One of humanity’s last civilisations resides within the domed city of Romdo, where robots called AutoReivs supplement the low population on the path to humanity’s recovery. When a virus begins to infect these robots, Re-l Mayer gets on the case with her AutoReiv Iggy, but the case grows beyond her imagination and out of her control when a sentient and independent robot confronts her at home.
Despite what the setup may tell you, Ergo Proxy isn’t a crime series along the lines of Psycho-Pass and Ghost in the Shell. This focuses on the psychological, taking Re-l, Iggy, and AutoReiv engineer Vincent on a mind-altering adventure into the heart of Romdo and beyond its walls.
A favourite old movie of mine is Logan’s Run, which also uses the premise of escaping humanity’s last bastion, a domed city where the rulers justify the control they exert over the people. Such a similarity had me excited for Ergo Proxy, as did the dark style. I love the AutoReiv designs – they recall Jhin from League of Legends. Their masks give the feeling that they’re hiding something, made even more suspicious by their “natural” personalities. Iggy follows the rules to the letter, though will bend if you present a loophole.
The story starts strong with plenty of intrigue. No one believes Re-l’s story of the demonic ‘Proxy’ AutoReiv and someone has modified Iggy’s memory. The journey beyond the dome continues the intrigue. However, it isn’t long before the story takes a backseat to psychology. Rather than weave it into story, Ergo Proxy pauses to dump psychology through a jumble of mind-numbing scenes.
Have you ever watched two similar stories, found one engaging and the other boring or difficult to finish, and couldn’t put your finger on what made the difference? They were both well made and had good actors, so why weren’t they of equal quality? It’s in the storytelling techniques. You often see this distinction between great crime serials and the mediocre. The better series will show you the criminal mind and the detective’s process, whereas the other will sit you down and tell you what you should take away from the drama. Ergo Proxy has this problem with its psychology.
It’s hard to convey without showing the series, so I will use an example. One character suffers from an identity crisis with possible split-personality disorder. Instead of showing us this condition, this character has another character over the shoulder saying, “This is not your true self. The other you is your reality. Search your feelings; you know it be true,” (or something similar). For two episodes! It is nonsensical babbling, unneeded because later episodes gives us the relevant information again. This isn’t the only instance.
Ergo Proxy strikes at mind-bending scenarios about mistaken identities, existential crises, and philosophy, but it often gets lost in itself at the expense of cohesion. This results from being ‘too close’ to the art as the creator. When you write a story, you become the worst person to check if it makes sense, for the complete, sensible story in your mind automatically fixes any problems on the page before you have a chance to notice them.
Oddly enough, side episodes with no direct story relevance are my favourite. One episode has Vincent participate in a quiz show with the questions revealing lore and history about the world. A later episode is set in a bizzaro Disneyland, where the animal mascots are real, as made by a tyrannical Walt Disney. These episodes are refreshing in their clarity and fast pace. Yes, they are allegories about the society in which they live and they still have undercurrents of psychology, just without the drudgery.
I heard someone say that to “get” Ergo Proxy you must understand all of its symbolism and metaphors, which isn’t true. The core plot is a simple one of identity crisis – the symbolism is mere fluff that impedes more than it assists.
The psychological focus over crime wasn’t a mistake – I love psychology – but the narrative techniques to convey this psychology were a mistake. Some would have you believe that Ergo Proxy is a truly mind boggling experience requiring a very high IQ and a solid grasp in theoretical physics to appreciate its subtle genius. Is it pretentious? No, I wouldn’t say so. You don’t get the sense that Studio Manglobe wanted to come across as artsy. They tried something different and it simply didn’t work as well as they had hoped. They were too caught up in the process to step back and see what worked.
Art – High
The dark and grim visual style is perfect for Ergo Proxy and it has great cinematography.
Sound – Medium
I love the choir music. The acting is good in either language – needs a tighter script.
Story – Medium
In a domed city of people and robots, a routine investigation leads a woman to question her world and venture beyond the city walls. Ergo Proxy’s good ideas lie behind walls of unsound storytelling techniques that make it an effort to finish.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. Ergo Proxy has limited appeal, but this psychological tale’s strange world and style will enrapture a select few.
