The Power of Three, Broken: Ergo Proxy

Ergo Proxy was one of those things I found by accident, on a list of underrated anime, I think, and it is a wonder to see.

It’s enormously stylish, very steampunk-y, has an unbelievably catchy closing theme (Paranoid Android) by the English band Radiohead, and has a down-and-dirty Overcoming the Monster meta-plot line that gets the job done. It can be visually spectacular at times, and is extremely moody. It’s also slow…it might have been better at 13-15 episodes, but it’s worth a look.

I’m watching it for the third time now.

One thing that strikes me is that the three main characters, Vincent, Re-L, and Pino, form one of the most half-assed Father, Mother, Child trios I think I’ve seen.

Here are the basics:

The Child, Pino, looks to be about six years old. But she’s not really a child, she’s an AutoReiv, an android.

The Mother, Re-L Mayer, is a cop who is also the daughter of a high official. She knows exactly what AutoReivs are…machines.

The Father, Vincent, is an immigrant to their society, filling a menial job, socially far below Re-L.

Ergo Proxy Three

From left: Vincent, Re-L, Pino

So, looking at the three of them as a Father, Mother, Child triangle, we get the following:

Between Vincent (peasant) and Re-L (aristocracy), Re-L is the dominant character. She routinely emasculates him. She is strong-willed, imperious, spoiled; he is sniveling, submissive. That turns the Father/Mother dynamic upside-down.

Re-L is not motherly toward Pino. In fact, It’s hard to imagine Re-L motherly to anyone. She’s not built to be a mother. Pino, on the other hand, literally IS built to be a child. That’s her function as an android. So she wants to be the Child but Re-L doesn’t want to be the Mother. There’s a source of creative tension, all right!

Between Vincent and Pino there is some sort of affection, but his self esteem is so low it’s hard to imagine him as father to her. She wants him to be one, but he can’t. There’s another source of tension, although later in the series they fall more into a sibling relationship.

That combination of relationships creates a lot of the internal tension in the series. There are external tensions as well: Re-L is involved with the politics of her world; Vincent has latent powers he must learn to use; Pino is contaminated with an android virus that makes her become human and requires she be put to death/turned off (as you prefer).

But between the three of them there is also a lot going on. The critical character turns out to be Vincent, because he IS the Proxy (as in Ergo Proxy? Kind of important, right?). His development, and the anguish that accompanies it, is ultimately the central progression of the series.

But ultimately all three of them are trying to find themselves, even as they do it within the confines of their social roles. Re-L, spoiled rotten, needs to learn to live in a world where she is not rich and powerful. Vincent needs to discover what it means to be a proxy. Pino needs to discover what it means to be human.

What that does is start to bend their roles as Father, Mother, Child out of shape. As Vincent becomes the proxy his feelings toward the others fade. As Pino discovers her humanity, she is less dependent on Vincent and Re-L (she “grows up”).

Re-L is less well handled in this way, although contact with lower class Vincent and android Pino does broaden her perspectives.

From a structural standpoint, it takes about a third of the series for this dynamic to emerge, and the first third of the series shows how this comes about. The development of this trio underlies that section of the series. What happens later, though, is that they evolve from Father, Mother, Child to Mind, Body, Soul. That’s the character development that drives the series forward. So by the end we end up with Re-L, cold, intellectual Mind, Vincent, the powerful proxy, Body, and Pino, reaching her human potential, getting in touch with what it means to be human, feeling human emotions, Soul.

I’m impressed with how they carried out this transformation. It’s brilliant. It’s also slow and subtle, and probably not what anime audiences are looking for, and that explains why Ergo Proxy is considered an overlooked great series.

I mean, it took me three or four viewings to figure this stuff out. If I was watching at home, waiting a week between episodes instead of jamming DVDs into my player, I’d probably lose patience. But when I watch carefully there are some neat things going on in terms of character development. Well done.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

3 thoughts on “The Power of Three, Broken: Ergo Proxy

  1. It’s been a while since I last rewatched it. But I fully understand your point. I
    also feel Vincent’s side development is from a lowly immigrant striving for approval of the city to accepting his destiny as a godly figure. In the past he sees himself as a nobody, (literally/figuratively closing his eyes to the world and its truth around him) and just wants to be a model citizen. By the end of the tale he’s fully accepted he’s Meant for something far greater and grander. Pink, exactly like you said ‘grew up’ as her Soul takes root inside her.
    But I feel Re-L is kinda underplayed. She deserved wider character development but even then I can Feel her on a small scale grew up out of that spoiled kid shell.

    Liked by 1 person

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