about granting agency to girls at all.

Again, it is Frill presented as the villain here, not her creators. The final scene of Episode 13 sees Ai running back into the garden and greeting them fondly, upbeat music playing in the background. Acca and Ura-acca are not positioned as the antagonists, nor critiqued. They maintain the biggest power imbalance of the series, pointing to a teenaged abuse victim as the root cause of all their problems, and apparently succeeding in getting everyone else on their side.

Closeup of Frill's face, smiling with a hint of mischief, as she lies in the dark cellar surrounded by screens

It’s a natural response to traumatic events to want to blame something, someone. It’s a normal impulse to want a tangible source of the problem so you can either destroy or fix it. But just as it’s more complex than that in life, writing stories about things like youth suicide demands complexity beyond such simplistic scapegoating.

After Wonder Egg Priority’s raw and emotional explorations of abuse and trauma, it feels deeply disingenuous to backpedal into the excuse that a vengeful AI is the real reason these children killed themselves. As with the idea of the Wonder Killers, I can understand the fantasy of having a single, monstrous being to blame. But for a story to tackle this topic with any degree of sincerity, it needs to grow and look beyond that fantasy. A discussion about the systemic violence against vulnerable young people cannot simply stay a spectacle about monsters and maidens.

We Need Your Help!

We’re dedicated to paying our contributors and staff members fairly for their work—but we can’t do it alone.

You can become a patron for as little as $1 a month, and every single penny goes to the people and services that keep Anime Feminist running. Please help us pay more people to make great content!

Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

%d bloggers like this: