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Anime ● Review: The Big O

English Title: The Big O

Japanese Title: THE ビッグオー

Director(s): Katayama Kazuyoshi

Screenwriter(s): Chiaki J. Konaka, Katayama Kazuyoshi

Studio: Sunrise

Released: 1999–2003

Runtime: 26 episodes, ~24m each.

Starring: Miyamoto Mitsuru, Yajima Akiko, Kiyokawa Motomu, Shinohara Emi


My Verdict: Mecha-noir set in a domed city. Interesting premise but too ambitious. Somewhat unfocused and themes insufficiently explored.


The Big O

● Based on the manga by Ariga Hitoshi, The Big O is set in Paradigm City where some cataclysmic event had wiped out the memories of the population 40 years earlier. The city is run by Paradigm Corporation and this includes its law enforcement referred to as the “military police”. The city includes rundown areas and more modern environments within domes.


● The main viewpoint character is Roger Smith, a young ex-cop who is now a “Negotiator”, supposedly a much-needed service in the city. Although the show makes a point that he is not a private investigator, his jobs seem like that anyway. He is also a pilot of a giant robot named “Big O”. These giant robots are generally referred to as “Megadeus”.


● Roger lives with his old butler Norman Burg. In the opening episodes, Roger in a way rescues an android named R. Dorothy Wayneright who moves in with him and also serves as an assistant. Roger even has his special car (“Griffon”) as well as a high-ranking friend at the police, Dan Dastun. The tropes are apparent enough if one watches the series, which is not a bad thing, but there is no point in elaborating.


R. Dorothy Wayneright and Roger Smith
R. Dorothy Wayneright and Roger Smith
Norman Burg
Norman Burg

● Given the premise and setting, it is immediately apparent that the series is a mixture of Batman, Blade Runner (1982), Dark City (1998), kaiju films and mecha anime, but not with as much nighttime and rain as the aforementioned. One could simplistically describe it as noir, from the visuals to the voiceover narration and the piano soundtrack, and also with some genre-splicing although not necessarily in a focused and energetic manner like Cowboy Bebop (1998).


● The major weakness of the series is the lack of focus in both the “feel” and the plotting. The visual tone and the soundtrack are consistent with detective-noir, but the robot action feels somewhat contrived. Season 1 (episodes 1–13) takes an episodic approach with Smith typically attending to a job that somehow involves some giant robot or monster and him calling Big O to deal with it. The designs of these are unique, too unique. It is a bit like how the “angels” in Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) just turn up—they too differ from each other greatly—and mayhem ensues. But at least with the latter, that weirdness is integral to the series.


Griffon
Griffon
Big O
Big O

● Season 2 (episodes 14–26) takes a different approach, the arc addressing the mystery of Paradigm City’s history that is introduced in the opening episodes—that is, the population’s memory loss 40 years ago.


● The series does end, or at least intended as such—that is, there is no cliffhanger or some cheap “it is open to interpretation” conclusion. However, some key details regarding the world, such as the significance of Megadeus, are merely hinted at or mentioned but not sufficiently explained. It is nowhere near as whack as the ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion but it could use better writing.


● For a series of that era, the production is not bad. The quality in all respects is consistent, even if it is not great. The voice acting is generally good, particularly Yajima Akiko’s performance as Dorothy. Although her speech is deliberately flat and dry, it is not quite monotone or completely devoid of expression. There is that subtle sardonic tone disguised as indifference which makes her character comical.


● Overall, it is not a bad series. Some may even argue it is underrated. The premise and setting are interesting enough, but it is perhaps too ambitious as it seems unfocused and some themes barely explored.

 

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