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"Ergo Proxy Complete" Is Good, But Not Quite As Clever As It Thinks It Is

by on December 7, 2008

Another one of the late, lamented Geneon’s series returns to the market courtesy of Funimation, and delivers an intriguing and moody tale of humans and androids living together in a seemingly idyllic existence.

Ergo Proxy posits a future in which humanity lives in self-enclosed domed cities full of advanced technology, the most obvious of which are the AutoReivs: in many cases essentially robot personal assistants for the inhabitants of the domed city Romdo. We pick up the story with Re-l Mayer of the city’s Intelligence Bureau, as she investigates a series of rouge AutoReivs, who have been infected with the Cogito virus, making them self-aware, very dangerous, and sending them on a journey away from the city. Re-l just happens to be the grand-daughter of Donov, the Regent of Romdo, but when a massive cover-up ensues after she is attacked by one of the monsters known as a “Proxy,” even she isn’t blinded to the fact that her grandfather rules over a ‘benevolent’ totalitarian state.

The second central character is Vincent Law, recently transferred from another city and hoping to be elevated to Citizen status within Romdo, even as he struggles to recall his past history. Also on the hunt for the Proxy is Raul Creed of the Security Bureau, who like Re-l finds himself a victim of the Regent’s machinations, and eventually finds himself turning against the rulers of Romdo, essentially becoming one of the main antagonists of the series. Another dark character is the youthful Dr. Daedalus Yumeno, who clearly has his own agenda with regard to the Proxies, as well as an obvious and slightly creepy interest in Re-l.

Vincent, being somewhat smitten with Re-l, and an engineer tasked with examining several of the infected AutoReivs, is thrust into the center of events after seemingly being framed for a Proxy’s crimes. He is accompanied by Pino, an AutoReiv created to be a stand-in eight-year old-girl and who has now also become self-aware after being infected with the Cogito virus. Vincent eventually breaches the walls of Romdo and leaves for the barren wastelands outside the dome.

Once outside, the focus of the series initially switches from Re-l to Vincent and Pino, where the unlikely duo initially meet up with a small community living in the outside world, a fact kept secret from the inhabitants of Romdo. Re-l manages to catch up with Vincent, but is overcome by the harsh environment and has to return to Romdo, while Vincent and Pino make their own way back to the domed city of Mosk, Vincent’s original home. On the way, the secret of Vincent’s true connection to the Proxy, as well as the importance of Proxies themselves to domed cities like Romdo, is finally revealed.

With an attempt made on her life once back in Romdo, Re-l’s death is subsequently faked and she rejoins Vincent and Pino in the harsh wastelands of the outside world, where together they encounter more Proxies and generally ruminate on the nature their existence. Aware that a series of such introspective episodes could be needlessly lacking in dynamics, the creators of the series at this point insert two episodes that are a marked departure from surrounding episodes. On the surface, both of them are almost whimsical, but clearly have appropriately dark undertones to match the rest of the show. As such, each encounter with each Proxy is quite a unique event, with the conflict between them and Ergo Proxy himself just as likely to be psychological rather than physical.

After finally reaching Mosk and confronting his memories of the city, Vincent, with Re-l and Pino, makes his way back to Romdo, where they are confronted by the chaos caused by Raul’s methodology applied to the city due to its current lack of a Proxy. Even in the last couple of episodes, the series plays its cards close to its chest, only revealing a lot of the true motivations of Ergo Proxy in the final episode, and even then there are unsurprisingly many unanswered questions. There are some fascinating scenes, however, and the series even shows Raul in a new light as his role in the series is laid out. Ultimately, even with the many unanswered questions, the series does conclude on a satisfactory note, and one can imagine that a second viewing would be an even more fulfilling experience.

