In this “What’s in a Scene?” post I take a look at a pivotal scene from Ergo Proxy. There are many layers to this show, so if you’re a fan of the series or are curious about it, read onward to see what I’ve found.
Ergo Proxy is a science fiction suspense anime by the now defunct studio, Manglobe, directed by Shuko Murase and written primarily by Dai Satō. While it gained some initial steam from Murase’s popular previous works, like Witch Hunter Robin and Samurai Shamploo, this series failed to generate as much critical success as his earlier work. Even today, Ergo Proxy sees mixed opinions from viewers on its success owing to a number of production and narrative choices.
This is because of the uncharacteristic approach that set the series apart which led to it feeling unlike other Murase directed work. I covered some of this in my series review late last year, but in brief summary, the heavy focus on philosophical themes, and splitting the episodes among three writers, may have led to a perceived lack of cohesion and desired impact. The series, frankly, is too abstract for a mainstream audience that might have been looking for a successor to Witch Hunter Robin or had their expectations led by the more action oriented visuals in many of the promotional material for the series.
Part hero’s journey, part dystopian sci-fi mystery, and part psychological exploration, the series attempts to pack a lot into its, at times, convoluted narrative. Regardless of how well the series fared, the fact that it relies so much on philosophy and symbolism to tell its story allows it many opportunities for a “What’s in a Scene?” post.
Trying to pick apart and dissect Ergo Proxy can be a daunting task. In drawing on several philosophical ideas throughout its run, on top of its somewhat abstract presentation, there is no lack of material that can be analyzed and over-analyzed in search of deeper meaning beyond the surface view. Unfortunately, piecing together all the disparate parts in an effort to construct a whole picture isn’t the most straightforward process.
What can help, instead, is to look at one particular moment, as the purpose of this post suggests, and see how it fits with the greater themes the series explores. Vincent’s escape from the city of Romdeau is one such moment that represents a crucial narrative shift and conveys several important thematic points.
As with most everything written about Ergo Proxy, this analysis will make most sense if you have seen the series. Another good reason is that there is a strong possibility that I may spoil key points, so please be aware if you wish to avoid such things.
The scene I will be looking at in this post occurs in episode 3: “Maze City” and focuses primarily on Vincent’s attempts to find his way out of Romdeau. On the run from the security bureau and lamenting how his life has been overturned by recent events, he desperately looks for a way out of the paradise he immigrated to.
I chose this scene because it brings to light several themes that continue on through the rest of the series. It does so through a more easily understood interactions than some of the later ones, using Vincent’s escape from the city as a vehicle for its layered narrative.
The most readily apparent theme is that of the search, signified by the very title of the episode. Romdeau indeed feels like a maze as Vincent tries to flee, but he’s not the only one looking for something. Director Raul searches for the escaped Proxy that triggered the events of the first episode. Re-L searches for Vincent, and answers regarding the creature that attacked her.
Vincent’s search is a little more nuanced than a straightforward path towards an exit. What he’s actually searching for is deliverance from the mess he’s found himself in. Passed out on a train in the beginning of the episode, he unwittingly misses the calls coming to his phone, prominently placed in front of the viewer even as it slides away from him. When he finally answers it the voice of his AutoReiv, Dorothy, lures him back toward his workplace. As Vincent is yet unsure of his path, he seeks Dorothy out in hopes that she might somehow assist in his salvation.
Similarly, Director Raul is shown deliberately ignoring his ringing phone. He repeatedly plays a single note on a piano before he slams his hand on the keys and his eyes fix with a determined look. These unanswered calls can be seen as an avoidance of thoughts and feelings, with Raul understandably distracted by the loss of his family and Vincent subconsciously distancing himself from Romdeau.
The hesitation to face his circumstances can be seen in how frightened Vincent seems to answer that first call from Dorothy, and it’s Pino who answers a third call against his wishes when Re-L tries to reach out to him. He begs for her help, and at the same time realizes he needs to flee. He laments that he won’t become a fellow citizen but that he was happy to hear her voice one last time before he abandons the phone for good and looks for a way out on his own.
The labyrinthine city challenges him at every turn, however, representing his struggle to find conviction within himself just as much as it does a physical impediment to his freedom. Mazes often symbolize an inner journey, with the twisting paths representing confusion and each dead end intended to make one rethink their course. Vincent’s reactions to each one are telling in his quest to find a way out of the city, as well as his struggle to accept his fate.
