Reviewing Ergo Proxy has actually been a pleasure, and, in the same sense, I imagine that most people making the informed decision of buying into the series are inevitably going to take something from it, but time has made it progressively more difficult to square what is being said throughout the series – what we should take from it – and the expectations of its viewers – what they will take from it as an extension of themselves, rather than as an extension of the actual product.
Re-l frequently stops to ask herself such absurd questions as whether she is to blame for the post-apocalyptic downfall of a city that had already long been in decline (and which she had been absent from for most of the series), or to ponder whether they ever needed Autoreivs in the first place. What does it add to the series, for example, to include a scene in which several immigrants are contesting whether people should have relied so much on the Autoreivs in the first place? Surely its an easy intellectual sleight of the hand, to rally against something that we know will not be changed, but are the creators of an animated series built on the firmament of technology, and with no obvious line of naturalism or anti-industrialism, actually endorsing a counter-technological society? Or are they making a far more trivial point about our need to be independent, something that’s almost a given?
Equally, it’s almost impossible to sympathise with any of Ergo Proxy’s cast, from the demented and intellectually distant Raul, to Vincent – whose schizophrenia doesn’t help any – and the two or three other notable characters (like Daedelus, who practically destroys any claim to emotional validity the characters might have held on his own). Their performances, that we’re never made aware of exactly what they know or understand – and hence, where they’re coming from, or what they might do next – and the fact that most of the characters are mere puppets in the motion of the story, also kept me from ever really identifying with any of them. But like the themes and philosophical musings of the series, the characters are frequently absurd, and exhibit almost random or inexplicable behavior, Daedelus suddenly becoming enamoured with a clone of Re-l, and setting about the destruction of Romdo on a whim, when she leaves him, because he’s jealous of the attention given to Vincent, being the most exceptional case. At this and many other points, the characters are unrealistic, discordant, and beyond empathy, and this is no more apparent than in the excuses given for the motives behind the behavior of the godlike Proxies, which is an endless marriage of existential despair and psychological grief at the imperfections of anything and everything.
It’s also fair to say that the existentialism of the series as a whole has little meaning beyond the tenets of existentialism itself – which is to say that the series doesn’t add anything to the philosophy, or our understanding of it, by way of its own fiction. That isn’t to imply that some people won’t enjoy the world of Ergo Proxy, but it doesn’t contribute anything more than a consistent backdrop to the disorganised thoughts of its creators. I find it compromising to have to reconcile enjoyment of the fiction, with this obvious failure to carry the implications of the figurative aspects of the series, because in the end, if the fiction doesn’t owe itself or render a service to the meaning behind the series (a relationship we’d expect to be fairly significant in Ergo Proxy, of all series), then we have to ask whether the entire dressing of the series was in anyway material to the final product, other than in providing an aesthetic and sensual environment to seduce us to immersion, one area in which the series did actually manage to excel.
It’s a testimony to the worth of the thought-experiment that better functions as the purpose of the series, that I haven’t had to give a prosaic description of the plot, and won’t have to in the space of this review. That’s usually a credit to any product, because it means that there is enough worth talking about – other than the procedural motion of the story and its particular details – to make the series worth watching in those noteworthy respects, but of course, it’s just as easy to dwell on negative qualities, all the same. In the case of Ergo Proxy, we come full circle to what I said in the beginning; despite dwelling on the negative aspects of the intellectualism of the series, there is enough here, whether its disingenuous or not, that most people can be expected to take something from it regardless.
That isn’t the best of compliments, but you might be surprised how far it carries the series, almost making it worthwhile irrespective of what you think of it. Most people complain that the ending felt rushed, but I find that surprising, because very little actually happened. It was, on the contrary, rather tedious, compared to some earlier volumes, to the point where, if I was asked to detail what actually happened, it would only be worthwhile in pandering out description of one set of visually impressive scenes (the final Proxy fight), which were the the most powerful, but perhaps also the only truly substantial parts of these episodes.
It’s hard to say just what Ergo Proxy will do for its viewers, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t leave with at least some sense of satisfaction by the end.
In and of itself, a somewhat surprisingly inarticulate, slow and unhelpful volume, for those awaiting the revelations that would submit every article to making sense. Loose threads are tied together, but if you think about what they mean you won’t get anywhere – and yet, a fairly provocative end, to a series that always just managed to be the same.