Ergo Proxy DVD Review

Ergo Proxy DVD CoverThe world has has already ended. The earth is covered in frost and the sky is blocked by a thick layer of smog that prevents the sun from gracing the barren planet. Life in these harsh conditions is almost impossible for the human kind. People are forced to live in insolated domes and are closely monitored to prevent any harm from befalling them. Romdo is a highly advanced dome city in which people utilize intelligent robots named AutoReivs that aid them in their daily lives. One of the citizens of Romdo is Re-l Mayer. She is the granddaughter of Romdo’s regent and works in the intelligent bureau. While investigating the Cogito virus (a computer virus that seems to grant AutoReivs human emotions) Re-l comes face to face with an omnipotent monster. This encounter makes her question the life she had been living and the truth about the outside world. She soon finds out the monster she saw is called a Proxy. She suspects an immigrant named Vincent Law has some sort of connection to the Proxy. But before she can take action Vincent escapes Romdo alongside the infected AutoReiv girl Pino. Little does Re-l knows Vincent is not related to the Proxy – he is a Proxy, albeit one who has lost his memory. He sets out to search for his identity and heads for his birth city of Mosk. Soon Re-l’s curiosity leads her to join Vincent and Pino on a journey across the dead world outside the domed cities.

Ergo Proxy starts out strong. Romdo is a dark and gritty city and the first few episodes that introduce almost all the characters are fast, well scripted and splendidly animated. The opening theme is also very strong – possibly one of the best anime openers ever made. The mysterious Cogito virus, the Proxy and Re-l’s quest for Romdo’s hidden truths will keep you hooked. However the magic begins to fade the moment Re-l, Vincent and Pino leave Romdo. The outside world is dead and forsaken, meaning the detailed streets of Romdo are replaced by barren stripes of frost and stone. The animation suffers considerably and only regains its vigor near the end of the series. As the action packed episodes fade in favor of more laidback atmospheric ones you may find yourself unable to resonate with the main crew. Vincent is an optimistic and talented mechanic. Unfortunately he also lacks a backbone and usually doesn’t even bother to stand up for his own. Re-l isn’t any better. At first she appears to be a strong-willed female, but later episodes reveal to us she is of the bossy pampered kind and tends to whine a lot. Pino is actually the saving grace of the three. As an infected AutoReiv she slowly learns how to interact and how to feel emotions. But she is a robot modeled after a child and so her role in the overall plot is fairly limited. I was sorely disappointed by the lack of charismatic or interesting characters to follow. It’s really hard to appreciate a series that has only three main characters. Other humans do appear from time to time and so do Proxies, but their overall effect on our crew is nonexistent. The three characters do develop, each in their own way, but this doesn’t really make up for the severe lack of faces at any given moment.

Vincent, Re-l and Pino’s journey takes them across caves, cities and strongholds. Along the way information slowly trickles our way and eventually helps us decipher part of the mysteries surrounding the domed cities, the Cogito virus and the Proxies. That said, Ergo Proxy is terrible at explaining itself. Each time an important piece of backstory is given it is presented in the worst manner possible. Vincent speaks loud and clear throughout the series. So how come every time he stumbles on new information he speaks in riddles and connotations? It’s frustrating to no end when Vincent and Re-l seem to find their answers but are unwilling to convey them to us the viewers. An episode explaining the history behind the sealed skies, the creation of the Cogito virus and the inception of the Proxies mercilessly jumps from subject to subject, covering only about a third of each subject before dismissing it.
The unexplained plot can be partially deciphered in the end, but the entire series suffers from this lack of focus. Ergo Proxy cannot explain things in a coherent manner and in the end simply gives up. The last episode, unpretentiously titled Deus Ex Machina, is just that – a brief and conveniently unrelated end to an overtly cluttered plot.

Ergo Proxy is filled with small homages and references. Some are immediately recognizable while others might be more elusive. Arguably most of these don’t really add anything to the plot since they are just references. Naming some members of Romdo after Roman figures or naming an episode after a famous science fiction book doesn’t add any real meat to this stew. However there are two homage episodes that are unique and quirky enough to warrant a mention. Episode 16 (Busy Doing Nothing) is a homage to the movie a Woman in the Dunes. Just like the original movie it was modeled after it can prove to be funny or incredibly excruciating, depending on your personal preference. Episode 19 (Eternal Smile) has Pino exploring a theme park modeled after Disney World and meeting Walt Disney himself. You might enjoy this episode if you “get the joke”, but it is arguably the worst episode in the entire series in terms of visuals and animation.
Where the series does truly shine is in its music. Thick and filled with emotions the music of Ergo Proxy will catch you off-guard and immediately make you feel like you are in this bleak world. The score is surprisingly similar in tone to another cyberpunk science fiction piece – the JRPG Final Fantasy VII.

For this review I watched FUNimation Entertainment’s DVD rerelease of Ergo Proxy. The series retains the original English subtitles and English dub from the old Geneon Entertainment release. The subtitles are great. The only thing I can nitpick is the decision to spell the domed city as Romdo instead of the proper spelling Romdeau. The dub is top notch as well. Not all the English voice actors and actresses match their Japanese counterpart perfectly, but they do an excellent job nonetheless. Vincent’s voice actor is the only one that doesn’t fit the bill. For some reason he sounds breathless, like a heavy smoker. The real whiney Vincent doesn’t smoke. Speaking of real, Re-l’s name is mispronounced in the English dub despite the name being in English. Her name is Re-l (pronounced like the word “real”), but the English dub cast pronounces her name as Ri-al (similar to the pronunciation of Real Madrid). This is a huge mishap on the English director’s part.

Ergo Proxy looks and sounds great. The animation, like I mentioned before, is lavish in the first and last couple of episodes, and is considerably less sophisticated during the rest of the series. There are three audio options: Japanese 5.1, English 5.1 and English DTS 5.1. The English DTS 5.1 didn’t work when I tried playing it on a regular stereo TV but did work on a TV hooked to a surround sound system. Either way the DTS track sounds exactly like the normal 5.1 track so you aren’t missing on anything even if you can’t use it.
The last DVD contains all the extra materials, but these are mere frills of little value. The textless versions of the opening and ending themes are missing-in-action. Instead you will find three trailers (all variations of this one long trailer) for the series, useless textless opening versions of the first two episodes (that didn’t have an opening theme anyway), and the mandatory FUNimation trailers. There are also three “featurette” – small videos that explain key words from the series. Unfortunately the first two featurettes only give basic explanations (AutoReivs are robots!) while the third one is speculative in nature.

Ergo Proxy is like a gift wrapped in many attractively layers of paper. You remove the layers, expecting to find an equally great gift inside, only to find out all those fascinating layers were wrapped around an uneven bulgy stone. The dystopian atmosphere, rich music and intriguing mysteries are all promising, but are ultimately crushed under the ruthless weight of poor storytelling and insufficient explanations. Ergo Proxy has some elements that make it stand out among the dystopian and cyberpunk genres. As a mishmash of ideas it offers some undeniable merits, but lacks some crucial components that prevent it from reaching its goals in a satisfying manner.

 


Pros:

- Dark and fascinating dystopian world.

- Rich and engrossing music.

 

Cons:

- Clumsy and insufficient storytelling.

- Only three main characters.

- Inconsistent levels of animation and background art.

 

Final Score: 7/10 (Good)

 

 

Product Information: Ergo Proxy Complete Series – Anime Classics. Published by FUNimation Entertainment. Release Date: August 28, 2012.

Review Equipment: A Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a Premier DVX131 DVD player using an HDMI cable.


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