ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Ah, now that’s more like it. Who ever said that you can’t make something good out of something ordinary? It’s mostly the execution that does the trick, followed by presentation, good visuals, something worthy in it to chat about and build a mythos and then… well I guess it’s about how the fandom will perceive the whole thing. Ergo Proxy is a dark adventure, a journey of self-discovery, a look into what is real and what is an illusion, something to occasionally make you think outside the box. And I like it just for that; as bolder as anime may be next to cartoons, most of them still follow tired formulas without much innovation, experimentation, distinction, or in the grand scheme of things something worthy to remember about. Looks like Ergo Proxy (EP) covered all that to the most part.
The first thing that impressed me in this show is its roots. It’s not a strictly Japanese production as its aesthetics cover notions from all over the world. The characters are not drawn too anime-like, the main themes have English lyrics, and the philosophy it usually deals with has its roots in Europe. Heck, watching a dub would be enough to fool most to consider this a western production. At the same time it is not a conventional western-type production with simplistic characters, superficial plot and characters full of ironic one-liners. It has depth to it in its themes, it follows an idea mostly encountered in high budget sci-fi movies rather than series. It literally seems to take the best parts of both edges of the spectrum to create something really neat.
Of course even the most awesome concept can fall apart without good execution and presentation and EP did a fine job in this department. First of all it has very good production values, something not expected at first from a hit-or-miss in quality studio such as Manglobe. Although I love what they did with Samurai Champloo, and I respect the artsy style of House of Five Leaves (but not its plot) all the rest of their works are nothing but high caliber fan catering BS (Michiko to Hatchin, The Sacred Blacksmith, Broken Blade, The World God Only Knows, Deadman Wonderland, Mashiroiro Symphony). So there is no way to know what to expect from these guys as their quality varies conciderably and thus I was highly suprised and pleased to see the good work they did here. It focuses a lot on making the world look scary and grim, makes sure to present the characters as dynamic, and to the most part does not confuse you with what is going on with the plot. I mean, sure, there is a lot of mystery going on and even in the finale some things are left open to interpretation but I could easily fill in the blanks with the hints they offered here and there. I could even tell what followed the conclusion of the show even if it was not shown or explained. I know many other anime which are being too cryptic to the point you have no clue what is going on and others who just throw everything at your face with long explanatory monologues. EP takes the middle road and it’s being explanatory without ever revealing everything at once. Meaning that the mystery is never kept in the dark or under a spotlight; it’s half-hidden from the setting sun behind it and it’s blinding you when you stare at it.
Another thing is how the style of narration changes throughout the show without ever losing the atmosphere that defines it. The first part feels like a mystery/detective story in a futuristic setting, then it swifts to a journey in the barren wilderness outside of the city, and in the end, as if making a full circle, it ends back in the city where everything becomes a psychedelic showdown of wills and philosophies. Many will probably dislike the middle part as it feels too episodic, without actual on-going plot and with a hint of monster (or better say Proxy) -of-the-week feeling to it. In reality, it helps to better understand the motives of the so-called Gods in the series. If it was just about the main two Proxies, the clash and struggle they perform would feel a lot less important. Yet by looking at the motives of several others of the same kind you get to understand a lot better their vain attempts at maintaining a dead worldview. Plus, it helps the show to not feel too bent on Dualism of good vs evil; an element which I don’t favor at all.
And in all this mess you really get to see the characters developing, as they slowly open up to one another and reveal parts of themselves that make them feel more like real people. No wonder the lead woman is named Real; it’s all part of the core theme! What makes it even greater is how the characters don’t mature in a shonen way. They are not spineless weak boys that need to grow stronger and yell out all their teenage frustration. They are not neurotic girls that express their feeling by hitting boys and yelling over peanuts. The lead duo is already adults and is quite beyond that crap. They are just too untrustworthy and hide things from one another; a thing completely understood under the circumstances of the show.
