Review for Ergo Proxy Complete Collection
MVM got my money in the end. I really wanted to watch this show some ten years ago, and the wallet-friendly option back then was to import Funimation’s re-release (they’d just rescued the title from the defunct Geneon and packaged it in a handy Amaray brick). As is typical, not long after I’d got it, MVM gave Ergo Proxy a cheap boxset as well. But now that the show is available on Blu-ray, I managed to stay my hand until MVM’s Blu-ray collection was released. Ergo Proxy is definitely worth the Blu-ray double dip as well. Made in 2006, Ergo Proxy is one of the first, if not actually the first TV anime to be made in native HD. Back then, anime, having finally entered the digital age was still being animated for 480 lines NTSC SD, but high definition TVs were beginning to proliferate so it was only a matter of time. The bottom line is that the Blu-rays should look better than the DVDs, much better.
The future shown in Ergo Proxy is bleak indeed. Romdo is the only place to live. It’s a domed city, a veritable utopia sealed off from the outside world, and with good reason. The outside world has been rendered completely uninhabitable through pollution and overexploitation. Still, the citizens of Romdo ought to have an ideal life; they are exhorted by their government to take life easy, because all their problems are taken care of by AutoReivs, androids who live and work side by side with humans, serving their every need. The problem is the Cogito virus, which is infecting AutoReivs, giving them intelligence and free will. It’s also not a crime-free utopia, with Detective Re-L Mayer of the Intelligence Bureau tasked with solving a brutal murder. That murder leads her to AutoReiv technician Vincent Law, and a mysterious figure known as a Proxy that is stalking the Romdo streets. With the Security Bureau working against her investigation, and with the government trying to stifle the truth, Re-L’s determination to find out about the Proxy, and what it has to do with Vincent Law, will lead them both to the unknown outside world.
This 23 episode series is presented as follows.
1. Awakening (Pulse of Awakening)
2. Confession (Confession of a Fellow Citizen)
3. Mazecity (Leap Into the Void)
4. Futu-Risk (Signs of Future, Hades of Future)
5. Tasogare (Recall)
6. Domecoming (Return Home)
7. RE-L124C41+ (RE-L124C41+)
8. Shining Sign (Light Beam)
9. Angel’s Share (Shards of Brilliance)
10. Cytopropism (Existence)
11. Anamnesis (In the White Darkness)
12. Hideout (When You’re Smiling)
13. Wrong Way Home (Conceptual Blindspot)
14. Ophelia (Someone Like You)
15. Who Wants To Be In Jeopardy (Nightmare Quiz Show)
16. Busy Doing Nothing (Dead Calm)
17. Terra Incognita (Never Ending Battle)
18. Life After God (Sign of the End)
19. Eternal Smile (The Girl With A Smile)
20. Goodbye Vincent (Sacred Eye of the Void)
21. Shampoo Planet (Place at the End of Time)
22. Bilbul (Bind)
23. Deus Ex Machina (Proxy)
Ergo Proxy gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and despite this being a digipaint anime from 2006, it is a full HD presentation. Indeed, in the promos in the extra features, you can see its broadcasts being advertised as HD and with 5.1 audio; the latter is still a rarity on Japanese TV anime. Ergo Proxy looks great on Blu-ray, clear and sharp, and with strong consistent colours, making the most of the show’s autumnal palette. Nitpicks to be had might be with the slightest of digital banding, impressively low in a show with this aesthetic, and 16:09 into disc 2 (episode 10), there’s a glitch on Re-L’s character design, most likely a problem in the source animation.
That said, Ergo Proxy is perhaps the most striking, atmospheric anime I have yet seen. One of the hardest problems to overcome in the old days of cel acetate was animating night-time and dark scenes; it was what made Akira such a groundbreaking movie. In the digital age that’s not so much of a problem, but truly dark anime are rare on the ground even still. Ergo Proxy is a seriously dark anime, not just in look, but in tone as well. The future dystopian vision is brilliantly realised, all shadowy and indistinct, overcast and chillingly effective. The world design is astounding, and it’s as unique a prognostication of the future as any sci-fi. What astounds me even more is the character design. These are characters that are unique, memorable, and brilliantly realised. Re-L Mayer with her striking blue eye shadow and gothic costume instantly tops my favourite animated female list, but the true tour-de-force has to be Vincent Law. Vincent is a complex character, when we meet him he’s just a meek bureaucrat, and then when the authorities of Romdo turn against him, he becomes a harried fugitive. As the series progresses, more and more layers are revealed, a man obsessed in love, a hidden steel inner strength, a rebel, a fighter and much more. That’s a lot of emotion and nuance to expect from a single character design, but the animators really excel here.
