Review: Ergo Proxy

Okay, okay.  I realize I probably shouldn’t be posting this since I had that other moe topic to talk about.  But I really want to give my review system a whirl so I know, in the future, how to use the review style.  Down the rabbit hole we go…

It's a show about gothic teens, psychology, and a whole whack of mind screw

Did you know it’s virtually impossible to get an image which won’t spoil part of the series and have it stay visible for more than a minute?

Background

Ergo Proxy.  Those are two words you’ll never hear together.  Seriously.  These two words, if memory serves, can’t actually be used in that order to form a reasonable sentence of any type.  Why do I bring this up?  The title name came from Dai Sato.  If his name sounds familiar, he was on the script team for Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Eureka Seven.  Ergo Proxy was the first attempt he ever had at being the chief writer.  Now, and this is highlighted by that resume, he’s not exactly known for being the most straight forward writer in the world.  When asked about why he picked the words “Ergo Proxy”, his answer was a laconic “It sounded cool”.  Basic stuff from Wikipedia aside, this really highlights where this show is heading.

There is a lot of new blood in this series.  Not only was this the first time their writer got to lead writing, their producer, Manglobe, was really new at the time.  High off their success from Samurai Champloo, they turned and decided to create a show which was available in what is effectively pay-per-view.  They were notoriously hands off with this series and the staff got away with a lot of stuff more shows wouldn’t normally be able to.  Now, I’ve always thought the more freedom you give a guy, the more likely he’ll trend to his own loves.  Sato has a love of weirdness built up.  And this ends up being no different.  While this freedom worked in their favour in terms of money munching for their animation and some really cool concepts, it also gets really unusual at times.

No.  I'm not kidding.

This is actually part of the show.

Story

The background of the world of Ergo Proxy is part of the fun of this show.  You are told little and changing information will continually force you to reevaluate your beliefs and judgments of the characters and world.  Much like this blog’s namesake, the world is hidden from you and exposes itself at its own pace.  This is a trait that cuts both ways.  First, it’ll scare some people away.  I mean, there are people who don’t want to to think about their show just to comprehend the events.  And that makes perfect sense: anime is entertainment after all, right?  However, a show that layers itself also creates replay value in the show.  It’s a wonder to watch a show twice and view it completely differently.

What I can disclose to you though is that the characters start in a domed city, Romdeau.  The city, as defined by one of the characters, is a boring paradise.  Things don’t seem to happen too often and, as long as you follow the rules and are considered a citizen of the city, you’re safe and all your needs will be accounted for.  Human births don’t exist, something that seems to be changing in the city, where you can order children from the governing body (the Regent acting as the head of this body).  As with any “perfect city” in shows, this is going to change very fast.

Tending to the humans are autoreivs, robots effectively.  They exist to serve humans.  “Entourage” autoreivs, as their name suggests, work to serve people and follow them around during day-to-day activities.  “Companion” autoreivs look more childish.  They are there to take care of children and effective give them, again as the name suggests, a companion to play with.

And seriously, how can you not say you want one?

Unfortunately, the Autoreivs have a bit of a defect.  They suffer from a disease…a virus that spreads between Autoreivs known as the Cogito virus.  Whereas before, they’re forced to do the bidding of humans, a Cogito virus, true to name (cogito being Latin for “I think”), grants the Autoreivs the become autonomous beings and “give them souls”.  More precisely, they behave in a more human manner and develop wants, needs, and creativity.  The number of Cogito infected Autoreivs is on the rise in Romdeau and that’s where you’re dropped in…

So, what is this show about exactly?  That’s really tough to say.  One notable factor is that there is no standing genre.  Like the Haruhi Suzumiya series or Revolutionary Girl Utena, it drifts a lot.  It’ll start out very much a thriller and cyberpunk show.  This is where many people get sucked in.  This part is very exciting for almost anyone.  Then it changes into a much more speculative fiction.  Action is fleeting at best.  An active story is moved to the side for philosophy, abstract episodes, and creative exposition.  And, without warning, it’ll shift right back into thriller territory to close out the series.

That isn’t to say though that it’ll change in every aspect on whim.  One of the few unchanging factors about Ergo Proxy, however, is its bleak tone.  Aside from Pino, there is no entertainment.  There is no fun.  Comedy is fleeting at best and consists almost entirely of reacting to the aforementioned Pino’s lack of real world experience.  And I do say almost.  If you’re looking for a show which is full of bright, happy characters who just will their way through things, just keep on moving.  Additionally, the driving question of the show, “What are proxies?”, remains unchanging.  This doesn’t alter in any way or shape.  And with it, some consistency is afforded for viewers.  Almost every episode is dedicated to answering that question or furthering the story to answer that question.  This will pull you in early.

