Spectrum Nexus

Anime Info

Creator: A Manglobe Production
Director: Shuko Murase
Genre: Post Cyberpunk/Mystery
Length: 23 Episodes

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Summary

+ Beautiful animation
+ Autoreivs design is gorgeous
+ Very interesting protagonist
– Too many 'talking heads' scenes

Overview

Science fiction stories dealing with the consequences of our robots becoming self aware are common place. While Ergo Proxy may resemble previous explorations of this theme such as Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, it manages to find its own style and voice. Although occasionally weighed down by exposition and "talking head" syndrome, its interesting characters and use of philosophic and mythic symbolism help rise above the Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell clones produced by other anime studios. Fans of post cyberpunk, "future noir", or even a good mystery should give this series a try.

Public Rating

Our Rating

Score of 4 out of 5
4 out of 5 · Highly Recommended

Ergo Proxy Anime Review

Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 4/27/2008

Introduction

What happens when robots, tools of humans, become aware of their own existence and decide to be more than mere tools? That question has been one of the central themes of science fiction dealing with robots since Karel Capek coined the word "robot" in his seminal play Rossum's Universal Robots. Set in the future, after human beings have been forced to live in domed city following an ecological disaster, Ergo Proxy tells the story of Re-l Mayer, an inspector investigating a series of gruesome murders carried out by berserk robots that threaten the very fabric of the city's society.

Review

Ergo Proxy is a beautifully animated, intelligent series built on the foundations of earlier science fiction such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner that still manages to find its own tone and voice. The series' plot is built on the mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes' famous principle, "Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum" "I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am." In simplest terms, Descartes believed that the individual can be certain that they exist because they can think – thought being more reliable than one's senses – to Descartes it was the only thing that could not be doubted. The question that arises in the series is essentially this, "If a machine can think and is aware of itself because it thinks, is it not entitled to the same right to self as the thinking human?"

The series begins with violent murders carried out by berserk androids (known as Autoreivs) that have become infested by the so-called Cogito virus. Romdo's society is built on the tightly woven interaction between humans and Autoreivs; any violence between the two groups could unravel the entire city's way of life. The series' audience is introduced to the strange world of the utopian city-state of Romdo largely through the eyes of Re-l Mayer, granddaughter of the city's Regent, and an investigator for the Citizen Intelligence Bureau as she investigates these crimes. Theirs is a highly stratified society modeled loosely on the ideal republic written about by Plato. The society is ruled from the top down by a Regent and three Autoreivs styled on Plato's philosopher-kings and there is heavy emphasis on information control. The rest of the society is built around a rigid class system with full citizens at the top, Autorievs somewhere in the middle and various types of immigrants at the bottom. The best jobs, housing, and services are largely reserved for the full citizens; immigrants take whatever menial tasks they can get that humans and Autorievs won't do. It is the hope of the immigrants that they earn their way to citizenship through hard work, proper behavior, and a certain amount of patronage.

During the course of her investigation, Re-l comes in contact with a mysterious black creature that is more flexible than any human and stronger than even the strongest industrial Autorievs. She doesn't know it, but she has stumbled onto the Proxy – a mysterious creature who recently escaped from a government lab and whose existence is being kept secret. The escape of the Proxy is being investigated by Raul Creed, the Director-General of the Citizen Security Bureau – by request of the Regent, the Security Bureau erases all data concerning Re-l's encounter with the creature from the records, tampers with her Autoriev's memory of the event, and has Re-l's physician Daedalus declare Re-l unfit for duty. However, as in a police procedural, Re-l continues on the investigation on her own.

One of Re-l's leads is Vincent Law, an immigrant working with the Autoreiv Control Division as one of the many technicians assigned to hunt down and dispose of infected Autoreivs. Squint eyed and rodent-like, he desperately wants to fit in with Romdo society and gain his citizenship. However, he is haunted by the strange connection between himself and the Proxy. Vincent has been present at nearly every one of the creature's appearances, the creature has been seen chasing Vincent, and Re-l finds a necklace belonging to Vincent at the scene of one of the Proxy's attacks. Driven nearly insane by hallucinations and fever-dreams, Vincent tracks down the escape route used by infected Autoreivs to get outside. Joined by Pino, the childlike companion model Autoreiv employed by Raul Creed's family, Vincent manages to find his way to an opening in the domed city's outer wall. Following a hunch, Re-l Mayer tracks Vincent to the same location and unwittingly leads Raul Creed and his men to the same spot. In a panic, Vincent steps from a ledge and apparently to an untimely death on the rocky shores of the bay below. Pino, now hopelessly bonded to Vincent, goes tumbling after him.

Instead of dying, Vincent awakens several days later in the home of Hoody, a mysterious old man, who is one of the many outcasts living among the rocks along the bay outside Romdo. These people, who either left or were exiled from the city for a variety of reasons, scrounge a living from the waste and junk thrown out by the inhabitants of the city. It is perhaps here that Vincent Law will find the answers to the mysteries plaguing his existence. Meanwhile, the security drone that routinely patrols the perimeter of the dome, accidentally spots Vincent when he tries to keep it from spotting the curious and innocent Pino – like any child she isn't cognizant of the need to stay hidden when unwanted cameras are around. However, Vincent's reckless destruction of the machine is unnecessary – it was programmed to report human activity not Autoreivs.

