I’ve been watching a lot of anime that I consider very different from the usual crop of late, with considerably higher budgets than the average shounen action series, and much more ambitious, seinen plots. Ergo Proxy is one of these, reminding me of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for its impressive animation and futuristic setting, and Monster for its dark tone, emphasis on its characters’ psychological states and understanding that sophistication also needs a good plot, unlike, say, the dark but meandering Serial Experiments Lain.
Ergo Proxy is the story of a futuristic society, with the wasteful luxury of Brave New World and the reliance on robots of an Isaac Asimov setting – and a similar need to question the philosophical implications of artificial intelligence. Vincent, a bashful, ineffective young man trying to fit into this society, and Lil, the rebellious granddaughter of the ‘Administrator’, become entangled in the mystery surrounding the Proxies, mysterious and powerful beings, and the Cogito virus, which can grant robotic life-forms a consciousness – embodied by the young infected ‘Companion-type AutoReiv’ Pino, a robot designed to be the perfect little girl, who tags along for the journey. If this sounds like one of a thousand sci-fi novels/movies, that’s because it is. But it’s the presentation that makes this series stand out, and how the concept is developed.
Ergo Proxy is ambitious. It’s full of nods to philosophy (some without much meaning, like the names of the computer-council which owes a lot to Evangelion’s Magi system, some integral, like the nod to Descartes in calling the virus ‘Cogito’), art (Michaelangelo statues; a direct nod to Millais’ vision of Ophelia) and Western theology (Much talk of sin, creators, angels, free will and ‘The Rapture’), it aspires to the highbrow. It makes you concentrate, too, with disorienting storytelling that starts in the middle and then fills in the blanks, multiple levels of reality (the Proxies can invade minds) and a second half that diverges wildly from any kind of typical climax-resolution structure, for just as mysteries need to be unravelled, we have whole episodes devoted to how characters interact when they’re bored and stranded, or cleverly unsettling pastiches of cheesy game shows and a direct parody of Disney. Never predictable and very willing to take risks, it makes for intriguing viewing.
The art, too, is distinct, realistic and darkly-lit. Lil looks oddly like a Western comic book hero with her eye make-up and penchant for dark clothes. Ergo Proxy looks like something out of Noein in a more realistic style, and little Pino may act like Yotsuba, but you won’t see any expressions more exaggerated than the classic ^_^ smiley eyes. Fluid animation and some very imaginative sets make for impressive visuals. The androgynous young Dr. Daedalus (Greek mythology references present and accounted for too!) looks very nice on the screen too.
Directed, written and presented in a very novel way, with a story that isn’t too original but is unfolded with such control and branches off in such surprising directions, Ergo Proxy is well worth watching.