• Titles: Ergo Proxy
  • Genre: Science Fiction, action, adventure, dystopia, drama, romance
  • Episodes: 23
  • Studio: Manglobe

The world may be lost but as long as the beautiful city of Rondeau stands, humanity will have a home. A great home! Pinnacle of evolution and technology. No wonder everyone wants to be a citizen. But something is changing in Rondeau. There are seismic shifts and rumbles across the town. Maybe all is not as serene as it seems. The android servants that make life so much easier for all, are beginning to get infected. They are starting to act in unpredictable ways. That can’t be good. The population is restless and the immigrants are straining the system. And now, a mysterious being called the Proxy has appeared. A preternatural killer wrecking chaos in the streets. But why is this all happening now? Why is the Cogito virus suddenly acting up? Where did the Proxy come from? And what is this pulse of the awakening that is setting everything in motion?

Ergo Proxy is one of these shows that I took in through the collective at some point. What I mean is that as far as I can tell, I always knew it existed and I always knew it was dystopian sci fi. But I don’t know how I knew that. Probably because every aggregator out there keeps recommending t to me as soon as I disclose that I liked Psycho-Pass…

I’m gonna have to teach you all a thing or two about how to make a bowl of cereal…

Production

Full disclosure, I did read a few excerpts of reviews for Ergo Proxy before writing my own. More specifically professional reviews that came out at the time it was first released. One of the common threads is that the visuals are universally praised. And this is how I know I won’t make it as a professional. Where we watching the same series???

Look, the character designs and some of the backgrounds are very nice. The AutoReivs are also all really well designed and interesting to look at. They are intricate and striking. Re-l’s day after raccoon smokey eye look is pretty much iconic and everyone that has seen it will recognize it for years afterwards. And the art style is nice enough. Actually, it is very good, just not my very favourite.

However, the visuals are drastically inconsistent. There is at least one shot per episode where you got to ask yourself. oh my, what happened there? And when they get bad, they get really bad. Angles and distance make characters look like their bone structure had morphed and details go straight out the door. The Proxys seem dull compared to the robots, although I will say that the mask is very effective. And a lot of the show takes place in barren wastelands so there go the interesting backgrounds.

man, makeup sure changes a person

The animation is pretty good though and remains fluid throughout the show.

Finally, there are those colours. Now there is a narrative reason for Ergo Proxy to be sort of desaturated. Namely, there is no sun. Also, I figure that the dingy colour gradient is meant to heighten the mood and created that good ol cyberpunk aesthetic. I’m not sure about when it came out, in 2006, but by now this specific palette is something I have seen so many times that I just found it dull. There is one episode that takes place in a sort of dreamscape where the palette is just back to regular normal colours and it was so refreshing.

Actually, now that I write this, I guess I can’t argue that the colours didn’t do their job! You do get the feel for the suffocating and slightly hopeless situation of the characters. It’s just not that interesting to look at.

Finally, the voice acting is very theatrical. I prefer the Japanese version by far but even there you can hear how deliberate the line delivery is. It sounds like acting. In this case, though, I think it’s a good thing.

get ready to hear that a lot!

Story & Characters

Ok. so I’m going to go into spoilers but before I do let me try to summarize my experience without any details. Ergo Proxy is a tale with some interesting ideas and a lot of lofty themes in the vein of classic dystopian sci fi. It’s overstuffed with allegories, some wittier than others. And it chooses to explore those themes and ideas by concentrating on the one everyman character that becomes super awesome and gets the girl.

Basically, there is a lot that I really liked about Ergo Proxy. Nothing about it is particularly new but it’s an ambitious show and it succeeded in some tricky and impressive ways. Also, the OP is fantastic. But for me, Ergo Proxy fell short in a lot of ways. And its biggest drawback, in my opinion, was to really focus the story on Vincent’s personal experience turning a large-scale social-political musing into a generally mundane hero’s journey with limited scope.

And NOw We Spoil!

what? I warned them!

If you want to avoid details and revelations about the plot of Ergo Proxy, you can skip this section. A lot of Ergo Proxy is presented as a mystery so if you haven’t seen it, there is reason to want to avoid spoilers.

