Memory is a fickle thing, something endlessly explorable, regardless of how many times it’s depicted in fiction, right? What if an entire city lost their memories? How about using a noir setting with the main protagonist, rather than being a detective, act as a freelance negotiator? Still with me? What if, in addition to being a negotiator, we give him a giant mech to battle Kaiju (monsters) or other mechs every episode? I give to you, The Big O.
The Big O is an interesting one. All the concepts described above, and more, are included. The anime centers on Paradigm City, a place where all the inhabitants lost their memories 40 years ago, along with being surrounded by a wasteland. Roger Smith (Steve Blum) is a negotiator, assisted by his butler, Norman Burg (Alan Oppenheimer) and android Dorothy Wayneright (Lia Sargent). Often, for one reason or another, Roger must do battle with a giant monster or megadeus (mech) with is own megadeus, the Big O.
For me, the shows a bit of a mixed bag. The memory loss, the backbone of the series, is interesting on its own. Adding the noir feel on top of it works well, as does the mechs. The noir sensibilities however, don’t mesh well with the mechs. “Of all the offices she could have walked into, she had to walk into mine, with her oddly shaped robot legs. She wanted to hire me, wanted me and the Big O to smash some kaiju that keeps shaking down her neighborhood.” Honestly, it’s not that bad, but just as awkward.
Roger was an interesting character with more than a few Batman elements included. Aside from the obvious butler reference, with Norman assisting his master on more than a few occasions, Roger had a bevy of accessories inspired from the Dark Knight; living in a mansion, alone (aside from Norman), always wore black, didn’t use a gun, had a fully equipped car, etc. I will admit, it was always pretty cool seeing him yell into his wristwatch, summoning Big O.
There were two distinct feels for the show as the two halves of the series were produced separately. Originally, when it premiered in Japan, 1999, the show was meant to have 26 episodes. Floundering ratings cut the episode order in half, from 26 to 13. After airing on Cartoon Network’s Toonami, and elsewhere, the show gained massive popularity. Sunrise studio then produced the remaining 13 episodes in 2003, with Cartoon Network contributing funds (similar to Ghost in the Shell). The first half was mostly stand alone stories with little connection, ending on an odd note that answered nothing. The second half were a series of arcs, providing answers. Sort of. I won’t spoil it here but the ending’s meaning is widely contested.
The Big O is a dumb, fun time. More than a few elements are at odds with each other, but work well enough to not ruin the experience. If any of this seems interesting, you’ll likely enjoy it. Honestly, just go with it, you’ll be fine.
Did the ending leave you hanging? Think the noir-mech was too odd? Comment below!