Ergo Proxy (Collaboration with In Search of Number Nine)

Very excited to kick off this collaboration with Iniksbane at In Search of Number Nine, since we’re writing on one of my all-time favs, Ergo Proxy!

I’d put off reviewing Ergo Proxy for a long time but being able to work with Cameron took a bit of the pressure off, and I’m really happy with what we came up with. Thanks to Cameron’s awesome posts over the years, I’ve been introduced to a heap of great anime – and one that comes to mind instantly for me is Rahxephon

But getting back to Ergo Proxy, we’ve split the posts between our blogs, so below you can read our review conversation and next up is our analysis post over at In Search of Number Nine – link to follow once we go live 🙂

But now, let’s begin – and Iniksbane’s up first:

Iniksbane: I’m curious when and where you first encountered Ergo Proxy? I have a little bit of personal history with this show. I initially saw the first episode at Otakon in 2006, and I was blown away by how this show looked. Sure. There were other stylish shows that I had seen, but between the austere sci-fi setting and the voice-over, I was intrigued. 

I’m not sure if I would say I was hooked, but I was interested in learning more. 

This show holds an important spot in the anime distribution history in America in that it was one of the final shows that Geneon released. Pioneer and then Geneon were responsible for distributing a lot of the more unusual anime, stuff like Ergo Proxy, Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, Paranoia Agent and Gankutsou, to name a few.  The End of Geneon USA – Anime (bellaonline.com)

This was around the time I started blogging as well. 

It was the start of the change of the anime industry in the U.S. Within a year or so, ADV would become Section 24. They would eventually start rereleasing anime under Sentai Filmworks, but that would take some time. 

Bandai Entertainment, the American distribution arm of Bandai in Japan, held out until 2012, but they ended up shutting down as well. Bandai Entertainment to Stop Releasing New DVDs, BDs, Manga – News – Anime News Network

Funimation ended up being the last one standing. They emerged with all of the Dragon Ball Z money. 

But I remember feeling lucky that I got my copy of Ergo Proxy. 

In my notes, I noticed that the show has a 4.5 out of 5. I find that interesting because it wasn’t a beloved show at the time of its release. I’m glad that it’s found an audience 15 years later. 

Ashley: Wow, that’s pretty awesome that you got to see the opener at a convention! 

I remember being only generally aware of Ergo Proxy back in the early 2010s and sometimes seeing it on informal lists here and there afterwards, it seemed like a real favourite for a lot of people but at the same time, not a series that was well-known, yeah.

I reckon I first saw a preview, probably on a DVD of another show and that got me searching for the series, thinking I ought to finally track down a copy and see for myself what it was like. (That copy was the Funimation reissue).

Glad I did too :D.

Iniksbane: What did you think about the show when you first watched it? What do you think of it now? I’ve heard another review of this show that divided it into three parts and said the beginning and the end were weak, but the middle was great. 

I’m not sure I remember much from my first time watching the show, I remember the quiz show episode and the one where they were stuck, and I vaguely remembered Iggy’s fate. 

Honestly, this time through, I liked the beginning. I loved the middle episodes, and I am still torn about the ending. 

To give you some to react to, I thought the first few episodes moved fast enough to set up what happened after they started the journey. I don’t feel like it wasted any time, or rather I felt like it spent enough time doing what it needed to. 

The show really kicks it into high gear once they leave the dome. I found Hoody’s story arc engrossing. I liked the interplay between Daedulus and Raul.

The conflict between Iggy and Re-l was great. In particular, I love the line, “You don’t get to write me off just because I’ve gotten complicated.”

Although Vincent is strangely hands-on with Re-l in a way, I wasn’t comfortable with and didn’t understand. I wrote down in my notes that Re-l attracts creepy stalker guys. 

My biggest problems come in the last three or so episodes. I’m still struggling with what they were trying to do there. It’s the only part of the show that felt self-indulgent. The show would have these long panning shots without anything going on. Raul and, to a lesser extent, Daedalus felt like non-entities at that point. 

It’s not a bad end, but it felt a little lackluster in comparison to some of the frankly brilliant stuff they do in the middle.

