Why I appreciate Ergo Proxy more at 44 (A collaboration with The Review Heap)

Hello everyone. Welcome to the second half of my collaboration with Ashley from The Review Heap. 

First, I really want to thank him for his patience with me. To give you all some perspective, I agreed to do this before COVID-19 really started. Then work took over my life, but he stayed patient with me.

That said, I’m glad he was willing to work with me because this collaboration was fun. And because Ergo Proxy is far better than I remember it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t remember Ergo Proxy being bad. I remembered large parts of it being buried under ponderous dialogue that didn’t seem to go anywhere. 

Then I remembered them going on a relatively memorable journey that ended with the end of the world — sort of. 

When I went back, I found a story that was better than I recall. Not because of the philosophy references, but because those philosophy references don’t really matter. 

One day, I will do a series on Ergo Proxy and write about the themes and the journeys these characters go on. Just tracing the path of Iggy from a dedicated boyfriend stand-in to a jilted lover would make an interesting post. Or I could explore Vincent’s obsession with Re-l as an extension of his need to belong. 

There are tales of hope in the face of despair and of despair masquerading as hope. There is love, hate, grief and happiness in this show. All of the characters go on a journey to find themselves. 

But most of that will have to come at a different time because I’m not prepared to write 10,000 words on this show. And we have some questions to get to. 

At its heart, Ergo Proxy is a story about the end of a generation from the point of view of the people left behind. Re-l, Vincent and Pino are trying to cope with everything they understand crumbling away underneath them. 

It’s a story that can be appreciated when you’re 20 or 30, but it may be more appreciated when you’re 40, and you’re looking at a world that is making less and less sense. 

Yes. It’s the end of the world as Re-l, Vincent and Pino know it. And they feel fine. 

So let’s get to my questions. 

 Q: Two of the episodes, “Life after God” and “Shampoo Planet,” are named after books by Douglas Coupland. He is famous for writing about Generation X. Do you feel that Ergo Proxy can be seen as a Gen X parable?

iniksbane: Again, I’m asking a bit of a leading question here, but for a bit of explanation Generation X in the U.S. covers people born between 1965 and 1980. It was marked by the dissolution of many institutions that their Baby Boomer parents thought were inviolate. People no longer stayed at the same jobs until they died. They graduated high school and college around the time the U.S. economy tanked. This was when terms like downsizing came into vogue.

A lot of it is marked by feeling like you have been sold a bill of goods. I’ve always used any of Tyler Durden’s speeches from Fight Club as good reference points for how Gen X felt. Here is a good example.

As you can probably tell, I feel you can easily read Ergo Proxy as a Gen X parable. In fact, I may have made this argument before. These are people who have been abandoned by their parents, whose institutions are failing them and whose gods have either left them or gone crazy. 

And the world that they’ve been left with is pretty crap, and they don’t have much hope of changing it. 

Vincent, Re-l and Pino journey through this wasteland in the hope to understand themselves and understand the world they are left with. 

(Note: On doing more research, Douglas Coupland wrote Shampoo Planet as a story of what he imagined Generation Y, otherwise known as Millennials, would be like. I’ve read the book. I would still hold that it’s a book about Gen X. Either way, it’s a book about a changing generation.)

Now I think this feeds into another question I have. 

Ergo Proxy comes toward the end of a long series of shows about the end of the world. What do you make of the ending of the show?

iniksbane: I have a pet theory that starting in the mid-90s, both America and Japan fell into a sort of ennui. Primarily, I think that it’s for similar reasons. Both countries suffered a massive crash in their economies.

America had so long defined itself by using its relationship with the Soviet Union; it didn’t know how to respond to a world after the Cold War. In the U.S., you could see this ennui in shows like X-Files. All of the social institutions and, probably most importantly, the government had secret motivations that were not in the heroes’ best interests.

Across the Pacific, Japan had been at the top of its game, but it just wasn’t anymore and didn’t have any idea what it was going to do.

This is what I think triggered this wave of Japanese ennui. You can see it in shows like Eva, Lain, Texnolyze, etc. These are all shows where the systems that were meant to support people or humanity failed.

In America, this went away with the terrorist attacks on 9/11. If you want a sign of this, just take a look at Fringe. In that show, the Earth is being attacked by an outside invader. Now, that external invader had their world ruined by a selfish man, but they were still “terrorists.” 

Japan never had that rallying point as near as I can tell. The ennui faded, but it was still a part of anime through the end of the decade.

The ending of Ergo Proxy is interesting because, I think overall, it’s hopeful. The message appears to be that people can live without their gods or their institutions. People will survive no matter what.

Perhaps even more importantly, they don’t need to fear the coming generation. When we see the ships coming back to Earth, they aren’t aggressive. They are bringing new life to the planet. At least, that is what we can hope.

What is strange is for a show that focused so much on the negative in those episodes, it delivers something hopeful in the end.

This show came out toward the end of a series of anime shows sold hard toward a western audience. Would you recommend this show to an uninitiated person?

iniksbane: One of the things I find interesting about this period is that this show is that it’s cribbing from dark superheroes of the time. Dai Sato mentions “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage” as what they were aiming for.

I always find this period interesting. Witch Hunter Robin, Wolf’s Rain, GitS: SAC, and many other good shows came out in this period. They are all ostensibly western facing in a way that the moe shows of the time weren’t.

I don’t know if I would just show Ergo Proxy to just anyone. I very much think that it’s a show that will appeal to science fiction fans and people who understand anime (especially of this time.) I don’t know if it would fly even with people who are used to MHA or Mob Psycho.

Ashley: I’ve been thinking about this question a lot, and I think that maybe no…

And then I waiver – because Ergo Proxy definitely feels western-facing, yeah. I think the science fiction, dystopian and even detective tropes in the series would all be welcomed by folks who aren’t used to anime and, as you say, might only know of moe-style stuff or the big shonen titles.

I was reading about that era in anime a while ago, and it feels like another boom-time with mainstream western audiences devouring shows like Bleach, Death Note and Naruto, and I wonder how many studios were throwing extra money that way at the time? Manglobe had released Samurai Champloo prior, which obviously explores East-Meets-West, and I wonder if they banked on that audience with Ergo Proxy?

Perhaps I’m hesitating to recommend it outright due to the non-traditional narrative aspects. I’m not claiming that the series is ‘experimental’ in genre, but it’s happy to throw in a few unusual choices at least. Even the ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ episode where the story grinds to a halt and we get to explore character for a good long while, that almost feels like the pacing common to some literary storytelling. Maybe that feeds into the negative opinions about the show as pretentious too.

The series also holds back on exposition a lot of the time and sometimes just cuts the viewer adrift, especially in terms of the bigger picture, and I wonder if that would frustrate uninitiated folks?

iniksbane: I think the lack of exposition is a good point. Ergo Proxy doesn’t keep its cards close to its chest, but it does require you to think about what it’s trying to accomplish.

In the end, I would say Ergo Proxy is a show that does an excellent job telling a human story about what it’s like to be old and forgotten.

But until next time, Re-l, Vincent and Pino, I hope that you find happiness.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “Why I appreciate Ergo Proxy more at 44 (A collaboration with The Review Heap)

  1. “Just tracing the path of Iggy from a dedicated boyfriend stand-in to a jilted lover would make an interesting post.”

    Yes! That would be amazing 🙂

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