Big O II Anime Review
The second season of Big O, named Big O II, starts exactly where the first series ended. The animation and voice acting are pretty much of the same caliber, but there are some less technical differences that will be explored in this review.
First of all, while Big O started off as a series of episodic, unconnected cases, dedicated viewers will know that the story started to move further into the larger overall mystery surrounding Paradigm City. Unfortunately, the series ended not long after this gradual shift into darker territory.
The storyline has taken a definite turn. Everything is darker and more involving. While the mystery of why nobody in the city has any memories, why there are Megadeuses running about, and the secrets of the Rosewater Corporation were mere backdrop in the first series, here they are what is pushing the plot forward. Tidbits of information are doled out slowly, one at a time, but the wait is well worth it. As well as this, there is the underlying feeling that the border between memory and reality is much more blurred than it was in the first season. Here, the driving force of the characters is not survival, but a search for answers.
Occasionally, one feels like Big O II really is just a smattering of confusing sub-plots and sequences thrown in just for the heck of it, and at first more questions are being asked than answers given. At times, the show runs like a David Mamet play, as the characters throw bizarre dialogue at each other as if any of it made sense. Events of great importance are conveyed through snippets of imagery; a red balloon, a smile, a crop of tomatoes; all of which may or may not be symbolic. Then, as the curtains draw to a close, you realize that the puzzle has already been laid out for you, and everything has unfolded before your eyes. Some parts of the mystery may never be solved, but the ending is definitely worth watching the whole series for.
Big O II narrows its focus on the number of characters; there are hardly any new characters introduced, and the series focuses almost entirely on the main protagonists. This was a clever move, as it allows the characters to build on each other now that the stakes have been raised. Minor characters such as Angel, Alex Rosewater and Dastun are given an opportunity to take center stage, with surprising results. Roger Smith is less unruffled than he was in the first series; now he's having disturbing visions and what could possibly be resurfacing memories. And of course, the weird dialogue is back, as well as the melodramatic voice-overs that I've long gotten used to (my newfound appreciation for detective and film noir stories doesn't help). The (dub) acting is as strong as usual, although there are many more swear words in this series than the first (which isn't saying much, since there was a conspicuous absence of swearing in the first season).
To enforce the feeling that Big O II is a play (a running metaphor during the series, where Rosewater posits the concept that everyone in Paradigm is an actor who has not been given the script), there is the music. It uses pretty much the same score as in the first season; you begin to realize the series is adept at using music, imagery and recycled animation as if they were stage props, using them to link elements of the story together to trigger emotions and recognition in the viewer. Often, it seems like the animation was set to the length of the music rather than the music being set to the animation, as each mecha battle tends to end at exactly the right chord.
Style-wise, The Big O II is a beautiful series, though it's not for everyone. The art is a little higher budget than the first season, and the apocalyptic battle scenes are pretty easy on the eyes. The animation looks a little funny at times, especially when the characters are talking (probably 'cuz I was watching the dub and the mouths didn't quite link up properly...). Also, some of the animation could have done with a little more... shall we say... physics. Sometimes it didn't seem as if objects (such as Big O's fist) were moving fast enough to really convey the metal-shattering blows it was delivering. Still, it's a mere nitpick compared to everything else about the series. The mecha designs are gorgeously quirky, each a behemoth with its own personality and way of moving.
Unlike most anime, shoujo being a usual perpetrator, the characters look totally different from each other, right down to face shapes and body structure. This is mostly due to the Americanized design sensibilities (in fact one of the show's greatest assets) but it is still great fun to watch Alan Gabriel's toothpick-thin body slinking around on the floor.
(Oh, and I love how Paradigm Dome contrasts with the idyllic pastural scenes of Gordon Rosewater's tomato crop. That alone is something to think about.)
One thing I must say in Big O II's defense is the way it conveys the fairly standard plot. When you've seen the whole series, it's true that the bare-bones plot line has been seen in many other series; however, the Big O II does something marvelous and turns it on its head. While most series with this plot have a fairly linear way of getting around things, Big O II makes it into a mystery, forcing the viewer to wonder if what they're getting is real or memory. The fun is the process of getting to the what the plot IS, not following the plot itself. And therein lies the biggest pleasure in watching the series.
The Big O II is one of the most unique offerings I've ever seen, from both anime and American animation alike. So if you're not afraid of seemingly convoluted storylines, unique character and mecha design or Roger Smith's eyebrows, snatch up this series (start with the Big O series one). And of course, if you're already a Big O fan, what are you waiting for?