[LWC 52] Microcosmic Ergo Proxy: The Paradigmatic Narrative

[Post by Lelangir]

↩[LWC 51]


This is not a criticism – it just makes me wonder what I wanted from slice of life. I’m reminded of the way Haibane Renmei uses an initially slice of life approach to introduce a wider story. The artificial confessional of episode 3 doesn’t resonate so perfectly, and doesn’t really take advantage of the feel of the previous episodes. It’s just a flawed dip into a more overtly fictional approach.

-Coburn on Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto ~Natsu no Sora~

The term slice of life (henceforth, to quote IKnight, ‘slife) is, in my opinion, generally and universally acknowledged as a genre, as a representational encapsulation. The homogenizing function genres play can be quite a troublesome thing, if the reader has read the past debates concerning Lucky Star et. al. I quoted Coburn because he insightfully points out that ‘slife – initially considered a genre – can be used not as a genre but as a vehicle for narration, plot and style. You may find yourself saying “well isn’t that what genre is constitutive of anyway?” And you are correct to an extent: the misconception of the genre I perceive to be is that it is a simple classificatory system based on first-glance prejudice, again the homogenization of the entirety of its serial structure, and the consequent politico-cultural representations and reputations (“shounen” is the be-all-end-all of terms that describe Bleach, per se).

“The homogenization of the entirety of its serial-structure” is the most important facet of this inquiry into Ergo Proxy because, despite its maddening Finneganian postmodernism, that very postmodernism – the seemingly irrelevant ambiguity of interconnected ideas, intellectual masturbation, unmerited name dropping and uninvestigated themes – takes absolutely no heed in episode 16, the purely distilled humanity of the thing, the sapient pinnacle of the series, the slice of life episode – and how true does the word “life” vibrate here. The keyword here is episode, and, doing Coburn more justice, it’s significant to observe that in episode 16 the ‘slife element cannot really denote Ergo Proxy as completely nor inherently within that or any genre (hence ‘element’) thus lending vision to the serial structural effect one episode has in connoting the previous and later episodes as paradigms (insofar as the animators could choose what the functionality of the episode was within given choices – should Vincent do A, B, C, or kill himself?) within the larger syntagm.

Dramatic necessities do ensure certain things in serials. I think it’s fair to say that we can see individual episodes providing very specific aspects of the whole story. And since most anime series are the same length, and fill equal timeslots, and share genres, certain conventions are to be expected in these divisions.

-Coburn, Serial Structures and the Pop Album

Calling Ergo Proxy an episodic series would be wrong – it clearly has a plot. However, regardless of the series’ style, methodology or procedure of execution, nevertheless, it is a series of episodes, and both words – series and episode – will mean that there is a separation between viewing, a cut between each 20 minutes of content.

The serial structural role that the audience utilizes, for clarification, as I interpret Coburn’s words, has a tendency to demarcate the anime series into specific sections – beginning, middle and end, for starts. That would be the tripartite proper of episodic regions, but then there are more nuanced, contextual demarcations such as the “am I going to drop this?” third episode marker, or the half-way review milestone, etc. The characteristics of viewing series vis-à-vis their given, financial chronologies can prove insightful when analyzing pacing and such, but in this case, the paradigmatic episode deals with its content – with its alleged genre or vehicular style (stylistic vehicle?) – in determining what a specific episode has to say vis-à-vis the series’ constituent arcs or other, specific episodes. Essentially, genre as a stylistic, episodic device is vehicular to the message it carries.

Perhaps the narrative of the anime series is contingent upon, first and foremost, the investment of identity. Kaiba would directly challenge such an investment, given its lack of a definitive main, characteristic signifier. Are we, in cases excluding Kaiba, beholden to the luxury of a steadfast, lubricated, easily insertable identity? This would seem truthful indeed, but what is the meta-communicative effect that Kaiba has on us as we watch it? – although “watch” may be too overly simplistic a term in regards to the movement of the self through mediums. What happens to us when we struggle to identify with a main character? How does that structure and shape our viewing? Our learning? Our psychological or cognitive behaviors? [Kitsune can probably inform me on that last matter.]

I don’t think Ergo Proxy challenges us in such a Kaiban way since we have concrete characters with which to relate and identify. It is not so much a Kaiban way of influence as it is influence through a postmodern, Ergo Proxian lens; while not an episodic series, its thematic hodgepodgery is quelled in episode 16 – it is the eye of the storm amidst the rampant, allusive winds of the outer episodes. [I would suggest re-watching this episode!]

The macro elements of a series build a realm within which the episodic can vary – but how far is that realm built by the show, and how far by our preconceived idea of genre?

