Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ergo Proxy Ep3: Mazecity & Ep4: Futu-Risk

Since seeing Pacific Rim (2013) in July, I've turned a good deal of my spare time to kaiju and anime. It has certainly infiltrated my infrequent posting and it's been fun to get back to it.  I suspect that pattern will continue in the run up to Christmas.  Can you believe it's almost Christmas? It seems like yesterday I just saw Pacific Rim. Can we enjoy Thanksgiving first?

We continue with the story of Ergo Proxy (2006).  To catch up, here is the summary from the actual DVD of the first volume of four episodes.

MALICE IMPLANTED BY THE CREATOR. The domed city of Romdo is an impenetrable would-be utopia where humans and robots coexist, and everything  is under complete government control, or so it appears.  While working on a mysterious murder case, Re-l Mayer, a female detective from the Intelligence Bureau, receives a foreboding message that something is going to "awaken. That night, she's attacked by a deformed super-being... what was this unidentified monster that attacked her, and who was the figure that cae in between them? As Re-l attempts to unlock this spiraling mystery, a metaphysical battle cry leads her to the unknown outside world...

... outside of Romdo.

It's been some time since I wrote about Episode 1, Awakening (Pulse Of Awakening) and Episode 2, Confession (Confession Of A Fellow Citizen).  The aforementioned first two excellent episodes lay the groundwork for a series that is clearly intended to be a modern, neo-noir mystery filled with a labyrinthine maze of questions spearheaded by the goth-like chick Re-l Mayer.

Often times older anime fans are hard-pressed to get too excited about the more youthful, teen-driven animes featuring big-eyed babes with big breasts.  And let's face it, there's more than enough of those titles available. In other words, for folks like me, there's plenty to pass on. It's easy to get behind a more mature and complex tale like Ergo Proxy. It's also easy to root for someone in anime as completely hot as Re-l Mayer and not feel bad about it.  Her smoking hot factor ranks up there with Misato Katsuragi of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Princess The Swan from Battle Of The Planets. So Re-l Mayer is indeed a hot anime chick for the older set.

My natural predisposition for science fiction falls squarely in the zone of Ergo ProxyErgo Proxy's first volume establishes an interesting plot and its weave of intriguing characters will certainly satiate those adult fans looking for more engaging story complexity.

Thematically, Ergo Proxy firmly lands itself in dystopian realms of science fiction with a touch of horror.  Films that come to mind that share similar alternative appeals include Oblivion (2013), Elysium (2013), Never Let Me Go (2010), Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Minority Report (2002) just to name a few. If you have a predilection for these kinds of worlds than Ergo Proxy is sure to fall comfortably within your wheelhouse of taste or niche of film preferences.

Writer Dai Sato always places great emphasis on story and suffuses his work with doses of the existential and, as the DVD notes suggest, metaphysical concepts. This approach and aspect of his work clearly resonates in Cowboy Bebop, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and now here in Ergo Proxy. Dai Sato is clearly establishing a welcomed pattern of depth.  Ergo Proxy, through its complex cast of characters, certainly begs the question of existence, self-worth and identity.

With Ergo Proxy, Episode 3, Mazecity (Leap Into The Void) and Episode 4, Futu-Risk (Signs Of Future, Hades Of Future), Sato and the creative team continue to world build upon the place that is Romdo and the vast beyond outside the city walls.  Along with the previously noted themes, characters are constantly attempting to break down the distinction between truth and lies.  Intelligence Bureau Inspector Re-l Mayer, Russian immigrant and AutoReiv Control Division agent Vincent Law, and even young infected AutoReiv companion Pino, become the focal point of the third and fourth installments of the yarn.  Antagonist Mayer clearly questions those in power within Romdo, a perceived utopia, a place that is not quite what it seems.  As she drives to uncover the truth, the mystery pulls us in along with her.  Echoes of Blade Runner (1982) also penetrate the series in characters like Mayer, Law and even replicant-like AutoReiv Pino.

