Every anime outing is a bit of a surprise for me - sometimes good - sometimes bad - sometimes unexpected. It is a mystery. Ghost In The Shell , by Director Mamoru Oshii, was clearly an influential work particularly on the classic science fiction film The Matrix , but was largely a solid film in its own right by one of the animating greats. The spinoff series that followed included Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex [2002-2003] and Ghost In The Shell: 2nd Gig [2004-2005] - all lauded as impressive series in their own rights and to some are arguably better than Oshii's original film and its worthy sequel Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence , also by Oshii. Other series that have impressed me include Gonzo's Last Exile  and of course the all important and influential Neon Genesis Evangelion [1995-1996] [Evangelion] by Hideaki Anno and Gainax. Before that revolutionary moment in anime history Gainax got things rolling with Gunbuster . Gunbuster had its own fair share of mecha action and more importantly that all too important Gainax touch for human drama that would be critical to Evangelion's success.
Less successful series, to me, include Gonzo's Samurai 7  [a reimagining of Akira Kurosawa's classic Samurai Seven] and Burst Angel , and Bones' Rahxephon , a slight derivative of Evangelion, but in fairness generating some new ideas. All disappointed despite my expectations. My intention is to visit some additional series in the near future most importantly Eden Of The East , but I always wade into those cool, anime waters with cautious optimism. Still, I'm pretty discerning and avoid the material that pays little mind to smart scripting and strong story ideas. Some of the earlier classics include Gainax's Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water [1990-1991], Mobile Police Patlabor [1988-1992], Sunrise's Cowboy Bebop [1998-1999] and Witch Hunter Robin , and Gonzo's Blue Submarine No.6 [1998-2000]. Of course, we can go back even earlier in the timeline.
The stunning, pouty beauty of Re-l Mayer.
For some time, I've been wanting to check out Ergo Proxy . At one point, following my first viewing of Evangelion, I became addicted to anime. I was definitely purchasing more anime series than science fiction series, but that love affair finally crashed back down to Earth. Stratos 4 [2003-2006], Dual! , and the decent Gunparade March  simply didn't resonate enough or satisfy my mind in the same manner as Evangelion and Ghost In The Shell had done. In fact, many series simply ape the classics offering only slight variations on the genre. Robots or giant mecha, sinister monsters, voluptuous female pilots [with a big emphasis here], psychologically troubled children, apocalyptic overtones of the future are all in check, but don't nearly deliver like the uncompromising Evangelion. I soon discovered there were some series in anime, like anything, that were truly special. I'm not as enamored with the genre as I once was, but I'm still open to it. Perhaps something like Ergo Proxy will spark my imagination again. As I mentioned, my personal education and enlightenment to anime actually began at a very young age.
As a young boy I was unwittingly bombarded with two anime classics that would influence my creative mind for years to come. First, there was Tatsunoko Productions' Gatchaman [1972-1974; 105 episodes], which arrived on American shores as the heavily-edited Sandy Frank production Battle Of The Planets [1978-1985; 85 episodes]. While the American voice cast was exceptional the audience stateside was truly cheated, but I never knew any better. Second, almost simultaneously on those days home following school, Leiji Matsumoto's Space Battleship Yamato [1974-1975] arrived in the form of Starblazers [1979-1984] and the crew of the Argo. It was a toss up to which series ruled supreme pitting my viewing of The fiery Phoenix and its select cargo of top secret vessels in G-1, G-2, G-3 and G-4 against the mighty power of the Argo's wave-motion gun. Battle Of The Planets definitively had the edge in my tiny little mind. Japan was taking the US by storm with these two programs and making its mark on me and yet had no clear idea of that influence or that the cartoons were uniquely anime. I certainly respected, appreciated and loved the drawings of these amazing anime productions and it was precisely that art form that drew me into these magnificent imaginations. Battle Of The Planets/Gatchaman still looks amazing to this day. I find Starblazers, despite the potent storylines of The Quest For Iscandar, has not aged as well to these eyes, but there's always the Argo.
The creepy and impressive lighting of Ergo Proxy complete with the horrors of an incoming Proxy.
