Ergo Proxy is a 2006 anime series that fits into the sci-fi, mystery, and cyberpunk genres. It’s an atmospheric experience heavy on philosophy and psychological elements. I’ve wanted to write about Ergo Proxy for a long time, but the task seemed too daunting to begin since it means carefully re-watching the episodes two or three more times and understanding everything (or nearly everything). The main valid criticism of Ergo Proxy is that it’s complex and has a rather convoluted plot with very little exposition. I have a hard time understanding it on a good day.
To solve this issue and begin working on Ergo Proxy content, I decided I would use the Ergo Proxy Wiki for reference. This post will be the first in a series of 23 posts exploring and discussing Ergo Proxy episode-by-episode. Each post will contain an episode synopsis and then a discussion section which will include any trivia I can dig up. There will be spoilers, and I’ll be operating with the knowledge of what is happening even when it’s not made clear at that point in the story. (For example, we don’t know who Monad is in episode one, but I’m going to mention who and what she is.) I’ll also include a section for when there are real quotes or references to history, mythology, and languages.
Please bear in mind that this series may take a long time. Also note that with this first episode’s summary, some of the events that happen are told out of order to make a clearer narrative. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do this with all the episode synopses, or try to stick to things in the order they are shown in the episode. We’ll see. With that, I’ve no further disclaimers, so let’s begin with episode one.
The time is the distant future, and the setting is a cyberpunk dome city called Romdeau. The world has become unlivable, so most of humanity supposedly left long ago. The rest have taken shelter in protected cities like Romdeau. The technology of these metropolises is advanced, and there are numerous androids called Autoreivs that assist humans. Romdeau is ruled by an old Regent who speaks using “The Collective,” which are four Autoreivs that look like statues. Our story begins with the granddaughter of the Regent who works as an agent for the city’s Intelligence Organization. Her name is Re-L Mayer (pronounced Reh-el Meh-yer).
She is investigating an outbreak of a mysterious “virus” among Autoreivs. It is called Cogita Virus and it allows Autoreivs to develop an Ego, AKA will of their own. It seems that some of these infected Autoreivs have been attacking humans. The impression is also made that, even without crimes being committed, the Autoreivs would be captured and reset to eliminate their newfound Egos. Whether or not any Autoreivs actually killed humans is not made clear in the series, but they are being blamed for the deaths of forty-two humans in one night. Re-L and her bodyguard Autoreiv, Iggy, begin their investigations.
Unbeknownst to Re-L, the real killer of the forty-two humans was a monstrous creature called a Proxy. Every dome city actually has its own Proxy, but we won’t discuss exactly what they are or what they do yet. I will, however, say that this Proxy is named Monad, and is commonly interpreted as a feminine being. She was in some kind of coma and being monitored and experimented on by scientists in Romdeau. An unusual and curious man named Daedalus was in charge of the scientists. Monad suddenly awoke, just as the Cogito Virus began spreading. She broke free of her restraints, killed forty-two humans, and vanished. A high-ranking nobleman and politician named Raul was also in some way involved. We’ll get to him in a bit. For now, let’s look at our other central characters, Vincent and Pino.
First we have Vincent Law, an immigrant from a different dome city called Mosk. He is working hard and striving to become a “model citizen” to be fully accepted in Romdeau. Vincent’s job is to work on Autoreivs, resetting them if necessary or fixing issues with their programmed behaviors. He also had an encounter with an infected Autoreiv, which he reported to his guiding secretary-like Autoreiv, Dorothy. It seems that Dorothy is giving Vincent his orders from the authorities about what work to do in order to become a model citizen. She helps keep him on track. In addition, Vincent reports his encounter to Inspector Re-L, who recognizes him from his initial interview to get into the city.
After his short interview with Re-L, Vincent continues his work. A rich woman has asked him to check her Autoreiv for problems or signs of infection. The Autoreiv in question, Pino, was made to resemble a young girl, and looks highly realistic. She is programmed to be a rich family’s daughter. Despite her “mother” complaining about her, there is nothing wrong with Pino. Vincent runs a test to be sure. That’s all we get to know about Pino so far.
