Review: Ergo Proxy

[Synopsis]: The story begins in the domed, utopian city of Romdeau where Re-L Mayer (Saitou, Rie) investigates a series of murders committed by AutoReivs under the effects of the sentience-giving Cogito Virus. In her pursuit of information she comes into contact with the newly escaped monster known as Proxy. Along with Vincent Law (Yusa, Kouji), an immigrant AutoReiv Control Division employee on the run and framed for his involvement with the Cogito Virus incidents, and a companion AutoReiv by the name of Pino (Yajima, Akiko) , Re-L begins to unearth the mysteries of Romdeau and the enigmatic creatures known as Proxies as the trio venture towards Vincent’s birthplace of Mosk.

[Characters]:

Ergo Proxy enlists a moderately sized cast with a handful of recurring characters while others appear and disappear on  a more episodic base. While characters such as Daedalus Yumeno and Raul Creed are most definitely deserving of attention and are quite interesting I want to devote this section to talking about the two protagonists who, in no uncertain terms, are the driving forces of the show; they are our means of discovery who mirror the viewer’s desire to know more in regards to the mysteries presented.

Re-L is a strange character in that she avoids most tropes and stereotypes in her construction – while her personality and outlook can at times be droll, she herself never ceases to be a point of interest within the show. Despite her role as an investigator she lacks the often seen supernatural intellect associated with the vocation though she is by no means ignorant or stupid and in this way is refreshing. As a child of affluence she is at times condescending but never to the point of becoming annoying. Perhaps the most interesting of her traits is her frailty of character – she is strong in body however there are instances where she doubts her own perception and is unsure of her actions which leaves her feeling extraordinarily human. She receives masterful character development throughout the show as the changes she undergoes are both subtle and methodical. Too often does a character experience an about-face of personality or outlook without the proper reasons or time attributed to them whereas Re-L’s context for changing as she does is quite apparent and deserved. In a word I would call Re-L: Invigorating – she was not the kind of person to steal the show and nor was she all that interesting outside of how the plot handled her however her unique qualities and wonderful development made her memorable and refreshing.

Vincent Law, our other main character, begins the series meek in both personality and character design. As the plot starts to concern him one can hardly believe that it would involve itself with such an unassuming character however he is quickly expanded upon. As Vincent begins his long journey towards his birthplace of Mosk he is revealed to be far more contemplative and introspective than his personality initially would let on. These changes in personality are illustrated quite well by how his character design changes over the course of the first half of the show rather extremely but not unbelievably – he becomes far more masculine in appearance while constantly reminding the viewer of his humble and modest roots through his interactions with Re-L and Pino. To voice one issue I had with Vincent, there were times where I thought his voice acting was somewhat lackluster as his quiet unassuming voice, which initially served him well, became mismatched. It is not simply that the voice didn’t fit the character as I had no problem with Vincent for a great part of the show however at times his outbursts would lack energy and emotion even when he was genuinely being frustrated or angry and this lack of emotion coming from such an emotional character is what I found problematic.

While not as consequential as either Re-L or Vincent, Pino, the Cogitio-Infected companion AutoReiv that accompanies Vincent on his journey, was nonetheless a source of intrigue and entertainment. Despite being a machine, her character exhibits all of the innocence, curiosity, and simplicity of logic present in a young child and her exhibited humanity continuously calls into question just how ‘human’ those around her truly are by juxtaposition. Due to her AutoReiv identity she also serves as a point of contested perception for both Vincent and Re-L which speaks very directly to their characters and backgrounds. Vincent is quick to befriend her and despite seeing her as something non-human, calls her by name, entertains her, and interacts with her as he would other human beings. This gives insight into Vincent’s own lonely nature and his capacity for kindness whereas Re-L, constantly accompanied by her Entourage AutoReiv Iggy, sees Pino as she sees all AutoReivs – as machines created to perform certain tasks or assist their human masters. This disparity in perspective between the two main human characters further extenuates their difference in values however also serves as a point of development for Re-L as her interactions with Pino, as well as Vincent, are the most effective metric for determining her own change in personality.

While the whole of the cast is not the point of greatest success for Ergo Proxy, it’s characters were compelling to the point that one of its episodes which focused entirely on the relationships and interactions of Re-L, Vincent, and Pino in a fixed space was one of the most interesting and fun episodes of the whole show. Each of the characters were interesting and their careful execution and development fit perfectly into the overarching themes of the show making them a strong and memorable aspect of the series.

[Art/Animation]:

Ergo Proxy’s visuals were also an area of success for the show but were not without their occasional problems. The character designs which are grounded in reality are initially quite bizarre however feel entirely natural once the show gets running and certainly make the characters stick out in your mind afterwards. The art and animation of the show for the most part was quite good, offering a great many stunning keyframes and instances of visual direction however the beginning of the show left me frustrated in this regard. Ergo Proxy is dominated by a dark, gritty aesthetic which works wonderfully for the show however this manifests poorly initially as many of the scenes are so dark and visually obscure in the first 1 or 2 episodes that it was hard to tell at times what was transpiring within the frame. I would best describe the problem as sacrificing the clarity of the picture in order to better establish an environmental atmosphere for the show early on. It quickly moves beyond this afterwards and becomes very visually pleasing.