Ashley: That’s interesting re: the review you mention. For my first viewing I had the opposite response, to me during some of the middle episodes it felt like the tension was beginning to fall off. I remember preferring the beginning and ending parts.

And yet, on subsequent viewings those middle stretches contain some of my favourite moments. A bit like you, the ending is the part that I now wonder about. I wish it had been expanded for a few more episodes at least.

When I finished Ergo Proxy the first time I remember feeling like I had to immediately go and watch the first few episodes again to catch the foreshadowing I’d missed. Viewing it now feels like watching familiar, (and some) beloved characters fighting against cruel manipulation and that abandonment you mention below, I feel like I can focus more on character and less on unravelling the plot.

I guess like a lot of post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk fiction the fear of what humanity cannot control does seem to motivate a lot of characters and I like how that played out in Pino’s character, since she humanised the robots who are ‘infected’ with the Cogito Virus. (Maybe a bit like Robin from Witch Hunter Robin?)  

Iggy stood out for me too – poor guy, Re-l seems to treat him as a punching bag at times. Agree that Re-l is definitely a magnet for those sorts of fellows.

I also agree that Daedulus and Raul had some great scenes together but that the narrative seems to abandon them by the end, which was a real shame. Again, maybe just a few more episodes and that ending could have given them more time too?

One thing I think about the show now compared to the first time I watched it, is I realise more just how long the audience is kept in the dark in terms of piecing the bigger picture together, which is mostly only lurking behind the smaller investigative events for a fair while.

Iniksbane: Do you feel like the show succeeded with its more surreal aspects? So I’m leading a little bit here, but I felt this show was good at adding weight to what are largely surrealistic episodes. 

In particular, I pointed out in my notes that I liked the library episode. In particular, I said  One of the things about this show is just how surreal it is without losing all of its footing in “real” life. The bookstore in the middle of the wasteland is the height of that weirdness.  

This is also true with the episode Ophelia, as they are in the dome with the grocery store, and they keep running into a proxy that could copy other people. I don’t know if it’s the Hamlet reference, but I think the episode succeeds in making me realize that the proxy felt lonely but was so scared of being lonely that she killed everyone. 

Ashley: The Ophelia episode was one of my favs, absolutely – the surrealism throughout that plot was ace. It’s interesting how well those episodic sections of the series operate to build tension, expand the world and delay the answers everyone is seeking. 

It also fit right into the unsettling tone – sometimes it’s almost absurdist, which kinda built upon the unease for me.

And I know what you mean, the further into the show you get, the clearer it becomes that the Proxies are desperately unhappy or lonely, often broken by their roles. I especially felt bad for the Disney Proxy who was maybe doing a better job at protecting his charges than what we see in other domes.

Iniksbane: What character moments/episodes stood out to you? I’m curious. I liked two episodes in particular. One was the quiz show episode because it’s such an unusual way of getting exposition across. 

I also really liked the Disney episode. One of the characters I felt like got shortchanged in the early episodes was Pino. She seemed a lot like a cute mascot girl, but that episode gave me a sense of who she was. She really is a nice person who wants to help people. She was just a child in danger of getting thrown away. 

There is another moment that I like in the last few episodes after both Re-ls reject Daedalus. He says, “When I look into her eyes, I want to see my reflection.”

This is one point I probably should make about those last few episodes. I do think they’re messy, but there are a lot of great moments. At one point, we see Raul limping down the street, and there is a voiceover from Pino. 

Re-l has a monologue where she says, “Once this clockwork paradise bored me. So I prayed for change. Any change. I now have to wonder if those awful prayers were the catalyst that woke the sleeping Ergo.”

Ashley: Pino really became a stand out character for me too, yeah. Seeing her learn and grow as the series went on, and that Disney episode is a highlight for her – I love the teacup scene for a lighter moment, and there aren’t tonnes of them in the show, huh? 

Agree on the game show episode – Ergo Proxy just cuts in on a lot of those episodes with zero transition, and so I remember experiencing a bit of whiplash at first, but when I watched it again I thought it was a pretty cool way to deliver exposition.

I think the first episode is one of my favs – I finished it with so many unanswered questions and was immediately drawn in by the detective/noir stuff. Upon re-watch, Monad’s struggle takes on a different tone too but above all, I think it’s the action sequences as they punctuate the investigations. They feel pretty explosive and fluid too, like a good chunk of the budget went into hooking the audience with that ep.