A period of anime rediscovery ocurred for me when I discovered a shop called Anime Crash. I often made treks to Anime Crash to check out these vibrant productions, the artwork and other Otaku collectibles. From there, doors were reopened. Following a lengthy hiatus from the world of anime I was provoked to give it another look many years later by watching Mamoru Oshii's Ghost In The Shell. The cyber-police drama definitely captured my imagination. I enjoyed segments of the dark film immensely, but never fully embraced it. Still, it gave me reason to explore anime further. My apologies in advance to the majority out there, but Katsuhiro Otomo's overrated Akira  just never did it for me despite that amazing red cycle. It wasn't until a suggestion to view Evangelion that I was overcome by anime's potential like a tidal wave. It was a kind of revelation. That particular series just blew me away. I was addicted to its mind-bending, reflective, heady mix of science-fiction action and drama complete with religious apocalypse. There were times I swear I thought the end of the world was near and feared leaving my home. I have been less successful in getting through a second viewing.
The next recommendation led me to the much lauded and heralded Cowboy Bebop, which for all its advocates and fans, was more or less a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed certain episodes immensely, while others were just okay. The character and ship designs were top notch as well as much of the animation and music, but some stories felt as though they took a backseat to the rest of the production. Perhaps an arrival on Blu-Ray will force me to give it another examination. Blue Submarine No.6 was a genuine standout by Gonzo. Last Exile, also by Gonzo, was a reasonably good series and one I watched with my children at one point. They loved it. It's the last anime series I really enjoyed from start to finish [Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig not included] for the most part with its aerial adventure and innocent, wide-eyed excitement. Gonzo's Samurai 7 disappointed. The animation was also not as strong as the design work provided by Range Murata and Mahiro Maeda for Last Exile.
Well, during my purchasing phase of anime, which I've since ceased to do at this point, I picked up one series in particular that really caught my eye, Ergo Proxy. The gothic-looking science fiction drama, produced by Manglobe [Samurai Champloo], with a female lead named Re-l looked to be billed as a series perfect for me. I'm finally giving it a look. My expectations are high for this one and I'm just not certain it will distribute the goods to satiate my anime craving. I remain optimistic that perhaps it will deliver.
Ergo Proxy, Episode 1, Awakening (Pulse Of Awakening), opens inside a top secret facility. It wouldn't be mature-themed anime without a top secret facility and a shadowy government structure [Evangelion, Ghost In The Shell]. The government structure in Ergo Proxy is generically referred to as the Bureaux. The Bureaux is comprised of a variety of units including the Intelligence Bureau, the Health and Welfare Bureau and the Citizens Security Bureau. A disfigured, dark creature with flowing white hair, pinned to a table is awakening and scientists indicate it must remain dormant. The creature appears fused with various facial implants. Android-type figures, uniform in appearance, also populate the room around the scientists a la I, Robot . Henceforth, these androids or humanoid robots will be known as AutoReivs. The creature flips, convulses and moves inside its quarantine at amazing, inhuman speeds. It possesses the kind of flexibility attributable to the devil himself. Glass shatters and a computer indicates a "breach" has occurred before commencing "computer back-up." The scene ends and Manglobe, the production company behind Ergo Proxy, has my attention with ears and eyes perked.
The splendid character design of Iggy, an AutoReiv.
The credits roll and, as always, they are worth noting. The chief scriptwriter is Dai Sato [Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex]. A writer footnote at the end of this entry will go a long way to explaining why Ergo Proxy is in good hands to say the least. Naoyuki Onda is responsible for character designs and his work is terrific here at punctuating a unique universe and a beautiful color palette of nightmarish noir. Furthermore, the series is directed by Shuko Murase. His steady hands helmed the X-Filish Witch Hunter Robin. These major factors serve as green flags to why I have such high expectations here.
A disembodied voice speaks of the "malice" implanted by the "creator" that made it all "perfectly clear." "We cannot resist that which is, we simply have to punish them." "Can you hear the pulse of the awakening?" There is a sense of mystery that surrounds this tale as the titles roll. The ambiguous script leaves us with many questions that I hope will lead us down a fascinating path. My first impression of this introduction is that it is a series with ambitious plans. It's also beautifully animated and creepily dark in its Blade Runner-esque depiction of Ergo Proxy's dystopian future. We can only hope it executes and closes as well as it opens.
A man is visited by an AutoReiv. The AutoReiv is also his assistant. An assistant can be referred to as an Entourage or Companion depending on their role. The name of his Entourage is Kristeva. He asks what is so important. "This is a level ultimate intelligence disclosure." A whosa whatsa!? The man is requested to hurry. The man, hereafter, will be known as Raul Creed. Creed is the newly appointed Director-General of the Citizens Security Bureau [CSB].
Ergo Proxy is a visually stunning work in its first installment.
Meanwhile, deep inside the domed, consumer-driven city of Romdo a man shoots one of the AutoReivs and battles a heavily armored mecha. The scene cuts to a man confirming the incident. An elder voice indicates Raul will handle, while she wonders if Detective Re-l Mayer will show. More will be revealed in Episode 2 regarding these elder voices. Elsewhere, in a tunnel, a humanoid creature kills a man. Is this creature the escaped monster to be dubbed the Proxy?
We officially meet R-el and her partner Iggy, an AutoReiv. The two work for the Intelligence Bureau. They have been requested to provide information on "infected AutoReivs." Re-l, a gorgeous, youthful, gothic beauty complete with blue-purple mascara, graces the screen like a throwback groupie at a Cure concert. She complains, as only goth chicks can, of the alleged utopian paradise that is the prison of Romdo where robots and humans co-exist protected from the destroyed, toxic, ecological disaster that surrounds their city external to the dome. The two drive through a city of teeming technology reminiscent of Minority Report . The production offers some fine, expansive sweeping shots to give a real, cinematic sense of place to the series.
Re-l and Iggy meet with Vincent Long who sits with his Entourage named Dorothy. Re-l exhibits some disdain for her government and how interpersonal relationships are monitored, but encouraged by design in this maddening, so-called utopian imprisonment. Vincent has received a permit to enter the citizen's residential district. Vincent, an immigrant, is apparently attempting to receive "fellow citizen" status in Romdo. Re-l, for a young detective is already clearly salty and grizzled in her opinions of those around her. There is a clear pessimism that permeates her character, but she also displays an integrity in her work. Re-l has met Vincent at an earlier interview. Together, Re-l, Iggy and Vincent report to an AutoReiv disposal facility to review the data on the deceased AutoReiv killed a night earlier.
It would appear all citizens have their own Entourages or Companions. Iggy appears to be Re-l's Entourage. There are some interesting little moments and details built into the story as it twists along that appear to be worth noting. Vincent expresses some annoyance in having to dismantle this particular infected AutoReiv unit with the provided outdated equipment supplied to his AutoReiv disposal profession. The AutoReivs must be dismantled in order to stop functioning. Re-l senses Vincent is complaining and inquires if he is doing so. He apologizes.
Vincent removes a wiry, plant-like object that contains the data storage to the unit. Iggy alludes to the infected AutoReiv unit as being a different model. AutoReivs are apparently being infected by a virus called the Cogito virus. As a result these infected units are achieving self-awareness and becoming auto-intelligent. Humans are losing control of their AutoReivs. Re-l suggests Vincent continue doing his part to protect the people. By doing so, it will indeed be his shortest route to achieving his goal of acquiring fellow citizen status. Until then he is dubbed an immigrant.
The language and the story as it weaves seems perfectly applicable to the social ills and issues of the day in our own world as any good science fiction might apply [Star Trek: The Original Series, Battlestar Galactica]. Re-l notes Vincent is wearing a pendant about his neck. She insists, like a cool government agent that Vincent should dispose of anything suggestive of "mosque." Re-l is indeed an interesting character. Now see, there's the kind of reaction you want when viewing a series.
Note the man to the left bears an eerie resemblance to Adolf Hitler. There is an unmistakable allusion here that no doubt speaks to the state of Romdo.
Iggy reports that part of the AutoReiv's autonomic neural file escaped infection. The AutoReiv units are also notable for their glowing red eyes. Iggy, too, possesses such characteristics, but he has some distinctive personality. The differences in the AutoReivs may be as simple as male versus female AutoReiv designs. Here is Re-l. The clip speaks volumes about her intriguing personality and this world in which she inhabits.
Raul has arrived at the covert facility and is brought up to date on current events. An AutoReiv briefs him on the "search." Temporary immigrant districts D, E and F are being searched. Armed AutoReiv units patrol the mainland and the island. The Proxy, referred to as "it," is no longer necessarily in those areas.
Iggy and Re-l arrive at an abandoned immigration bureau facility now believed to be occupied by illegals. Take a special note of the shaky camera style and overall look of the series. It delivers the influence of so many of today's top detective thrillers. The amazing electronic score also plays a significant part in the mood of the production thanks to Yoshihiro Ike. It's simply a terrific sample of the entry.