Show More Hoody, like the government he fled, uses lies and exaggerations to maintain his control over the refugee compound. He tells the people that Vincent is the leader of revolutionaries, a chosen one who will lead the overthrow of the Regent. He also explains that he has been in communication with the government and that they will soon send a negotiator to end the conflict between the Commune and the city. This sense of false hope keeps the refugees close to Hoody but not all of them are convinced. Among those who aren't, is Quinn who finds Hoody a likable but foolish dreamer. She especially distrusts Hoody's plan to use a device named the Centzon Totochtin (400 Rabbits) to return to Romdo and overthrow the Regent.

Later, when Re-l turns up searching for Vincent, Hoody convinces the refugees that she is the hoped for negotiator. Re-l is of course only interested in bringing Vincent back to Romdo and investigating his connection to the Proxy. When Hoody overhears Re-l mention the Proxy, he mentions that there is more than one of them and that he personally seen at least three of the creatures. He also speaks about them in tones that suggest that the Proxies have taken on a mythic status among the outcasts and refugees – he describes them as sorcerers who can take on any shape they want and perform incredible feats of magic. Meanwhile, the Security Bureau has ordered a clean up of the commune, sending in drones to gun down the refugees. As Re-l and Vincent attempt to make their escape, Re-l is caught by gunfire and her environmental suit is breached. Having spent her entire life in the sealed, sterile environment of Romdo, Re-l's immune system is compromised, she succumbs quickly to a contagion. Elsewhere Quinn discovers that her son Timothy has been killed by the drone attack.

With a few exceptions such as a bizarre game show where Vincent's trivia knowledge is tested while he fights for his life, the plot of the series unfolds along familiar lines, as mysteries are explored and the plot twists and turns towards the inevitable final confrontation. However, while the basic elements of Ergo Proxy's plot will be familiar to fans of such works as Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, I Robot and other works of Isaac Asimov, and Rossum's Universal Robots, the series' use of symbolism derived from the philosophies of Descartes, Derrida, Hussard, and Kristeva and others gives the series a unique flavor. Dai Sato, the series' creator, describes the central theme of the series as the debate over whether we are who we because of the environment where we were raised or due to some inherent factor. Much of the theme is also heavily influenced by a wide variety of mythology – the childlike Pino is named for and often dressed like a pink toy rabbit popular in Britain. The rabbit has been a potent fertility symbol since ancient times. The name Centzon Totochtin refers to the 400 Rabbits of Aztec myth – these creatures are the children of Patecatl god of fertility and Mayahuel goddess of the maguey plant, source of the popular Aztec wine known as octli (AKA pulque) and the more modern Tequila. The 400 Rabbits are thought to represent the various states and forms of drunkenness and one of their number, Macuitochtli, represents excessive consumption. Consumption and waste are running motifs of the series – Romdo's citizens are repeatedly told to make "Make waste and lighten their load". The relationship between the Proxies and the Regent could also be seen as inspired by the Aztec myth of the fall of the Toltechs. In the myth, Quetzalcoatl god of light and wisdom rules the utopia of Tollan as a benign autocrat. His rule is overthrown by Tezcatlipoca god of night and sorcery. In Ergo Proxy, the old Regent and his Autoreivs take on the Quetzalcoatl role while the Proxies can be seen as Tezcatlipoca and the other gods of the night.

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A major weakness of the series is it's over use of what could be called the chorus of "talking head" elites. This is the scene in every science fiction or fantasy anime where the elite rulers of the city, country, planet or secret society where the story is set sit around in an elaborate throne room or conference center and blather on and on about the consequences of the hero's actions on the society. While this technique may have worked in ancient Greek tragedy, today's audiences, especially audiences for science fiction are fairly sophisticated and capable for determining for themselves the implications of the hero's actions. This is especially apparent in Ergo Proxy where it is clear from the opening scenes that a society in which androids are so tightly integrated into the fabric of every day life would only be endangered by their erratic behavior. It is also clear that the investigation into this erratic behavior would also upset the delicate balance of such a society. The audience doesn't need this aspect of the story pointed out to them in every other scene of the story. Anime producers should learn to trust their audience more and use these scenes a little (lot) less.

Other than the rather bland elites who the rule the city; the characters in the series are fairly interesting – the characters are too often a weakness in technology themed anime. Inspector Re-l is an especially interesting take on the "future noir" detective. Unlike Ghost in the Shell and many the anime that came in its wake, Re-l is neither a cyborg nor a robot but an ordinary flesh and blood human being with no superpowers other than her keen mind and sometimes acerbic wit. It would have been easy to make the protagonist a Rick Deckard clone; however the series' creator made her more interesting than that. She's flawed with out wallowing in it the way other noir detectives might. One of her major flaws is her dependence on an Autoreiv named Iggy. When she discovers that her investigation is being impeded by the Regent spying on her through her Iggy, she moves on with out him. Iggy, is her driver, database, protector, memory, and perhaps her friend, so losing him, wounds Re-l deeply. In too many standard noir stories, the wounded detective would drown himself in cheap Scotch for several scenes before pulling himself together enough to solve the case. Re-l resolutely moves forward.

Conclusion

Ergo Proxy Ergo Proxy is a beautifully animated intelligent show. Although similar in many ways to its predecessors, it manages to find a voice of its own through the liberal use of philosophy and mythic symbolism. Although it drags at times with the over use of talking head scenes, it over comes its weaknesses through interesting characters and exploration of one of science fiction's major themes.




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