What a pleasant surprise to find an anime pitched as philosophical that is interesting! Usually, the best philosophy we find in anime is from series that don’t advertise this element, while those that do often curse us into a vegetative state of boredom.
Kino’s Journey follows the titular character Kino on her journey to see everything the world has to offer, meet its people, and learn of its societies accompanied by her talking motorcycle Hermes. They will pass through a town that believes the Apocalypse is tomorrow, discover what happened to a telepathically connected society, meet a robot nanny that cares for a wealthy family, and Kino will even fight for her right to first class citizenship in the most magnificent city.
The magic ingredient to the success of Kino’s Journey is in the ever crucial ‘show don’t tell’ story technique. It’s important in all stories, but particularly so for a philosophical piece if it means to engage the audience. At no point does this story tell you how you should feel or what you should think of a person or society. Do you agree with a town that forces kids to go from 12 years old to adulthood in a day, skipping the teenage years if it means making them better adults in society? What about two countries that go to war without casualties on either side at the expense a few tribesmen between the two? Less people die than if there were a real war, even in the tribe. Is it right? Kino’s Journey allows you to answer for yourself. At no point does it tie you down while it vomits philosophy down your throat until you get the message.
Mystery plays an important part, keeping you curious until the often-disturbing end each episode. Many of the stories are low-key disturbing. No one will overreact or show abhorrence to those involved, which only makes you, the audience, more uneasy. Kino’s Journey is pleasant even when it disturbs you. I love this subtlety.
One episode has Kino visit the greatest library in the land, where one can borrow any book in exchange for another – a bibliophile’s dream! However, writing books is banned. Why? The answer is a great commentary on the balance between creativity and criticism.
Outside of a two parter, each episode is a different story in a different location with vastly different people. The episodes always mix things up. You could easily see another series having dragged out each story for two to three episodes, but not Kino – it takes as little time as is necessary for you to connect to the characters and for the effect to sink in. This is an unpredictable world with threats around every corner. Kino doesn’t know whom to trust. Even during happier episodes, I anticipated it all going wrong in some sick twist at the last second. The nicer stories are a heart-warming change of pace.
I can’t finish without mentioning Kino herself. She is an unusual protagonist, though a perfect fit to the subdued tone. From her soft voice to her contemplative nature, she has subtlety to match the philosophy and rarely shows emotion. It’s rare to have an adventure protagonist that doesn’t explode with excitement at new discoveries. She may seem dull at first – she was for me – but she’s deceptively deep and you soon realise that a more animated lead wouldn’t work.
Like its protagonist, Kino’s Journey doesn’t look like much, yet its exploration of society, psychology, the meaning of life, and the human animal is a must watch for any anime fan.
Art – Low
Though I like the vintage art style, the animation leaves much to be desired. Kino’s Journey secured the budget of a niche title, which is regrettable if understandable. They couldn’t be sure a philosophical series would find success even when adapted from bestselling novels. The folk tale sequences are good storybook moments.
Sound – High
The acting is good in English, though the Japanese has the edge with a better Kino. Pleasant music, even when it gets disturbing – rarely shifts from that pleasant tone.
Story – Very High
A girl rides her talking motorcycle around the world to learn everything its societies have to offer in the understanding of humanity. The use of subtlety, pace, and deep exploration of Kino’s Journey’s themes makes it a resounding success.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. Kino’s Journey is an excellent anime that even the philosophy-averse should watch. Stick to the original over the 2017 remake despite the polished visuals of the latter.
I used to hate Neon Genesis Evangelion – hate with a burning passion, which I alluded to in my ‘Former Favourites’ list. The hatred was so strong that it was part of my core as an anime fan. When I brought up Evangelion to my friend the other day, the first thing he mentioned was my hatred of the series all those years ago.
Why the hatred? Well, it was my teenage mindset. I used to have a problem whereby one significant fault in a series I otherwise enjoyed could ruin the whole thing. My reaction was disproportionate to the fault itself. Evangelion’s fault was with the ending, and nothing has more negative impact on a viewer than a bad ending because it’s the last impression you leave with, the bad aftertaste of a banquet. It takes effort to override the feeling of a bad ending to remember your enjoyment before that moment. That was my weakness, to the point of venom.