The first dead end, a destroyed and impassible path, makes him drop his bag out of frustration. The burden of his supplies, in essence the last remnants of his connection to Romdeau, is already too much for him as he complains “it’s heavy” to Pino’s query about not needing it anymore. The second dead end exacerbates his frustration, causing him to strike a pipe against the darkened corridor. He asks for the bag again, looking for a light, before Pino illuminates the path and Vincent realizes she might know the way out.
The third dead end is met with much less anger as a result, as he’s willing to let Pino guide him. Recalling that all the Cogito infected AutoReivs that left the city went along the same path, Vincent feels assured that not only is Pino guiding him in the right direction, but that leaving the city is the right course of action. Given the virtual Eden that Romdo represents, the journey to the outside world is one toward fear and uncertainty, but also toward knowledge.
The French expression translating to “reason for being” is one of the most common themes in Ergo Proxy. The journey to find one’s raison d’être, and the drastic turns that occur when one loses it, are the basis behind many of the characters’ arcs. While Vincent’s ordeal likely began as soon as the Monad proxy escaped, this episode is when we see him really struggle with the loss of direction in his life.
Because of Vincent’s unique circumstances, he remembers very little before his arrival in Romdeau. Most of the immigrants strive to improve their lot by working service jobs to earn favor from the citizenry. This drive is especially strong in Vincent, who seems to act as though everything he wants in life is tied to this goal.
This is due in no small part to the way that the immigrant experience is described in these early episodes; which really highlights the dystopian utopia that Romdeau represents. The standard of living between fellow citizens and immigrants is starkly different, and it is constantly reinforced in the immigrant’s minds that they are lesser than the citizenry. Yet there exists the possibility that an immigrant can improve themselves enough to become a fellow citizen. It’s a systematic process that ensures immigrants hate themselves and one another, all for the hope of becoming something they can never fully be.
For Vincent, losing this purpose has that much more impact because of how hard he worked toward it. In suppressing everything about himself, Vincent believed he was getting close to having what he wanted. His raison d’être defined him, drilling into his mind the words he almost sarcastically tells himself at the episode’s end “Doubting the system is bad. Always obey. Those are the conditions for becoming a fellow citizen.”
His grief is spelled out in the lines that come immediately after: “But I’ll never become a fellow citizen. It’s over. My life… it’s all over.”
If Vincent’s identity struggle isn’t apparent through the course of the episode, he spells it out clearly by the end. Facing punishment and perhaps execution down one path and likely death on the other, Vincent chooses (though not entirely on his own) to leave the city that now torments every moment of his life.
Everyone in Romdeau is told that certain death awaits outside the dome. While the truth about this is hazy, leaving does signify the end of one life for Vincent. The line he delivers as he hangs over the platform outside the plug vent summarizes both his feelings and his character itself over the first three episodes:
“In my desperate attempts to become a model citizen, I’ve constantly suppressed myself and tried to be the person I thought they wanted. Constantly. Everywhere. And look what’s happened to me. I’m a failure.”
Everything about Vincent, from his behavior to his appearance, was a deliberately constructed facade that, in this moment of despair, he could no longer maintain. The wind from the opened plug vent whips his carefully combed hair out into the mess we see for most of the series, and he defies Re-L’s pleas for him to return as he realizes that Vincent the immigrant can no longer exist.
In the time leading up to this moment, Vincent’s struggle with identity finds a foil in Pino. After being awakened by the Cogito virus, she permanently takes on the little girl persona of her Turing application. Whereas Vincent is afraid, and in fact hopeless, about finding a new life outside Romdeau, Pino acts with gleeful certainty. Her curious questioning “is Pino supposed to be Pino?” shows her willingness to adopt any identity that will benefit the situation. Also fleeing from the AutoReiv disposal teams, she has no despondence over not being able to live with her “family” in Romdeau any longer . She only has a sense of direction out of the city, afforded her by the virus, and a willingness to learn and explore the world that has been opened up for her.
Vincent’s awakening to his “true” identity, which only comes out when he understands it’s pointless to suppress it any longer, is tinged with much more sadness. As he did in the previous episode when he was cornered by the Monad proxy, Vincent raises his head to Re-L and opens his eyes to reveal the brilliant color he had hidden away in an effort to conform and become a fellow citizen.
The act is drawn dramatically because it is truly a transitional moment. Vincent had blinded himself and everyone else as to who he was; something he will soon discover he doesn’t realize the extent of himself. Re-L seems to understand, if only a little, as she stares helplessly back at him. Vincent sees her, and everything else, clearly for the first time as he opens his eyes, just moments before shutting them and falling backward toward his apparent demise.
That’s all I have for this scene, and I somehow managed to cover it without really spoiling anything that occurs after. What did you think about the scene and the themes I covered as they relate to the rest of the series? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments.