Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shampoo Planet: The siren song of Ergo Proxy

So I'm seriously starting to question my taste.

Ever since I ventured into the Otakusphere last October, I've seen almost nothing but derision for Ergo Proxy. I've seen it called heavy-handed, tedious and downright coma-inducing. In fact, the only good thing I ever read about it came from Anime Sophist, who called it the best series he'd seen in 2007. But I'd started buying it, so I kept buying it, because I hadn't had any problems with what I had watched.

So I finished watching it and well… I liked it. I'll be honest, I didn't find it overly preachy, I didn't find it heavy handed, yeah a few parts were slow, but nowhere near as slow as the last half of Texnolyze (which seemed to grind to a halt after episode 13.) I liked the characters. And believe it or not, I didn't have any problems with the world.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't love the show, but I enjoyed watching it.

Honestly, it'd be easy to prattle on about questionable religious connections. I mean the show throws around terms like Creator as if it meant you to see it. It also has enough allusions to classical literature and pop culture to choke a horse. We can run the gamut from Daedulus and Icarus straight to the "Mickey Mouse" episode. But I don't really think that's what appealed to me.

What struck me were two of the episode titles: life after God and Shampoo Planet.

Now the first one could have been a coincidence, I mean there's a lot of religious references in the show and a lot of philosophical references. It could have just as well been a reference to Nietzche. Strange enough, it's the title of a fairly lesser known book by Douglas Coupeland. But when I hit the second title (another reference to a Coupeland book) I figured I was on to something.

Honestly, what tickled my brain (and exposed me for the pretentious phony that I may be) was the fact that Ergo Proxy may not be about religion or philosophy at all. Or rather those things might just be trappings for the real allusion of the story which seems to me to be a sociological one, in particular the story of one generation clashing with another generation.

This is the land Our Fathers left us

Now what makes those references interesting is the fact that they both deal with Generation X. Now there's some discussion about where Gen X really falls in the timeline (at least here in America) but generally it's assumed that it starts at 1965 and ends around 1980 (some people put it at 1976, some people put it at 1981). And if I had to sum it up, I'd borrow a quote from Fight Club:

"God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off"

This is really at the heart of Douglas Coupeland's books (and Fight Club as well). What makes this strange and strangely intriguing is how much this reflect's Re-l's speech at the beginning of the series and Vincent's initial urge to be a "model citizen". They're both characters who start off without any real meaning in their lives, without anything that defines them as people. (Which is probably one of the reasons why they're considered boring, and in all fairness I did think Vincent was a little bland towards the beginning.) They're a generation of people who are doing even less than waiting to die, they're waiting to live.

Now arguably both of them are pretty much the classic Adam archetype (with the one exception being that the story actually doesn't start until the end of the first episode.) But that said, they're both forced to confront the world that's been left to them. Of course you could look at their Gulliver-esque travels as a series of thought exercises in philosophy. But there seems to be a consistent theme to all of the places that they visit. And that's the fact that almost all of the proxies (and the people) are looking for a way to fit in, trying to find a place to belong in the world that had been left to them. Someone could definitely argue that the people outside the domes did have factors that defined their lives, but that said, I find them more lost than found.

The siren song of Ergo Proxy

Inevitably, whenever anyone bring up "generations" someone will say it's rubbish or that it's a marketing ploy or that it's an overgeneralization. And to a point, I agree. We are individuals. We do experience life differently depending on our culture, surroundings, upbringing and personal beliefs. But having grown up during the height of Gen X and having friends and teachers from that generation, I'm inclined to say that there's something to all of the talk. I mean I went through the recession in the 90s, I went through the rise of the Internet and the destruction of the Challenger. I definitely felt that same ennui that was prevalent during those times. And ironically, I've seen it replaced with a generation that is much more socially and policitically active and cares more.

But what appealed to me about Ergo Proxy was that intentionally or unintentionally it recaptured that feeling of being undefined and unaccepted and it structured a pretty good story around it. Maybe that makes me a pretentious phony, but there it is anyway.


nunka said...

Liking Ergo Proxy is no reason to question your taste. It's no secret that anime fandom in general is a great big gathering of dumb apes (myself not excepted---I enjoy anime on a very superficial level), and any negative opinion of a series shared by the majority of fans may or may not be completely retarded.

Ergo Proxy got a lot of flak for no real reason. Normally, I would just call you a pretentious phony and be done with it, but I also enjoyed the show, and your analysis makes sense to me. At least, I think it does... it's really early and I didn't get much sleep. Either way, you managed to keep my attention with this post, and that must count for something.

Cameron Probert said...

@nunka - Well I'm glad that I kept your attention. That's always a victory.