WARNING: The following contains discussion of suicide and depression.
Wonder Egg Priority is a series that begs comparison to a few different shows. As a darker twist on the magical girl formula dealing with trauma and psychological turmoil, comparisons with Madoka Magica are obvious. The art style has been compared to Kyoto Animation's work, while its symbolic storytelling evokes the works of Kunihiko Ikuhara or Satoshi Kon. However, the show's relative may be an infamously unsettling series from the late '90s.
Serial Experiments Lain was an incredibly esoteric series dealing with the ramifications of technology and internet culture, a rather grim cyberpunk foreshadowing of the present day. While the two shows have different stories and aesthetics, Serial Experiments Lain shares a lot in common thematically with Wonder Egg Priority.
Wonder Egg Priority
Wonder Egg Priority centers around Ai Ooto, whose borderline suicidal state depressive state is brought on after her friend's own suicide. She's also horribly bullied for her heterochromia, causing her to retreat from school and her social life in general. One day, she follows the instructions of an unknown being, who eventually instructs her to buy a Wonder Egg. This egg breaks in the world of Ai's dreams and allows her to save others from their own inner demons.
These dream sequences are incredibly surreal, with people's fears and problems embodied with literal monsters and physical threats. By solving these problems, Ai becomes more empowered in herself, allowing her to move past her inner anguish and trauma. This narrative structure is in some ways a much more phantasmagoric version of the premise of the past few Persona games and anime, but it also recalls an infamous cult hit from 1998.
Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiments Lain aired in 1998, but it's still as topical today as it was at the turn of the millennium. The series follows the eponymous middle schooler Lain, whose awkward life is accentuated by her distance from pretty much any sort of relationship. Things become far more bizarre when people at Lain's school begin receiving emails from a dead former classmate. This classmate reaches out to Lain via the "Wired," a ubiquitous Internet analog where the classmate now lives after simply "abandoning" her physical body.
The ensuing psychological cat-and-mouse game between the increasingly inquisitive Lain and various forces determine who will be seen as the God of the Wired. The series had numerous psychedelic inspirations, such as Alice in Wonderland, Project Xanadu and Timothy Leary's beliefs on eight-level consciousness. The introspective narrative deals with conspiracy theories and the existential reality of technology's growing reach. Because of this, Lain is typically seen as a contemporary of shows such as Evangelion.
The Psychological Similarities & Differences Between the Two Anime
Both Lain and Wonder Egg Priority center on socially isolated 14-year-old girls processing the fallout of a classmate's suicide. From there, they both fall down a surreal proverbial rabbit hole that upends the course of their lives. In the case of Lain, this other world is the Wired, while Ai follows the requests of strange eggs in dreams to deal with otherwise unseen issues.
However, while Ai and Lain both start in the same place, they appear to be heading in opposite directions. At the start of Wonder Egg Priority, Ai is a hikikomori withdrawn from society due to her own despair, but as the series continues, she becomes more socially active and emotionally restored. On the other hand, Lain becomes more and more withdrawn from reality as she dives deeper into the Wired, feeling more attuned to its technological transcendent realm than to normal reality. Ai's seclusion is also brought on by her being bullied and mistreated by others, whereas Lain is portrayed as being a recluse as a result of her own choices.
Both anime use surrealism and exaggeration to personify and anthropomorphize mental illness, trauma and depression while exploring issues of identity. However, Wonder Egg Priority does this in a far less abstruse way when compared to Lain. Lain's level of psychedelia is notoriously apocryphal and symbolistic, making its narrative a bit harder to parse than the relatively more straightforward storytelling of Wonder Egg Priority.
Despite these key differences, the shows both deal with incredibly timely issues, touching upon heavy subjects in a way that is typically unseen in anime. Fans who are enjoying Wonder Egg Priority and are OK with more cryptic storytelling should definitely watch (or rewatch) Serial Experiments Lain.
For more information on the warning signs and prevention of suicide, click here. If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you live outside the U.S., click here for a list of international hotlines.