Saturday, February 6, 2010

Anime review: Ergo Proxy

I’m a huge fan of sci-fi entertainment, from video games, to comic book, to novels and films. I’ve even more intrigued by the dystopian sci-fi subgenre. It happened by chance that I was browsing through YouTube’s officially hosted shows and came across a series called Ergo Proxy. I was sold on the first few episodes, but I wondered just how strong this series could remain.

Ergo Proxy draws a great deal of inspiration from the literary works of Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” and George Orwell’s “1984”, while feeling similar in both theme and mood to Aeon Flux and The Matrix. The series begins in the domed city of Romdo, wherein citizens live out relatively normal lives with the comforting knowledge that they are safe from the diseases and savage people who live outside. But Re-L Mayer, granddaughter of Romdo’s regent, is running her own secret investigation of Romdo’s past and the god-like entities known as proxies. Though still a prominent figure over the course of the series, the first few episodes somewhat ‘trick’ viewers into believing Re-L is the main character.

The lead role is instead given to a young man known as Vincent Law, an immigrant from the Mosque dome. Vincent is a simple worker in Romdo’s undercity who is working towards earning his privilege to be considered a ‘fellow citizen’ and be looked upon as an equal among Romdo’s higher class inhabitants. Unfortunately, Vincent gets caught up in the mystery of the proxies, is targeted by Romdo’s defense force as a threat to their stability, and narrowly escapes Romdo with his life.

The final major character of the series is Pino, a rather obvious nod to Pinocchio. Pino is a companion type auto-reiv (robotic assistants to the humans) who becomes infected with the cogito virus. The virus leads Pino to believe she has a soul, and as the series progresses Pino begins to understand human intricacies such as emotions, imagination, and curiosity.

The series is very moody, but isn’t quite as dark and violent as it tries to sell itself as. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, as it allows the character and plot development time to flesh out. That said, the fight sequences are phenomenal and never feel repetitive. The characters encounter many proxies along the way, but none of them are quite the same, utilizing different powers to their advantage. Some of the proxies use psychological warfare as opposed to physical attacks, and a select few are even shown to be compassionate. The fact that the proxies are trying to live in a human world and are often viewed more as resources than beings makes their dislike of the humans understandable. Some of the proxies are driven to the brink of insanity, becoming even less human than the humans themselves.

Ergo Proxy is rather atypical compared to many sci-fi anime I have watched in the past, as there is no explicitly stated good or evil force. Rather, it is up to the viewer to decide who was right and wrong in the end, and as such viewers will likely come to different conclusions based on the events therein. The end of the series is the only section that really breaks this mold, attempting to bring some straightforward Biblical references into play. While these still work with the story well enough, they don’t seem to fit in as coherently with the other overarching themes of the series. It’s a minor detraction at worst, though.

As for the flow of the story, it only slows down at a few points in order to explain back-story on characters or to strengthen the characters’ relationships with one another. There are moments in the series where viewers are deliberately caught off guard by plot twists. The episode titled “Ophelia” will have viewers witnessing the many possibilities of the characters’ fates. The old man in “Anamuneshisu” breaks the fourth wall, drawing viewers in as part of the experience, and whether or not he is a proxy or simply a manifestation of Vincent’s mind is left completely ambiguous.

While all of this can be very intriguing, the series is not without its flaws. While Ergo Proxy prevents itself from running in circles, there are a few episodes that feel as if they belong in another anime entirely. “Who wants to be in Jeopardy” is meant to provide some blatant foreshadowing, but the way it goes about doing this seems monotonous and out of place. “Eternal Smile” is somewhat more fitting, focusing on Pino’s imagination and growing emotional spectrum. But it is still a large shift into a cartoon-style and childish world from the cyberpunk dystopia that has been well established by the time “Eternal Smile” rolls around.

Ergo Proxy’s soundtrack combines more traditional orchestrated pieces with electronic and heavy percussion sounds. The result is an accompanting soundtrack that is incredibly unique and creates a surprisingly diverse number of sounds. The art design is hauntingly beautiful, though some viewers may be turned off by the constant browns and dark grays, as it is often difficult to see exactly what is going on at times. The series does a fantastic job of bringing new ideas into the mix of a genre often filled with rehashed storylines. For an anime rated TV-MA, Ergo Proxy does a fantastic job of balancing intricate fight sequences with post-modern ideologies and political unrest.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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