What I loved as well is how they never tried to oversexualize Real, the main female. She is clearly nice looking with a great body but you barely get to see anything naked throughout the series. That shows respect to the character and I give thumb ups to the animators for not going for sleazy entertainment where the characters are defined by the color of their underwear or the size of their breasts. And not only that; the lead duo is still easily identifiable and stands out in the crowd of anime casts. Real’s, make-up in the eyes and the clown-like looks of Ergo both make them easy to tell apart from other shows. Heck, it is just a few lines of paintjob and yet it does wonders. How many others managed to do that with such simple means?
Even the AI robots that accompany them end up having their own sub-plots, as they both have the need to feel important to their human masters and act as if their reason for existence is lost when they are neglected. And this is the core theme by the way. The “raison d’etre” as they prefer to call it in French; the reason each one of us has to keep living and the “ergo” we go through in order to achieve it. It is harder than it sounds; especially when you are living in an organized and fully automated society and suddenly you are thrown out, practically no longer of need by it. It makes sense that you will grow mad and kill yourself or look for answers and a different thing to live for. Hence the second part of the series; one of the very few times I actually got to enjoy for its episodic nature. Other series are completely episodic and a waste of time but here you just see the importance of it all. The finale is not something that could have happened in exactly the same way if you simply skipped all the middle episodes. It would feel hollow and forced. Here it is used as the end process of a long line of events that change you and make you a different person with different goals. Meaning, all that fuss is there for a reason, all part of the core theme. It leads to something in the finale; it is not completely pointless dribbling like in other shows.
There is something I would like to address at this point regarding the characters’ appeal. I know many people who didn’t like the show because they found the characters to be too apathetic and blunt. That has mostly to do with the fact this is a serious setting and not some shitty shounen aimed at young teenagers. They also didn’t like how they were mostly talking or traveling around the world without doing much. That is because all the change was happening inside their minds and we weren’t presented everything with a stupid explanatory monologue. So don’t pay too much attention to all the accusations, unless you prefer your anime characters to be screaming and showing bae skin all the time.
If there is one thing not even I didn’t like, that would the action part. There are several battles in this show and they all feel one-sided from the beginning, as Ergo Proxy seems impossible to be killed. That kind of takes away the feeling of anxiety in case they fail or something. Another minor glitch is how besides the main crew everybody else in the show seems to be left at a minor support role. Both are minor issues before all the rest; the message still gets across just fine. It’s just that you shouldn’t watch this for the action.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (great production values)
Character Figures 2/2 (their make up is making them stand out)
Backgrounds 2/2 (detailed and spooky)
Animation 1/2 (sporadically the characters lose facial consistency and the battle choreography seems pointless since Ergo is unbeatable)
Visual Effects 2/2 (great use of shadows and darkness)
SOUND SECTION: 9/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (serious and philosophical dialogues without becoming too tiresome during monologues)
Music Themes 4/4 (great soundtrack and BGM)
Sound Effects 2/3 (great but not awesome)
STORY SECTION: 8/10
Premise 2/2 (really deep stuff)
Pacing 1/2 (drops a lot in the middle and speeds up a lot in the end)
Complexity 1/2 (too much focus on the main characters only)
Plausibility 2/2 (no obvious plot holes and the philosophy of the show is explained just fine)
Conclusion 2/2 (rather vague but its solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 10/10
Presence 2/2 (imposing)
Personality 2/2 (detailed)
Backdrop 2/2 (excused)
Development 2/2 (high)
Catharsis 2/2 (definitely)
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Historical Value 3/3 (modern classic from the get go for all I care)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you dig the premise, with some parts skipped for their low importance)
Memorability 4/4 (stands out in the crowd)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 9/10
It made me think, it looked great, it had good songs, it had memorable characters, it didn’t end openly, and I could fill in the blanks easily. Some parts in the middle felt a bit dull but it was a great ride.
Anime: Casshern Sins, DT Eightron
Western movies: Logan's Run, THX 1138, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Blade Runner, Stalker