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Ergo Proxy 21 (Raw)

It seems, we have been waiting a long time for this stretch to the end. As it is, I am still left breathless by how we're approaching this final phase. To say it's beautiful would be an understatement of the narrative style at work.

I am going to swear, firstly, that Pino, by her own common sense, is the strongest candidate for making out of this alive.

And we love our Pino, don't we? Yes, we do.

She is our first link back to the chaos left behind, counting the 30,110th rabbit in red marker pen, on the ship we've come to know, fondly, as the Rabbit. She's been alone for a long time.

The streets of Romdeau are a rebellion of autoraves, of machines struck by the realization of their existence. Pino walks through that desperation, the only android, it seems, who has ever come to terms with being alive. It's a surreal undertaking, thinking of self-awareness as an infection. Throughout, I am left asking, who is more without self-realization in this picture? The machines, or the men?

Real is fighting for her life. In a throwback to that powerful, staggered style of animation that really made this show work for me very early on, the battle here is minimalist, yet epic. Blow-by-blow, frame-by-frame, until Real herself is disarmed. In a distance, a figure shoots to save her. It's not who she wants it to be, but it is her first clue as to the cause of this madness.

Her saviours, the unit which Vincent was a part of, have no idea why, but things have been going strange since the light in the sky appeared. They're hunting all the autoraves they can for their own survival, and just about manage. Vince's old boss reassures Real though, they'll come back alive. Real wants to know if there's anything left worth coming back to.

Vincent has been missing since they returned to Romdeau. Real worries his Ergo personality has finally taken over, but seems adamant that he's still Vincent inside, until such a time she might have to destroy him.

Elsewhere, the autorave hunters are on the ground, following a machine mob. They spot the wandering Pino, and recognizing her as a lost target (from Episode 3), prepare to shoot. In the ensuing explosion, Pino somehow falls over and escapes unhurt. The animators have matured her face in this episode -- it's a little strange to think this way, but there are shots where she looks much older, like a much older soul comes through in her expressions when she climbs up the scaffolding to the vent by which she left Romdeau, for example, or the way she stares at infected autoraves in their praying pose. While looking for her friends, it dawns on her to go home, where piano music still tinkles softly from the upper floor.

At Real's old department, her boss is still at his desk, typing on keyboards that are no longer there, and reading from things that only he can see. He's lost in his own time warp, believing Real has never left Romdeau. He does let slip the name Project AWD (Aus der Wickel, later in the ep), handing Real a file on the subject to pass to the Regent.

Real is walking towards her grandfather's tower. The telex screens tell people to stay in their homes, reciting a warning with a broken voice. Her eyes sweep over the city, a failed paradise, how far they've dived down. Once inside, she meets Daedalus, who seems to be talking over her head. He thinks she's stolen information from him, rather like she did back in Episode 2. In fact, exactly like her old boss, he seems to be disturbingly stuck in the past. More than that, he thinks she's betrayed him, and isn't his Real anymore. Before he can go off to look for that other Real though, she drags him into the elevator to the Regent's office.

The First Proxy is weeping. Bent over the corpse of Monad Proxy, he remembers how she sacrificed herself to return his memory, through Vincent's eyes. More than that, he carries two pendants, one marked "13", like Monad's chest plate, and one marked "1". Monad is Swan as Swan is Monad, after all. And the First Proxy, it seems, is Ergo Proxy, is the personality under the lid of Vincent's mind that he's been running away from like a scared child. Except, unlike either of the other two personalities, First Proxy seems to be only rage.

Real, Daedalus's clone, appears at the First Proxy's side. While this is definitely not our Real, she looks awfully similar -- the little girl we saw two episodes ago is now roughly real Real's age, albeit much gentler and distinctly soft-spoken. It seems she knows him, in spite of the fact they've never met, and really knows him. She asks, as a statement, if he really loved Monad, to say that she loved Monad too. There's a flush of young love in her cheeks when she says this, before she runs away. However Daedalus genetically modifies this, Real really will keep falling in love with Vincent. He must be so pissed. Indeed, clone Real herself only remembers that the Proxy she just met is Vincent Law.

We still haven't received any good explanation for why Daedalus embraced Monad's corpse and called her Real. But it does appear as though at least cloned Real was definitely spliced from Monad's genes.

The First Proxy visits the Regent. As he enters the throne room, the Council recite the story of how he, as their god, gave them life and autoraves. How he left for Moscow with Monad, abandoning them. Before they (the Council) themselves fall prey to the Cogito Virus. The First Proxy has come to kill the Regent.

Back in the lift, Daedalus explains Project AWD as something Raul concocted to save humankind. It turns out the template for all human genetic material was the First Proxy, until WombSys began to fail when Ergo Proxy left. Raul ordered a new plan to reengineer them all, from scratch, the plan Daedalus went along with largely to stop himself from being beat up. Project AWD failed. Daedalus does have a backup plan, and that would be Real (no indication of which Real in particular), who apparently ensures the First Proxy comes out on top. If we go back to the quiz show (this episode made at least one blatant reference to it already during the First Proxy's flashback to the first time MC Q called him by name), the major flaw with the Proxy Project was how the Proxies couldn't interbreed. I get the awful idea Daedalus is planning to do a bit of this Adam and Eve breeding programme malarky of his own.

The lift doors spread open to reveal a frowning Kristeva. Real arrives in the throne room in time to see the First Proxy ready to behead her grandfather. She calls him Vincent even as she cocks her gun. The First Proxy flings the man to the floor. As she runs towards the Regent, the Proxy attacks her. Real can't bear to shoot him.

That honour falls to Rau, who is completely, utterly, unmistakeably nuts. The First Proxy manages to block his shot with his arm. The last we see of anything is his screaming in pain.

I should mention that animation in this episode has been awesome, in the way that makes me want to, "Praise be the animators!", because it really is Ergo Proxy as we should have it. Pino is beautiful. Real is ethereal. Desolation, flames, dust, silent horror, all of these things show themselves in their fullest potential. The world of our characters is a character in itself -- a great dramatic presence. I could just about forgive the lack of lighting otherwise -- things are really hard to see in this episode, especially at the end, where everything is pretty much pickling in atmospheric shadow. I'm also left wondering about the way the Proxies are drawn with bat-coloured skin, because that adds to the frustration of trying to see in the dark. I'm sure it was a great idea on paper -- hey, let's have all these Proxies black as Justice Bao, why don't we? -- but I would've liked to have seen, since this is two eps from the end, a facial expression worth writing home about other than sneering rage on at least the First Proxy's face. Otherwise, he did look better in the mask.

Nonetheless, it is an awesomely animated and narrated episode, which harbours all manner of good things for the remainder of thie series.

Next: Angst! Tanks full of floating Reals! We hope not!

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