WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
After I finished watching everything in the Ghost in the Shell
universe, I wanted more: more futuristic ass-kicking than 30 Terminators fighting Mechagodzilla. I checked my Netflix queue and another volume of Bleach was coming next. "Eh," I said to myself, "that's just not going to cut it." I searched my queue devoted entirely to anime and saw Ergo Proxy
buried somewhere in the 200-some discs. I'm not sure where I initially heard how about this show; perhaps one of my anime buds had recommended it or Netflix told me I'd love it. All I knew was this show looked like it was not only the bee's knees, but perhaps the entire bee leg.
Post-apocalyptic cyberpunk world? Check. Badass female protagonist? Check. Total element of what-the-fuck-is-going-on? Checkity-check. I decided my anime thirst would be indeed quenched by Ergo Proxy.
Before I really delve into my review of this television program, let's try and figure out what the fuck is going on in this program.
is the work of the fine people at Manglobe. Now, I should note that I watched the english dub. Perhaps my review would be different had I watched the Japanese version with subs, but fuck it. I'm lazy. Disc received, play all, disc sent back. My first impression? Ergo Proxy
comes out with gunz-a-blazin'. Monsters be escapin', robots be berzerkin' and, well, gunz be blazin'. We are introduced to a world straight out of 1984, plus 100 years or so. Our setting is Romdo: a futuristic utopia inside a dome where every comfort is given to its "fellow citizens" (aka native chumps). Our first main character, Re-l Mayer, is a native chump/Amy Lee of Evanescence clone, and a privileged one at that. Re-l, whose name is annoying to type, is the granddaughter of the Regent, Donov Mayer. I'm not sure how that works, since everyone is born from a mechanical womb thingy. But, Re-l gets to do pretty much whatever the fuck she wants because of her grandpapy. As an intelligence officer, she and her AutoReiv (android), Iggy, run around solving crimes and shit. When AutoReivs start going berserk due to a virus known as the Cogito virus, Re-l and Iggy are on the case. This is when we are introduced to our second main character, Vincent Law, whom I like to call Vince. (You'll see why!!)
Vincent is not a fellow citizen; he is an immigrant from another domed city: Mosk. He is working as an AutoReiv repairman of sorts and is sucking up to everyone possible in order to become a fellow citizen. Vince is a complicated guy. (Read: neurotic.) Vince leads us to our third main character, Pino. Pino is not necessarily a main
main character but she present for pretty much everything. Also, I am biased because Pino is probably the most adorable character I have ever seen in all of anime-dom. More on this cuteness later. Pino is a child-like AutoReiv who is later revealed to have been infected with the Cogito virus. However, instead of pulling a "kill all humans" like any good robot should, she becomes obsessed with Vincent. (She is the only one who calls him Vince and it is damn cute.) She follows him around for the rest of the show for no reason.
A few other unnecessary characters are introduced including (but not limited to): Daedelus, the Re-l-obsessed creep-ass man-child doctor; Raul Creed, the head of the Security Bureau; and Raul's AutoReiv, Kristeva. Although most of these characters are semi-unnecessary, they are thankfully never over-featured. Their world starts going to shit when this monster, known as a Proxy, escapes the care of Dr. Daedelus. Re-l and Iggy, meanwhile, are investigating the psychotic AutoReivs when some fast-ass monster attacks her. This also happens later at her apartment. Some bloody cursive spelling out "awakening" is seen on her bathroom mirror. (Oooh, creepy!) Two monsters appear this time and have a fun little battle royale while an underwear-clad Re-l helplessly lies on the bathroom floor. Long story short, the government tries to cover it up; Re-l investigates and finds a conspiracy involving good ol' Vince and monsters known as proxies. Vincent and Pino escape the dome when pursued by Raul Creed and his Security Bureau cronies...and this is just the first three episodes! This is gonna be awesome, right?!
Well, it could
have been. The first three episodes do pretty much everything right. However, there is a serious lack of direction, cohesion, excitement, mystery, and almost anything to make watching it interesting. It doesn't lose all of its steam immediately. It merely peters out over the next few episodes. Once Pino and Vince escape the dome and Re-l tries to figure out where the hell they went, it's almost like the writers said, "Ah, crap, what do we do now?" We've got another 20 episodes or so to fill." The story suffers a lot from there on out. It is all too clear that Vince is indeed a Proxy and the titular Ergo Proxy at that. Hmm, Proxies always appear when Vince is around and he somehow disappears...oh yeah, just like Peter Parker and Spiderman are just friends! We are even thrown the idea that Re-l was killed by a Cogito-infected AutoReiv. However, it is painfully obvious that she is alive and well. Meanwhile, Vincent and Pino try to trace Vincent's mysterious past back to the Mosk dome. This journey, which eventually adds Re-l to the crew, makes up about the next 12 episodes or so.
