I'll fully admit, despite my slightly negative, or more accurately, disappointed feelings towards "Ergo Proxy" as a whole, there hasn't been an anime series I've committed to watching from start to finish that gave me a sense of tremendous promise as this one did. The concept that raised my eyebrow was simple: an outbreak of a virus granting self-awareness amongst android servants in a futuristic city is assigned to a young, brash investigator in a futuristic city. I'd defy any sci-fi fan to not get a "Blade Runner" vibe from such a premise, and while that was the case for me, reality did take hold prior to jumping headfirst into "Ergo Proxy" and at the very least, I was expecting a tense, cyberpunk influenced thriller...and for the first few episodes, "Ergo Proxy" showed signs it would at least live up its premise...but then something simultaneously goes very wrong and very right.
The story of "Ergo Proxy" begins focusing heavily on Re-l (pronounced Ree-El) Mayer, a young, but skilled investigator in the domed city of Romdeau's Citizen Intelligence Bureau, but in a daring, surprise twist from the writers, the story ends up more prominently focusing on Vincent Law, a character enlisted by Re-l's superiors to dispose of the newly self-aware androids (the series calls them Auto-Reiv's), thanks to the ominously and pretentiously named Cogito Virus. Complicating Rei-l's mission and offering possible answers to Vincent's past, are mysterious humanoids called Proxies, which exhibit intelligences and strengths far beyond mortals or androids. The Proxies act as a catalyst that sends Vincent and Re-l outside the confines of Romdeau to the forsaken lands beyond, with Vincent's homeland of Mosk (another domed city) being the ultimate goal. It's a bold move by writer Dai Sato, who in one broad stroke shatters viewers' impressions and expectations for what "Ergo Proxy" is supposed to be; unfortunately, Sato falls victim to a complaint I've lobbied against many anime series as well as modern sci-fi offerings: a sense of self-righteous obtuse pseudo philosophy that drags the pace of the series to a cataclysmic halt. In my case, had I not been obligated to finish "Ergo Proxy" I'd have bailed on the series close to the halfway mark.
Sadly, Sato's writing puts me in a position of having to ruin the plot twists that are vital to taking any enjoyment from a consistently dark, oppressive series. In the end, the series somewhat justifies these bizarre, confusing and sometimes incoherent stretches of narrative, but as a complete saga, "Ergo Proxy" is incredibly bloated, even at just 23, 25-minute episodes. Making matters worse, are three key episodes, occurring midway and then right before the final-four episodes of the series that serve as sloppy bridges between self-indulgent attempts at philosophy and pressing character developments and plot threads that must be tied up. The series chooses to disguise these episodes as tonally and artistically removed from the rest of the series, injecting awkward, uncomfortable levels of humor to do little more in one instance than get Vincent from a quagmire of muddled plot points back on-track to Mosk and haphazardly reveal to the audience a key character who we never see again until the final four episodes.
Director Shuko Murase as well as an army of animators, does a truly tremendous job of ensuring "Ergo Proxy" transcends your average television offerings into the realm of the near-cinematic at times. The series uses a mixture of 2D and 3D CG animation, and while some integration is obvious, for instance, some character movement can be stiff, while Vincent's airship is sleek enough to be spotted as a 3D CG offering, other times, it's seamless and in the series' most muddled narrative moments is a minor detractor from the increasingly tedious nature of the program. Likewise, the English voice cast is all business and turn in performances full of emotion, even when the dialogue they are spouting is so heavy-handed it might cause a minor headache. The only "spoiler" I'll offer is that the series does get back to the claustrophobic, urban setting of Romdeau and the resolution of the series admirably melds what initially hooks viewers, the series' broad themes of destiny, self-awareness, and humanity, and it's overly earnest attempts at alluding to ancient mythology. Overly ambitious, beautifully designed, and often gripping, "Ergo Proxy" is neither a masterpiece nor a failure, it occupies a firm middle ground that is best enjoyed by those expecting to have their expectations turned upside down; this isn't your run-of-the-mill cyberpunk thriller nor is it a philosophically enlightening sci-fi epic.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is just short of stunning. The image is almost entirely crystal clear and it's very tough to distinguish the subtler melding of 2D and 3D animation. Only minor compression issues, visible under minor scrutiny detract from a picture that has a distinct, consistent color palette and perfect level of contrast.
The DTS English 5.1 is cinematic through-and-through with powerful sound reproduction, stunning surround use and perfect low-end use. The dub doesn't stand out one bit from effects and score and is the icing on the aural cake. Standard Dolby Digital English 5.1 tracks are included and while both are solid in their own right, are marked steps down from the DTS offering. English subtitles are included.
The extras are rather anemic as a whole, with a 30-minute interview featurette being the sole standout in terms of quality. Two additional featurettes, running under five-minutes each offer little in value, while a collection of trailers and commercials, as well as a pair of textless openings round things out.
"Ergo Proxy" boasts one of amine's greatest opening set of episodes as well as solid, definitive, epic feeling conclusion; its problems lie in the middle, bogged down by attempts to be far too much and instead of taking a step-back on it's pseudo-philosophy, it embraces unabashedly, creating inconsistencies in pacing, fixed by slapdash, jarring bridging episodes. All of this is tied together by solid voice cast and absolutely beautiful art design making, "Ergo Proxy" a mildly entertaining series, but noting more. Recommended.