Volume four opens with us seeing the aftermath of several key events in the last few volumes. First the killing of the stray Proxy proving that the AP ammunition, which Daedelus has come up with, does indeed work. This makes Proxies tough but less of a threat as they can be permanently killed now. Even more interesting is that little note that AP ammo is almost entirely harmless to humans - it specificly targets the amrita cells which give the Proxy its remarkable durability. Second we see that the cogito virus is both dangerous and affecting Romdo badly. Iggy becoming infected was a surprise as I hadn't really noticed much of a change in his behavior. Going back and looking again I do notice that he is a little more keen to ignore the Security Bureau than he was initially in the series. Where he definitely wasn't happy was in being ordered to take the corpse of the dead Proxy back for study. This plays on two levels with his devotion and love for Re-l making him unwilling to leave her side and his knowledge that upon return to Romdeau he will likely be destroyed thanks to being infected with the Cogito virus.
So Iggy exercises some of his free will and returns the Proxy body to the AutoReiv that was its companion. If you aren't paying attention it would be easy to miss that this sequence seems to point heavily to the core precepts of the series. That the Proxy recreated a womb room similar to Romdeau's gives me further evidence for the sneaking suspicion I have had that the cities are all about the Proxies and not really for the citizens at all. It explains the callous attitude towards some of the slaughters we have seen early on in the series. It also marks Daedelus's research as a danger - the AP ammo in particular seems to run completely contrary to the citys raison d'etre. Next to note is the singular loss of purpose the AutoReiv feels at the loss of its Proxy. Iggy feels this too with Re-l seemingly pushing him away to the point that he feels pointless himself - this bubbles up in anger and remorse now that he is not inhibited from such responses. It hints that the AutoReivs certainly can pass a Turing test but they may not be entirely self-actualised as when given the opportunity to do anything they want they seem to fixate on being a companion to someone - they aren't entirely self motivated entities yet.
Indeed the pattern we see is the infected AutoReivs serving a Proxy. Kazkis with his Knights, this wandering nameless Proxy (presumably from a failed dome and left wandering the wasteland remembering what its home was like) and Vincent with Pino all serve as examples of this. And who else has had an infected AutoReiv wandering around slavishly devoted to her? Thats right - Re-l with her companion Iggy who even after being infected chose to stick with her. We already know that her treatment upon returning to Romdeau earlier when sick was a course of amrita cell derived medicine. It does pose the interesting question, if Re-l was shot with the AP ammo would it hurt her - possibly kill her? It leads up to the climactic demise of Iggy who gets a wonderful performance in the English dub as the AutoReiv alternates between contempt for Re-l for treating it so callously to remorse for Re-l not reciprocating the relationship the two of them share. It opens Re-l's eyes a bit as she has to deal with the heavily damaged Iggy in a way that isn't her simply ordering him to tend to her needs.
If anything could be considered the theme of this volume it is the reflection on self and what drives an individual. For the AutoReivs it is the role of companion. For a Proxy it is more...complex. Ophelia brings us a literal reflection in the form of the shape shifting Proxy that echoes what it thinks the other person wants. It yearns to be accepted and loved but the very life giving properties that ensure a Proxy survives is what also sets it apart - making the dream of acceptance an impossible one. This dicotomy drives our newly seen Proxy insane in much the same way a similar dilema drove Hamlet's Ophelia to her watery death. (The whole episode is replete with imagery derived from a very specific painting of Ophelia drowning - thanks to Wikipedia for pointing this detail out) By the end of the episode we see it is Vincent's capacity and hope for change that gives him the ability to avoid the pit of despair that the anonymous Proxy has fallen into.
This instability in the Proxies is something that, based on the third episode in this volume, the creators of the dome system were well aware of. They seem to have planned multiple redundant solutions to the issue. First would be Ergo Proxy himself - the Proxy of death. It is no great accident that every proxy he has encountered has died. Indeed we find from the quiz show that the Pulse of the Awakening is indeed deliberately designed to be the end of the Proxy Project. This clearly is Ergo himself purging proxies from the world. But they didn't rely on Ergo alone. AutoReivs were primed with the Cogito virus in the Boomerang Project to destroy the support system that the Proxies have been using. But I have to wonder if it is was more than simply destabilising the domes. After all the Romdo AutoReivs all had the urge to leave into the outside world. Were they being compelled to come together to form the gameshow we see? After all the entire audience and crew (with MCQ being hard to say for sure) are AutoReivs. It probably isn't the whole answer but given that the gameshow was effectively eliminating Proxies and had already killed 25 of them then it seems pretty likely that the Cogito virus is behind this peculiar show.
The other big reveal is of course the nature of the disaster that has forced the creation of proxies, domes, autorevis and the whole shebang that is the Earth of Ergo Proxy. The most interesting aspect that we didn't know about before is the existance of the Boomerang Star. Given that the recovery has taken longer than anticipated this ship must be either back or there has been some communication between the Earth and the ship to allow it to adjust course to cope. Is it the ships return that has triggered the Pulse of the Awakening? This seems especially likely given the Earth is not really in a particularly habitable state being still a frozen wasteland. Clearly the ship is going to feature near the end of this series. The one bit that doesn't make sense is the comments at the start of the very first episode with a narrator, Ergo Proxy although we don't know it at the time, saying "That was when everything became clear. Everything about the malice implanted by the Creator. We cannot resist it. However... However, we must punish them. Can you hear the pulse of the awakening?" It seems clear that Ergo is referring to his compulsion to kill other Proxies. The question is, how is he going to punish his creators, humanity, for compelling him in this way? That hasn't become clear yet and points to a major twist yet to come but which as yet we have no clues to what it is. Perhaps volume five will elaborate here.
The final episode is a wonderful character piece where both Re-l and Vincent learn to appreciate the others way of viewing and dealing with the world. It ends up with both accepting that the others approach has some merit to it. It helps that the episode, despite being literaly about doing nothing, is deeply funny as Re-l narrates her sarcastic observations and frustrations. The whole bit with her getting fed up with the long growing hair and how she dealt with it just had me laughing for minutes. Poor old Vincent, the great schmuk, he just doesn't get it at all at times does he? Well volume five is now sitting in my in pile to be watched. Onwards to the next volume...