Here is the actual plot of Ergo Proxy. In the latter half of the 21st century, humans discover a new type of fuel that can create a lot more energy but isn’t all that stable. Of course, a disaster that leads to a complete ecological collapse happens, rendering Earth uninhabitable by humans and shrouding the sky in eternal smog so the sun can’t shine through. The tragedy takes out 85% of the human race and part of the remaining humans exile themselves on a spaceship called Boomerang. (I assume cause they are planning to come back!)

From space, the remaining humans create the Proxy Project. They put together Proxys which are highly evolved biological machines. They are humanoid but essentially super-powered and immortal due to the presence of magical cells called Amrita. They aren’t magical in the series, they just aren’t explained. Amrita is a Sanskrit word for immortality. The cells are however vulnerable to high-frequency electricity (high-frequency something…), the pulse of the awakening (more on that later) and natural sunlight. I don’t know what happened to the humans that didn’t make it to the ship. Presumably, bad times!

they became kitty people!

The programmed goal of all Proxys is to go back on earth and create a series of enclosed ecosystems (domes) and seed them with cloned humans in an effort to reset the Earth’s ecosystem. More or less like fertilizer. Other than setting up the liveable domes and getting those mini colonies to work, the Proxys are free to create whatever type of society they want and pretty much do what they please. They are also fully sentient and emotional beings but they do mention a few times being “programmed”.

The official mission statement is that the proxies are to create these civilizations and await the rebirth of the Earth, at which time the space humans will return and everyone will live happily ever after. The new humans (called pseudo humans) are also a bit of a backup should the project fail and can serve as humanity’s second wave. There is also another backup in the form of the Cogito virus which gives AI a soul. That way if all organic life fails on Earth, some semblance of humanity can live on in machines.

The problem is that proxies realize that the pseudo humans are infertile and their populations can only be replenished through growing more in pods, powered by the proxies themselves. Moreover, Proxy one discovers that the real plan had always been for the pseudo humans to be infertile. In fact, as soon as the planet recovers enough for sunlight to once again shine through, it will jump-start a preinstalled protocol in all proxies called the Pulse of the Awakening which is essentially an autodestruct sequence. After the proxies are gone, the pseudo humans will no longer be able to reproduce and die out within a generation, leaving behind a nice clean planet for the humans to come back to, complete with all this advanced technology to make things easier.

plan

When hearing that, Proxy one gets rather miffed and creates a copy of himself called Ergo Proxy (I think therefore I am) whose mission is to destroy everything and exact revenge on the humans upon their return. Unfortunately for Proxy one, Ergo Proxy is also a feeling creature who is unable to cope with the weight of his knowledge and mission so he decides to lock away his memories and attempts to just live as a normal human.

Ok, so why did I explain all that? Well because it’s a bit convoluted through the series but you can understand it easily if you pay attention. Also, when you flatten out the narrative like that, in the series you get it through little non-linear bits of information as Ergo rediscovers his memories, you can see that the themes are pretty obvious. There’s of course the notion of divinity and man’s seemingly instinctive need for faith and something greater. To the proxies, the space humans are gods, to the pseudo humans the proxy are and in both cases, they are literally their creators.

There’s also the exploration of sentience. I think therefore I am is present in every aspect of the series. There’s a repeated theme of finding meaning in existence, a raison d’être, and whether that meaning is something that comes from without or from within. Whether it is inherently existent, given to you by someone else or something you create for yourself.

I can get you a mirror

Heck, even the domes are independent critiques of social-economical systems. Smileland being a traditional capitalist dream where working hard will grant you any wish and the appearance of happiness and prosperity is as important as actual happiness. Rondeau by contrast seems to modelled on a greek city-state with a collective of European philosophers ruling over it.

Then there’s the fact that upon realizing that the humans are infertile, a number of proxies called them failed creations and decided to just let their domes die out. The implications in that are pretty wide-ranging and pessimistic.

And these are just some of the main themes, there are more coiled in there and more than a few messages. Maybe it went over my head, but you see, I found most if not all of the themes to be explored in only the most superficial way. And that’s where I took issue.

why do they eat cereal that way?