To understand the significance of this ending, let’s go back to the start.
The world is nearing its end as Angels are descending from above to wipe out humanity. It has suffered two cataclysms already; it cannot withstand a third. The last hope lies with Nerv, a military agency in Tokyo 3 with only one weapon: the Evangelions, giant robots that can match the Angels. To unlock their full potential, they need pilots, 14-year-olds to be precise, capable of maximum synchronisation between human and machine. Shinji Ikari has been chosen to pilot EVA Unit-01, tearing him from his ordinary life to the frontlines where is father, who hasn’t cared for him in years, leads Nerv. He joins Rei, pilot of Unit-00, and Asuka of Unit-02 later.
Neon Genesis Evangelion has a perfect first episode, showcasing ‘in medias res’ (in the middle of things) with Shinji’s arrival in Tokyo 3. Misato, his guardian, is late as an Angel attacks, almost killing him, then a mine intended for the Angel detonates and rolls Misato’s car with him inside, ending the episode in him having to pilot the EVA. Rough first day. When you watch it, note how you understand the world and the situation without feeling lost, despite having zero lines of exposition. This episode and the three that follow are so strong that I watched the first DVD several times within a week as I waited to borrow the remainder from a friend at school. It sucked me into the world and I had to see more.
The first element that grabs me is the visual design. Evangelion wouldn’t have been so iconic without the unique look and feel to its world and mech designs. Everything was Gundam or a pale Gundam imitation at the time, so to see something so human and monstrous infused with mecha was revolutionary. The designs alone aren’t the reason for success. The use of the Evangelions cements them into memory. How often do you see a mech or vehicle so flashy, so overdesigned never justified by the anime? (“Why does that mech have giant spikes everywhere if it never uses them?”) Evangelions look the way they do for a reason and when that full potential blooms, it makes for the anime’s most memorable moments. That is to say, copying a Gundam design but keeping every Evangelion event the same wouldn’t have had half the impact than what we have here.
The second element of notice is the action and Angels. The action doesn’t simply look great; it’s creative. Hideaki Anno could have made the Angels straightforward Godzilla monsters that rampage about and take many shots to kill without effect on the grand plot. Instead, each Angel is creative in both design and threat. One Angel splits in two upon death only to regenerate a moment later, requiring both halves to die at the same moment, while another Angel is a nanoscopic virus that hacks Nerv’s central brains. Each encounter brings something new for the viewer and the characters. When Angels go after the mind or allies, Evangelion is at its best.
The human conflict adds a dozen layers of depth to humanity’s end. Shinji is a kid who just wants to feel needed, particularly by his arsehole of a father, though he is saving humanity, to be fair. His father has the weight of the world in his decisions. Not making him straight evil was a good choice.
Misato is another great character. She’s a total slob, drinks more beer than water and is a little pervy, but she has a good heart and cares for the kids – one of the few who does – making her the most human element of the series. Each supporting character receives enough attention for depth without breaking the hierarchy of importance to the plot.
I had it in memory that each DVD was worse than the previous until the final one nosedived. Rewatching Evangelion now though, I loved every episode until the 24th (rushed despite an amazing finale) because I can appreciate the points of view and purposes of characters I once didn’t like. For instance, I used to find Asuka annoying. She still is annoying, but I can see that she is a well-designed annoying. Perhaps it was Anno’s intent for teenage boys to find her annoying, much as Shinji does.
What turned me around on the majority of episodes was the craft that went into the mysteries that make the reader want to know more. As a teenager, I couldn’t perceive how the story metered out bits and pieces of information, foreshadowing greater reveals in the final act. Where did the technology for EVAs come from? What happened to Shinji’s mother? Who is Rei? So many questions. Study Evangelion if you want to learn the importance of mystery in narrative.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is well known for its psychological brutality and insane imagery, but there is a good amount of levity to stop the audience from wanting to completely blow their brains out quitting. Much of the humour revolves around Misato or takes place at school. She has this penguin living with her, not as a pet – maybe? More like a roommate. Who is this penguin? The strategic censorship is also funny and when Asuka moves in with Misato and Shinji, we get one of the greatest lines. Asuka wants to make-out with Shinji, you know, for fun, ‘cause that’s what girls do (?), but he hesitates and she mocks him. “I’m not afraid – pucker up!” he yells in retaliation.
