The Big O – Episodes 1 to 6

October 24, 2004 on 7:41 pm | In The Big O | Comments Off on The Big O – Episodes 1 to 6

In the grand tradition of men calling on giant robots via radio watches, The Big O hit the screen in 1999. Perhaps too true to this grand tradition, the robots are as ugly as sin. However, they are furnished by short, effective noirish stories and surprisingly wry humour.

Forty years ago, the people of Paradigm City collectively developed amnesia. Citizens sometimes regain parts of their memories for reasons unknown, and to the older generation memories have become a precious commodity. Roger Smith is a negotiator, negotiating for abductions, memory smugglings and various other tasks that have little to do with actual negotiation but he is qualified to perform, anyway.
When negotiations “break down”, as it were, Roger calls in one of the legacies of the pre-amnesia society, Big O. This giant robot tends to pummel its foes into submission, a successful outcome. Roger is joined by his loyal butler, and offisder android R. Dorothy Wayneright, who is surprisingly sarcastic for an otherwise traditional mechanoid. Occasionally he consults his commander from his days in the military police; they bear one of those grudgingly respectful relationships.
Each episode finds Roger in some sort of new “negotiation” situation, informal or not. Roger generally acts by himself, but his surrounding cast members can be relied upon to have something to say.

From the imaginative title song, with few lyrics other than “Big O!”, The Big O proves itself as an interesting pastiche of all sorts of genres, visual styles and stories. Is it noir? Is it sci-fi? Is it an elaborate mystery that takes a few visual cues from Batman? As readers should know by now, when I ask a series of pointless questions, the answer tends to be “all of the above”.

There are good themes running throughout, with some Blade Runner-esque philosophical theories abounding. Dorothy is not simply a token robotic character, she is quite complex and representative of androids all around. The idea of robots with parent complexes is something that impresses – “fake” children have been around in anime for an incredibly long time. These people don’t have a lack of sympathy for their robotic offspring – and this fact makes for some poignant endings. Robots can grieve, and they will, because they are guaranteed to long outlive their creators. Couple all of the robot questions with a society that doesn’t even remember how the mechanoids came to be, and you’ve got something well worth seeing.
The relationship between her and Roger is interesting as he does not see her as either human or android. To him she is a sort of ordered chaos with too sharp a tongue for his liking. He takes her to task for not being human, but when both of them are faced with a murderous mechanical unit on a rampage, he assures her that they are nothing alike. That he’s frankly more freaked out by her occasional mechanical acts says a lot about the two of them.
One has to admire a society that relentlessly pursues the issues of ethics, morality and treatment of artificially intelligent constructs that don’t yet exist.

There are, of course, other questions; What makes humanity? Why is it that some robots treasure their memories more than humans? Why does man create his own religion, and why is Big O quasi-holy? At least one of these can be answered. And, while we have the technology, and can rebuild robots, it’s not quite the same. A robot’s “brain” is truly what makes them, it turns out.

Miyamoto Mitsuru is a good, by turns serious and sarcastic, Roger. Unfortunately, he’s not quite up to the comic English required to command Big O, but that’s a quibble. Yajima Akiko is deliberately flat but manages to give R. Dorothy quite a bit of personality for what she is. The rest of the cast is also good, but these two are the ones who have to carry the show and they do it quite admirably.
The music is standard cool Jazz/Blues fare that was very popular with SUNRISE around this point in anime history. The OP, as mentioned before, is laughably simple yet hypnotic. The ED is an English duet, which probably doesn’t make much sense, but it fits quite well with the hour glass motif.

The visual style, despite being entirely the work of Sato Keiichi, is remarkably slipshod. No two characters look similar, and the less important characters are afforded very little detail. The mechanical designs are, to put it delicately, hideous. However, all grotesqueries inherent in this anime seem planned and intentional. The sixties and seventies had classic, if not aesthetically pleasing, designs and The Big O pays tribute to them. The classic Giant Robo is another good example of this. It should be noted that robots are for fighting, not for looking pretty, and the action scenes are well choreographed because of this. Big O is despised by the police not for its tendency to show them up, but instead its tendency to rise from the ground, destroying entire buildings and streets.
There’s a couple of moments of shoddy animation (that is, the scene in which Roger eats scrambled eggs), but there are some moments that show flair even among the most mundane actions – and the robot set pieces, of course, are terrific.

The Big O is shrouded in mystery, not quite showing if it’s supposed to be dramatic or comedic. One thing is certain: it’s full of surprises. Also that robots are capable of harbouring deep emotions, but that’s two things.
It will be good to see where this series is going.

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