Ergo Proxy is a technological thriller that focuses on the relationship between man and machine. Within the domed city of Romdo, humans coexist alongside AutoReivs, androids that serve as advisors and personal assistants. Outside of the domes, the human cast-outs are forced to eke out an existence on a harsh, scorched Earth, hoping that one day they’ll be accepted back into Romdo. When AutoReivs begin to suffer from a virus that causes them to become self aware, and humans are being murdered by a creature called a Proxy, the peoples and machines of the world stand at the brink of destruction. Investigating the murders and virus attacks is Re-l (Ree-el) Mayer, an agent of the Citizen Intelligence Bureau, and her Entourage AutoReiv, Iggy. After coming in close contact with two Proxies that invade her home, Re-l begins to realize that everything she knows about life in the dome is a lie, a cover up perpetrated by Romdo’s autonomous leaders.
The show eventually switches gears to follow Vincent Law, a young immigrant amnesiac who was branded a traitor by Romdo’s Security Bureau. Fleeing the city, Vincent sets off on a journey of self discovery, bringing with him Re-l and an infected, precocious AutoReiv (who is pretty damn cute). That path, however, will be filled with blood and the pain of long repressed memories coming to surface.
One of Ergo Proxy‘s underlying themes is the nature of the self, a concept that is evident with the AutoReivs. The machines exist/are programmed to serve with unquestionable loyalty toward their owners, but their true masters are Romdo’s leaders. This sometimes has a negative result for their human charges. For example, when the chief of the Security Bureau makes an off-the-cuff critique toward his bosses, his Entourage reports it to his superiors. Romdo, as a safe haven for the remnants of humanity, is constantly being monitored with a Big Brother-like intensity.
As with any story involving robotics, there is the fear over the AutoReivs becoming self aware. This is the effect of the cogito virus Re-l investigates. The virus advances the machine’s intelligence to the point where they develop a soul and emotions, causing them to behave erratically and operate outside their programming. AutoReivs that turn self aware are almost immediately destroyed. The language humans have used to keep the AutoReivs in control is cold and belies the hubris of subjugation, using the phrases “infection” and “virus” for the moment when a machine achieves independence. It is all quite sad, honestly. As if the threat of termination wasn’t enough, AutoReivs operate by their raison d’etre. Whether it’s to serve as a secretary or bodyguard, if an AutoReiv fails in its charge, its life, programming, and usefulness is rendered meaningless.
What I enjoyed the most about the show was how it handled world building. The state of the world is left to mystery for a large part of the series. When an explanation is finally provided, instead of the characters standing around talking and listening to a central authority figure or major character, Ergo Proxy processes exposition through a delightfully twisted trivia show that the characters, except for Re-l, get really into. I wish more anime found ways to jazz up these necessary, if boring, moments.
Reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, Ergo Proxy is a philosophically charged adventure that tackles the concept of the self and challenges society’s use, reliance, and consumption of technology and artificial intelligence. The moral rules that humans and machines live by can be a bit much to take in at times. Thankfully the presence of Pino and well placed humor prevents the series from getting too heavy.
directed by Shuko Murase
575 minutes, Number of Discs: 4
Company Age Rating: 17+