Humour is important even to the darkest narratives, as it keeps the audience sustained and gives the dark moments more impact through contrast.
Evangelion reaches its darkest point in the two-episode finale, both in real life and in fiction. The original episodes 25 & 26 I still find terrible, if not worse because I can see more writing problems than before. The budget and time ran out, leaving almost no animation. Without going into spoilers, these episodes are mostly still shots of text, real life photos, and characters vomiting expository dialogue. Most attribute the poor quality to the visuals. Had the team had the budget, the episodes would have been great, they say. This isn’t true. Everything about these episodes is trash. The dialogue, the writing, the ideas, the imagery, the characterisation – all trash.
I hunted and bought The End of Evangelion after my school friends had mentioned a remake, though they hadn’t seen it. I eagerly booted it up and all seemed fixed. The visuals were back better than ever with spectacular action. The bad dialogue was gone. Each episode was double length. This was the ending Evangelion deserved. Then the climax began and threw all that the series had worked for, which to teenage me was a deal breaker, a ruiner of all good things. I hated the series since.
The climax is 20-minutes of imagery with a minute’s worth of plot. The visuals are nice and certainly better than the original version, but it’s too much when you don’t have the story to accompany it. The issue is build-up. It escalates and escalates, creating expectations that all will end in spectacular fashion. Instead…nothing. Now, a negative ending is fine but after such build-up, this just wastes the audience’s time. Five minutes of the best shots would have sufficed.
What do I think of the ending now? I don’t mind it as much. It’s still no good for the last 20 minutes, yet it no longer affects my opinion of the series prior. Simple compression would fix most problems.
And that’s where I stand today, at the end of a long journey of hate and love with a mere anime. I have debated at length with myself about where to score Neon Genesis Evangelion (one of the reasons for the review’s delay). I am still unsure. Who knows; perhaps I will change my thoughts again in fifteen years.
Art – Very High
It is incredible to think that we had such good-looking anime series in the 90s, drawn by hand. Evangelion doesn’t have the consistent animation of Cowboy Bebop, but its creative design drips with grit and atmosphere. Of course, this quality took a toll on the final two episodes. This rating assumes End of Evangelion replaces the original ending.
Sound – High
I didn’t notice until this viewing – because you often skip the ED after a few times – that the ending song changes each DVD to a different cover of Bart Howard’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ (popularised by Frank Sinatra). Some of these covers don’t work though I like the variety. Everyone knows the theme song ‘Cruel Angel Thesis’, which has become famous beyond its original use. Still a classic. The acting is where quality doesn’t quite hold up, in either language. A few examples: Asuka’s German in Japanese is…what Unit-01 does to the 13th Angel; several supporting English characters are a regular earsore; Japanese Shinji needed a male actor to pull off some scenes.
Story – Very High
Humanity faces the End Times and must place its hopes on three psychologically damaged teenagers and their mechs. Neon Genesis Evangelion never relents in punishing its characters, evoking a sense of hopeless that grips you until the finale disappoints. This rating assumes End of Evangelion replaces the original ending.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. Regardless of how you feel in the end, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a must for any anime fan due to its importance and impact on the medium. Watch the original series with the director’s cut of episodes 21 to 24 (I insist) followed by The End of Evangelion. Return to the original ending for intellectual curiosity afterwards, if you wish (the remake reversed several decisions). Death & Rebirth can be ignored as a recap movie and the new scenes went into the director’s cut of the aforementioned episodes.
In a moment of desperation, a baseball professional hires the reckless gambler and pitcher Toua Tokuchi in the hopes of getting his team out of the gutter. Tokuchi is a risk for the team because of his gambling. He isn’t talking a couple of Gs on a game here and there. No, Tokuchi likes a few more zeros on that number and in much, much greater frequency. His first bet with the team owner, instead of a salary, is ¥10,000,000 for every out he pitches, but a loss of ¥50,000,000 for every run he forfeits. Bets only escalate for there.