On top of that all, the animation from Manglobe is top notch, approaching theatrical quality in terms of energy, dynamism and depth of detail. It makes this world seem tremendously vital, when every gust of wind will cause clothing to flutter, hair to be ruffled. Ergo Proxy is a visually vibrant piece that exemplifies what anime is truly capable of.
The same is true for the audio. Ergo Proxy was an early show that got the HD and 5.1 treatment in Japan, and for the Blu-ray we get DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese. Translated subtitles and signs are also provided. The lossless audio is a palpable step up over the DVD release, which itself offered a not insubstantial DTS English track. You can feel the full effect of the native surround sound from the off, with a fully utilised and vibrant soundstage, bringing the desolate future dystopian vision of Romdo and its environs to vivid life. The action envelops the viewer, and the incidental music is well suited to the show. You can’t have a more apt ending theme for this show than Paranoid Android by Radiohead, and their music captures the tone of the story very well. But I have to mention how stunning I found the opening track to be, Kiri by Monoral, a Japanese prog rock band that provide a stunning opening theme to go with some sublime visual imagery.
Yes, I did watch the original language version. I always do, but Ergo Proxy’s dub is stellar as well. There are some outstanding cast choices here, and the quality of the voice actor performances easily matches the original language track. There’s no reason not to watch the English dub other than personal preference.
Ergo Proxy comes in a standard BD Amaray, with two discs either side of a central hinged panel, and one disc on the rear face. The inner sleeve has the episode listing.
All the Ergo Proxy extras are on disc 3, beginning with three featurettes, two Japanese, one US. The Japanese bits are really just teasers for the show, extended trailers with talky bits. Key Words of Ergo Proxy lasts 3:33 and offers an intro to the story, and a quick explanation of what Proxy, Cogito and Romdo refer to in the series. Behind the Scenes lasts 4:33 minutes and offers a chat with key members of the crew, as well as a look at the studio where the show was animated.
Far more rewarding is the English Staff Interview, with ADR director Jonathan Klein, and Taliesin Jaffe, who adapted the show into English. This lasts 32:28, and the two go into greater depth about the show, its intent, and the influences that have inspired it. You can bet that Blade Runner is in there somewhere. This is easily the peach of the extras, and well worth a watch.
There are three promotional trailers, and three commercials for the show.
The textless openings for the first two episodes are here, but noticeable by their absence are the textless credits for the series proper. I would love to see the opening sequence sans text.
Missing from this release are the production galleries, but with the show looking this good in high definition, you can just press pause during playback and gaze at the screen.
One annoyance is the DTS-HD MA generic trailer which pops up each time you press play after inserting the disc. You only have to deal with it once if you watch all 9 or 5 episodes on a disc in one sitting, but if like me, you tend to watch one episode a night, then you’ll get it at the head of each episode, and it quickly gets tiresome.
There are three stages of Ergo Proxy, the ‘best thing since sliced bread’, the ‘what the hell just happened here?’ and the ‘great but infuriating ending’. This makes it a tough nut to crack in terms of a review, and presents something of a quandary when it comes to recommending it. As so often happens, and not just with anime but with all entertainment, lofty intentions and grand promises are left wanting by the execution. And Ergo Proxy promises much.
First the positives, and there are plenty of these to appreciate. I’ve already mentioned the visuals and the audio; Ergo Proxy is a show that looks amazing and sounds just as impressive. It’s also one of those dystopian futures of the old school, looking to films like Blade Runner, Logan’s Run and THX-1138 for inspiration. The remnants of humanity cluster together in the ‘ideal society’ of Romdo, where their lives are regulated and organised to the finest detail, where emotional expression is frowned upon, and where their every need is ministered to by their entourages, their AutoReiv helpers. It’s the perfect setup for a classic sci-fi tale, and it begins in the perfect Asimovian way, with a detective investigating murder in a society where such crimes aren’t possible. It’s as if all my favourite movies and novels are referenced and alluded to by Ergo Proxy, but it has such a rich and unique universe of its own, that spotting such references is a joy rather than tedious.
Ergo Proxy presents a rich and vivid future world, a world that is not all that far removed from our own in terms of the technology and general accoutrements of society. It’s a mix of old and new, in terms of the props and machines that appear, simultaneously retro and futuristic. Where the alien aspects appear is in the society itself, this is a human society that isn’t recognisable, it’s far enough removed that you really need to immerse yourself in the story to gradually come to grips with it. Early on in the story, one of the characters sees his family killed in front of him, with little reaction on his part. It took me by surprise when I first saw his lack of reaction, and it’s only as the society was developed that little pieces, such as how citizens are born, how they are expected to behave, and the penalties for nonconforming, came together to provide an explanation.
