Anime usually gets a bad rep from the film buff. This is merited. Googly eyes, Lolitas, superpowers, high-pitched voices and strange pornographic offshoots appeal to a particular sort of aesthetic sensibility. But hidden within the folds of a genre geared towards kids and fanatics (I mean that neutrally without negative connotations), there is a work for which applying the term ‘bordering on the sublime’ would be an understatement. Ergo Proxy is sublime. It is awesome, and I love it. It took me about three months to get through the twenty-three episodes (23 minutes each). I liked it so much that I was scared to continue watching it for fear of ruining my spotless opinion of it. There was no cause for fear. It stays excellent. It’s that good.
Ergo Proxy is recent (broadcast in 2006) and has little in common with most of its field. The animation is fluid, the special effects top notch and the characters are drawn in human proportions. The show fits under the umbrella of sci- fi, but that’s only a framework. Ergo Proxy goes in some very surprising (and sometimes hilarious) directions. Though a lot of futuristic, post-apocalyptic environments can be gruesomely dismal and depressing to look at (Ghost in the Shell for example), this show manages to make a whole lot of gray and brown exceedingly beautiful. This is in part due to all the machinery being design masterpieces and the costumes coming straight out of a fashion magazine. Furthermore, the backgrounds and scenery also happen to be superb.
The credits say quite a bit about the show’s content. The closing is ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead and the song becomes emblematic of the show in general. Immediately following the closing credits, we hear the main character (Re-l Mayer) tell us in poetic fashion (while parts of her sentences flash on the screen) what has been going on (both in the current episode and what will take place next). These little summaries quickly become vital, since each episode, as a general rule, takes different meaning as you watch subsequent episodes. This may be disconcerting at first, since too much vagueness can be irritating, but I think Ergo Proxy has that perfect amount which keeps you engrossed. This was immediately manifest when I had to watch the first episode about four times before I really had any idea what to make of it (to my joyous amazement at discovering something so incredible). Despite its complexity, Ergo Proxy is definitely enjoyed best with breaks in between (both to prolong the experience and allow for pondering time).
The opening song is called ‘Kiri’ by the elusive British band ‘Monoral’ combined with visuals of the major characters mixed in with little grainy flashes of what I think are Greek and Italian words, as well as a variety of other tasteful imagery. The whole section has this antique feel to it, which juxtaposes curiously well with the show’s futuristic setting. It also hints at the prevalence throughout the series of Greek imagery, sculpture and philosophical themes. Ergo Proxy works with complex ideas, both internally and in what it alludes to (which includes naming characters Lacan, Derrida and Husserl). Despite a multitude of thematic elements, Ergo Proxy approaches two main ideas: one being whether the path or the traveller constitutes an identity, and second, what constitutes a purpose (termed raison d’être within the show). These two themes are often seen through the lens of machines achieving sentience and a strange group of creatures called Proxies (hence the show’s name).
To continue, the characters are just about the coolest I’ve come across. They’re refreshingly complex, with intricate emotions and character development almost worthy of a Kubrick film. The dialogue is never juvenile and the English voice actors are all convincing in their parts. The quality of the characters themselves lends force to the already amazing setting and plot (both of which are naturally interwoven). Ergo Proxy is at once mystery, suspense, drama, action, comedy and an all around breathtaking experience. Something this good happens very rarely,and in fact, the writing of this article makes me itch to re-watch the whole thing. On a final note, you can buy the entire series in English for under $30 (in a release called the Ergo Proxy Perfect Collection). However, if you feel generous, the official releases are certainly worth their salt.
First published in The New York Optimist