If you want to get literal and pedantic about it, there are a lot of plot holes or just confusing elements about Ergo Proxy. The humans’ plan is a house of cards and they could have avoided so many problems so easily. Why make the proxies emotional? Why give them free will? Why not make them autodestruct when they find out the truth or when they wish harm upon humans? Why not let the humans reproduce and just have everyone with Amrita cells so they all die out in the sun? Why try to restart Earth instead of colonizing a planet with an already liveable atmosphere? Why the Cogito virus…

The Cogito virus is the only one that bothers me because it’s essentially Blade Runner and they kind of drop that thread in the first third. I wanted to see more of that. As for the rest, it doesn’t matter. At least not to me. A lot of dystopian fiction asks the audience to make some pretty big concessions to the plot. Because the stories aren’t really about the events, it’s about the ideas those events illustrate. And I think that’s swell.

Unfortunately, the balance wasn’t there. None of these ideas get explored that much, and we get a bunch of events that don’t always make the point they are going for. Rondeau is run by a council of four AutoReivs (androids) named Derrida, Lacan, Husserl and Berkeley. It’s easy to think that they would be imbued with the philosophies of their namesakes. That’s amazing. First, the idea of a robot without an independent will, being a philosopher, in and of itself brings up so many questions and possibilities. It’s a very interesting idea. Second, that is a very specific and deliberate group. And it would be really interesting to see how their ideas would apply to governing, together! However, aside from Lacan whose influence can be seen (somewhat) in the policing of the city. I really couldn’t see the other’s influence at all. And Berkeley is such an odd man out!

and of course there’s Dedalus

From what I saw of the series, I couldn’t tell you if the authors picked four names at random, only used the basic defining principles of these men, picked them for something other than their philosophical theories or pricked them specifically for those theories. That’s not explored. I can’t tell you why the pseudo humans decided to immediately eliminate any Androids that show signs of the Cogito virus or how anyone feels about that decision. I can’t tell you if there are any organized religions in this new world and if their dogma mirrors the events of the story. I can’t really tell you what anyone thinks about the themes of the story only what Vincent feels about his situation.

I can’t even tell you why Proxy one was the only Proxy to rebel. Was he special? Did he have information that others didn’t? Is it a Christian analogy? Did he fall from grace through knowledge?

I can’t tell you any of those things but I can tell you about all the people that got slaughtered through the show. I can tell you that Re-l is a super cool character that I liked but is also a basic though girl archetype and you could remove her more or less entirely from the story and it would just impact the fact that Vincent doesn’t get a girl at the end. The basic story can remain the same.

and sadly Pino (3rd main character) also never really gets a chance to bring closure to her arc

Ergo Proxy is not a bad show. Look at how much it made me write and think. And I’m cutting myself off. I could go on. Easily. But it also had the potential to give me so much more just by fleshing a few of these elements out.

You might like this anime if:

You wanted an anime version of Balde Runner and didn’t like the last one! You like speculative science fiction but with a lot of action.

My favourite character:

Hmm. this is though. It was Dedalus but then the character sort of deteriorated. Iggy maybe?

I didn’t get to it but Iggy’s last scene was shattering and a truly powerful moment

Suggested drink:

a Raison d’être (for those who seek meaning)

  • Every time someone is counting – take a sip
  • Every time anyone mentions that Re-L is the regent’s granddaughter – take a sip
  • Every time someone mentions Monad – gasp!
  • Every time Re-L tells someone off – well ok then
  • Every time an autoreiv ends up kneeling – hummm
  • Every time Vincent’s eyes seem odd – take a sip
  • Every time an autoreiv gets infected with the Cogito virus – take a sip
  • Every time we see Dedalus – raise your glass
  • Every time Pino gets subtitles as Rino – get a bit exasperated at Funimation
  • Every time anyone asks Vincent who/what he is – take a sip
  • Every time we see the regent’s entourage – stroke your chin in a menacing manner
  • Every time we see Re-L without makeup – wonder who that is and take a sip if you figure it out
  • Every time anyone scoff at the notion that proxies are monsters – take a sip
  • Every time anyone mentions the awakening – take a sip
  • Every time Pino calls for “Vince” – take a sip
  • Every time we see Vincent’s pendant – take a sip

I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.

23 thoughts

  1. I loved this series for what it tried to do. I give too many points for ambition, I think.

    That, and its OP might be my favorite of all time.

