Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD 4 - Wrong Way Home
Displeased with Re-l's decision to send him back to Romdo and join Vincent's quest of self-discovery, Iggy—her humanoid robot companion—decides to disobey her. Unbeknownst to them all, Iggy has been infected with the cogito virus and is developing a will and sentience all his own. As their journey drags on, Vincent, Re-l and Pino must also deal with an identity-stealing Proxy and a lethal quiz-show. And when a windless spell strands them all in the wastelands, inescapable idleness forces Re-l to realize what an outsider she is when in the company of Pino and Vincent.
If there were one reasonable criticism to level at Ergo Proxy, it would be its single-minded gloominess, a notable shortness of human warmth. It has a singularly bleak take on human nature, its world being one of either feral desperation or dead-eyed acquiescence, and its emotionally reticent characters are all, on one level or another, only slowly learning to be human. This stretch of episodes provides a rare chance to take advantage of a lull in the plot to spend a little quality time with the series' three protagonists, and to appreciate their changing roles.
This in no way indicates that the series' intellectual aspirations, bleak tone, or intentional obtusiveness have lessened. The Iggy episode raises questions about sentience and personal identity, while the "Ophelia" episode is yet another Proxy fight staged as an obscure reality-bending head-trip wrapped in existential musings. But the full-on journey structure that the series has fallen into has sharpened the focus on its protagonists, literally whittling the cast down to Vincent, Re-l and Pino, and the increased scrutiny is actually flattering. Where Vince began the series as an empty shell of a person, the very embodiment of a drone, here he is quite human; ironically so given that he actually isn't one. He's quiet and guileless, yet brimming with questions, idiosyncrasies, and even ambitions. His relationship with Re-l and—in particular—Pino allow him a depth of expression and action that wasn't possible before, displaying insecurities, affections, and pure eccentricities, taking shape as a person of unexpected complexity and humanity. Re-l for her part reveals a rather shocking childishness when separated from Iggy; it speaks volumes for exactly how coddled she has apparently been and softens her badass lady inspector facade in a most appealing manner. It is from her—her musings and her eventual realization of something approaching the mental freedom enjoyed by Pino and Vincent—that episode 16 gets its unusual warmth.
Of course Pino is still Pino, lightening even the grimmest proceedings with some incongruous cuteness or a little humorous capering. Humor in general plays a larger part in these episodes than in the past. In the case of episode 16, a day-in-the-life look at the traveling trio and Re-l's inability to assimilate into their (admittedly odd) lifestyle, this is a very good thing. In the case of the outrageously out of place quiz-show episode, it's a very bad thing. The quiz show serves its purpose—introducing historical and social background that would otherwise be difficult to integrate—and is periodically funny (the look of pathetic triumph on Vincent's face when he gets a question right is perfect) but it's a one-joke affair, and it's a joke that wears out its welcome very, very quickly. The game—gaudy, loud, and obnoxious—is obviously intended as a startling contrast to the series' usual deliberate rhythm and misty grey palette, but it is soon little more than a hideous annoyance, the series' first serious stylistic misstep.
A mistake the episode might be, but it is one born of a desire to increase the stylistic breadth of the show and a willingness to take serious risks in the process. That the only sizeable blemish thus far in a series of this complexity occurs this far into the story is proof that Shukou Murase has pretty good directorial instincts for a first-timer. If his and script writer Dai Sato's carefully obfuscated story isn't coming together as brilliantly and cleanly as, say RahXephon, that's hardly a criticism (given the surpassing quality of RahXephon), and there's still plenty of time to satisfactorily draw everything together. Murase's visuals are sharply focused, evoking the emptiness of the world with dead landscapes and sterile, unpeopled cities; supporting it with a lifeless palette of greys and muted, washed-out colors. The sparse score is almost all subliminal musical noise, seeping in from the edges here and there, but most significant in its absence, when allowing the howling silence of the void that the world has become to work its cold, alienating magic on viewer and character alike.
With no action to showcase the idiosyncratic energy of Manglobe's animation, attention is drawn—appropriately enough—to the subtly expressive way that characters' emotions register on their faces. The smooth, beautiful character designs continue to be strong draws all their own. Re-l is back full-time and providing natural, effortless fan-service; she is quite possibly the most physically attractive character in any anime currently in release. Vincent is no slouch either, particularly when riled, and Pino is so damnably cute that she could be a merchandising line unto herself.
New Generation Pictures is quickly cementing itself a reputation for superb dubs. Along with their work on Kamichu and Koi Kaze, this dub ranks among the best in recent memory. It's carefully calculated to match the tone of the series, is possessed of an easy flow that belies its fidelity, and is acted with skill and conviction. For acting fireworks, check out Travis Willingham's lightning changes in tone and delivery during Iggy's deliberations with Re-l. There are significant changes in the wording and timing of some lines, but most of the alterations are quite reasonable. Pick your poison and run with it.
Ergo Proxy slows for a moment, giving its audience some time to ponder the cast instead of the multifarious mysteries of Proxies, personal psychology, the nature of humanity, and the origins of post-apocalyptic decay. As absorbing as the mysteries may be (and there're still plenty of them to be considered), the sight of a robot refining a heart that would turn the Tin Man green with envy, of an industrial cog transforming into an all-too-human monster, or of a human whose humanity is beginning to creep out from under a mask of impersonal professional efficiency is just as fascinating. Perhaps here in the making is a personal counterpart to the series' intellectual charms, and then again perhaps here in its entirety is a short burst of character-heavy filler. Either way, it's a pleasant change of pace.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ A more personal focus to an intellectually inclined series; doesn't lack for new information or new questions.
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