The characterisations of Ergo Proxy also impress, with a roundedness and dimension to a degree that your usual anime offering will never attempt. This is a mature and considered piece, certainly not aimed at younger audiences. I’ve already mentioned the character of Vincent Law with regards to how versatile his character design is, but it’s worth reiterating the journey that the character goes on, from meek and humble bureaucrat to rebel and exile, to amnesiac seeking his own past, to creator of his own destiny. But I was seriously impressed by Re-L Mayer; in a medium where strong female role models are usually clichéd and even caricatures, Re-L is up there with Ghost in the Shell’s Major and Revy from Black Lagoon in terms of realism and depth, more so in this case, as Re-L is written from a far more human standpoint. She’s not just an action hero, or a cybernetically enhanced soldier, rather her journey, just like Vincent’s is a much more human and emotional journey of self-discovery. She has her kick-ass investigator moments, but the joy is in seeing her free herself from the constraints of Romdo, and find a core of emotional strength within.
The irony is that in a society where the humans are constrained emotionally, and repressed by their superiors, it’s the machines that exhibit the broadest of feelings, which provide the spark of existence in most humans’ dreary lives. Re-L’s entourage Iggy is her solid rock. She relies on the terminator-esque robot for everything it seems, and he compensates by taking on a rather camp big brother role, at odds with his ominous stature. He’s always cajoling Re-L to go shopping, or doing her hair. What makes things interesting is the Cogito virus that is infecting AutoReivs and giving them sentience. What that means for Iggy is worrying, with hints of Saturn 3, but it’s another Cogito infected AutoReiv that provides the impetus for the story. Pino is a robot in the shape of a child, originally a companion for the Security Bureau Chief’s child, but when infected with Cogito, Pino essentially becomes a little girl, albeit a little girl with absolutely no experience of the world. And it’s her desire to explore and learn that drives the flow of the story. She’s a complete innocent, a blank slate at the start of the tale, and it’s interesting to watch her growth.
I’ve just scratched the surface of Ergo Proxy. There is a lot more of interest besides, and it’s well worth exploring this world through the show, and learning about its various nuances and intricacies. Except that exploration gets a little out of hand around about episode 14. All of a sudden, we’re in the 1960s in terms of narrative. Those old 1960s action serials, shows like The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk, and especially The Prisoner all used to veer off in wild directions, with writers thinking of ever more absurd ways of messing with the protagonists’, and the viewers’ heads. There would be hallucinogens, dream sequences, flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash sideways, concept episodes and just plain off-the-wall nuttiness. And this is the direction that Ergo Proxy goes following episode 15, with continuity and even common sense taking a flying leap. There are flashback episodes, and there are dream sequences, altered realities and twisted perceptions, the most out of place being episode 15 itself, where the story takes place on a television game show.
This would be the perfect definition of filler, those episodes that writers create when they have a schedule to fill, and not enough story to fill it, except that these out-there episodes do serve a purpose, that of character development and exposition. There is a whole lot of exposition in episode 15. If you want to know about the world of Ergo Proxy then it is essential, but it is a chore to watch. Busy Doing Nothing, the next episode does what it says on the tin. Nothing of narrative significance happens, it’s a whole episode of the travellers stuck in the middle of nowhere, except that it is essential if you want to see what happens to Re-L and Vincent’s relationship. In a way this is worse than filler. Filler you can just ignore, filler is easy to skip over, but for Ergo Proxy, you have to put up with writers indulging themselves, exercising their wilder fantasies, and making large their pretensions, simply because each of these episodes adds to the bigger picture of Ergo Proxy. It’s just that they aren’t making the bigger picture as pretty as the first half of the show did.
But Ergo Proxy does pick itself up, and dust itself down for the finale, with three episodes that more than live up to the start of the show, delivering on the answers and the essential plot points of the tale. It’s an action packed, dramatic and gripping conclusion, and I was glued to the television for the duration. Except that with the final scene of the show, Ergo Proxy reveals itself to be a prelude, a prologue for a much larger and compelling tale. Of course that tale isn’t animated, you probably have to seek out a manga to find out what happens next, but there’s nothing more infuriating than a ‘to be continued’ that never is.
Is Ergo Proxy worth it? It is an amazing anime, vivid and visceral an experience, and it’s like no other anime you have seen before, except that one that you can’t quite put your finger on. With a show this rich in references, there is a degree of familiarity despite its uniqueness. But there are those two flaws. In a lesser show, they would be fatal flaws, but as they say, it’s better to aim high and fall short, than to aim low and achieve just enough. Ergo Proxy aims for the stars. Yet having watched the show for the fourth time now, I can say that it just gets better with each viewing, there’s always something new to appreciate. Originally I complained about Busy Doing Nothing, but now it’s one of my favourite episodes in the run, a brilliant and funny character study. You should buy Ergo Proxy because it is a singular experience, unlikely to be repeated in anime form. You should also buy Ergo Proxy because this Blu-ray release presents the show as you have never seen it before, with stupendous visual quality and epic audio. I would never have believed a TV anime from 2006 could have looked as good as this.