    “Ok, so why did I explain all that? ”

    I’m really glad you did. That’s the most lucid and complete description I’ve ever seen of that plot. I might have to rewatch it again to see if the large swaths that didn’t make sense now make at least more sense.

    1. The plot is purposefully obscured for a while. I think that’s actualy pretty well done, I was really engaged in the mystery and wondering what was going on for the first act.

  2. First, you missed the Canadian. I’m very disappointed.

    Here’s my read on the show. I don’t think it’s a dystopia in the traditional sense. Normally, a dystopia is taking an human foible or desire to its logical extreme. In 1984, it’s the idea that everyone craves security, so what does a completely secure world look like? In Brave New World, it’s the idea that people just want to be happy. So what would a world with enforced happiness look like?

    They really are meant to explore a society.

    Ergo Proxy isn’t really taking any central idea to an extreme, and it’s not really exploring a society. In my mind, it’s a story of generation left behind. It’s very much a Gen X tale. (At least in my mind.)

    Along with that, I personally think the philosophical trappings are intentionally trash. I don’t think they mean anything, and I think that’s kind of the point. They’re part of an old world. These are the children left behind in the disaster left by the older generations that are trying to eke out an existence in the rubble.

    In that sense, Re-l’s story is that of discovering the world that was left for her is a bunch of lies. She’s kind of the Winston Smith character.

    That said, I’ve watched it twice and I didn’t pick up the background as quick as you did. So I might be a big dummy.

        1. But to give a more complete answer. 🙂 This is largely off the top of my head, so you’ll have to forgive if it doesn’t make much sense.

          Re-l serves as a foil for Vincent, at least in my interpretation. Vincent starts off the story as an outsider who just wants to be an insider. Every part of him wants to belong in Romdeau. But even then, he is not great at fitting in. He makes mistakes. He is at the lower rungs of society. This influences his relationship with Re-l, who he sees as aspirational.

          On the other hand, Re-l is an insider that wants to be an outsider. She is disillusioned with her grandfather. She is distant from others inside of the dome. This extends to Vincent, who she sees as “the model citizen.” But when confronted with the truth of things, she finds she is scared and unsettled by the truth. Basically she is just as much of as an insider as the others that she derided.

          They are also both wearing a mask to conform with their self-image.

          Now, if you’re saying that Re-l doesn’t really have anything to do in the later episodes, I would agree with you. I think her arc largely ends with the episode where they’re stranded on the boat. (This is where my memory gets hazy. It might go on an episode or so after that.)

          Personally, I think the last few episodes are a bit slow and probably could have been wrapped up sooner.

          1. I was more thinking that yes, she actually has no real impact or agency on the plot but also that her personality is not fixed beyond two traits and tends to adapt to what is needed to prod the actual characters along. Victor, Iggy,Granpa, the police dude and so on. There is little time dedicated to her development and none to her motivations and aspirations. Even her feelings are only really explored if they can be used to motivate the actual characters.
            Personally, I don’t hate this type of plot device. It’s often very effective and I think there are a lot of great shows that do it.

            1. ” she actually has no real impact or agency on the plot”

              So I’m not trying to be obtuse here, but which plot? She has an entire subplot where she has all of the agency. That largely ends at the episode where they get stuck.

              So I have to concede that she doesn’t really have any aspirations. I don’t know if I agree on the personality or emotion points, but I don’t have any good examples to point to.

              As to the missing Canadian, and the reason for my interpretation of the show, two of the episodes are named after novels by Douglas Coupeland. (Life after God and Shampoo Planet). He’s also the author of Generation X.

              Those early books tend to explore generations and generational differences.

            2. Well the central plot of the show is the one I assume has roughly 80% of the airtime. Her subplot, which I guess would be her partial discovery of events and how that affects her in a sort of mirroring fo the cogito virus (although the allegory was cut short so maybe they had something else in mind and didn’t get to it) That also doesn’t give her much agency from what I remeber. She discovers a lot of facts by accident, the actions she takes are chosen for her by Dedalus and Iggy it turns out and in the end she’s in fact a partial clone with preprogrammed cells wich is implied were responsible for the actions that seemed aimless.
              Unless her plot is becoming the “love interest”. But that sounds kind of sad and is also mostly in Victor’s court.

