Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Nov 10th 2006
DVD 1: Awakening
The cocoon-like city of Romdo was meant to be a sealed-off utopian city where humans and androids (‘autoreivs’) would co-exist in peace under total government control… of course, these things rarely work out, so in execution, Romdo is a dark, depressing sort of place. While investigating a strange series of murders, Intelligence Bureau detective Re-l Mayer gets an enigmatic (and creepy) warning that something is “awakening”… and then she's visited by a bizarre-looking android beast, who defends her from another, equally bizarre-looking android beast. Something stinks in the city of Romdo!
Ergo Proxy is the latest in a long tradition of twisty, dark, violent dramas like Serial Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze, and Blame!, and it's a fine addition to the genre. Beautifully animated and strikingly mature, Ergo Proxy is a top-shelf title that any high-minded sci-fi fan (or anyone into gothic mystery titles like Witch Hunter Robin) will probably enjoy.
Normally, shows like these are a little difficult to really get into. The characters tend to speak in a monotone, most scenes take place in the dark or at night, and the storyline tends to be purposefully labyrinthine and confusing right off the bat. Ergo Proxy sticks pretty closely to a few of these principles, but surprisingly, even though the plot is assuredly complex, it's not all that difficult to follow. The show has plenty of mysteries and we watch them all unfold along with Re-l, but it doesn't seem as though it's purposefully being scripted in a confusing way, which is very refreshing in a show of this pedigree. They don't give you a whole lot of insight as to what's really going on, but at least the plot isn't incomprehensible.
So far, the chief storyline involves a hideous android beast that the government was doing top secret experiments on until it escaped; it's now on the loose, terrorizing citizens and androids alike, and it seems to have it in for our heroine, Re-l (as well as another, equally ugly robo-beast thing). After a chilling encounter with the monster, Re-l starts investigating ‘Proxy’, against the wishes of her grandfather (and basically the entire government). A massive coverup ensues, and Re-l starts to doubt what she saw, but presses on anyway. It's a pretty intriguing story so far and the fourth episode slows down a bit and allows us to examine the clues and events we've seen. You're not going to know everything up front, but the show is structured like a mystery.
If the show has a failing, it's in its characters. Ergo Proxy has a relatively small cast and the lead, Re-l (who looks almost exactly like the lead singer from Evanescence) is cursed with generic, detached personality. As the show goes on she becomes increasingly angry and paranoid but by and large, she isn't a very sympathetic or relatable character, and since we spend most of the show following her around, it's a bit of a problem. Raul Creed, the head of the Security bureau, shows a lot of potential, especially in his relationship to his surrogate android child Pino. Other than that, though, if the story doesn't grip you, the characters aren't going to help. It's an unfortunate stain on an otherwise excellent series.
Some might criticize the show for being a little pretentious, and to be fair, it is, at least a little bit. There are a lot of references to famous thinkers and philosophers; "cogito", the virus that's spreading among the city's androids that causes them to suddenly become self-aware and feel human emotion, is named after Descartes' famous quote, cogito ergo sum, or "I think, therefore I am". Make no mistake, though; this isn't empty academic posturing, nor is it simply a load of shallow visual references intended to make the show appear smarter than it actually is. The references coded into the show's artwork and dialogue directly relate to the themes and messages in the storyline; there is a clear attempt here to discuss the implications of a man-made construct becoming self-aware, and the academic references in the show are tied directly to that. Pretentious? Maybe, but it works.
The production values are great, so far. The first episode in particular boasts some spectacular animation, especially when the monster shows up. As the episodes progress, the animation gets a little less detailed and fluid, but it never dips into being outright poor. The backgrounds in particular are breathtakingly detailed and beautiful, which is a surprise given the bleak, dystopian surroundings. Thankfully, Geneon sprung for the rights to the show's closing theme, Radiohead's classic Paranoid Android. The rest of the music in the series is suitably grim-faced atmospheric stuff; nothing to write home about.
The dub, handled with care and grace by New Generation Pictures, is a fine fit for the show. The characters are, by and large, very well-cast, and the robot voices have a soothing synthesized sound to them that comes across as being very polished and professional. Karen Thompson handles the voice of Re-l pretty well, although she seems to struggle at times with line readings during the character's (admittedly awkward and infrequent) emotional outbursts. ADR veteran Patrick Seitz (best known perhaps for the Kamichu! dub, which he directed, and his turn as Luke Valentine in both the Hellsing TV series and the upcoming OVA) handles the Raul Creed character with elegance, gracefully keeping up with the character's emotional journey. So far, the dub is faithful to the Japanese dialogue; it might be your best bet if you're interested in appreciating the show's artistry rather than reading subtitles.
Ergo Proxy certainly isn't for everyone. It's a dark, brooding, slowly-paced sci-fi mystery with philosophical underpinnings; this is unquestionably an adult anime. People expecting nonstop robot fights will be disappointed, as will anyone who isn't patient enough to stick with the storyline. Overall, though, this is a mature, engrossing series; it's a nice break from the piles and piles of harem comedies and dating-sim shows the medium has become inundated with.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B
+ Cool storyline, great artwork, excellent dub, closing theme performed by Radiohead.
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