Some nifty AutoReiv Control Division weaponry.

Sato himself offered his own analysis:

"... Set in the future. A group of robots become infected with something called the Kojiro [sic] virus, and become aware of their own existence. So these robots, which had been tools of humans, decide to go on an adventure to search for themselves. They have to decide whether the virus that infected them created their identity, or whether they gained their identity through their travels. This question is meant to represent our own debate over whether we become who we are because of our environment, or because of things that are inherent in us. The robots are all named after philosophers: Derrida and Lacan and Husserl."

Sato genuinely pokes and prods our own contemplation over such age old themes of nature versus nurture throughout Ergo Proxy. It's Philosophy 101 all over, but presented within the context and framework of an inventive, exciting science fiction drama that happens to be a terrific anime.

These latest installments highlighting a world immersed in technology got me to thinking about an essay published in Robot Ghosts And Wired Dreams by Susan J. Napier called When The Machines Stop. In the piece Napier really illuminates a cultural aspect of Japan that certainly bears fruit in Ergo Proxy. Like any art, the influence of politics, economics, culture and climate really influences our state of mind when creating.  Napier sheds some light (not specifically) on why Dai Sato's Ergo Proxy might be the dark, visionary animal that it is.

"Japan endured over ten years of recession starting in the nineties, and it has left a deep mark on contemporary attitudes toward both technology and the future."

Manglobe can draw some eyeballs.

Ergo Proxy is a by-product of that influence. So this aspect, combined with a distrust of government officials and hidden deceits and corruption couldn't be a more timely cautionary tale to our own American woes. 

Without a doubt, the legacy of science fiction certainly plays a role, but the impact of of the aforementioned societal elements certainly can't be discounted or under appreciated.

"Although the country continues to produce important technological advances, the dominant attitude toward technology displayed in both its mass-cultural and high-cultural works seems to be ambivalent at best. This is in significant contrast to Western culture, which, ..., still contains strong elements of techno-celebration...."

This pervasive mood of a nation (Japan) is indeed reflected in Ergo Proxy as much as the atom bomb, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and World War II influenced the science fiction fantasy films of Toho, Ishiro Honda and anime of the 1960s and 1970s.  The affect of our surroundings leaves its indelible mark.  That imprint is undeniable and when artists actually allow the influence of culture into their work, they can often generate something special and something worth talking about.  Whether Ergo Proxy finishes as strong as it begins will be revealed in time.

Outside of the recession, Napier points to the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo incident. The sarin gas attack by a cult on the Tokyo subway as an influence of the problematic nature of the Japanese toward technology. She argues the "shadow" of that incident "still looms" wide casting a kind of societal "malaise." The incident speaks to the "complex" relationship the Japanese have with technology when coupled with a variety of traditional, spiritual or religious teachings. Look no furhter than Miyazaki's own advocacy to respect the traditions and natural treasures of Japan in his every feature. The Japanese see "the dangers of technology" and the "potential powers" it offers. This particular analysis certainly speaks to anime in particular in such resulting series as Serial Experiments Lain (1998), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)delving into both technology and spirituality, Ghost In The Shell (2002-2005) and here, Ergo Proxy.

There is indeed a graphic novel-like quality to some of the images found in Ergo Proxy.

Mazecity and Futu-Risk generate more questions than answers at this point, despite providing more information, but the pacing and the intrigue is generated in nice fits and starts.  The latest two installments are low on physical action of the kind fans of Hollywood have come to expect and for me, that's a good thing.  As a result it's a much more satisfying, cerebral and mesmerizing story that Ergo Proxy manages to takes us inside its science fiction maze and paint the potential risks of one potential future.  The fact some of its political and technological darkness has arrived already makes it all the more unnerving.

Mazecity (Leap Into The Void): B.
Futu-Risk (Signs Of Future, Hades Of Future): B.

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