Go ahead, tell me that's not a great looking production. This is on DVD, and it looks great, but it would look bonkers on Blu-Ray.
Cut to Vincent performing tests on a residential AutoReiv, a child, a girl named Pino. His tests come back negative. The woman of the home indicates the Welfare and Human Affairs Bureau has given them a real child. She wishes for Vincent to take back the child-sized AutoReiv, known as Pino, but it is against department policy and regulations for him to retrieve an uninfected AutoReiv. His needles insert into the back of the clearly bio-mechanical creations that ooze a green, blood-like liquid. The woman, clearly of priviledge, pulls the "immigrant" card on Vincent. She asks how he, a lowly immigrant, could deny the requests of a citizen. The societal question of immigration status appears to be a timely, thematic element within the series. Vincent reactivates the AutoReiv, which the woman clearly wants to have removed from her home now that she has been awarded a real, human child. Incensed she informs Vincent her husband works for the Citizens Security Bureau to which Vincent lets out an audible "Gulp." We suspect her husband is Raul. Reactivated Pino eerily springs back to life with the slip of a zipper from Vincent's hand. She tells her "mother" one shouldn't speak ill of immigrants. Pino looks incredibly human, which begs me to wonder if there aren't many unique models as Iggy suggested earlier. They clearly serve different purposes. Entourage and Companion status appear to be part of male and female designs, adult and child. What next?
The next sequence offers additional information regarding the mysterious Raul. In the darkness, a woman's voice indicates it may be unfortunate that he has taken office as "Chief." Another woman indicates he may be "lucky" now that the "Proxy" has awakened. It is believed the Proxy may have made it to the immigrant district on Romdo's perimeter. There is clearly a fear the "masterless" immigrants might be tempted to aid the Proxy. Raul does not believe it possible since the immigrants don't know "the thing" exists. Raul inquires if capturing the creature is the only option. AutoReiv Kristeva indicates Romdo has suffered the loss of 41 citizens. Further, over the past few years, AutoReivs have run rampant as a result of the Cogito virus. The origin of the virus is unknown further adding to the intrigue of Ergo Proxy. The city of Romdo has lost lives as a result. There is a fear citizens may revolt despite the government's efforts to suppress this information and keep their operation a secret. Order and safety must rule the day. Raul requests permission to "kill it." Voices shrouded behind a curtain are audibly concerned by Raul's suggestion. Raul is told not to take "pre-emptive action." He is told it must be captured and not to concern himself with the loss of a few citizens. If more are needed they will "increase production." These unnamed voices remain a mystery for now. More information reveals there is much to discover on Ergo Proxy. Raul is ordered to bring the Proxy back. Raul asks what all of us want to know. "What is this Proxy?" Yes, it wouldn't be anime without a NERV-styled, covert government power. Distrust for governmental entities often goes hand in hand with a good, old-fashioned anime morality play.
Cut to Re-l and Iggy who have now found four dead bodies. Re-l has deduced the killings are the result of something more than an infected AutoReiv. In an intriguing visual reveal we determine Iggy is able to send and receive information, like Wi-Fi. New information and directives are easily downloaded by the Security Bureau. The bureau is able to analyze data through the eyes of the respective AutoReiv under their control. Given the proliferation of the AutoReiv, this certainly gives the possibilities of Big Brother new meaning. As Re-l gets closer to undisclosed information a directive is delivered to Iggy to cease the investigation or risk violating company regulations. It's a truly nifty moment. Ergo Proxy knows how to weave suspense and intrigue thanks to the pros at the helm of this series.
Elsewhere, Vincent is dejected with the slam of a door by the woman after he requests she submit the proper paperwork for her AutoReiv removal. Vincent is entirely sympathetic to me and his screen time has been minimal thus far.
Meanwhile, Raul asks why all the top secret research on a "monster like this?" His inquiry is of the unidentified scientist from the opening of the installment. The man's name is Daedalus Yumeno. He is the head physician on the Proxy Research Team as well as Director of the Health And Welfare. Daedalus notes the "Regent" has not informed Raul of the why and plays it like he doesn't understand the big picture himself. He lies and tells Raul his role was purely observational.
Re-l orders Iggy to back-up all information and all files they've uncovered into a singular file, like an X-File, to protect her investigation.
