Frequently, when I talk about opening credits, I use the word art. Before I get into this one, I want to make it clear what I mean by that, as art is highly subjective. What one person finds moving, another finds insulting. It is the nature of art to be this way.
So, when I say art, what I mean is that there is an artistry to the work done. That it is not like an opening credit sequence, so much as it is an expression, be it of themes, ideas, emotions, or creativity. That it moves beyond being just a sequence meant to showcase the series it belongs to, and becomes something that can be viewed alone and still have an impact.
Because art and artistry are such wide ranging things, so open to interpretation, and can evoke wildly different reactions in different people, it can be easy for how I use the word art in talking about these opening credits to be misunderstood. I felt it important to clarify how I use the word, and why, before getting into this weeks offering, simply because of what it is.
For me, the opening credit sequence of Ergo Proxy is the very definition of artistry, and art itself. There will be times where I even refer to it as a piece, as if it were a painting, and this is for good reason. I cannot say I have ever seen anything quite like that, and I can say that it is extremely powerful. Even without having any concept of what Ergo Proxy is about, this opening credit sequence still captures and holds you, and conveys emotions, thoughts, and ideas successfully. If that is not art, then I have to ask, what is art?
One last admission. I encountered the opening credit sequence of Ergo Proxy while refreshing my memory on other opening credits. I had never seen the show, knew nothing about it save that it had made a big splash some years back, and that it was something kinda heavy. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the show.
Figuring I’d check the opening out, I watched it, then immediately went and watched the series. That’s what this piece does. It makes you want to know what all this is about. It grabs you, holds you, and demands you watch the series it is attached to. This makes it probably one of the most successful openings ever made, when you think about it.
Normally, this is the part where I explain a little bit of what the show is about, before I get into talking about why the opening works so well. I’m not going to do that here, for two reasons. The first is that you should just really go watch Ergo Proxy. It’s damn good. The second is because I’m not sure I could summarize this show in a paragraph or two if I tried. It’s deep, complex, involved, and far too easy to spoil.
What I will say is that is a post apocalyptic, cyberpunk exploration of identity, self determination, and a search for God in a world of cruelty. It is philosophical and spiritual, while being action packed and tense. It’s the perfect marriage of two very different ideas, and proof that a story which explores philosophical questions can be an action adventure at the same time.
It’s also frequently very surreal. Like, actually surreal. It raises questions, then just leaves them for you to sort out the answer for yourself. It’s weird, compelling, and hopeful.
That said, from here on out, there are spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the show, skip to the video and watch it. You’ll want to see it after that.
The first point of praise I’m going to give is to the choice in music. Monoral’s “Kiri” is an excellent choice that plays to thematic elements at work in the show. It’s soft, but brash, introspective, but attention grabbing. A very compelling choice of music, and that they built the entire opening animation around it, while sticking to the most important elements of the show is just beautiful.
On the animation front, the dark, grimy overlay is our first clue that the polished and pristine utopia we see is a lie, and that it cannot persist. The clockwork additions to the framing hints to the ways humanity has survived the ravaging of the world, as well as to what they have become, just gears in the system that endures, but does not thrive. It’s a nifty visual trick that hints at how everything is going to end, without giving anything away.
The major character introductions are also handled with neat visual touch. The zoom in on them, hinting that we will get inside their lives in a way we won’t expect, coupled with the flickering of their image, telling us they are not at all what they appear, or even what they think they are themselves. The shadowed passing of Iggy foretells his part in the story especially well.
Then there’s the repeated religious imagery, flickering away almost constantly, interspersed with long, almost motionless shots of Ergo himself, enforcing the idea of a lonely god. The final reveal of his smile at the end, adds a layer of menace to that at just the right moment, making him a fearful god as well. Spinning it one step further, a brief image of him as a tear runs down his face, giving him an extra layer of dimension as a god who is sad. It’s a lot to layer in, and yet, they manage it quiet well.
The smattering of other images give us more clues to the rest of the characters, as well, most notably the image of Re-L leveling her weapon, a cold look in her eye. Everything we need to know about her, at least at first, is showcased in the single moment. More importantly, everything she thinks about herself is contained there. It’s a telling moment that hints to her story arc.
The most iconic scene, however, is the spiraling image of Vincent, screaming into the wasteland, timed to the swell of the music. Though he spends most of his time in the show trying to be a nice guy, that he is screaming internally is obvious. With the wasteland, we see both where he will find his answers, and what is emotional state is like. Everything has been ripped out from under him, including his very sense of identity, leaving him an emotional wasteland where all he can do is scream.
As an opening, Ergo Proxy gives you a lot of hints towards the various characters, and the direction the story will take, but it is only in retrospect that it all becomes clear, making it even more clever than it already was. It evokes emotions, and teases us with ideas and concepts, but also lets us know, we’ll have to work a bit for the answers.
Really, isn’t that the greatest power of art anyway?