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Anime Review & Ramble: Ergo Proxy

Ergo Proxy (Manglobe, 2006) is an anime that names giant, dystopia-governing Greek statues after literary critics.  Know this going into it.  It does not pull punches in its complexity, convolution, or detailed philosophical referentiality.  But if you enjoy that level of challenge (or can put up with it), you may be very pleased: the series is artistically superb, thought provoking, and exceptional in its character development.  (Light spoilers follow.)

Ergo Proxy

A Proxy

Ergo Proxy presents a future in which an environmentally devastated Earth maintains life in domed cities inhabited by three peoples: AutoReivs (android servants), humans, and Proxies (genetically engineered beings with almost godlike power).  Not everyone, however, is aware of Proxies, and our story opens with aristocratic young detective Re-L Mayer beginning to stumble onto the Proxy mystery as she investigates sightings of a monster.  Her investigations keep leading her back to an unprepossessing working class technician, Vincent Law, who, for his part, is baffled by his entanglement in monster attacks.  When the statue-like things that govern the city abort Re-L’s investigation, she begins to suspect a conspiracy and becomes more determined than ever to uncover the truth.  Meanwhile, Vincent finds himself outlawed and thrust into the outside world with an AutoReiv child, Pino.  It is, of course, only a matter of time before Re-L’s curiosity leads her to follow them and learn the truth about their society’s history and purpose.

And that setup-summary expresses nothing about what makes this anime fantastic.  It is fantastic because it creates an array of fascinating characters.  Re-L is that rare and precious creation: a truly well-written female character in anime.  She steers clear of all the usual clichés, unless it be for very, very light fan service in her perfect figure and tight clothing.  She is tough, smart, professional, authoritative and also young, arrogant, and often rude.  These characteristics come from the same place: her privileged status as the “granddaughter” of the city’s ruler.  Over the course of the series she matures and softens without ever losing her basic personality and core strengths.  Vincent is hard to unpack without spoilers, but from the start, he is an interesting mix of craven and courageous, underwhelming yet resilient and even noble in his actions.  Pino is an intriguing example of a “robot child,” with some characteristics that ring absolutely true to childhood development and others that simply aren’t human.  A surprisingly subtle and ultimately very moving secondary character is Raul, who begins as an important representative of the city’s status quo and ends… somewhere else.

Re-L Mayer

Re-L Mayer wearing one of her typical expressions.

Ergo Proxy is fascinating, too, in its thematic exploration of selfhood and the nature of humanity/personhood.  Without giving specific spoilers, I will say that almost every character in the series is an “artificial” person in some respect: a product of genetic engineering, mechanical wombs, and/or more conventional mechanical construction.  In a world in which people can be constructed in this way, cloning is easy and, as the title suggests, one being may simply be considered a proxy (a replacement or placeholder) for another.  The series asks who we are if we are replaceable.  Are we replaceable?  It suggests some answers but none of them are pat.  In this respect, it is not only an engaging character drama but thought-provoking hard science fiction.

Quick Overview

Plot:

The plot of Ergo Proxy is extremely convoluted.  I’ve seen the series several times, and there are things I still don’t understand.  The basic character drama is a “road movie” about self-discovery, but once you dig down into the underlying world building, things are abstrusely multilayered.  I don’t consider this a bad thing: it shows respect for the audience’s intelligence, but it might be a pig for folks who like their storytelling straightforward.

Vincent Law

Vincent Law, like Arthur Dent, prefers tea to adventure.

Characters:

I’ve already discussed character quite a bit above, so suffice it to say character is one of the great strengths of the series.  Vincent Law has taken his place among my favorite anime characters, and Re-L is extremely high on my list of well-depicted anime women.  More minor characters are generally also served well.  My one complaint might be a dearth of women besides Re-L.  Pino is female, but only in a token sense: her behavior is that of an androgynous child.  Other female characters are few and (with one notable exception) slightly developed.

Art & Presentation:

Ergo Proxy is one of the loveliest anime I’ve seen.  Its conceptual art, character designs, and animation are fantastic on the whole, with just a handful of episodes where the characters look more cheaply rendered.  The music is also well above par.  The opening sequence could stand as a music video on its own: it’s up there with Lain in being one of my favorite openings.  The voice acting is very good, including a presentation of Re-L that bypasses all the usual anime-woman tropes.

Pino

Pino!

Warnings:

Plot convolution?  (Secondary) character death.  This is clearly a seinen series, aimed at adults.  It involves dark, dystopian themes and some violence, but it does not set out to shock.  The violence is not gory.  The sexual content is close to nil.  Characters suffer from some psychological abuse, but it is understated compared to many series.

Overall:

Can you tell I love this series?  I wish I came across finds like this more often.  My only reservation in recommending Ergo Proxy to audiences who like seinen is its complex plot, which some reviews have characterized as tiresome.  But if you don’t mind picking apart a lot of plot threads or being a little fuzzy about what’s going on, it’s a very strong series in every other respect.

Personal Note:

This will be my last regular post for the Geek Girl Project.  The demands of daily life, including adopting two kids, are going to keep me hopping busy with other commitments.  It’s been great to see this blog take off and share in some small part in its achievements.  I hope to be able to return for guest posts.  Thanks for reading!

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