Remember when goth, and by extension Hot Topic, reigned supreme? Ergo Proxy is basically an anime peopled by fans of Hot Topic. The setting is gritty, and the main character wears black outfits, steal tipped boots and heavy mascara. The color palette skews towards grey and black, and even when the show uses other colors, they look muted. In the years since Ergo Proxy’s release, goth fans have moved toward the sparkly vampires in Twilight. That’s a shame because I found the ugly, dirty world of Ergo Proxy compelling. The show did not live up to the promise of its premise, but I much prefer the version of goth culture it embraces to the more recent version from Twilight.
The show takes place in an enclosed city called Rondo. It is a paradise where robotic assistants perform most of the work. At least that is how the privileged residents, called “citizens”, perceive the city. The other half, refugees from outside Rondo, called “immigrants”, live in decrepit surroundings and perform grunt work. The two groups, citizens and immigrants, co-exist peacefully without outward tension. The appearance of a monster shatters that peace. The granddaughter of Rondo’s ruler, Re-L (pronounced Ree-El), vows to kill the monster.
Re-L and her friends spend much of the series on a quest to learn the secrets of, and ultimately try to destroy, the monster. The group’s journey helped me understand the characters and world of Ergo Proxy, but the director had the opportunity to do more. This segment felt listless and dragged on several episodes too long, as if the show itself had lost its way. Unlike superior flavor-of-the-week shows like Kino’s Journey, the cities the group explored in Ergo Proxy lacked distinctive features and did not raise intriguing moral issues. The visits served the narrative of Ergo Proxy but did nothing more.
The show did explore moral issues, mostly those common to futuristic authoritarian stories. These include what it means to be human, what happens when humans dabble in artificial life and the desirability of an authoritarian government. I appreciated that the show goes into these issues, but felt books like Brave New World have done a superior job of addressing them.
What sets Ergo Proxy apart from most of its contemporaries isn’t animation quality or the story, but its music. The soundtrack was mostly instrumental and uninspired, but the opening and the ending songs rocked. The show is the only anime I know that features a famous western song, in this case Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” accompanied the closing credits. The song fits well with the theme of the show, although I would have preferred the song to accompany the show’s opening instead of the ending. Luckily, the opening song the show used, Kiri by the Japanese band Monorol, was a great choice. It feels dark and powerful in a way that captures the show’s mood. I don’t know if anyone watched Ergo Proxy just because it included a Radiohead song, but I appreciated that the show took an (expensive) risk in its music choice.
I appreciate Ergo Proxy‘s decision to take risks, both in licensing high profile music and in creating an intriguing goth flavored world. Ultimately the show failed to execute on its ambitious concept and the middle section dragged out much too long. Still, the show is unique enough that I recommend it to fans that want something different than the anime series currently simulcast online.
(correction: Re-L is the granddaughter, not daughter of the ruler. Thanks to Son Gohan for catching this)