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Ergo Proxy 10 (Raw)

This is still solidly my anime for the year. I was at serious risk of gnawing me own claws off all week waiting for this episode. l33t-raws was running late, so I ended up grabbing x-raw's amazing hi-res version instead. My first time watching one of those newfangled bigger, brighter, 5.1er things. I should've switched tech ages ago, it seems.

Ergo Proxy still has the best opening sequence in any anime I've yet seen. It's not heavy CG, it's not mad anything, really. But it's stylish, it's dark, the music is relevant, and they've made it work to set the mood every episode since they started using it. Animation throughout the episode was reasonable, with key scenes getting the benefit rather than doubt. The dramatic voice work was superb. Raul and Daedalus sounded amazing exactly on cue. The seiyuu deserve all the praise for turning what could've been a staid talking scene to one of the most intense battle of wills in the whole series. Interesting difference in conversation styles between the two that becomes particularly obvious when combined: Raul is never impolite, and anything he says is always in the most detached, formal terms possible. Daedalus nearly always uses the casual boyish style, switching, when particularly angry, to the formal-polite style. Daedalus's style accentuates his younger age compared to the majority of the characters, and in that way, his need to pose (like a young boy would under duress). Raul, the mature cypher-type, apparently prefers to frustrate in short bursts of controlled violence. He doesn't pose. He acts. That makes any laughing he'll ever do in this series creepy as hell. I think I have a crush on the guy.

First up, the things we already suspect would've happened:

1. Real is not dead.
2. She's headed to Moscow Dome.
3. Chief Writer Dai Sato wants us to know he likes messing with our heads. And he especially likes putting the lead girl in a foggy graveyard just to make sure we ask.

What's up with Real, anyway? I'm hoping they don't resort to a, "Vincent! Transform!" moment to make her realize who Ergo Proxy is. Just because Superman could pull off that gig for 50 years doesn't mean everyone else needs to copy it. Speaking of which, for all this transformation sequence griping on anime blogs, I must say I haven't seen it yet. No character, at any point in this show, has to my knowledge yelled, "Make Up!". No character, not even Drunk French Guy Hauer*, has uttered, "HITTEN MITSURUGI RYU! RYUHOUSEN!"

Okay, so that's not from a transformation sequence, but EP is actually low on posing. Battles have been fast, gritty and reminiscent of good HK gangster dramas. If anything, the producers seem to be saving their pennies and having any transformable characters rise out of smoke in the appropriate form. That's cool. I still don't think this was meant to be an action-based show.

This episode is great on many levels as it refocuses on some of the side characters back in Romdeau City, namely, Daedalus and Raul. I have a real liking for these two, and this episode just makes me like them more. They're both obsessive in their own way, for their own nefarious needs. My Japanese is still 0.5% though, and I wished it were better, if only because there's a lot of dialogue in this ep about important world matters that I would've liked to get a handle on. As I understand it, Raul isn't buying the idea Real is dead just yet. There's a point at the start where he's called in by Regent Donov, and though I think some of that conversation was to do with Real's death, or Real understanding something he didn't (probably about the finer points of politicking?), I'd like to see my betters handle this. Regent Donov did refuse at the end to talk to Raul in a big way, and this did affect him quite badly. Raul punches a mirror when he's next alone, and in that cool character style, tugs his kerchief off his neck and binds up the bleeding hand as he walks away. He's still seething though, resulting in an almost sexual moment where he grabs Kristheva's arm and demands what she knows in a lift -- I'm going to swear that android almost liked it -- before the city suddenly blacks out.

Later, Raul and his cronies try to figure out what's up. A report states the blackout went on for 2:17:23 minutes, a number familiar to Raul, because it's also the ID of one Daedalus Yumeno. At Daedalus's, Raul gets into a nice bit of friendly banter, I take it about Daedalus's warm fuzzies over Real (and mostly to throw off any prying eyes on them both). Daedalus plays the mourning game, complete with screencaps of Real as a child on his screen. I could swear Raul actually calls Daedalus a "romantist" at one point, and defines Real as a "realist" at another, but I'm really going to have to wait for someone to verify this. The conversation moves to a balcony, where the gloves are immediately off. Daedalus assures Raul no eyes are watching them there. Raul seems mildly impressed, and there are questions raised about Romdeau. If I'm not mistaken, the city has been falling into disrepair for a while, in tiny bursts. Daedalus believes the way to their salvation is in the Proxy they recovered (Monad Proxy, Moscow Dome), and its ever-living cells. It's clear this is his bargaining chip and threat, but I wished I knew the details. Raul calls him on playing with the city's welfare this way. I know he literally calls Daedalus on everything being merely a toy for him to play with, which Daedalus, in another cool character moment, deals him an evil child genius moment for. Raul and Daedalus in manipulative obssessed mode are both rather sexy. I must say I was suitably impressed. Raul then calls Daedalus on the matter of not being able to protect Real forever, which Daedalus is certain he can do, and yeah, he knows Raul ordered Real's death too. Raul is merely amused, and essentially asks if Daedalus really thinks the order came from him. (Raul also flashes an early photo of one of the Proxies, most likely Ergo; this is the same photo we see him examining in Episode 3, where he comes to a conclusion I suspect we all share about Ergo's real identity.)

