Description: In a futuristic world almost barren of life, mankind is confined to mechanized domed cities where A.I.’s control all aspects of life. In this world, humans are no longer born, they are manufactured in a production line; and alongside them live androids known as autoreivs. Within one of these domed sanctuaries named Romdeau lives Re-l Mayer, one of a few citizens who aren’t entirely prevented from thinking. Her grandfather’s prominent position and the affection of the scientist Daedalus have left her more free will than is normally allowed, but Re-l has started to question the sanctity of the city and the citizens’ perfect way of life. With mysterious beings known as proxies causing havoc and a man named Vincent causing great influence on her life, Re-l must travel outside of the city to find the answers she seeks and discover the mystery behind “the awakening”.
Helmed by Dai Sato the writer of Eureka Seven and Manglobe who brought us shows like Samurai Champloo and most recently Samurai Flamenco, Ergo Proxy is very much a show with it’s own ego. It constantly scoffs at the viewer, doing things in it’s own way and demanding your full attention in order to even begin to comprehend it. The air of pretentiousness that surrounds it is almost enough to push you away at first as you wonder how you could even begin to resonate with such a self-absorbed show. However the further along you go with the show the more you begin to see that that the show’s ego has it’s own meaning to it and that you have to face it head on to get anywhere with it.
The show opens up with a pretty typical cyberpunk/dystopian setting as we’re abruptly thrown headlong into the story through the eyes of our heroine Re-l, an officer who shows a pretty clear disgust for the way the society she lives in currently is and finds herself bored with it. On a mission she discovers the existance of a bizarre looking monster and begins delving into the mystery surrounding it and its seemingly insignificant immigrant known as Vincent Law. The conspiracy surrounding the two drives much of the main storyline as we slowly discover the truth behind the dystopia, the existance of more of these monsters which are later revealed to be god-like beings known as Proxies and of course the ultimate fate of mankind in a world they ravaged and attempted to abandon. It has a pretty solid, if overly complex sci-fi narrative and is fairly interesting on just that aspect alone despite how maddening the last few episodes get.
Everything’s gone cuckoo
However despite how things may initially appear, most of the show’s insane sci-fi plot is merely a pretext for what it’s really trying to convey and the show really isn’t as concerned with it as it first wants you to believe it is. In fact, a lot of the backstory for the series is presented to us in a hilarious but bizarre quiz show episode just to get it out of the way(and it’s even conveniently broadcast in a way so every important character sees it and is up to date on what’s happening). So then if not a complex sci-fi plot, then what is a show so wrapped up in it’s own ego ultimately trying to say? The answer is almost unsurprisingly fitting.
Yeah…this show gets weird
Beneath the layers and layers of pretext, the core of the show lies within the examination of the human ego and our sense of “self” in the world at large and it does so through several stages and characters.
The first stage looks at how self absorbed we can be within our own egos and how it can affect the way we view the world around us. This is primarily done through Re-l who spends much of the series as being privileged, extremely self centered and driven solely by her own desires, often manipulating others or distancing herself from them, deeming them not worth the effort to understand if they don’t immediately serve her ends. However this affects her ability to really comprehend the actions taken by others and it’s during a situation where her ego and drive serves no real purpose in getting her where she wants to go that she finally beings to see that the world doesn’t revolve around her and lets the feelings of others in
The second stage involves how we see ourselves through others and how that gives our sense of ego purpose. This is done through two of the characters Daedelus and Iggy through their relationships with Re-l, who both see as the center of their world. Daedelus starts off as being helpful and in love with Re-l but the further the story goes the more apparent it is that his “love” for her is a crazed obsession and little more than a way for him to project his sense of “self” onto her and he says as much later on. For Iggy when he sees how little he matters to Re-l in proportion to how much she defines his existence he loses it and his mind fluctuates back and forth between the self he wants Re-l to see him as and the self that the despises her for ignoring him. For both it ends in a mental (and physical just to make sure the point is driven in) death and it’s fairly disturbing.
Please don’t hate me
The third stage examines the suppression of the ego and it’s looked at through the characters Pino and Raul. Pino is an A.I. with a soul and it allows her to evolve bit by bit over the course of the show and she values the emotions she obtains even though the world in the series intitally considers it a defect for an A.I. to have it’s own will. Raul on the other hand is a prideful and scheming character but ultimately one who wants to be in full command over his own ego and exert his will on the world despite some of the consequences that may bring. However when both realize that neitheris really as special as they believed and isn’t in full control of who they are, Raul’s pride drives him to the brink while Pino’s evolution allows her to accept who she is despite that fact.
The final and largest stage is of course accepting one’s self and one’s purpose. This is done through the true protagonist of the series Vincent who is constantly at odds with who he is, having his true self suppressed and hidden in an attempt to be free of his struggles and imperfections, the dystopian setting being an almost literal metaphor of this Though much like how none of us can escape who we are as people, Vincent also can’t really run away from who he is either despite his many subconscious attempts. As the series progresses and he comes closer and closer to confronting who he is his character design becomes notably more distinct and defined, signifying his evolution as a person.
Appropriately, the final boss Vincent must confront at the end of the series isn’t one of the other proxies (whose purpose is general to serve as various metaphors for Vincent taking a step further in facing himself) but quite literally himself, and though he’s offered a final opportunity to walk away from it all, he finally realizes that even though life is painful and there are problems we don’t always want to deal with, you have to face up to who you are in order to truly value the people and things that come with it. The series ends with him fully embracing who he is and though from a narrative standpoint it may not feel completely satisfying, thematically speaking it’s an extremely appropriate choice.
“I am a shadow the true se-” Oh wait never mind.
Done at the now mostly defunct New Generation Pictures, the dub for the series is extremely well done. The leads bring out the best in it as Liam O’ Brien brings his A-game to Vincent Law’s character and fully captures the tale of a man dealing with his internal struggles. Karen Thompson also brings a strong performance for Re-l, capturing the right amount of arrogance and slyness for when she’s being manipulative. The supporting characters all bring good performances as well though the most notable would be Yuri Lowenthal as Daedelus who manages to make the character sound appropriately creepy.
Animation-wise the series looks pretty consistent having a pretty solid action budget and mostly avoiding looking off model despite how the art style looks. The art itself looks very distinct and somewhat gritty as the human characters are designed as real world looking as possible and this also carries over to some of the A.I. designs a bit which can make them look a bit creepy. It’s grittiness also helps define the setting a bit more as the barren wastelands of the mostly destroyed world look incredibly so and the dystopian cyberpunk city looks almost isolated at times which feels appropriate. The soundtrack for the show is also pretty good having an extremely memorable opening theme in “Kiri” by Monoral which is sung in pretty good english and whose lyrics match the theme of the show pretty well though the instrumental ending theme “Fellow Citizens” is pretty forgettable.
Ergo Proxy is a show with a lot on it’s mind and interesting ideas sitting below the surface. Though it’s not perfect narratively it does a remarkably solid job in what it wants to convey and it’s themes are pretty thought provoking. It can be a bit of a pain to sit through at first given how utterly egotistical the show can be at first about what it is, but it’s a rewarding experience in the long run. If you want to see something that makes you think a bit it’s worth checking out.
Available on Hulu, Funimation.com