Written by Richard Brown
The animes we show at the club, and the votes which decide them, tend to fall into patterns. After having seen the lightweight but fun series Fate Stay Night, the club selected for the other extreme, the intellectual and deep Ergo Proxy. Was it a better choice? Read on.
The Basic Plot
In the city of Romedeau, people live out their lives with the support of personal robots called Entourages, or more properly AutoReivs. Things are tightly controlled, but a computer virus causes these robots periodically go rogue. Re-al (pronounced Lil) Mayer is one those who destroys these machines, but a chance encounter puts her in the middle of a battle between two creatures. Things are covered up, her mental stability questioned, but she learns two things. The word “Proxy”, and that the immigrant Vincent Law probably knows more. Unfortunately, he is now on the run.
Ergo Proxy, to start with at least, is a conspiracy series, in the mold of Blade Runner or Equilibrium. Beautiful animation is matched with a challenging mystery, and interesting themes. There’s plenty to get your teeth into if you are intellectually inclined, such as how the robots are more emotional than their charges, or the gap between the haves and have-nots demonstrated by Re-al and Vincent. One can point to Vincent’s character design, his eyes kept closed until his world is turned upside down. Philosophy students will find many clever references, and at the same time, the series does give us a few quality action sequences. Clever writing keeps you guessing, while effective characterisation keeps things ticking over. Things start to change when the cast leave the city, and eventually meet up. Having built up a lot of promise in the initial episodes, Ergo Proxy starts a downward slide. With the main characters now travelling in the wilderness, the series falls into an episodic pattern; meeting a new proxy, having some weird out of body experience, and perhaps some character development. The series is sustained though this in an unexpected way, humour. The rogue entourage Pino provides much welcome comic relief, becoming the Radical Edward of the post-apocalyptic world. It is not often that a mascot character brings something worthwhile to an anime, so credit has to be given here. Honourable mentions must be made of the Disney and quiz show episodes. However it becomes undeniable that the series has lost its way.
You see, Ergo Proxy is inside out. With most series you have to push past fan service and clichés to get at the intellectual fundamentals of what it’s about. Ergo Proxy however has the brainy aspects on display from the start, asking you to force your way past them to find the real point, which is a mixed success. The main problem with the anime is while it has lots of good ideas, but the narrative structure is weak. If as if someone brainstormed a list of scenarios that would be interesting to watch, and they tried to edit them together after the fact. Many animes have one or two episodes where they break their own rules, and mess with the characters minds, but you can’t sustain a series like this. Ergo Proxy becomes a contradiction in terms, an anime with intellectual meat, but one where approximately half of the episodes are filler. The final two episodes are like those from so many flawed animes; a hurried attempt to wrap up the plot with a philosophical message, which seems a little simple given what proceeded it.
Ergo Proxy is a curate’s egg. The series has immense strength in the early episodes, with quality animation, and plot which you feel compelled to think about, but breaks under the weight of its own metaphors. While its deliberately difficult premises will be loved by some, the lack of simple entertainment will turn others off.