The head scientist, Daedalus, is extremely curious and invested in learning more about the Proxy that escaped. Raul, who is relatively new to Romdeau politics, is also highly inquisitive about the matter. Romdeau’s leader, Regent Donov Mayer, summons Raul for a private meeting. Speaking through his four statues, the Regent orders Raul to capture the escaped monster. When Raul asks questions about Proxies, he is essentially told to shut up and keep his head down. Interestingly enough, even though his job is to capture a dangerous monster, Raul is commanded not to kill the Proxy under any circumstances.
Let’s get back to Re-L and her Entourage AutoReiv Iggy. They had a crazy day on the investigation. Someone or something attempted to attack Re-L, but she defended herself. It looked to her like a mysterious monster, and indeed, it was Monad in actuality. Although Re-L tries to investigate the monster’s prints, the government quickly forbids her from continuing. (The government here spoke through Iggy.)
The last scene is extremely powerful and chaotic. After this long and frustrating day, Re-L tries to relax at home. As she changes in the bathroom, letters mysteriously appear on her mirror, spelling out the word “Awakening.” At that moment, a monster descends. He breaks into Re-L’s home and looks her over, touching her lips while she remains frozen in complete shock. This Proxy, for future reference, is called Ergo Proxy. When the monster sees Re-L’s tears of panic, he also sheds tears. The moment is then broken when Monad charges into the scene angrily. As these two mysterious beings begin a violent battle, Re-L passes out.
1) Mysterious Words
There’s a lot to discuss and I’m afraid this section may be kind of all over the place. To start with, let’s look at the words of the mysterious figure, who is really Vincent/Ergo Proxy, when he stands in the shadows at the start of the episode. He says, “In that moment, I understood everything: the workings of the creators, and the totality of malevolence. We won’t be able to oppose these things. But still, we must punish them.” What is Ergo talking about here? I’m actually not sure. I wanted to keep these lines in the back of my head for hopefully understanding them in future episodes. If nothing else, I suspect that “the creators” refers to the rulers of old humanity who made the Proxies and left the Earth. We’ll see if I’m right whenever we revisit this.
2) Romdeau as a Dystopia
The next thing to discuss is the dystopia element of Ergo Proxy’s first episode. The atmosphere along with numerous story elements make it clear that Romdeau is a dystopian metropolis. One of the very first things we see in the episode is a propaganda-like announcement playing on repeat throughout the cityscape. It encourages model citizens to throw things away, thereby limiting their possessions, probably in order to control them better. The idea of throwing away as much as possible is interesting and makes one wonder if the society in Romdeau is skeptical of materialism. Again, I think it has more to do with controlling the populace than pushing a certain philosophical standpoint. Whatever the reason, the people of Romdeau are hearing messages like this every day, making it likely that they are subject to government brainwashing to some degree.
Re-L describes Romdeau as the world’s last paradise, a cradle for humanity. But she also says it’s a paradise of boredom, presumably because nothing ever changes, nobody really asks questions, and certain information (like the existence of Proxies) is restricted by the government. Romdeau is a highly controlled environment, and we’ll hear more about certain dystopian elements as the series continues. But for now, there are two interesting forms of dystopian control that appear in the first episode. First there’s the way that the government can essentially see and speak through Autoreivs. Anyone with an important enough job has an accompanying Entourage, an Autoreiv like Iggy or Dorothy who can be commandeered by the government if someone around them does something off-limits. We saw this happen when Re-L tried to scan the Proxy’s handprints and was stopped by a warning that came through Iggy.
The second form of dystopian control is the way Romdeau deals with Autoreivs who have caught Cogito Virus. Instead of treating them as the sentient beings they now are, the humans capture and reset or eliminate the Autoreivs. In some cases violence is used against them. To be fair, the only example of this was justified, when Vincent shot a berserk Autoreiv who was acting violent first. But I find it difficult to believe that all sentient Autoreivs choose to attack humans. At any rate, regardless of whether fighting or violence is necessarily involved, it’s wrong to shut down and reset the minds of the Autoreivs. I think it’s a classic example of dystopia.
