The third episode of Wonder Egg Priority is an amazing directorial debut, capable of modulating its delivery to adapt to a character protecting her wounds with a façade, but also of developing a language of touch to deliver subtler truths. So, who’s the prodigy behind it?
Yuki Yonemori’s talent never made any sense, to the point where people once wondered if he was even real. This isn’t hyperbolic praise of an artist I happen to like, I mean it quite literally; right after he was first credited as key animator and had some excellent sequences linked to his name, fans and even some industry folks pondered which talented veteran must have been hiding behind that new persona. It simply couldn’t be a complete newbie, with no public in-betweening credits to his name, already putting out such fully realized pieces of character animation. Or could it?
As it turns out, youngsters that talented do exist, and all it takes for them to prove it is a bold team managed by people with an eye for talent. People such as Shouta Umehara, whom you might know as Wonder Egg Priority’s animation producer; given that Yonemori’s industry debut was on Sansha Sanyou, Umehara’s first stunt in that role, and now he’s been given his first opportunity to direct and storyboard an episode under Umehara again, the relationship of mutual trust between the two couldn’t be more obvious. Yonemori had already followed him through various Dogakobo productions in 2016, but since Umehara was on his way out of the studio where he had made a name for himself, Yonemori embarked on an adventure of his own as a freelancer. He showed up in multiple projects that put an emphasis on character animation, be it with the delicacy of Yama no Susume or the liveliness of Little Witch Academia. His talent allowed him to immediately become a regular guest on this industry’s highest profile offerings.
So, what’s that talent like, then? Yonemori’s animation stands out for its impressive articulation, which makes it a natural fit for Wonder Egg Priority’s exaggerated reality approach. Although he doesn’t take it as far as the snappiness of core animator Keisuke Kobayashi, the two of them can go hand in hand pretty well, as seen by the fact that Kobayashi contributed extensively to his episode and never felt out of place. Rather than give that extra oomph to every minute movement, Yonemori’s appeal comes from its bewitching thoroughness. His attention to follow-through and eye for secondary animation makes it feel as if every action taken by the characters has real, palpable consequences, and he gets to pack the screen with lots of information without overwhelming the viewer. It’s never strictly realist, and yet it evokes a feeling of life in a rather understated way.
When coupled with his ability to imbue the character art with a lot of volume, and his expert usage of low angle framing to imply three-dimensionality in his shots, Yonemori truly feels like a veteran theatrical animator reincarnated into a youngster working on TV titles; now that’s a nerdy isekai series I would actually watch. Fans are quick to use the expression movie quality when praising TV anime that exceeds the level of quality they’re used to, but rather that the flashy moments they tend to refer to with those comments—no shade being thrown towards pure spectacle—it’s the thoroughness that animators like Yonemori exhibit that defines theatrical animation, what really makes such projects feel special. Incidentally, while all these qualities are appreciable in this third episode of WEP, if you want to see Yonemori the animator at his best I would actually point towards his lengthy contributions to a couple of episodes directed by an ex-KyoAni director related to Yamada, for another title Umehara was involved with at that. I keep vaguely alluding to her to avoid jinxing this, but let it be known that the stars have aligned for her appearance.
Now that you’re acquainted with Yonemori as an animator, you’ve likely realized that his debut work as a director is very much in line with that. And given how short of a career we’re talking about, that makes a lot of sense. Although every now and then a young directorial debut will feel like an unexpected crazy turn—like Yonemori’s friend Kai Ikarashi and SSS.GRIDMAN #09—even the most memorable cases tend to be a direct extension of everything they already did right as an animator. Right now it’s impossible to tell where Yonemori’s directorial career might be headed, but what’s clear is that with fundamentals like these, he’s got the right building blocks to put together something special.
And it’s a good thing that he’s got that finesse to his work already, because entrusting a complete newbie of a director with material like this was a risky move even for a daring production like WEP. Although the show’s subject matter has always been one to treat with care, every week just makes it clearer that writer Shinji Nojima loves to flirt with the line of what’s acceptable; in fact, the only reason he’s writing his first anime after such a long career is that he got fed up with the restrictions that live-action TV drama placed on him. This third episode certainly tests that line with the introduction of Rika Kawai, who’s been put in the same situation as Ai and Neiru but approaches her alleged role of hero with an entirely different attitude. Rika openly berates the person she intends to bring back, even attacking her from the body image angle that led to her suicide, and appears to have no shame when it comes to taking advantage of other characters. And yet, the scars from her self-harm still accompany her, making it clear that the violence she conducts herself with is also a shield.