This premise should sound familiar to many of you – it certainly did for me. But imagine my surprise when I learnt, near the end of the series, that One Outs is not from the folio of the extreme gambling mangaka god, Nobuyuki Fukumoto. It’s not just the premise that matches. The voice actor for Tokuchi is the same as Akagi and Kaiji (he only comes out of hiding for these roles). I should have noticed that this wasn’t one of Nobuyuki’s works when the protagonist begins as the king, not the underdog, and when the opponents were easy. Join me as we dive further.
One Outs starts on the back lots, where people bet on a shortened form of baseball called ‘one outs’. Roughly put, you bet either that the pitcher will get three strikes or that the batter will score a clean hit first. Tokuchi is a pro at this, having won 499 games. The first act is a series of increasing bets in this underground gambling format and loses interest after the first game. It doesn’t evolve beyond the bigger pot. We waste four episodes here.
After this, the story moves to the baseball stadium with Tokuchi’s new team in a few matches. It remains a gambling anime with a sport element, mind you, so this isn’t suddenly for sports fans. Here we encounter the problem of having an overpowered protagonist in the face of lesser opponents.
It’s not about him being better than any pitcher that has ever lived – this, I don’t mind. It’s part of the absurdity of these anime. The problem lies in the opponents, both on the field and off. The team owner, who plays main antagonist, has little impact watching the games in a comfy lounge chair from his office. He makes a few underhanded changes to the matches, but they’re negligible. Akagi and Kaiji pit their protagonists with the major villains face-to-face, on the field. This team owner is a pitiful substitute and a one-note character.
As for the opposing teams, they have a few interesting contenders, such an import player so fast he can secure any base. Unfortunately, most opponents and allies alike are complete idiots. They don’t have an ounce of professionalism to their character. Tokuchi even explains baseball basics to them as if this is their first game. These feel like dumb kids on the playground, which further compounds the problem of Tokuchi being such an invincible player. To convince the audience that a character is a genius, the best technique is to have him defeat an equal or smarter opponent in a clever and believable manner. If the opponents are idiots, then it gives the impression that your average Joe could do the same.
The escalation of bets is also predictable. “Here’s a ridiculous bet.” “Ha! I can’t believe you suggested that! You will never— oh damn, you won. No way!” You would imagine that after the tenth amazing feat people would catch on that Tokuchi is infallible, but you’d be wrong.
Where One Outs does engage is with the psychological manipulation. That said, it’s nowhere near a “genius” as the author thinks it is. Much of it relies on the dimwits for opponents.
The best moments occur when real strategy is involved. For example, a famous batter has to play with an injured elbow and a pitch to said elbow would end his career. Tokuchi takes advantage of this to psyche out the pitcher, making him aim away from the elbow out of fear that he might end the career of a beloved player, giving him an easy hit. There are enough of these moments to last the series, but I wish there were more. In fact, One Outs could have been better had Tokuchi been a decent pitcher yet with masterful strategy. Instead, he’s an alleged genius and the best pitcher you’ve never seen.
You may be thinking that I compare One Outs too much to Akagi and Kaiji, but they are the perfect examples of this concept done better. I don’t need to go beyond those when they demonstrate definitive superiority. One Outs will appeal either to those who haven’t seen this anime style before or to those who can’t get enough of it. I expect that I would have enjoyed this one much more had it been the first of its kind I had seen.
Art – Medium
One Outs doesn’t have the distinct style of its inspirators, though still in the same vein for the protagonist, instead blending in what reminds me of Initial D. Outside of characters running bases, there is little animation.
Sound – Medium
Masato Hagiwara returns for the third time as an extreme gambling protagonist, which is fitting. The rest of the cast is good as well. Soundtrack leaves much room for improvement.
Story – Low
A pitcher gambles millions on each game of baseball for the ultimate thrill. An infallible protagonist against amateurs pretending to be professionals weakens tension and limits potential.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For fans of Akagi and Kaiji. While One Outs isn’t as good as those two series, if you like the ridiculousness of the extreme gambling then you will have fun.
In his dying message, an old man tells his robot granddaughter, Key, that she can turn human if she makes 30,000 friends. She has until her battery runs out. Key becomes enamoured with pop idol Miho and desires to be a singer herself, believing she will gain the requisite friends through the big stage.