While the series has a fairly straightforward plot presented in an admittedly skewed manner, the well-developed characters easily give the show its greatest strength. Lead character Re-l is in many ways a refreshing throwback to the once-ubiquitous strong anime heroines of past years, as opposed to the ‘idealized’ weaker female characters seen in some latter-day series, and this adds immensely to her credibility as a hardboiled investigator. Vincent is obviously a character with many different facets. While his demeanor once leaving Romdo initially tends to be on the melodramatic side, as time goes on and it becomes clearer exactly what hardships have already befallen him, his near self-pity becomes much easier to understand and justify in the context of the series. The final member of the main triad, Pino, despite being an AutoReiv infected with the Cogito virus, is perhaps the most ‘normal’ character on show. Looking and acting just like a real child, and often seen in a playful rabbit outfit, she makes for an endearingly cheerful addition to the rest of the neurosis-filled cast.

Although making for a fascinating viewing experience as a whole, the series is not without its weaknesses. One fundamental problem is its presentation. While the story is an undeniably interesting one, it is all ultimately fairly straightforward, which doesn’t seem to have satisfied the original producers. In an attempt to make the show seem longer and more profound than it actually is, there seems to have been a concerted effort by the scriptwriters to make much of the dialogue as opaque as possible without overly detracting from the story. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work, and more often than not comes across as simply being pretentious, an aspect most often seen with the many inner monologues presented throughout the series.

On the other hand, one great strength of the show is simply the way it examines the characters and their world outside of their monologues. It helps that both the characters and their world are quite interesting anyway, but it also helps that each episode is treated as a unique entity rather falling into the trap of effectively being a ‘movie’ split up into several episodes of homogeneous writing. The aforementioned two fanciful episodes are excellent cases in point, with “Nightmare Quiz Show” in particular (as may be inferred from the title) needing to be seen to be believed.

Animation-wise, the mostly mature characters are depicted in a more realistic, yet still obviously anime-style manner, which again makes the series stand out from the crowd. Since most of the cast are appealingly older than most typical anime casts, their designs are somewhat subdued (with the exception of Pino). The actual animation starts off excellent, but tapers down after a few episodes, before picking up again for the big climax. Also to be commended are the backgrounds, which manage to pack in quite a lot of detail, an appropriately subdued palette, and fit nicely with a lot of the CGI work used in the show. Romdo in particular is rendered with exquisite amounts of detail, right down to the use of ‘virtual paper’ for making everyday notes.

On the audio front the series has some good if undistinguished background music. The opening song is a much more impressive musical addition to the show, and fits the opening’s visuals quite well. The English voice acting from New Generation is also first rate, with leads Karen Thompson (Re-l), Liam O’Brian (Vincent), Rachel Hirchfield (Pino) and Patrick Seitz (Raul) putting in uniformly excellent performances throughout the series. Also to be heard are Yuri Lowenthal as Daedalus, and veteran voice actors Mike McConnohie and Doug Stone, providing brief, if typically excellent performances.

Funimation’s re-release of the series in boxset form is simply a complete repackaging of the original Geneon version of the discs, right down to the trailers for other Geneon series, some of which may still out of print due to the Geneon collapse. Notable extras are sparse on the main series discs, although the dedicated extras disc in the set has some interesting content. There’s some EPK material hyping the series’ original broadcast in Japan, with comments from Manglobe founder Shinichiro Kobayashi and series director Shukou Murase. This is not particularly in-depth at just under five minutes’ long, although Murase’s comments that he took inspiration for the show from the “dark heroes” of American comic books is quite revealing in accounting for the series’ atypical style. Also of note is that a lot of the Japanese promotional videos contain ‘pilot’ animation that was altered for the final versions of the episodes. There are also more in-depth comments from the U.S. production, from voice director Jonathan Klein and English-language script writer Taleisin Jaffe, which show that the makers of the dub were actively aware of the many nuances and the original creators’ intent with the series.

In common with other, less successful esoteric series, Ergo Proxy is ultimately something of a hidden gem. I’d recommend the series to science fiction and anime fans looking for a decent, more adult-skewed story that is prepared to delve deeper than most other series into the psychological makeup of its characters. At the very least viewers will wish to watch the series more than once to fully appreciate the many themes it has to offer.

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