Romdo, AutoReivs, and Cogito Virus
Ergo Proxy tells the Romdo paranoid android, a city that exists as a separate country between immigrants and citizens, androids (AutoReivs), and humans coexist peacefully as servants and masters. Humans have retreated to domed cities, separated and isolated after a cataclysmic catastrophe. It turned Earth into a desert that could not support life. In the first episode, a case of the Cogito Virus plagues the city, the contagious damage that gives AutoReivs self-awareness. It makes them impossible to control.
On the other hand, Regent Romdo and his entourage pulled the strings at various metropolitan bureaus to enforce their will. The crisis is at its peak, and the city continues to disguise itself as a hidden utopian paradise. Amid everything, Inspector Re-l Mayer of the Bureau of Citizen Intelligence is assigned to investigate a series of murders. The infected AutoReivs suspects committed the murders. While conducting her investigations, a monstrous entity known only as the Proxy confronts her at her home.
After repeated harassment by her superiors to cover up the truth, her path becomes like Vincent Law. He is a man from a dark time whose pursuit by the Proxy catches the attention of Romdo’s elite. The combined actions of Vincent and Re-l set a series of events in motion. It comes to determine the fate of humanity, as well as explore the folly of humanity’s past.
The Philosophy of Humans
In one particular question about the existence of humans as a whole according to written history, humans are constantly questioning why they exist. Human goals have always been a source of conversation and controversy in a galaxy of other nuanced areas. Such existence is also what humans are looking for in career, family, friends, philosophy, religion, or life. Wherever they go to find the answers, they will always find culturally or socially narrow definitions.
It is because the collective human civilizations have evolved over the last thousands of years to become more intertwined. They are more connected to each other than before. Such questions also seem to only grow in the scope of each. The more they reveal about the universe, the more insignificant they seem. Humanity is perpetually in an existential crisis, which shows no sign of ever reaching an unbiased or valid conclusion.
However, what do they do with questions that have no answers? They are constantly fixing their purpose on Earth with the possibility that whatever they do will most likely be completely unimportant. Whether life is satisfying if it has no value or what value life can place individually or globally, they are unsure of their purpose. However, such uncertainty also translates into their idea of self. The question is, what makes humans human?
In Ergo Proxy, what drives all the characters has nothing to do with the final paranoid android of humanity’s story on Earth. Altruism does not encourage them. Nor does desire drive them to rectify the faults of an unjust system that a madman leads. They are here to understand the reason for their existence. It is a little ironic, not when the themes directly reference each other in resonance or even through the series’ titular characters.
The leading theme of the series is the Cogito Virus effect. While each AutoReiv model follows basic programming according to their assigned role, they all have customizable personalities. When it comes to androids, the reference to the Turing Test, designed by Alan Turing as an imitation game in the 1950s to determine whether computers are capable of human thinking or not, is one example. People can think of the reference as artificial intelligence.
People saw it in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Psycho-Pass, Black Mirror, and Nier: Automata. Although it is a more direct example of actual testing, the reference in such a case is a program specifically designed to provide a more human-like quality on android. All human owners can turn off personalities with a simple word command and instruct them to do what they want within the frameworks of their respective programs.
When the Cogito Virus infects AutoReiv, the applications consume their entire existence.
Cogito, Ergo Sum
Ergo Proxy, explanatory, especially when the audience is watching the dialogue, discusses the thoughts of the French philosopher René Descartes. The conflict is the primary key in his constant search for existential truth. Although it is an oversimplification between his argument and idea, a Latin dictum quoted from his work (the series also often quotes the quote) is often used by people to summarize such explorations as “cogito, ergo sum.”
It is common for people to translate it into English as “I think, therefore I exist.” He argued that humans’ ability to think could not be separated from who they are. The human capacity to doubt, desire, and imagine makes humans themselves real. By eliminating touch, taste, sound, and sight as sources of information, he states that logical deduction is the correct way to acquire knowledge.
He says that humans cannot, in the same way, think they are not, while they doubt the truth of these things. Because there is disgust in understanding what they are thinking that is not there when they are thinking.
By not removing the original paranoid android, Ergo Proxy relates Descartes’ parameters to each character’s personality. It builds the foundation for what each infected AutoReiv responds to for their reasons. Infected AutoReivs were quickly disillusioned, sparking an existential crisis in their brand. Such an internal storm in the series is represented when Iggy’s entourage reveals that he has been infected with the Cogito Virus since before they left Romdo. She only viewed him as an object, a tool, while Re-l depended on Iggy.
Iggy’s primary directive to ensure Re-l’s safety developed into great anger and jealousy for Iggy. When Re-l allows him to use his free will, he sets the range of the spectrum. He also treats Re-l as an object, locking her to himself. On the other hand, he finally sacrificed his life to save her. When he spoke the last words, his desire to protect Re-l kept him going while also being his most significant source of pain. It is the moment where Re-l sees Iggy as a person and not just a tool, which resonates in her relationship with Vincent.
She sees beyond what is only revealed, can understand who she is on the inside, and understands herself and her purpose.
The Presentation of Ergo Proxy
The presentation and style of Ergo Proxy largely determine the uniqueness of its use of a muted color paranoid android to express the powerlessness of Romdo and its citizens. Meanwhile, the more understated palette on the outside of the dome highlights the world’s slow rebound from its demise that nearly occurred thousands of years ago. The Re-l edged character design and dark color scheme are the opposite of Vincent’s rounded design and richer colors.
It represents praise and contrast between the two. The delegation of Regents, all colored according to famous philosophers, are represented through classical statues. It is in charge of the production of every citizen in Romdo, ruling as a demigod over its citizens. While on the other hand, the audience does not need them all to sing Descartes at the end; it makes the audience also understand why they did what they did.
It is all seen from how they interact with human subordinates and behave when dealing with Proxy One. A sizable collection of tropes and themes, the series explores the whole flash, wherein the charm of its problem lies. There are so many components at work in motifs and visual narratives. The series’ audio also plays a vital role, so the series is redundant. The audience does not always think about how the series has too many philosophies.
While the series plays with it, it manages to throw everything away. The sinking kitchen brings into character a quest for purpose on the verge of extinction. Consequently, the second half of the series relies heavily on thematic metaphysical boundaries. It disguises itself as a daydream from a nightmare.
The Straddle Cognition
While people may find the Ergo Proxy a mixed bag, it tinkers with an impressive number of ideas in a very entertaining package. However, it is not enough to reduce its shortcomings. The critics always mention the shallowness of the narrative and the weak thematic as its biggest detractors. In such a parallel, the series can appear as a composite representation of Serial Experiments Lain and Texhnolyze.
Regardless, the series provides a solid example of how artists can use style as substance. The unique visuals and eerie soundtrack remain one of the best tools. The effects and causes of the Cogito Virus became one of the series’ central themes. The various fears of each unique Proxy also have many parallel images with gods in human mythology. The series manages to straddle the line between fantasy, sci-fi, tragedy, and horror.
The audience’s journey with Re-l, Vincent, and Pino has gone through the length and breadth of an entire story. Many parts present the story better, especially when the narrative begins to use the brake mechanism to explore the psychology of Re-l. However, there is also enough to make sure that Re-l and Vincent’s characters accept the reason why they exist. Indeed, the series continues to express its thematic motifs in the series visuals.
That is not to say it always works; it is made worse when the scenes start and end abruptly. While the series is often used as a reference for memory and cognition errors, it also appears to be simply disjointed storytelling and too short edits.