It should go without saying, but since this is the internet, it bears repeating: featuring controversial topics is not the same thing as condoning them, and characters like Rika that make us feel uncomfortable are a good thing if we want challenging pieces of art. That is, as long as the presentation is up to the task—and that’s where things get even more subjective. Even if WEP doesn’t majorly drop the ball, I know for a fact that this is a series I won’t be able to recommend to everyone, since it tackles themes that even open-minded people might struggle with on a personal level. Which is to say, even if you happen to love this title, don’t be a jackass to people who have made the choice to stay away from it. As good as it’s been so far, WEP comes with all the warnings you can imagine and then some.
Do I think a newbie director like Yonemori pulled off this tricky job, then? Yes, to near perfection, in fact. It can stand toe to toe with Wakayabashi’s masterful intro, to the point where the minor gripe I had with the premiere is also the one I’d bring up here; in the same way that I felt episode #01 could have done with exactly one fewer shot of Koito’s death, I thought that the one close-up of Rika’s scars in the bath was a bit too much given how well the incidental reveals worked. In the first post about the series I talked about the volume of the show being key to its success, and it’s only in moments like this where I think that it gets too loud for its own good. A minor problem in the grand scheme of things, though!
Beyond that, Yonemori succeeded at everything he set out to do with a grace you wouldn’t expect from a newcomer. Years ago, he talked about being mystified by the way Kyoto Animation’s works used hand shots as a means of acting: so deliberate in their intent of conveying something about those characters, and yet so natural and spontaneous in their delivery that you never get the feeling a director mandated them. In his very debut, Yonemori established a tactile language that can compare with the best of their works in this regard. Much like in Koe, it directly ties to the narrative and the relationship between the two main characters as well, as it’s handshakes that link idols and her fans—Rika and Chiemi, in this case.
It’s hands that brought them together, and after tragedy struck, Rika still reached out with hers; there is clearly more truth to her touch than to her words and public demeanor. But it’s not as if they’re just an instrument of truth, since much of Rika’s persona is communicated through her hands too. More sociable than Ai, but also superficial and unreserved—always the first to eat her fill and other’s too if she can, though given how nice the food looks in this episode, I can’t blame her for this. Hands keep this deceitful system going, and they embody the desperation, bonds, and anger it’s so clearly exploiting. But in the end, it’s Rika’s hand that will push Ai forward.
This language of touch and Wakabayashi’s recurring presence—most obvious in the usage of flower language and the flashbacks—make this episode fit nicely with the rest of WEP’s grounded surrealism, but I’d be lying if I said there isn’t something quite different about it. Yonemori ditches much of the realism in the presentation over various scenes, perhaps most obviously so during the action. While crazy and liberating, the fights so far had kept the character art solid and incorporated the surroundings somewhat realistically. And yet, Ai’s form begins loosening for dynamism here under Moaang’s pen, fully abstracting the scenery and Ai herself as Kerorira follows him up. All adorned with impact frames, and even Kanada light flares within Harumi Yamazaki’s thrilling final setpiece; something that Yonemori asked his TRIGGER pal Ikarashi for help with, incidentally.
Perhaps more significant are the changes in the quieter scenes, which we can see since the very start; or rather, we could see since the preview already. Although rarely as extreme as the scenes drawn by Ken Yamamoto—someone we’re used to seeing animating on the 4s and even lower—the episode often drops the number of drawings in a noticeable way. Be it for comic relief or to contrast the forcefulness of Rika’s movements when she’s with other people, the episode uses this to increase the exaggeration of reality in a way the preceding ones hadn’t.
While some of these animators involved opt for lower drawing counts almost out of contrarianism sometimes, seeing if they can get away with breaking the norm, in this case it plays nicely into the farcical feeling of the episode. When compared to the naturalism of the previous ones, it feels more performed, which makes sense as it revolves around someone who appears to be putting up a fake persona as a shield; or at the very least, exaggerating her own traits, which is what the animation also did in this episode. We’ll have to wait at least until next week to see if Rika’s character is as complex as this episode hints towards—how far do the lies go? Could she be homeless at the moment?—but as an introduction, episode #03 is an astonishing feat. When you remember it was someone’s debut work as a director, it simply makes no sense. Seriously, is Yonemori actually real?
Key Animation: Ken Yamamoto, Keisuke Kobayashi, Asaka Yokoyama, Hirohiko Sukegawa, Naoya Takahashi, Miyaso, Yuki Yonemori, Iori Hisatake, Masami Mori, Aoi Otani, Yusuke Yamamoto, Jin Oyama, Keito Oda, Takuya Niinuma, Moaang, Kerorira, Sou Miyazaki, Harumi Yamazaki, Yuzu Hori