Anime Review: Ergo Proxy
In the domed city of Romudo, the last haven of advanced civilisation in a world that has turned into a wasteland, the citizens live a regulated life of order and almost stupefying tranquility, attended by their auto-raves, non-sentient androids that act as servants, slaves, companions and guardians. The society is stratified, and the people are obedient and submissive.
Yet all is not well in this "brave new world". A strange disease, Cogito, is striking auto-raves at random, making them act unpredictably and with apparent independent sentience. Moreover, a series of random and brutal murders have struck the city.
In the lap of luxury, at the very highest level of this well-tempered society, lives Rill Mayor (capably given voice by the hitherto not-very-prominent Saitou Rie), inspector in the Citizen Information Bureau, and granddaughter of one of the city's leading men. For all the luxury that she enjoys, Rill is not happy, although she can't quite verbalize her unhappiness. When she investigates the murders, she finds that there is far more to them than meets the eye. Monstrosities are roaming the city, the Cogito infection is more significant than it immediately appears, and Rill's own life is in danger.
As she investigates, the comfortable and protective walls of Rill's existence crumble, one by one. The seemingly unimportant, low-ranked citizen, Vincent Law (voiced competently but not outstandingly by Yusa Kouji, who usually does a much better job), appears to hold some of the answers to Rill's questions.
But can Rill uncover the answers, before Vincent becomes another victim -- or she does?
Ergo Proxy is an edgy, modernistic anime, the latest offering from Manglobe, the animation company that has recently made its mark with the equally edgy and iconoclastic Samurai Champloo. It's currently airing (from February 2006) on WOWOW in Japan, and this review is based on the three Japanese TV episodes screened so far.
From the start, it is clear that the makers of Ergo Proxy are eager to present a cutting-edge anime that is "hip" and "cool" and all those other words that reviewers use to describe new stuff. It doesn't quite succeed in being as hip and cool as it wants to be, largely because it tries too hard. The story is a cliché, but a good one -- it's Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, but with machines instead of humans.
The overall look of the anime is dark and dystopian, as befits the context. The character designs, especially Rill, attempt a higher degree of realism than is usual in animation. Unfortunately, the character animation is uneven. Rill herself is almost photographically depicted, obviously traced from a live model. Many of the other characters, however, are more stylised, in the traditional anime style.
Throw in a few gratuitous elements to keep the hardcore fans happy (and for the regular, non-anime film fanatics, there's even a reference to Battleship Potemkin in episode 2), including a cute mascot-type auto-rave, and you have the makings of a slow-growing audience success -- one of those series that doesn't immediately hit a note with everybody, but which definitely has the potential to create a large and loyal following.
I've listed a number of faults, all of which may give you the idea that I dislike Ergo Proxy. Not so, because as clichéed and pretentious as it is, it works. In fact, it works very well indeed. The often very violent action sequences have you hanging on the edge of your seat, but it's in the quiet moments that Ergo Proxy really comes into its own.
Witness a characteristic sequence: Vincent Law, asleep in an otherwise empty train car, drops his mobile phone/PDA. As the train turns a bend, the phone slides slowly across the floor. The train brakes, and the phone skitters down the length of the car. When it rings, Vincent wakes, disoriented, and stumbles down the length of the car to collect it.
Ergo Proxy is full of scenes of quiet detail like that. There is no doubt that the series is building up to a series of philosophical and political twists, but with 20 episodes still to go, there's room for a lot of development.
I recommend this anime. Odds are, if you liked Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain, you'll like this one. But even if your standard fare is something completely different, Ergo Proxy is worth a look.
Ergo Proxy (Manglobe/WOWOW, 2006)
Director: Murase Shukou
Starring: Saitou Rie, Kobayashi Sanae, Yusa Kouji, Mizuuchi Kiyomitsu, Hanada Hikaru, Yajima Akiko
Voice acting: 7/10
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