    1. Great, nos I have to give back my Canadian card.
      So you think it’s just a plain old action shonen? I guess that does work. Although in that case I’m gonna argue that I found a lot of the exposition very boring.

  3. I remember very little about Ergo Proxy. I remember my enjoyment moving in waves; I sometimes was very bored, and sometimes I was totally absorbed in the narrative, and then there was pretty much everything inbetween, too.

    I’m not sure I paid enough attention to ever fully figure out the plot, or if I got it at the time and then just forgot, but your summary of what was going on didn’t really trigger recognition. Which is interesting in its own right.

    I’m neutral on the look. I think it worked best in the wastelands, but I couldn’t really get into the city scapes. But it’s been a while and my memory’s dodgy at that point.

    I also tried to figure out whether there was anything about the philosopher names, but I called it quits with names like Lacan or Kristeva, as I always thought of them as the point where deconstruction went wrong and into navel gazing (may be unfair; I just never got a single thing they wrote). Ultimately, I wish the show had hidden the philosophy a little better, with less talk, which I found mostly tiring. (And that may be because I prefer philosophy in written form, when I can set my own pace. I’m too slow a thinker for talk. The words run away too fast.)

    I did overall enjoy Ergo Proxy, but it’s never made into my favourites. Some scenes/episodes did have the potential, though.

    1. I think I’m with you. Except I remeber it much better, at least right now. Also I really loved that OP. That made an impact

  4. Ace review! I know what you mean about the oppressive palette, yeah. (And the jamming of many, many ideas within). And Iggy as a stand out character too, agree!

    I always wondered whether the folks who left on the Boomerang made those errors in judgement through negligence and disinterest?

    Hubris even? (Like, they were cruel enough to put all those steps into play in order to return to a perfect, unsullied future devoid of any remaining ‘lesser’ humans, so even if chaos and instability resulted it didn’t really matter what happened *specifically*, so long as the end result is as intended – and in their arrogance, they assumed everything would work out fine?).

    Too hard for me to really get a feel for them from the text, as we get too little about those who fled, and most of it is filtered through Proxy One’s towering bitterness too.

    1. I’m not sure what the humans were thinking, probably that neither proxys nor pseudo humans are actually people. We tend to do that. I always thought they simply saw them as tools so considerng moral and emotional repercutions was silly. A bit like not watching to much YouTube so as to not negatively influence your computer’s mental state sounds insane?

      1. Yep, that sounds right to me, yeah.

        (I wonder what my laptop’s mental state is like due to youtube – a steady diet of citypop and thrash so far this month :D)

  5. Absolutely loved reading this. Ergo Proxy is an anime that is very near and dear to me, flaws and all. I call myself “The Ergo Proxy Guy” as a tongue-in-cheek badge of honor, because of its reputation amongst anime fans.

    The Proxy Project was a bit wonky, and I do think it would have been delved into more deeply had the show been set for a second season. I do think there’s something there to be examined about the thought of humans using machines to fix the problems on Earth that humans created, and of course the old classic sci-fi trope of when the machines fight back.

    I will say that I did like Vincent being a grounding point for the entire series, as it is such a weird anime. The hero’s journey is a totem of sorts, amongst all of the allegory and bizarre cities of the domes. Also, one thing I loved about Ergo Proxy is that not every “battle” with other Proxies isn’t a typical punch-kick, bang-bang, anime battle. It really did stretch the idea of what an anime fight can be, and that was something I loved about it.

    I’ve also always said that Ergo Proxy isn’t as self-serious as people believe it to be. I’m pretty sure Dai Sato knew exactly who he had in mind with Re-L’s character design, Pino is as much of an anime mascot character as Haro from Gundam, and there is a game show episode. A game show episode.

    I’m glad you watched and got something worth writing out of it.

    -D.j.m The Ergo Proxy Guy

    1. I don’t disagree with the grounding element but I don’t find Vincent to be a good choice for that. If he was an actual scmuck then sure but following around a sor of God who also happens to be completely unique among both men and proxy is not the same.
      I also thought the story was pretty straightforward. I would have loved to see the same with an ensemble cast.

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