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|Average Rating: 8.50|
Ryan scored this with 7/10. Disagree?
After hesitantly giving the last volume an eight to match the first, and indicate that the series was still largely on track, this volume has, unfortunately, made all too real some of my worst anxieties.
Waking up in a richly attired home, but unsure whose or where exactly he is, Vincent searches around while his AutoReiv companion, Pino (who is infected with the Cogito Virus, and can, as such, think and feel on her own), makes her worries apparent. Less fearful, but confused as always, and so, moving out across the winding staircases and long corridors, Vincent soon finds his comfort - the man who lives in the place they now reside, and who claims to have saved them. For a while, at least, he seems like a friendly shoulder, if darkened by experience, and intellectually beyond reach. Noble in appearance, he is at first arresting, even out of place (in the world they know, if not here), but is nonetheless a friend, and someone who saved their lives. His drinking becomes unusually frequent, and so does the occasion of his dropping or throwing wine glasses on the floor without any change in demeanour. But when he begins trying to force his own philosophy and thoughts onto Vincent, or insisting that he is right about things beyond Vincent's understanding, it isn't long until he turns violent at the first sign of discrepancy. His madness unravels, but he pushes at Vincent's consciousness, prodding him to remember the past he had forgotten and repressed, before transforming into one of the monstrous Proxies, bent on killing his guest. Fleeing, but unguarded, Vincent is outmatched, until he changes into a Proxy as well, confronting his enraged opponent, and being told more about himself and the monsters.
Unfortunately, after this quite successful and gothic episode, the volume becomes progressively worse. The second episode returns to the dome city of Romdo, its white offices and hallways, its bureaucratic, unforgiving, and conspiratorial atmosphere serving as a contrast for the even bleaker world outside. In it, Raul, the Director-General of the Citizen Security Bureau, is summoned by the Council - the Regent and the four statues that speak on his part - but is frustrated by their inability to listen to him, and leaves unsatisfied. A staged power cut on his way out leads Raul to the decommissioned physician Daedelus, and he uses his considerable leeway to reclaim one of the dead Proxies, forcing Daedelus into carrying out research on it for his benefit and beyond the knowledge of the Council, though he is shown to have a personal agenda behind the continuation of his research. At the same time, Re-l is starting to come around, obviously not dead (as the last volume suggests), but in a place without people, tended by robots, and only spurred on by the dream of her childhood self wishing her luck, before she sets out to find Vincent and the truth, but this second half is strange and weightless. The third episode is a surreal account of Vincent arriving at a bookshop and acknowledging the fact that he is a Proxy, being pushed by the creature inside him to remember his past. Unable to do that, and bewildered by the almost completely unrelated series of philosophical musings on reality, life and perspective, he at least manages to accept that he is a Proxy, and although it isn't as cohesive or as meaningful as it should be, this episode is definately quite haunting (the first time through, anyway), and worth the watch. The fourth episode, on the other hand, sees Re-l finally catching up with Vincent, but aside from this little of any real consequence happens, and this was, in my opinion, the least enjoyable of the four episodes, though each has its moments.
Throughout, however, Vincent continues to prove himself a poor alternative to Re-l, which is unfortunate now that he is increasingly looking like the protagonist, and Re-l just a particularly well-developed side character. The reasons for this are numerous, from his perpetual stuttering and repeating himself, to his habit of not finishing thoughts, being generally uninteresting and moving in and out of angst as much as he does different cities and consciousness (it's amazing how many times you have to watch him wake up or fall unconscious). I've tended to prefer episodes or scenes that take place within Romdo throughout the series, but these are now quite rare, and have instead given way to senseless movement from one unnecessary location to another, which is mirrored by the sometimes odd motion of the characters and editing, all of which comes across as disjointed and completely unpredictable. The same can also be said of the animation, which is generally great, but occasionally throws out an unsettling computer rendered effect, or rapidly become of inconsistent quality after a series of fairly stable scenes (faces, in particular, are of inconsistent quality, especially Vincent and Re-l's). Separate of all this, Ergo Proxy always had a distinct personality, marked by its incredibly heavy atmosphere and complicated but still artful plot, but where the series began to look somewhat more typical in the last volume (descending into action-led fights between Proxies), it makes an entirely different mistake here, of giving too strong an impression of being moulded out of established series. The surreal bookshop episode, in particular, was obviously influenced strongly by both 'The End of Evangelion' and 'Ghost in the Shell', but failed to match either - living in the shadow of the intellectual culture in anime established by the original 'Evangelion'.
On balance, the series is still far better than most, but it strives to present a contemplative atmosphere which is ultimately defeated by - seemingly ingenuous - efforts to appear intellectual; the naming of AutoReivs after philosophers who have no bearing on the series, repeating words like 'raison d'etre' again and again, and forcing the groundwork for irrelevant philosophy during conversation, all being examples. It's true that the plot is complex and sometimes hard to grasp (that might be my fault though, for always watching the English dub and reading the subtitles at the same time to compare and elucidate, making a difficult series all the more), but I don't particularly feel like it's a problem that couldn't be solved by a better narrative, or at least a more cohesive and digestible one. The volume of information and the way it's handled could be a real problem for some, but it reminds me of Samuel Johnson's criticism of William Shakespeare's 'Measure for Measure', that "the plot is rather intricate than artful", though it certainly tries to be both. Some might consider that a little high-minded, but we are dealing with a series that is more than content to throw out references to Descartes, Michelangelo, and more obscure figures like Alan Turing, or fill its episodes with as much dialogue as an episode of 'Stand Alone Complex'. At other times, however, I question whether there is much meaning at all in what is being seen and heard - sometimes whole episodes could have been as good as nothing, with the exception of single conversations or events, which are as significant for the former, as any resonant meaning. But this isn't the case in general, and although I hope the series returns to form (I have my doubts, but there's always hope), I can't personally recommend this volume with the same enthusiasm as those before it.
The incredibly weighty atmosphere and dense story make this one of the most appealing science-fiction series in the anime world, but with some of the subtlety gone and the series flaws beginning to unravel, it becomes a bet on whether this is a misstep, or indicative of the shape the series is bound to take. Still worthwhile, but more evidently flawed, and not for everyone.
|Score:||7 out of 10|
|Date Published:||Sun, 20 Apr 2008|
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