Since the days of the Industrial Revolution, man has shown a fascination with the future, and the limits of science. Artists often played with the concepts of how the world of tomorrow would present itself, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell. Some present realms of splendor and unlimited potential, others of warning and caution. Ergo Proxy’s vision of the future is something of an anomaly in this regard. Its utterly bleak take on a world spoiled by mankind is one that chills and intrigues, as viewers are drawn into a journey that will enlighten as much as it entertains.
In a future unknown, the domed city of Romdo stands as the final shining beacon of civilization. Crime is low, and the city’s citizens live peaceful, comfortable lives with the aid of autonomous robots known as Autoreivs. Outside the city’s gleaming walls, though, the results of humanity’s waste is on full display. The air is foul and the soil is barren. Those who survive the toxic atmosphere live from one day to the next, as food is uncertain and Romdo’s automated security threatens their lives daily. This isn’t to imply that all is well on the inside, though. Romdo is seeing an increase in murders by Autoreivs that are infected with a mysterious virus known only as “Cogito.” The decay of the world is inescapable. From the crumbling structures just beyond Romdo, to the almost too clean structures within, it’s clear that the world is in its last, pained gasps. Those outside of the upper echelons live in ignorance, as those with power are trapped in a vicious cycle to keep their civilization alive.
Re-l Mayer is an inspector for Romdo’s Citizen Intelligence Bureau, tasked with determining how, and why such a virus could cause docile Autoreivs to engage in horrific acts. During her investigation, she encounters Vincent Law: an immigrant working to earn his citizenship. Law gains a sudden role in the case, though, when his pendant is found in Re-l’s apartment after she’s attacked by a horrific beast. With nowhere to go, and Mayer in pursuit, Law must brave the outside world and return to his homeland, unearthing untold sights, and unsaid truths at every step.
Ergo Proxy’s world is presented as one of few absolutes. The cast hides its motives and secrets behind a veil of false smiles and empty pleasantries, as “good” and “evil” become but mere labels. Secondary characters hide their ambitions of power and desire behind masks of fake smiles and empty pleasantries. It is through this world that Re-l and Vincent embark on a journey of self-discovery. As they traverse barren plains and abandoned cities, the characters are confronted with their own weaknesses. Details of the world are meticulously placed through each episode, as the mystery of why humanity faltered, and the identities of the mysterious “proxies” bubble to the surface. Episodes pass almost too quickly, as the tale slowly builds to a satisfying pace, and the greater narrative flashes between Vincent’s trials, and the building crises in Romdo.
The story isn’t without its faults, though. As the series passes its halfway point, several fight scenes are forced into the series that would be better placed in a title like Dragon Ball Z or Bleach. They’re fast-paced, riddled with explosions, and larger moves are punctuated by dreadfully obnoxious screaming. In addition, several self-contained filler episodes dot the series that push the boundaries of the surreal. While many of these prove to be intriguing, such as a dreamlike encounter between Vincent and a mysterious bookseller, others prove to be strange for the sake of being strange. The most egregious of these is episode 15: “Nightmare Quiz Show.” The entire episode takes place in the context of a game show. From pacing, to presentation, to the requisite perky host, the episode is simply out of place in the show’s greater scope.
The show’s post-apocalyptic atmosphere is sold by a stellar visual style. Landscapes are presented as contrasts between extremes. City centers are and locations within the upper levels are drawn as clean, colorful places that appear almost artificial, while the rest of the world is shown as grey, ruined slums or dead brown wastelands. A similar motif can be seen in the character designs, as city-dwellers like Re-l or Raul Creed, Director-General of the Citizen Security Bureau, are presented as neat, collected individuals clothed in intricate attire. On the flip side, those who cast aside the city’s ways are drawn simply, with nondescript features, simple clothing, and muted colors. The Autoreivs present themselves in a number of forms, from faceless Entourage units, to childlike humanoids. CG art is used for certain scenes, most notably the Romdo Regent’s chambers. And, every time it’s used, the end result is distracting, as the objects rendered look out of place from the rest of the show.
Ergo Proxy isn’t a Gundam, Dirty Pair or even a Ghost in the Shell. Merchandisable mecha, goofy plot twists, and shameless fanservice are non-existent, as are the usual trappings of the anime sci-fi genre. Those who can see past the superficial differences, though, will find an engaging, high-concept plot and charming cast that combine to create a truly unforgettable experience that’s a joy to watch. From its opening lines to its closing moments, the series will charm and enthrall, intrigue and astound, as a world of ruin is given a life of its own.