We're then taken to a surreal suburb in Romdeau, where, for the first time in the entire series, we're treated to images of real grass. Prior to this, we've only been told of EP's potential wildlife, including mystical rabbits, and the one video of Real's childhood in Daedalus's lab. The suburb is genuinely eerie. Robots perform maintenance work, delivering the papers and watering the lawn. It's the typical utopia within a dystopia, and reinforces my entire hatred for suburbs in any reality as a result. There are no humans about, except Real, who's wandering around in a kind of daze. She bumps into Iggy, who, since being reprogrammed, is somehow much more cheerful, and much creepier for it. Real seems to be pondering the world she'll leave behind by chasing Vincent, and the reality she was on the outside, which up till then, was not meant to exist. There's a kind of insidious realism at work here too. The business districts of Romdeau we've seen since the start of this series were lively, even thriving. The suburbs, and this is the first time we've seen anything of Romdeau beyond its city, are as suburbs are at the edge of any other town -- a place with its eyes shut. Although Real has complained before the city is a boring sameness, she ultimately returns to the sleepy suburbs to say her goodbyes.

Real leaves Iggy to sit alone at a bus stop. Empty buses amble by. She takes out Vince's pendant, because lonely girl characters must do that. I've been wondering about this for a while, but Vince's pendant looks a little like the stylized sickle emblem of the ex-USSR. Because translators across the board are still unsure about whether Vincent's home state is meant to be Moscow or Mosque Dome, this has interesting connotations. Certainly, Romdeau City's previous altercations with Moscow have given the impression that the people of that city are somehow more dangerous, maybe even a bit more on edge -- they clearly needed a good reason to stomp all over the place. I really could be going out on a tangent here, but I still suspect Romdeau is a kind of Ultimate Capitalism. And if Romdeau is that, Moscow must be the other end of the socialist scale. It's a weird irony, what with recent events in our world. Perhaps, these two places were in a sort of Cold War. Along with the way the only other two cities we've seen have been an eternally warring state and a city built entirely of memories, it adds to my fascination with this world.

Along comes Real as a child, who snatches the pendant from her hands. Real chases her to a park, whose flowers are reminiscent of the scene in Daedalus's video. They stop at a bird bath. The child Real talks, and my bad Japanese blindsides me, but she seems to be asking the older Real while time won't stop. Older Real responds in thoughts only (lit. her mouth isn't moving), though child Real hears her just fine. There is a total drama moment with a breeze picking up, yellow petals (the same yellow as the butterfly in child Real's hair from Daedalus's video), and Real staring into the blue sky. The child Real asks about Real's fear at letting go, I think, overlaid with flashbacks to Real's first meeting with Ergo Proxy, her unexplained tears from that time, the discovery of Vincent's pendant in her wrecked home and the recovery of Monad Proxy. Real just wants the truth. Child Real returns the pendant, and gives the coming journey her blessing. Child Real also shows off the fact she has actual skin colour, because Real is all pale as a corpse (till now, I thought it was the artists going bloodless with the colour contrasts). And now that I think about it, the child Real of Daedalus's videos was also a slight pink. So was Child Real also the only Real with a pulse too? Child Real loses a few shades of pink, gains age and smudgy eyeliner. Adult Real wakes up.

Meanwhile, Daedalus is showing off the re-frozen Monad Proxy to Raul. Raul is not happy at all. In fact, he's so unhappy that Daedalus was responsible for Monad's past awakening, he looms over the little guy in a scene that is guaranteed to make the rounds of bad fanfiction across the board. Wherever Pino is, I pity the child. Her Papa is beautiful mad, though. Not to lose out in the cackly-badarse-manipulator department, Daedalus has a moment of his own when Raul leaves, hugging his beloved experiment through its display case and uttering clear declarations of possession over Real. (And here I was hoping theirs would be the pinnacle of platonic sibling love.) This is clearly one of the better scenes in the whole episode. Daedalus and Raul rule.

The episode closes with Real being the great ice queen she is, flying off to meet her total angst puppy of real love. She's packing new guns, painstakingly supplied by Daedalus (so you know it's going to be extra fatal doom), and I still suspect there'll be some vastly overrated unmasking of the Red Death in the near future.

Well, Ergo Proxy's many things, but it is actually dependent on SF staples in the end. I often think that EP thrives on throwing us all these SF plot generics as a smokescreen - there are quite a number of details that are easily missed when you focus on just what you can see. It is at heart a kind of self-aware android vs. humanity story. It is at heart an SF post-apocalyptic city state kind of affair too. It is even a bit of robot fiction.

But it's good that way. It takes advantage of the fact viewers can easily tap into the generic SF and just "get" what's going on without too much of an explanation, and then it throws us a story in subtext. As it is, I just love the subtext. Those social commentaries that don't get a word of dialogue. The way people are speaking, but somehow, the dialogue has nothing at all to do with the scenery around them. Unfortunately enough, I suspect this episode will just reinforce EP's reputation for generic SF elements as well, and this is a pity. Rather like how Gilgamesh was either love or not love a couple of years back, Ergo Proxy is getting close to the same problem. I doubt EP will ever be that same sort of buried but understated, if nothing else because of the massive promotion behind the series in and out of Japan, but EP is set to go off on a more understated note than what the initial high action adventure premise might've raised. In fact, I am starting to fear EP is going to get quieter from now on. Dai Saito is a skilled and wonderful scriptwriter, but he also did Casshern, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo and Wolf's Rain, among other noteworthy things most of us would at least know how at least one title mentioned ended. So yes, maybe he'll write something that ends utterly for a change.

And I'm still waiting to see how it does.

* Drunk French Guy, (Episode 8, Sun Proxy) introduces himself as Kazukisu Haworu (usually transliterated by groups as Kazukis Hauer). I'm tempted to read this as Howl (Howl's Moving Castle), but I'll really need Shinsen-Subs to get a hard transliteration on this.

(Now I'll just be gnawing on me toes till next Saturday, won't I?)


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