It’s time again for the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa thingy, where anime bloggers make each other watch shows and then write words about them. Last year I got to watch the seasonably appropriate Tokyo Godfathers, which is an excellent film directed by the late Satoshi Kon that you should all go buy. This year I’m watching Ergo Proxy, which isn’t seasonably appropriate in the least and it’s not exactly excellent either.
“The domed city of Romdo is an impenetrable would-be utopia where humans and robots coexist, and everything is under complete government control – or so it appears. While working on a mysterious murder case, Re-l Mayer, a female detective from the Civilian Intelligence Office, receives a foreboding message that something is going to “awaken.” That night, she’s attacked by a deformed super-being… What was this unidentified monster that attacked her, and who was the figure that came in between them? As Re-l attempts to unlock this spiraling mystery, a metaphysical battle cry leads her to the unknown outside world.”
Ergo Proxy has a fetish for being vague. The series’ terminology is rarely defined, and characters often have discussions of vague concepts. Sometimes this makes sense as things need to be obscure for the sake of the story, but most of the time it just gets annoying and tiresome. Certain plot points are also left vague such as an important event that’s essentially skipped when the story jumps from the group just about to return to Romdo after exploring the wasteland, to them being separated in Romdo after some serious shit had gone down. How the group got separated and what actually happened in Romdo is explained through narration. It was so abrupt that I thought I was being faked out (again).
The series also never bothers to fully explain what happened to the world. It’s apparent when we first see outside Romdo that something went horribly wrong and the world was left as a barren wasteland. The closest thing to an explanation are a few snippets snuck in during a quiz show halfway through the series. It ends up being an info-dump surrounded by a completely random unexplained event.There’s actually an interesting backstory here involving the end of the world and a plan to restore it, but the series seemed quite intent on never fully fleshing it out. I would have been totally fine with an entire episode of exposition about what happened to the world to put it in the condition it’s in and how the plans were carried out, but no such luck I suppose.
Something that could have saved the series would be interesting characters, but no luck there either. The main character, or what we’re supposed to believe is the main character, is Re-l Mayer, a girl who dresses all in black, wears too much makeup, and is generally unpleasant to be around. She’s almost completely irrelevant to the plot and I’m not sure why she’s the main character when the story actually revolves around Vincent Law. Vincent is more likeable than Re-l, which is hardly a challenge, but isn’t any more interesting. He has no memories of before he immigrated to Romdo, has a connection to the Proxies, and is in love with Re-l (what man could possibly resist that cold unpleasant personality?) The other major player in the series is Pino, a little robot girl in a bunny suit who just acts cute most of the time, which probably makes her better than the other two at least.
The series also has a problem with completely random episodes that make everything grind to halt, usually for no real purpose. One of these would be the aforementioned gameshow episode. But that episode at least reveals some of the backstory for the series. It may have ground things to a halt for what was a goofy out of place episode, but at least it contributed something. By far the biggest waste of time is the episode about Smile Land. It’s an episode that takes place entirely in a dream of the little girl robot, where a Proxy asks her to prevent the group from going to his dome. And then they don’t go to the dome, and none of the events in the episode are ever brought up again. Hooray.
It wasn’t entirely bad though. The early episodes with Vincent first leaving Romdo and exploring the outside world were actually interesting. Had the series stuck with that and simply been about Vincent surviving after being forced to leave the safety of the dome, it probably would have been pretty good. But once it gets on to the point of heading to Vincent’s original home, and encountering other Proxies, it just gets dull and in the end there’s no payoff for any of it. For all its philosophical ramblings, Ergo Proxy doesn’t really have anything to say and just feels like a waste of time.
The art and animation in Ergo Proxy are as good as they need to be. It’s a show where stand around talking about things. The most actual movement in the series happens whenever there’s a fight with a Proxy. There are a few moments where characters are off model, including a hilarious side view of Re-l’s head in one episode where her face is completely flat. There’s really nothing all that impressive visually, with fight scenes being few and far between and the general setting of the series, the wasteland remains of Earth, being a huge stretch of grey. It’s a dark, drab series where people stand around and talk, so what more can you really expect?
Ergo Proxy is a show drowning in dark sci-fi themes, philosophical meanderings, strange terminology and unlikeable characters. This would hardly be a problem if the show could muster up the ability to be entertaining in any way, but really it’s about as entertaining as watching an amnesiac man wonder about who he really is and how he ended up in his situation. If that sounds like your cup of tea, all the power to you, but all it’s just not for me.
Ergo Proxy is out of print but is available on Amazon Instant Video for some reason