DVD Review: Ergo Proxy (The Complete Series)
In the domed city of Romdo, strong emotions are frowned upon, waste is encouraged and everyone is accompanied - and monitored - by android 'autoreivs'. Simmering beneath the surface are countless threats to the pervading peace - the Cogito virus is spreading free will among the autoreivs, and the powers that be are keen to blame these rogues for a spate of mysterious killings.
Re-L, an inspector in the Intelligence bureau and granddaughter of the city's regent, is not so sure that Cogito is responsible. Neither is Vincent, an immigrant hoping to become a Model Citizen as he works to hunt down infected autoreivs. Their attempts to investigate see them thrown together - much to Re-L's displeasure - eventually pushing them beyond the city and outside its dome.
On the way, they encounter Pino, a childlike autoreiv designed for those citizens who can't get a permit for a human child - now orphaned, infected with Cogito and following Vincent like a lost lamb. Pino's so impossibly cute that she should be annoying, but there's also a creepy edge to her character - in part actually due to her irrepressible good nature in the face of any event, however terrible.
And while these three journey through the ruins and failed societies of an eerie wasteland - a deserted dome where robots keep everything meticulously clean for their absent masters, a city where generations of cloned soldiers fight endlessly against an implacable enemy - intrigue continues in their wake back at Romdo. Daedalus - a perpetually pre-pubescent scientist with an unhealthy crush on Re-L - and Raul Creed - the increasingly unbalanced director of the Security Bureau - vie with and against one another to advance their aims, trying to subvert and further the society of Romdo while always under the watchful eye of the autoreivs created to maintain it.
Two words that I think perfectly describe Ergo Proxy are 'atmospheric' and 'thoughtful'. The unique art design, gentle pace and ambient music drew me into a world inhabited by ambiguous and compelling characters, and stalked by haunting, post-apocalyptic mysteries. The plotting is perhaps rather weak, but I think the best thing about Ergo Proxy is that it isn't really trying to be too weighty and meaningful. Certainly there are big themes and references to philosophy, but these are an embellishment to - rather than a distraction from or perversion of - the depiction of these characters in their carefully realised world.
In that sense I suppose the show is arguably admirably restrained, but it's also prepared to be quite bold in terms of where it takes the story. This extends as far as changing the entire format of the show - one episode begins as a Who Wants to be a Millionaire style game show where Vincent is bombarded with questions and answers whose relevance he doesn't yet understand. Another episode even mixes in a separate style of animation, when Pino finds herself lost in a bizarre amusement park where the staff look and behave exactly like characters from an old Disney cartoon.
The show has a nice knack for sketching out its minor characters, and pretty much everyone manages to seem likeable, flawed, admirable or sinister at some point in the series. One of my favourite characters was Raul's entourage autoreiv, Kristeva. At first she's little more than an elegant sounding-board for her master, but she goes on to show a noble investment in maintaining the society of Romdo, while always threatening to lean towards either malevolent loyalty to Raul or disobedient compassion.
The characters in Ergo Proxy definitely change and grow as events progress - and not always in a positive direction. By the end I definitely felt as though, even if the story could have been tied together and parcelled out better, I had been on a journey with characters I cared about, through a world that felt both very real and very strange.