Next up for me was probably the Ophelia episode. I really enjoyed being confused at first, and then once I figured out the team were being manipulated I was suddenly second-guessing everything I saw, that was fun. 

Visually too, the emptiness and all the wide shots, or the reflections and mist, it all made for heaps of memorable compositions. The atmosphere and symbolism around duality is pretty strong here too and Pino’s ‘cooking’ is a nice little moment of levity.

Iniksbane: According to an ANN interview, the series composer Dai Sato said they wanted to “create an image somewhat like a darker breed of American superhero.” Do you think they succeeded? Do you think that is a worthy goal? Link to the article. Interview: Dai Sato – Anime News Network

Ashley: That’s really interesting – although, I probably don’t know enough about superhero texts to offer an opinion on Ergo Proxy’s success in reflecting that… but I think it’s fascinating that the end result made me think of things like Tim Burton’s Batman films from the 1990s.

Good question, I think maybe it is worth trying because it might end up in something really distinctive. So, to bring in superhero stuff to a noir/cyberpunk/dystopian story resulted in Ergo Proxy so that’s pretty cool. And that ‘darker’ idea seems clearly realised, as it feels like most characters are anti-heroes, villains or at least always at cross-purposes throughout the series. (Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit there though).

Iniksbane: Most famously, the show used real philosophers’ names along with referencing Descartes’ “Cogito Ergo Sum,” do you think this worked? I remember this being the most significant sticking point with Ergo Proxy. To put it kindly, people thought this show was up its own butt.

Even Sato, in that same ANN interview, said, “I thought that project was a little too fast-paced. We had a lot of ideas and things we wanted to incorporate that we couldn’t fit.”

As a story, I think you can completely ignore this point, and for the most part, the story stands on its own. I’m not sure if I remember the names of the philosophers that are referenced, and I don’t think it bears looking up. 

That said, thematically, I think the ideas of self-determination and free will are core to what the show is going for. And here is where I’m going to dip a bit into spoilers. 

Raul starts off the show talking about people filling their assigned roles and has a deterministic outlook on life. But by the end of the show, he’s trying to fight against Ergo Proxy. He rejects the “God” of their world. 

In particular, Raul tells the regent, “You have spent your existence seeking a god that betrayed you. I am free of your illusions.”  

This back and forth between fate and free will is a recurring theme in the entirety of the show. I feel the show solidly lands in favor of free will, but there is a lot of plot driven by characters who believe they are fated for destruction. 

So I guess I will end this with another question. Where do you think the show lands on that theme? 

Ashley: I think the individuals in the Collective could have been called anything and it wouldn’t have made any difference, definitely.

I don’t recall their dialogue as distinctive or even suggesting any of the curiosity you’d expect from a philosopher – by which I guess I meant, they pretty much towed the line and never seemed to question their own part in the dome and the greater plan. (Admittedly, they weren’t infected so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised).

For the theme, those final shots seem really defiant so that especially makes me think the show comes down on the side of free will. Bleak as it can be, and even with all the collateral damage. 

You mentioned Rual and I think he’s a perfect example of a character playing out the tension between those themes – he’s got quite a lot of development too, swinging from sympathetic and less so and then back again, from antagonist to maybe a supporting protagonist which I found interesting since Vincent/Ergo Proxy isn’t strictly a hero or even an anti-hero, I think.

Or at least, not until the end perhaps – when I guess his resolve is channelled along the lines of free will being worth preserving?

And done!

Hope you enjoyed this post and that you’re ready for the next part, which you’ll soon be able to read over at In Search of Number Nine 🙂

Gangsta

Gangsta (2015)

Mafia-style stories can be an incredibly hard sell for me in many ways, since I tend not to enjoy the idea of glamorising career-criminals via entertainment media.

But Gangsta isn’t a straight-up crime drama either because there is a little something more going on – namely the human experiment angle, that and the fact that one of the lead characters is deaf, which was a welcome change from typical action heroes.