3) Immigration System
Also related to dystopia is the immigrant system of Romdeau. Normally, there is little to no contact between the domed cities in this post-apocalyptic world. However, in some cases, immigrants can be let into a city to live there when something happens to their previous city. In episode 1 of Ergo Proxy, we hear talk of a city called Mosk, and how immigrates from there are moving into Romdeau.
The process seems to be very stringent, and the immigrants are not treated gracefully. Any immigrant must go through an interview to get into the city, which sounds more like an interrogation since Intelligence Agents like Re-L conduct the interviews. If they pass the interview, the immigrants will be allowed into the city, but treated very differently from Romdeau citizens. They must wear certain red clothing to denote their status as immigrants. They must do lots of work– basically whatever they are assigned– until the government decides they have become “model citizens.” Presumably, the immigrants can then live like everyone else.
This process may not be exactly dystopian, but it certainly has some issues, especially since we learn later than Mosk has basically been reduced to ashes. You would think it’s common decency to treat people better who literally have no home left to go back to. Clearly, Romdeau has some issues with the way it deals with potential new citizens.
The first episode showed us some preliminary insights into the characters we will be following for the next 22 episodes. To start with, there’s Re-L. According to the Fandom Wiki, she is only nineteen years old, having begun her career as an Intelligence Agency Inspector very recently. She is competent at her job, or at least the parts requiring quick physical responses and use of weapons. This is evident in the way she defended herself from attacks. We don’t know if Re-L is particularly good at the analytical or routine aspects of the job, but that doesn’t seem to be as important to show as her distinct personality, which is stressed even in the first episode.
Re-L is snappish, cold, condescending, and easily bored. Her lack of patience is obvious at several points. Quite frankly, she seems like unpleasant company. It kind of makes sense that she’s a bit spoiled, being the granddaughter of Romdeau’s ruling regent, and presumably growing up without hardship. But there’s more to her than just being a little spoiled. Re-L is frustrated and bored with the society she lives in. On top of that, some people have personality types that aren’t as geared toward being social or polite. This is the case with Re-L. She’s the type of person who is much more interested in solving cases than being at all amiable with others. Emotional expression also seems to be abnormal in Re-L, with her general attitude of disinterest, and lack of expression beyond moderate annoyance.
It’s easy to say Re-L has an unlikeable personality, but for me, this is refreshingly realistic, as well as uncommon for a female anime character. Keep in mind that anyone could be bitchy like this if they lacked experience and lived with a feeling of being frustrated and confined. That’s not even taking into account that she’s only 19 and she simply has an aloof personality by nature. But that’s enough about Re-L. Let’s look briefly at the others.
Vincent, arguably the real main character of the show, has only a muted presence in the first episode. We see that he’s a pretty nondescript immigrant from Mosk, trying his best to blend into society and become a “model citizen.” Much like Re-L, he’s skilled with fighting and self-defense, and can take on Autoreivs that go berserk. However, it seems that in terms of personality, Vincent is almost like Re-L’s opposite. He comes across as nervous, polite, and almost servile. He’s easily disconcerted with an air of unsureness. Even when he looks put off by Re-L’s attitude, he’s too polite to say anything about it. The poor guy just seems very overwhelmed.
Two other “main” characters are Iggy and Pino, but there’s not much to say about them yet. Right now, they are still Autoreivs following their programming, without an actual independent mind or personality. But there are also two supporting characters to mention: Raul Creed and Daedalus Yumeno. The former is a politician relatively new to having power in the Intelligence Agency. The latter is the scientist who was in charge of taking care of the comatose Monad. Both characters are presented as being highly curious and driven, prepared to go to great lengths to know the truths of Romdeau.
Of the two, Raul is portrayed as the more shrewd, observant, and cool-headed one. Daedalus is equally intelligent and inquisitive, but he seems slightly off balance somehow. This impression was given by his greedy expression and eager tone when he talked about capturing a Proxy to study it. It’s safe to bet that Daedalus will become obsessed with these ideas.