I can’t be the only one who thinks that 30,000 friends as the secret to becoming a ‘real girl’ is ridiculous. What an odd solution. I wonder if they considered that for Pinocchio in 1883. Believe it or not, Key the Metal Idol does find a way to justify the mass friend request gimmick, but that doesn’t make it any less illogical. If you can’t accept this goal, then stop the anime right there – the story doesn’t get better.
When all you need is 30,000 friends, I’d say going on TV as an automaton would do the trick. If people can create fan clubs from their favourite waifu, then a real android would have millions of adoring fans. She certainly doesn’t try to be discrete about her identity, so what the hell, go for it.
Before aiming at pop-stardom, Key finds herself roped into an adult video company. Hey, the producer wasn’t lying – she would receive many “friends” in a short time. Just sayin’. Thankfully, her friend Sakura rescues her from the casting couch. The adult video producer pursues her since. Key later becomes the faith healer of a cult, which is admittedly quite humorous (and the cult leader looks like the drunk boxing coach from Tomorrow’s Joe). Once another friend rescues her, the cult is now in pursuit as well.
Key the Metal Idol takes a while to reach its main plot of her trying to become a pop star (I thought this was a subplot for act one). The narrative is often distracted by subplots tangentially related to Key. She feels like a supporting character in her own series until the finale.
Once the main plot does begin, the conflicts stem from the choreographer obsessed with her, and from the evil robot scientists that wants the secret behind her autonomy beyond any other android. She is said to contain an immense amount ‘Gel’ (android power source). The main villain seems…special. Let me see if I understand you rightly, Mr Villain. You have created robots that pass for human and have complete remote control features, and your grand plan is to make a pop music group? Are you sure your PhD is real?
From the adult video producer to the scientist, all the villains are corny one-note characters, stereotypes. “I am evil!” yelled the mad scientist. “I am abusive!” yelled the abusive artist.
Key the Metal Idol’s best quality, if I had to give you one, is its eerie feel. From Key’s wide, unblinking eyes to the muted, unwavering music contrasted by the pop songs, the atmosphere does convey the feel of a child in a dangerous adult world. A better protagonist could have taken this atmosphere and chilled you to the bone.
Emotionless characters in anime rarely work. Rather than give us a pitiable character to care for, these writers give us empty characters with no personality for us to accept as deep. However, the ‘Nothing’ character is usually part of the supporting cast (50% of harems have one). In Key the Metal Idol, the Nothing is protagonist. You can see what the writer wanted. He expected us to feel for Key, similar to her inspirator Pinocchio, an innocent child lost in the dark world of reality as nefarious entities seek her power. But with no personality, this is like asking me to care for a gun in an action movie. There is no emotion to latch onto. We do see attempts at bridging a connection between her and the audience. For example, she drinks water in episode one in an attempt to fit in with the other school kids, despite it damaging her systems. The presentation— in fact, the presentation of this anime as whole, lacks style and weight to affect the audience. Even within the confines of Key as she is, the story doesn’t use her well.
I commend the team for trying, but it tackles subjects far beyond its ability. Key the Metal Idol is out of its depth.
Art – Low
The animation is surprisingly good for the time, but the cels weren’t lined up well, which results in screen jitter. For those who may not know, traditional animation uses cels (short for ‘celluloid’) with the background and each character painted on separate transparent layers. To make sure the cels align for each frame of photography, they have ‘registration holes’ on the edges (out of frame) that give consistent placement. I’m wondering if Key the Metal Idol used registration holes because every layer jitters more often than acceptable. It feels like they guessed the positioning of frames.
Sound – Low
Key is better in English – actually sounds like a robot in both cadence and filter – but the Japanese takes the rest. I like that they redid the music in English for the dub. It works within context.
Story – Low
Should an android make 30,000 friends before her battery runs out, she will become human. Key the Metal Idol reaches too far and the goal slips through its fingers.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: For Serial Experiments Lain fans. I don’t know any better way to describe who will enjoy this anime. If you like that “oddness” and not-quite-there cohesion, then Key the Metal Idol may just be for you.