Ergo Proxy is an anime I've enjoyed since it first aired, and I was more than willing to grab this review when it came up. Thanks to FUNimation, Ergo Proxy (previously licensed by Geneon) has been rescued and re-released in full as a Classics DVD box set.
Ergo Proxy follows the story of Re-l (or Real) Mayer and Vincent Law as they uncover truths about their existence. Re-l lives in Romdo, a domed city attempting to keep humanity going as they wait for the devastated Earth to become inhabitable again. In Romdo, everyone has an Entourage (a companion robot). Suddenly, they start contracting this virus, called cogito, and become self aware. As mysteries mount, and Vincent seems to be in the middle of it all, Re-l ventures outside her domed city's walls.
Click through the jump for a brief summary with analysis, and my full thoughts on this DVD release.
Ergo Proxy [DVD]
According to an informational episode towards the middle chunk of the show, the human population was reduced by about 85%. Some escaped to space to wait out Earth's eventual healing, and some remained. Proxies were created and brought forth in order to maintain domed cities that would foster a manufactured humanity until the time was right for Earth to be re-inhabited.
The domed cities were perfect, idealistic environments with little to no crime, and perfectly bio-engineered humans that were created in artificial wombs. Re-l Mayer herself is a top agent in the city's intelligence bureau and is the granddaughter of the man who is in the care of Romdo. One day, the city's Proxy escapes, and just as it attempts to eliminate Re-l, she is saved by Ergo Proxy. When she becomes drawn to the affair and tries to find answers, she is completely shut down by the higher-ups, even to the point of planting her own Entourage with surveillance bugs, and eventually an attempted assassination.
With the help of Daedalus, the chief of medical who has overseen her development and care throughout her entire life, she escapes Romdo along with her Entourage Iggy and joins Vincent and an infected Auto-Reiv (robot) called Pino. From then on, you (as the viewer) are slowly fed information about what Proxies are, the situation that brought human kind to its current state, and what it means for the future. Vincent and Re-l are equally the main characters and focus of the show, and stick together through the end in their quest for the truths which have been kept from both of them (and pretty much all of mankind).
Throughout Ergo Proxy, you'll encounter more biblical references and philosophy than you'll immediately be able to identify, beginning with the simple concept of cogito, or cogito ergo sum. Perhaps the biggest theme in Ergo Proxy is the subject of self, and what brings meaning to one's existence. Every person and Auto-Reiv introduced in the show will have a clear raison d'etre, and will face the same sort of existential crisis when they no longer have it.
Though Ergo Proxy definitely qualifies as drama, sci-fi, mystery, even action, it has its humorous points. Pino is provided as the never-ending source for smiles as you watch her develop after she's infected with the cogito virus. Rather than becoming vengeful when she gains a soul, she ends up acting like any other little girl would. She also frequently dons an adorable bunny suit, and introduces various references to Alice in Wonderland that are also mixed in with all the philosophy throughout. She's the innocent character that buffers all the heaviness. She also happens to share my last name, so she must be rad.
Pino's behavior is in distinct contrast with Iggy's post-infection, though. When Iggy is infected, he develops a split personality ruled by his desperate need to be of use to Re-l. In other words, his feelings of being cast aside or written-off pulled him in two different directions: the first is a pleading Iggy who wants Re-l to need him, who will do anything for her and who wishes to protect her. The second is an angry Iggy who resents her for sending him away, calling her useless and needy and then trying to force her to remain under his protection so he can still have a purpose. The performance on the part of the voice actor was superb during this phase, because of the stark differences in his tone of voice depending on which part of his personality was on the surface. Deep down though, Iggy never turned away from his raison d'etre, which was always to be Re-l's protector.
FUNimation's Classics DVD Box Set comes with some attractive artwork around it and four discs inside. The fourth disc is the only one with Extras, and you do have the option of enjoying Ergo Proxy in either Japanese or English. Even though the Extras are only contained in one disc along with the last two hours and 15 minutes of the show, there is plenty of material to enjoy: Three features (an overview of the various denizens and special terms in the show, a "behind the scenes," and the English staff interview), various trailers, commercials, and of course the clean OP and ED. The OP is called Kiri (by MONORAL) and remains the same throughout all 23 episodes. The ED is Radiohead's Paranoid Android, which surprised me when I first saw Ergo Proxy. I should also mention here that Kiri is one of my favorite OPs of all time, and the full version of the song is great (to my ears, anyway).
As far as the animation quality goes, Ergo Proxy is not among the popular colorful and exaggerated styles we see everywhere. Realism is a key factor, and all the environments outside of Romdo are grungy, dirty, and steampunk-like with dystopian desolation and pollution everywhere. The only complaint I have about it, and I've had this complaint since 2006, is that the picture is too dark. Sometimes, it's difficult to tell what's going on on-screen. I do think there is a significance to this though, because there are key scenes that seem deliberately darker or more clear depending on the situation.
When I review new releases like this, I usually listen to just a few episodes with the dubs on to get a feel for how the voice actors perform their roles compared with the Japanese version. I originally saw this in Japanese, and that was fine, but I was blown away by the dubs, which I switched on from the beginning this time around. And I never turned them off. The dialogue and the story appeal to Western storytelling, so much so that the dubs feel completely natural and befitting. The themes in Ergo Proxy aren't so saturated with references to Japanese culture (they're actually nonexistent), so nothing is lost in translation. If anything, it feels like Ergo Proxy references the likes of Phillip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov and their stories about robots, robotics, and self-awareness.
Greatest of all, it doesn't feel like anything you end up watching or listening to is unnecessary. What else do you expect though, when the likes of Dai Sato (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Wolf's Rain, Cowboy Bebop, even the recent Tekken: Blood Vengeance which I also reviewed) had a hand in the screenplay? If you enjoyed any or all of those titles, you'll probably enjoy Ergo Proxy. For fans of realism, philosophy, deep human emotion, and robots, this is definitely a show that deserves your time. From when it first aired until now, it holds up well conceptually and in terms of execution. If you want to sample it before buying anything, you also have the option of watching it on FUNimation's website. This box set is a great release that won't break the bank.
[9.5 – Exceptional, near-perfect. One of the best things its genre has ever produced.]
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