No, this post isn’t necessarily about religion in anime. We’ve discussed that before. Instead, I wanted to bring up something that one of my readers, Artemis, brought up concerning her experience with Ergo Proxy. She said it was a tad “pretentious.” And I must say, although I liked the show, it certainly is. And it isn’t alone. More than a few dystopian works fall into this little rut. Actually, pretty much all of them do. They kinda have to by nature.
But let’s back up a tad here to explain. Dystopian writing comes from the science fiction genre. And although many people think of stuff like Star Wars or Alien when they hear the words “science fiction,” those works aren’t quite the core of the genre. Oh, they qualify. But our idea of science fiction isn’t what it once was. Science fiction originally came from the Gothic literary run and, as I’ve mentioned before, Gothic literature isn’t just about being dark for dark’s sake. It’s about bringing up hard questions and getting readers to re-think the world around them.
When science fiction was first birthed (one of the earliest being Frankenstein by Mary Shelley), this idea of getting readers to stop and think about what they take for granted around them was focused entirely on the brand new technologies of the day. It started as medical sciences, trains, telegraphs, etc. Over time, mechanical machines, altering time itself and, eventually, the unknowns of space became topics. They were usually stories tinted rather dark, with more than a few warnings for humanity tugged here and there. Technology had many wonders, something no science fiction author, even the most pessimistic, would have denied. But they also had a dark side people tended to ignore. Early train systems had little to no safety measures, injuries and deaths being close to common. Medical sciences claimed mainly lives in the pursuit of more knowledge, sometimes the cure being more deadly than the illness. Attempts to get into space overshadowed attempts to take care of our own planet. Science fiction made it clear that although the future had bright shiny toys ahead, it had some serious traps, too.
Over time, science fiction shifted from being more dark and cautionary, to being more for entertainment and novelty, with fantasy and adventure taking a bigger chunk of the plots. But dystopian works were not far behind and, unlike the larger genre of science fiction, dystopian works are quite focused on the demise of humanity. Therefore, it’s not at all surprising to find many a post-apocalyptic world to sound almost preachy in its view of humanity. Like early science fiction works, the primary focus is a dark foreboding with more than a few warnings.
Don’t get me wrong. Ergo Proxy is a good ride as are many dystopian shows and books. But if you’re new to the genre or simply haven’t been into it for awhile, don’t be too surprised at a hint of a sermon in there. And taking a break from it for happier, or at least brighter, shows is a practice I highly recommend. You can only take so much end of the world stuff before your own world starts looking a bit monochrome, after all. That and too much preaching is indeed rather pretentious. Especially if the same topic is put on endless repeat.