A major flaw when we deal with progression past early episodes, however, is pacing.  It is downright atrocious at times.  The first 6 or 7 episodes will be a high paced adventure.  As soon as that wraps up though, it grinds into a long sequence of slow exposition and filler episodes that, ultimately, aren’t going to be for everyone.  Unlike shorter anime, they won’t answer several questions an episode.  And when they do provide lots of answers, they’ll generally do so in an extremely abstract manner.  It’s often not straight forward in the slightest and they expect you, as a viewer, to try to read between the lines (or the unusual scenes) to figure out exactly what’s going on.

Like on a game show! Wait, what?

When it comes down to it, this is a show of deception.  It advertises itself as a show about action, of suspense, the flash of a gun, and exploration of a world.  However, it actually becomes more of a philosophical show.  What exactly is going on?  What else is being intentionally hidden from me?  Who am I watching?  By midseason, it’s very character driven in its action and tends to be so until the end of the show.  If you’re a fan of being an investigator and piecing together your own shows after the developers dump the pieces on the ground in front of you, this is great fun.  You’ll be hooked as information is slowly dripped through to you so that you can figure out exactly what’s going on.  But someone who prefers something more straight forward will get frustrated and angry after being lured in by the opening episodes since the show doesn’t handhold you nor rests to really catch you up on critical details right as you need them.  At no point is it going to intentionally be incomprehensible.  There were only specks of time where I thought “what the hell?” and those were on me since I didn’t catch a definition at the very start of the show.  However, it won’t repeat information with frequency that, if you missed it earlier, you’ll have to either turn to the internet or past episodes to fine the details you missed.

Characters

When we look at characters, the first point is that, yes, Daedalus is a guy.  Just thought I’d clear that up.

But that…is a secret.

That aside, the show focuses on a character trio.  The first is Vincent Law, who probably wins most awesome symbolic name of the year (with Vincent coming from “conquer”, vincere…so, conquer the law.  Repeat that a few times.  Let it sink in).  Anyways, he’s a meek kid on a journey to rediscover what exactly is going on.  That’s as far as I can go without spoiling stuff, but suffice to say, there’s more to him than meets the eye.  Playing secondary protagonist is Re-l Mayer.  She’s a no-nonsense, stoic investigator for Romdeau.  That being said, she’s a highly independent and dominating person who refuses to compromise her own beliefs for anything or anyone else.  Finally, Pino, a companion Autoreiv, is along for the journey.

At its heart, this show is often character driven…very much so as we get to the middle episodes.  I find defining this show’s cast is very much like defined along the same line as Neon Genesis Evangelion in the sense that the characters are heavily defined by both their assets and their flaws.  This is something I honestly really enjoy.  In some other shows, such as The Slayers, the characters are defined by their assets and personality quirks with negative characteristics either being glossed over or thrown to the side.  For example, Lina Inverse, when not in comedy mode, is a girl with great strength who’ll do the heroic thing, if not with a little bit of grumbling (yes, I’m aware there is a season entirely focused on Lina being hunted for the sheer point that she’s Lina Inverse, but that’s a comedic point to me).  Here, our characters’ traits, both good and bad, become utilized by the story.  Re-l’s extremely domineering nature, for example, becomes the point of frustration and of change more than once.  This rounded definition of character helps provide some additional depth to the characters viewed and allow for greater attachment.  A major point to note is that, unlike many shows, most characters are dynamic.  Everyone, supporting cast included, will generally react to their surroundings and events.  This is a great experience, especially if you are used to static supporting characters.  And watching through the slower episodes may not feel like an exercise in napping it because of this.  Furthering that, characters change with reasonable pace.  The total viewing time of this series is about 11 hours.  In that 11 hours, most characters change at a pace that didn’t feel rushed and felt natural for the character progression.  Actually, that’s a lie.  There is one short jump in Re-l’s personality which some have speculated on.  But, it is fairly small and pretty easy to get over.

Another boon to the series is that few characters are stereotypes played fully or simple cut and past character types.  They are all fairly unique in their own sense and this makes their interactions fairly unique as well.  I couldn’t predict how two characters would interact since I’ve never seen two characters of the same type interact before.  If you’re an experienced viewer, you may catch some, but for the most part, it’s all untreaded territory.  For any viewer, this will be a great part of the show.