-History, Mythology and Quotes-
“Dear to me is sleep: still more, being made of stone,
While pain and guilt still linger here below,
Blindness and numbness–these please me alone;
Then do not wake me, keep your voices low.”
Throughout Ergo Proxy, there are many references to philosophy, history, mythology, and more. You might have noticed, for example, that Daedalus is a name taken from Ancient Greek myth, where Daedalus was the father of Icarus. But that doesn’t really become relevant until far later on, so we’ll steer away from the Greek mythology in favor of three other points of discussion. Firstly, there is the presence of many Latin words and phrases in the anime. Secondly, the statue-like Autoreivs used by the regent are named after famous philosophers, and resemble the sculptures made by Michelangelo in the Renaissance. Thirdly and finally, a poem appears at the beginning of the episode. These lines were written by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Let’s look at details about these three areas.
Many Latin words appear in Ergo Proxy. If you are interested in the language, this can be fun to look into. Here are a few examples. Much like meditations in old Latin monasteries, each episode has a set theme. That’s why each episode is called a “meditatio” meaning meditation. “Ego” is the Latin word for oneself, and is used to describe the consciousness gained by awakened Autoreivs. They gain a will of their own, a mind– a self. Similarly, the word “cogito” used in Cogito Virus is Latin for “think.” This makes sense as the machines have gained the ability to think for themselves. Even the words Ergo Proxy originate from Latin, meaning, “therefore, proxy.” But we’ll discuss why the creatures are called proxies in a later episode. Let’s move on.
Michelangelo Buonarroti created many beautiful sculptures in his time. The ones from Medici Chapel were used as models for the four Autoreivs used by the Regent in Ergo Proxy. These four statue-like machines have names; each is named after a philosopher. They are Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Edmund Husserl, and George Berkeley. Philosophy has not been a field I studied much from, so I wasn’t familiar with most of these people. But you can look them over on wikipedia if you are curious. The only one of the four who I did recognize was Lacan, who was more of a failed psychiatrist than a philosopher if I understand correctly. He lived from 1901-1981 and was known for having controversial practices as well as wanting to make psychoanalysis return to Freudian ideas. I’m not sure what bearing, if any, Lacan has on Ergo Proxy. Still, it’s an interesting bit of history.
The final point of discussion today is the short poem written by Michelangelo Buonarroti, which can be read at the start of this section. Since the theme is about being made of stone, this is obviously connected to the same idea behind making the regent’s Autoreivs resemble statues. The creators of the anime wanted to have a Renaissance-like aesthetic for the regent’s quarters, so that’s one reason why the poem was used. But is there any more to it than that? I think so. The poem has a lot of relevance to Ergo Proxy, even in the first episode. Some possible interpretations are mentioned below.
The theme of the first episode is awakening, as the Autoreivs find their own egos, and the stories of our main characters begin. The poem is about sleep and stasis, so it serves as a contrast. The four statue-like Autoreivs that serve the regent are not infected with Cogito, so they are still metaphorically asleep. Additionally, the poem could be about the complacence of the Romdeau government, which would rather “stay asleep” than awaken to the idea of changing for the better. It could also refer to the complacency of the citizens, who would rather stay asleep than ask questions about the the truths of the world.
Lastly, I believe the poem has a special meaning for Monad, the Proxy who was comatose. Her existence and roles in the story stay rather mysterious, even after certain things are revealed about her past actions. So this is only speculation. Monad awakened and went berserk. I think existence is painful for her, and she is mad. So in this case, the poem speaks to Monad’s feeling of regret at her sudden reawakening. Sometimes things are easier when you stay blind and numb. That is a theme in Ergo Proxy, whether or not it reflects how Monad felt. But staying in the dark about the world is not the answer, and it will impede your personal growth. We might as well try to “wake up,” even though metaphorical sleep seems so tempting.
That covers everything in my analysis of Ergo Proxy episode 01. Thank you so much for reading.