[Story]: At last we arrive at what I would consider to be the heart of the show as the story is where I think a lot of the most interesting work takes place. I think the story starts quite brilliantly with the first episode delivering a very interesting and concise premise – A monstrous entity known as Proxy has escaped its confinement and the security bureau takes drastic steps to cover it up. Meanwhile, the detective Re-L begins to wonder at the connection between the Cogito Virus infecting the AutoReivs, the recent affairs of the bureau, and the newly escaped Proxy. Right from the start Ergo Proxy launches into a compelling and interesting narrative.

The story continues on from that point in a fairly linear fashion however occasionally digresses into openly psychological asides which focus on the psyche and mind of the character involved and give insight into their personality but do little to forward the plot. These instances are often cryptic and are likely the reason for Ergo Proxy’s renown within the psychological genre however I want to carefully lay out where the show succeeds and fails in this area as it is in its thematic and psychological aspects that the show both succeeds most triumphantly and falls the shortest.

A common problem with shows like Ergo Proxy that take time out of the plot to postulate philosophical musings is that the things referenced must first be relevant and developed rather than raised solely for the purpose of creating ‘depth’ within the show or the characters. A philosophical sentiment won’t stand on its own within the context of the show if it does not also carry with it its own context and reason for being called upon in the first place. So is Ergo Proxy simply esoteric at times or is it puffing its chest out by including names of consequence coupled with famous quotes and ideas. The answer is most definitely: both. Ergo Proxy is by no means devoid of true symbolism or philosophy however the presence of somewhat random or more meaningless conjecture often muddies the otherwise genuinely compelling concepts being presented. When the conversation topic is self-reflection and self-realization, one does not then additionally wonder at mankind’s inability to see into its future. It weakens the other areas of the dialogue and is highly non-relevant to the scene at the time. This is only one example and Ergo Proxy at times loses its way a bit however it always manages to pull things back together into what is ultimately a highly entertaining and though-provoking story.

The only other problem concerning Ergo Proxy’s story is similar in that it too is an issue of clarity and purpose. The latter half of the show and more importantly its conclusion can become rather convoluted and while the information provided can be brought in line to form an intelligible and fascinating narrative it is presented in occasionally crude formats that disrupt some of the story telling taking place. For instance, there is an episode around the midpoint of the show that takes the form of a game show – if it weren’t for the plot relevance and information that it provided it would have been some passable comedic filler however because of the details covered by the episode it is actually one of the most important moments of exposition in the whole show in regards to discerning what the overarching story of Ergo Proxy’s world is and the implications of it’s conclusion. It would have been far more comprehensible and organic if this information had been provided in a manner more similar ro the rest of the show yet it was obfuscated none the less. These rare instances combined with somewhat rushed pacing near the end of the series with episodes contentiously starting in media res adds some difficulty to discerning the more important plot developments taking place. With all of that said, the story Ergo Proxy is trying to tell is worth listening to and if one can take the time to make sense of each additional piece of information, the narrative can be quite gripping.

To say one final thing about the plot of Ergo Proxy, I felt that it masterfully wove its themes into each facet of its story and characters and that the true intellectual work and thought taking place is in its thematic delivery and purpose. Themes such as the purpose of the individual and unrequited love, with Vincent and Re-L being the smallest example of a myriad of instances, permeate the story to its core and give each character and plot device a sense of intelligent purpose as the narrative unfolds. Perhaps best of all is that its themes felt accessible – while it may be hard to tell what is transpiring within the plot from time to time, the show presents its themes quite forwardly and without too much need for interpretation though the capacity is certainly there. Ergo Proxy is quite thought-provoking in this regard as well as in its excellent use of both symbolism and parallelism.

 

[Music]:

The music of Ergo Proxy doesn’t quite live up to the strength of its characters or story however it certainly adds meaningfully to the presentation. The music was good all throughout however never dominated the scene in a helpful yet modest relationship with the visuals.

 

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

Ergo Proxy, despite its issues with clarity, is a highly compelling story with interesting characters who receive legitimate development. It exhibits a fantastic use of narrative parallels and themes to deliver thought-provoking ideas and situations while never neglecting the story itself. The show occasionally falls short of offering something fruitful or relevant however I think this is a case where we can forgive it for its failed attempts and enjoy the areas where is succeeded extravagantly.

Rating: 8

I gave Ergo Proxy an 8 because, though it forgets itself at times and becomes overly obscure for no good reason, the sentiments expressed are both intelligent and interesting and shine through regardless of the muddied concepts beside them.

[Recommendations]

I would recommend Ergo Proxy to fans of sci-fi and cyber-punk media because it falls very comfortably into those genres and both its story and conclusion do those categories justice. Those looking to interpret or dissect would do well to choose Ergo Proxy as it has a myriad of brilliantly thought-provoking symbols and parallels all throughout that are more or less immediately accessible to most any viewer. Lastly, in regards to viewers looking for a good action show on top of the other genres listed, the action sequences are not all that flashy and become fairly intermittent in the midsection of the show and so I would only tentatively recommend it for this reason and only if the prospective viewer were additionally ready to take in everything else.

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