-Coburn, comment on The Fortress of Whatever: feeling the season start

I’m calling this episode ‘slife because it simply depicts time spent in the doldrums of nether-nuclear-winter-earth. Lil and Vincent eat beans. Lots of beans. Pino impersonates Lil (hilarious). Lil gets a pimple. Vincent shaves. Lil sleeps. The apex of the episode is around 20 minutes, the dinner scene, the silence – in fact, most of this episode has no background music (a masterful case of silence) – we’re left to enjoy the sounds of boiling water, beans cooking, forks clattering against bowls, mouths chewing, flickering candles, turning pages of an anachronistic diary, the wind, boots crunching snow. There’s no action, no French philosophers referenced, no plot development, nothing.

The glory of this episode can be seen in its self satire that addresses its very anachronism.

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.

-Iniksbane on Ergo Proxy

The singular episode reaches a paradox in itself: on the one hand, it is not, contextually, a microcosm because it is dependent upon the information established in the previous episodes. On the other hand, it can be seen as microcosmic because the message and meaning it holds can be autonomous or self satiric. Perhaps too this self satire is dependent upon previous information (otherwise what else would there be to satire?) – but is the meaning? Dependency is not mutually exclusive to the microcosm, nor is it mutually coextensive. Episodes can reach out and tap each other on the shoulder while remaining an episode. This episodic influence doesn’t have to be bound by its chronology either – episode 16 can reference 14, 10, etc.

If we take this episode to be the height of the series (take is as you will), then Ergo Proxy turns out to look like a bell curve (negative “slope” [inverse?] parabola?) insofar as we measure our y-axis in authorial intent. That is to say episode 16 embodies the meta-commentary of the authors, the hidden message behind the farces depicted as messages themselves. Perhaps this is a perfunctory routine, but considering the nature and content of Ergo Proxy, could it also be meta-cynicism? Could this single episode be silently laughing at its 22 counterparts? At its anime brothers and sisters? At pretentiousness? Given the quintessential humility and depicted humanity of this episode, I wouldn’t be surprised either way. But maybe that’s reading too far into it, much to our chagrin.

To summarize:

1. Genre as a stylistic, episodic device is vehicular to the message it carries.
2. The paradox of the episode: contextually dependent, meaningfully microcosmic.
3. Episode 16 thus embodies a plethora of meta critiques aimed at those who “seriously” take Ergo Proxy (or similar postmodernisms) at face value.


This is my first post at Super Fanicom. Hope everything goes keikaku doori accordingly.


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  1. …the misconception of the genre I perceive to be is that it is a simple classificatory system based on first-glance prejudice, again the homogenization of the entirety of its serial structure, and the consequent politico-cultural representations and reputations (”shounen” is the be-all-end-all of terms that describe Bleach, per se).

    True, and this is something I’m trying to overcome, or, if that’s not possible, to understand relative to myself. My avoidance of almost all mecha shows nearly made me miss some very good ones.

    I’m inclined to agree that episode 16 is indeed describable as slice-of-life, which suddenly seems like a much more useful term when we free it from the weight of genre label. It was also my favorite episode of the show, and now I think I understand why; I’m a fan of those interjections, whether they be episodes of anime or chapters of a novel, which say, “But if you look at it this way, what we’re doing is crazy.” It seems to lay bare the hand of the author in that it’s the very basic argumentative method of acknowledging one’s opposition — though it may not be so if we take Ergo Proxy as basically postmodern. A postmodern work taking a step back and claiming that its journey through a world with no inherent direction or meaning is inherently meaningless strikes me as…doubly postmodern, I suppose.

  2. As has been the way with every post on this blog, I haven’t yet seen the series in question. Still, the whole movement of meaning through episode/series/genre thing is the kind of important area I think we all have an awareness of without necessarily engaging with analytically. It’s cool to see somebody really and explicitly opening it up, rather than hovering around the ideas without any definite conceptual framework as I tend to. The “paradox of the episode” is a nice way to take shows on.

    It’s definitely a great idea to take to Kaiba because the episodic experience, the cast, even our idea of its genre, mutate so much. In some ways I think that the long wait between fansubbed Kaiba episodes has inevitably made the episode/series relationship a more apparent part of the experience for the viewers – in fact that’ll almost certainly be the conceit I base my end-of-series summary on. Although, for some reason, I’d be inclined to replace the word Kaiban with Kaibacious.

  3. Mon oncle Sicaire ne ressemblait en rien à son ami: il avait lestraits réguliers, le nez droit et doudoune moncler pas cher les yeux gris-bleu.

  1. THAT Animeblog » 私のテイトク, 君のテイトク, 私たちのテイトク!

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