Ergo Proxy – Dead Calm / busy doing nothing

Science Fiction

Ergo Proxy (2006)
Dead Calm / busy doing nothing (Episode 16)
Director: Kei Tsunematsu Writer: Seiko Takagi

Dead Calm / busy doing nothing I think is a favourite episode (or at least a memorable one) for a lot of folks who are familiar with Ergo Proxy. Having said that, it’s probably not a great introduction to the anime overall!

Instead, it’s more of a great exploration of character.

It’s also one of the few episodes in the series that’s not written by Dai Saito. Instead, it’s Seiko Takagi behind the pen this time, for what is probably one of my favourite anime episodes ever.

(Though I will quickly say that it’s not a bright or happy one, despite a few funny moments :D)

As you might already be aware if you’ve seen the anime, at this point the gang have broken down in the wastelands. They’re basically trapped, forced to deal with each other’s company in close-quarters. (And I say ‘the gang’, but the one who has the most trouble with the situation is Re-L, of course).

One of the reasons I love Dead Calm is that it functions as a pressure-cooker for the relationship between the two leads, with Pino mostly just hanging around and having a fun time in general – imitating Re-L, reading, playing catch or just relaxing.

In terms of storytelling, that tension is so good – both in the narrative and between characters.

Obvious questions like “when they will be able to continue their journey” or even “will they be able to continue at all?” do lead the plot of the episode… but the main question of whether Re-L will throttle Vincent for his laissez-faire attitude toward their peril is probably more engaging.

Her frustrations are only worsened by the claustrophobic nature of living quarters, which at times evoke a space-setting to me.

But the Rabbit is definitely a land-based vehicle, and pretty-well equipped (even taking their plight into account). For instance, while the characters do run low on food over the course of the episode, certain luxuries are also available – such as make-up 😀

The oppressive nature of the wider setting being so empty, the colours so grey and the interior of the Rabbit being cluttered is a great contrast.

It feels very much reinforced by the repeated shots and sequences that show time passing without any change, of close-ups and camera positioning that keeps objects and items framed with the characters, often intruding.

And that idea of ‘emptiness’ I think stays in the forefront of my mind whenever I watch, in part due to what is missing.

The episode is empty of big action scenes or fights, empty of vivid colours and plot progression and often empty of flowing movement too, something that also feeds nicely into the ‘dead calm’ of the title.

While it seems like no-one is making any progress at all, despite some diversions, Re-L is experiencing plenty – resentment and frustration and powerlessness (not something she’s used to), which all eventually transform into acceptance, seeming to surprise even her. It’s a nice way to end an episode in which she can be quite petty at times.

It’s also an interesting moment in context of the whole Ergo Proxy series too, since without the science-fiction and dystopian elements, most of the events here could fit pretty neatly into a slice-of-life anime.

Now, I can’t finish this post without mentioning perhaps the best thing about the episode.

And that is the facial hair sub-plot (that I won’t spoil in case you have yet to see Ergo Proxy), which features this menacing over-the-shoulder-shot/two-shot/sequence that probably needs to be heard as much as seen!

Author: ashleycapes

Ashley is an Australian poet, novelist and teacher. He's currently running a casual review blog called "The Review Heap" focusing on anime and animation. He is the author of half a dozen poetry collections and a few novels, some published traditionally and some self-published. He also occasionally publishes other folks too.

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