The gang visits many domes throughout the desolate, post-apocalyptic world. Each dome is quite different and has its own proxy. This serves as minor plot points as Vincent tries to deal with the fact that he is Ergo Proxy. Supposedly, this is all done on purpose. Apparently, the director, or whomever, wanted there to be an existential feel to the show. If that was their intent, it worked. HOWEVER, why set up an anime to be this big sci-fi action mystery and then let it spiral into weary territory? I have no problem with an anime being existential or psychological or philosophical. That's fine in my book but it is not an excuse to be BORING. I just kept watching, waiting for it to get good again. This lack of direction only gets worse. Many small plot points that could have led somewhere epic are introduced. Pino has this strange story book that has events that seem to come true. Much of the book's imagery is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.
This allusion is strengthened with Pino and Vincent's ship being aptly named The Rabbit.
This trip down the rabbit hole pretty much ends there. Ironically, the most entertaining episode during the middle of the series is an episode called "Busy Doing Nothing." This episode about being stranded allows us to see some character interaction and development rather than an episode trying too hard to progress a non-existent part of the story.
At some point, the writers over at Manglobe had all the episodes worked out but two and looked to their earlier hit, Samurai Champloo,
for ideas. Champloo
featured two "Gag" episodes, one with zombies and the other about baseball. While Champloo
had a better setting and premise for comedy, Ergo Proxy
does not. The episodes, "who Wants to be in Jeopardy!" and "Eternal Smile", are amusing but are black sheep in the otherwise bleak series. From here on out the show regains its identity and forges on with a certifiable mindfuck episode ("Goodbye Vincent") and then the three-part conclusion. I might add that Dai Sato was the chief writer and was responsible for the screenplay. You may know him from Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo
(as I mentioned), and Ghost in the Shell S.A.C./2nd GIG.
However, he is also responsible for Eureka Seven
so what can you say about the guy? On that note, my final gripe with the plot would be the supposed romance between Vincent and Re-l. Vince just up and says, "I'm in love with you!" What kind of bullshit is that?
One of the most breathtaking parts of the series is the artwork. Always keeping its pallet of grays, blacks, and browns, the show paints the picture of both a totalitarian society and a ruined outerworld environment. Manglobe does an excellent job integrating 2D cel animation with 3D computer modeling. I've seen it gone wrong waaaaay too many times and so I applaud them for that. There did seem to be some inconsistencies in quality and the art did suffer a bit when the view of the characters was at a distance, ESPECIALLY Re-l. It seems like they had 80 different people drawing her face because it looks different in every episode, changing many times per episode. I don't think my eye is necessarily that discriminating so it must have been significant for me to notice. The character design is also done well. Each Proxy is its own maniacal monster and the AutoReivs have a nice way of being minimalist but still creepy in their own way. Vincent's transformation from lowly immigrant to man (or rather, Proxy) of the world is well-executed in his design. Re-l's formation is reminiscent of a character from The Matrix
mixed with a Marilyn Manson fan. (Again, see Amy Lee of Evanescence.) The wind-powered ship, The Rabbit,
also gets an honorable mention for a cool concept and a design that fits well with the overall atmosphere. Lastly, whoever designed Pino gets a gold-fucking-medal, especially for that rabbit suit. So.Fucking.Cute.
The Music of Ergo Proxy
is neither stunning nor underwhelming. It is typically a very basic electronic, industrial tune that sets a dreary tone. This fits well as it never detracts from the on-screen happenings. The opening theme, "Kiri" by Monoral, fits nicely with the opening sequence and got me excited for every episode, especially during the long, lonesome middle-section of the show. For super cool fun, try this at home: watch a few episodes and really pay attention to Vincent's voice. Then, listen to the guy singing "Kiri". Their voices sound almost identical! Well, maybe it's just me. As for the ending theme, I can't think of a better song to fit this show than "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead. Whoever picked out this song gets the silver-fucking-medal; gold still belongs to Pino.
I really did enjoy the series save for the entire middle section. I gave it a 7/10 on myanimelist.net
but I think it is a little better than that. The ending does give a bit of satisfaction. It seems as though things might work out (then there's the hint that maybe they won't.) While doing a bit of research I learned that the first three episodes were all outlined and the team at Manglobe was given free reign from there on out. Even the director was quoted as saying, "There was almost too much freedom". Maybe there was. I ultimate feel like this great show could have grown to epic status if it had been released as an OVA or even a 13 episode series rather than being drawn out to 23 episodes. Additionally, the series could stand to have been more focused. The entire plot could have been set against the backdrop of Romdo and had 4 seasons each about the Cogito virus that gave the AutoReivs souls, then the man exiled for being a monster, then Regent's granddaughter who was too nosy for her own good and, finally, the society that crumbled. Instead, the plot had both too much and too little going on at the same time, ironically lacking one of its central themes: a "raison d'etre" or "Reason for being." Maybe that irony was intended but was lost on me. Ultimately, it does warrant a watch, if not just to see that gold medal winner, Pino.