Animation

I’ll admit, I love the 1995-2005 animation.  Ergo Proxy is right at the tail end of that (2006).  That being said, the animation is gorgeous.  This is a place where having near free reigns has really paid off.  Very few scenes cut graphical detail (episodes 9 and 10 are pretty odd since they do have lower than quality animation…which really feels like average quality) and there is crisp, clean, beautiful animation in nearly every scene.  As I mention elsewhere, I’ve never had a great detail for animation, but what I see is really lovely.

The opening has been well-known for its incredible quality and for good reason.  Art wise, it’s one of the best openings period.  Of note is how much is going on.  Many anime openings will use cheap cop outs like repeated seconds of characters walking with an unchanging background or a moving panel.  That is minimized in this opening.  Not only is it symbolic, but uses very little cop-out.

The closing has no animation to really consider.

Sound/Music/Voice Actors

First on the list is sound.  The background music is instantly identifiable and simple.  Much of it is industrial and serves its purposes simply and effectively.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The opening, Kiri, is notable an English speaker, but may not be as notable to someone only fluent in Japanese.  The reason for this is the band, Monoral, sings perfect English.  This is a bit of a rarity, especially since Monoral is a Japanese band.  In fact, effective English was a goal of the show as a whole, but it really catches you in the opening.  The song itself is a nice piece of alternative rock.  It helps set the tone for a show in its lyrics primarily.  The tone of the music also is very supportive of the primary type of show this is, one of slower pace, than the earlier episodes would define.

The closing is a famous Radiohead song, Paranoid Android…well, an altered version of it.  It’s a tough pick, since the song itself is excellent, but it’s chopped up fairly badly.

The voice actors in either language are effective, but do not provide additional synergy.  For example, while Karen Thompson and Liam O’Brein (Re-l and Vincent, respectively) both effectively portray their character, they do not play off each other to make a better experience.  In this case, the situation is best defined as “did their job”.

Synergy

There is one way to define the synergy of Ergo Proxy: symbolism.  Everything is tied together because everything is symbolic.  Names are almost always chosen with intention.  One of the few questionable ones for is Vincent Law, but given his status a protagonist, it’s highly unlikely.  If you’re one of the people who love determining exactly how names are chosen, you could probably spend 11 hours walking through Wikipedia.  It’s a fun journey to undergo.

More generally, the incredible animation works well with the characters.  With this level of animation and unique personalities, they become extremely identifiable characters and stand out extremely effectively.  Even a character who, under typical circumstances would look average and unnoticeable, such as Daedalus, stands out in his motions, his slight movement changes, and his movements.  These two components complement each other extremely well and help continue to focus the point of the show being a very good show to watch if you’re interested in characters.

Why to Watch

Ergo Proxy is a show that, ultimately, will focus on characters and will deliver it an unorthodox manner.  It’s interesting in its approach.  Additionally, it’ll never attempt to completely confuse you and leaves details in the show enough that you’ll be able to follow it with surrounding details about the history coming out in bursts.  Love of this show is conditional on being open to new storytelling methods, to being willing to take a slow approach to characters, and not minding symbolic story.

Why Not to Watch

Anybody looking for a simple show is going to hate this right away.  The story doesn’t handhold you and it will occasionally move on ruthlessly to another component of the show which relies on you understanding the last few scenes.  There are few action scenes and many of those have little action in them.  Some even consist almost purely of blur lines.  There is little to see, little to get your heart pumping.  Also, the bleak tone will be off-putting to some viewers.

Personal Enjoyment

This type of show is right up my alley.  Confusion in story is to be expected for me and I love piecing together a show.  It’s difficult for me to really say much too bad about it, since the perceived flaws that it has, in others’ minds, are things I enjoy having.  Slowly revealed story?  Bring it on.  Meandering pace?  I’ve had worse.  Weird?  Sold!

Summary

To watch Ergo Proxy is to watch an experimental attempt at a show.  Animation is consistently lovely and its characters are written to be very unique.  They provide a very powerful force to watching the episodes.  The show kicks off with a very fast paced bang, something it doesn’t keep up for long and drops all pretenses of being action and drops you into a show full of character exploration.  The pace can be maddeningly inconsistent, but builds to a very effective conclusion, should you be into what Ergo Proxy wants to sell you.

Overall Rating

Ergo Proxy was rated 7.29/10.  This, under my rating system, would be one of fairly positive review and is a recommended watch.  It fared best in animation and character traits, while it lagged in music due to lacklustre background music.  Additionally, the story was a strong component of the series.  This is probably going to be a little controversial, since the show’s ending is fairly ambiguous and unorthodox, not really providing any perfect closure, but answering the overlying question.  To some degree, there is a “now what” feel.

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