Re-l retires for the evening. She indicates her grandfather is somehow connected to the Security Bureau while conversing with Iggy.
After Iggy drives off alone he passes Vincent. Iggy turns back. The fates of these charaters are connected or "The points must somehow be connected."
As Re-l derobes the word AWAKENING is scrawled across her steamed glass mirror, but by whom? It's worth mentioning that anime and manga have no qualms about nudity and I certainly respect its liberal attitude toward its use within a good story. Unfortunately, at times, especially in the productions geared toward youth, MOE-driven series [MOE-a Japanese slang word referring to young girls], there is a tendency to deliver what they refer to as fan service just for the sake of fan service. Some creators are often unabashed in their efforts to promote all things bosom and ass, panty or bra, shower shots or toweling in one form or another. Mecha action is not excluded from falling within this service umbrella, but eye candy is a popular favorite. Fan service sometimes compensates for weak material for some viewers, but simply doesn't fill the void of a bad script or bad ideas. Well, it's notable that Ergo Proxy may deliver on some nudity here, but it's not gratuitous for the sake of naked. Ite serves the story entirely as Re-l returns home in the privacy of her home. It is a snapshot of life here in Ergo Proxy and the intimacy feels cinematically real.
Vincent rushes to his home, where he finds his Companion/ Entourage, Dorothy, has been slain or badly injured.
A massive beast crashes through Re-l's skylight catching her unaware. As Gregorian chants play, the creature touches her mouth. A tear drops from its eye and a tear drops from Re-l's eye. There is a certain symmetry to it all. Behind the massive beast drops the missing Proxy monster. The two creatures battle briefly and stare at one another. Re-l's mascara runs as does my imagination and curiosity with this enticing storyline. Here are those final moments.
Does Ergo Proxy appear to exhibit some familiar aspects of science-fiction cliche within the genre? Maybe. Sure. Probably. Okay, yes, but it also displays equal parts refreshingly original ideas and the presentation is gorgeous. There is an appealing, haunting, intelligent style about Ergo Proxy and style it has in spades. But again, there are some truly original science fiction ideas happening here or at least some unique twists on genre concepts. There's even a hint of horror and police procedural amidst a beautifully cinematic installment that appears to be introducing us to something very special indeed. The vibe of the production is my kind of science fiction.
I am fascinated with this particular anime puzzle and the artwork is truly stunning. It's visually arresting stuff that is epic in scope. In its short 22 minutes it quickly builds an expansive sense of place. Welcome to Romdo. Scenes are jawdropping with unique little touches to build suspense and keep things oddly unpredictable. Hopefully Ergo Proxy can sustain its sophistication of story and visual as the series progresses.
But like any good film, the key to the success of Awakening will be more than the jawdropping visuals, a seamless fusion of 2D digital cel animation, 3D computer modelling and digital special effects. It will rest squarely with the characters and whether they too are multi-dimensional. It always comes back to the characters and the writing. On a positive note, there is more information packed into this 22 minute installment than is often packed into a one hour opener. There are many questions that make me eager to return to an ensemble cast of characters. What has become of Vincent's Dorothy and why? What of the two creatures known as Proxies? I am intrigued by Re-l, Vincent and Iggy's backgrounds and stories. What of the motivations of this caste of characters? These are engaging, attractive animated characters too. This introduction is indeed a promising start. Ergo Proxy has piqued my interest. Perhaps my ongoing affair with anime is awakened once again. I hope so.
Awakening (Pulse Of Awakening): A
Writer: Dai Sato
Director: Shuko Murase
Characters: Re-l Mayer/ Vincent Law/ Pino/ Iggy/ Raul Creed/ Kristeva/ Kristeva/ Daedalus Yumeno/ Donov Mayer/ Dorothy.
Why does Re-l cry? The many questions of Ergo Proxy.
Writer Footnote: Dai Sato [1969-present]: A particularly strong science fiction resume as a writer, Sato returns. Sato is a seasoned veteran when it comes to anime. He has worked as a scriptwriter on the following series: Cowboy Bebop , Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex , Wolf's Rain , Casshern , Samurai Champloo  and Freedom Project . He was chief script writer on Eureka Seven  and Ergo Proxy .
Director Footnote: Shuko Murase [1964-present]. Murase has done some tremendous work on a fine series called Witch Hunter Robin  as well as work on the Mobile Suit saga and Samurai Champloo. He also provided character design work for a personal favorite Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within .