Having said that, this series still features vaguely super-hero style fights at times, so typical action conventions definitely dominate. Nic and Worick are memorable leads, and while they don’t get a chance to be fully developed, I think it’s clear they were going to get even more dimensions – even, or especially – Alex, who does function as more than eye-candy sometimes.

The villains are fairly strong too and the setting is distinctive – or at least, I enjoyed its general Italian-look for sure. I think you could argue that the super-human ‘Tag’ aspect to the world-building was going to escalate far too quickly for the pacing of a story that definitely needed more than one short season to tell. For me, that meant that some of the action-sequences and associated tension tapered off because characters seemed a little overpowered for so early on.   

But basically, I was pretty happy to see something a little different in this unfinished story from Manglobe and Shūkō Murase. I know that Gangsta sometimes comes with a little asterisk next to it, as ‘the series that no-one liked and which killed Manglobe’ but of course, that’d be a little simplistic. Manglobe certainly did close up shop [a few details here] and some of the vitriol directed to this short series is due to the ‘ending’.

And if there had been a second season, this would be a cracker of a cliff-hanger… but alas, it was not to be.

Like the majority of anime out there, there is a manga luckily, and so if you wanted to keep reading to catch more of the storyline then you’re all good. However, as usual with me, I’ve written about the anime since that’s all I’ve got 🙂

4 Stars*

*This might be me being my usual generous, uncritical self, but since the Gangsta anime is a truly unfinished story, I wanted to add this note about the lack of resolution, since I’m certainly on record as saying that endings are vital.

The selective colouring in the opening I liked a lot.
There’s probably a touch more sexualised stuff and violence than in typical shounen anime, so it’s more firmly in the seinen age-bracket.

The Sacred Blacksmith (Seiken no Burakkusumisu)

The Sacred Blacksmith (Seiken no Burakkusumisu) 2009

Lots of tropes here!

But did that ruin the series for me?

No, yet on a related note, if any of the following items bug you, then perhaps don’t rush to The Sacred Blacksmith: classic good vs evil plot, moe character designs, a jerk-ish male lead, a fairly absent villain and finally, pretty clumsy fan-service re: its delivery in general but also our leading lady, who is meant to be a klutz.

Having outlined those issues as I see them, there’s a great story that pushes through. I also found myself engaged by the leads; there’s character conflict both internal and external, and the show is happy to spend a bit of screen time there, which is welcome in my books 🙂

Most of the action sequences seemed good too but again, I think I kept watching mostly for the characters, both to learn their secrets and see them finally fess up to each other about the emotional things they were dealing with. The world presented is typical of dark fantasy traditions and had some fun aspects re: the demon swords, but overall it isn’t so grim that there wasn’t room for comedic moments or episodes.

Okay, to try and control my tendency to ramble, I wanna now switch to some dot points:

  • I needed to spend more time with the villain as he remained nebulous a little too long for me, only really beginning to evoke visceral responses at times in the final two episodes.
  • The series pacing was kinda shot for me when the story introduced Charlotte, (the Lisa-clone, small and blonde, moe etc). Worse, since she first appears as a brat antagonist the series then has to spend far too much time rehabilitating her. Part of me thinks she was only added in so they could undress her retainers for the obligatory hot springs/bathing scene.
  • The main storyline didn’t get a chance to expand, which was a shame because the bigger picture was really starting to build pressure on the characters and I would have watched another season, especially considering there are plenty of light novels. Doubtless the debt-ridden and bankrupt Manglobe means there’s no chance of any further seasons.

Okay, so due to the things I’ve brought up it maybe sounds like I didn’t enjoy The Sacred Blacksmith at all, but that’s not true – I mean, I finished it and I wanted the story to continue.

And again, it was the character development that kept me on board as much as anything – for instance, our secondary hero Luke has as much or more growth than heroine Cecily and at times, the humour was great (I’m mostly thinking head maid Fio here) so The Sacred Blacksmith is by no means something I loathed.

But there is better fantasy anime out there – which is maybe a bit of an empty statement perhaps, I mean, for every genre only a few things are at the top 😀

3 Stars

*Oh, and if I can borrow a drinking game approach from Irina, then if you want to get trashed, take a drink every time the characters discuss Cecily’s breasts. For alcohol poisoning, add in Each Time the Shot is Framed to Keep them in View.