Big O Anime Review
The Biggu Oh
The Big O
US Release By
Amnesiac Batman with Mecha
13 25-minute episodes
1999-10-13 - 2000-01-19
Roger Smith is a "Negotiator" in a futuristic city called Paradigm City, a city were everyone mysteriously lost their memories forty years ago. He's sent out to negotiate the trade of a suitcase of money for a kidnapped rich man's daughter, but after handing the money over, the man says that this isn't his daughter, it's an android. Following up, Roger discovers that a man regained some memories and constructed an android in the image of his dead daughter--but R. Dorothy Wayneright was his second effort. When the criminal who kidnapped her, Beck, gets his hands on the much more unpleasant Dorothy One, Roger Smith unveils his ultimate weapon, the Megadeus Big O. Cast in the name of God; Ye not guilty (sorry, I just had to say that--I know it sounds like an ad plug).
By the way, a Megadeus is a giant robot. A weird one. There are a lot of weird things in this show, which is one of its extremely charming points.
You've seen Eva multitudinous times. You've had your fill with Gundam. You're too macho to watch a girl's anime like The Vision of Escaflowne TV series. Zoids is too kiddy. So where do you turn for your fill of big robots beating the crap out of each other? To Big O, if you've got the stomach. You see, much like Eva is more like a psychological thriller that happens to involve mecha, and The Vision of Escaflowne is more like a shoujo fantasy that happens to involve mecha, Big O is more like an old detective show that happens to involve mecha. If that sounds weird, it sure is. If that sounds good, read no further. If you're dumbstruck, keep reading.
Big O is an OAV produced by Sunrise, possibly as part of their cavalcade of cheap Eva knockoffs (Betterman, The Soul Taker, etc.) But if it is, it certainly didn't turn out the way they wanted it. The story of lost memories is a bit like the convoluted psychological plotline of Eva, but Big O does everything it does in a style too unique for comparison to be worth much. The first thing that might turn you off from this show is the animation. I first saw this on Toonami (I saw the uncut versions later), and when I saw the commercials, I was like, "No way is that an anime. They all have scary claws and look like rejects from the new Batman cartoon." (Which I used to love when I was a kid). Once I saw it, I was convinced that not only was this an anime, it was a good anime. The animation contributes to the style of the show, which is indeed a lot like the new Batman cartoon. If Big O had the hypercharged computer wizardry of say, The Soul Taker, it simply wouldn't pan out right. The music is also saxophone ditties like those old detective movies. I swear the ending was somehow recorded in a parlor back in the '30s and made its way into the hands of a Japanese music writer. The opening is mostly a chanting chorus of "Big O! Big O Big O Big O!". It's a lot like The Vision of Escaflowne's chanting chorus of "Es-ca! Flow-ne!" I wouldn't pop it in my CD player, but if they shoved this show with some generic J-pop song, it would be like playing some hardcore rock song (for the sake of argument, a Van Halen song) in the movie of The Lord of the Rings.
The character designs range from the black-suited, greased back hair of Roger Smith to the creepy pointed head covered in bandages of Schwarzwald, his eventual arch-nemesis. Their personalities all fit their unique designs, so I'll just conveniently lump those bits together. Roger Smith, to use an analogy, is like a combination of James Bond, Batman, Gai Daigoji from Nadesico, and Kuwabara from Yuu Yuu Hakusho. I could throw a few more in, but that's a lot to mash. He's slick like James Bond and dark and dignified like Batman, but at the same time he can be a dork and isn't above life's little pitfalls. He also staunchly refuses to shoot someone with a gun, but it's fine to beat their robot into a twisted wreck with Big O's steam piston-powered punch attack. His cohorts are R. Dorothy Wayneright and Norman. Dorothy is an android in anime who actually acts like one, emotionless and logical, but as the show progresses you can see her beginning to learn things and get a few emotions (in an unbelievably subtle way). She also scores as the second girl ever in anime who qualifies for all the criteria (main character, possible love interest) but doesn't have impossible perfect sexy features (the first is, once again with the Vision of Escaflowne, Hitomi Kanzaki). If it weren't for her pale skin and freaky eyes she could almost look real. Norman is the butler. He's a lot like Alfred of course, but looks slightly tougher. He has an eyepatch and a huge machine gun, and often wants to ride out to Roger's rescue on his primitive motorcycle with a sidecar. Lastly, there's irked cop Major Dan Dastun, who alludes to a past with Roger Smith on the force. The four main characters have personalities that provide for some humor, and there isn't really a 'comic relief character' in this show.
Now for the villains. There are quite a few of them, and despite the shortness of the show, some of them do make returns. It's a lot like Batman with giant mecha in this department; you've got Beck, who's a bit like the Joker, then Schwarzwald, who's someone a bit more dangerous (try Mr. Freeze). The one shot villains are all weirdly memorable too; there's a guy who looks like an eighteenth century German magician, an Frankenstein-esque mad scientist, and quite a few sympathetic villains (a betrayed young cop, a poor street performer). They also use a lot of weird robots and strange concepts (the piano-playing android in episode four comes to mind). The bad guys all have unique mecha, from Dorothy One's shrimp-like appearance to the robot used by the young cop which projects a specter onto the water.
Most of the episodes are self-contained like Cowboy Bebop, but the actual storyline begins to show itself within the last few episodes. Unfortunately, the show ends just where it looks to actually begin, but luckily Season Two is out now. The plot will apparently, when resolved, explain all the mysteries of the show from the Megadeuses to just how everyone lost their memory forty years ago. It's pretty cryptic, but not much light is shed on it throughout the first eleven episodes or so, and they only just begin in twelve and thirteen. I can't wait to see how it turns out.
If you're the type of hardcore mecha fan who keeps a sheet with the comparative specs of every Gundam from Amuro Ray's RX-78 to the Rick-Dom to Hiro Yui's Wing Gundam, you won't like Big O (and probably didn't like G Gundam, which is similar in strange ways). If mecha are something you don't eat and sleep, but can live with, and you're a fan of unique style and great characterization (isn't everyone?), then you will like it. Also, if you've had it with the regular type of anime (the evil bad guys, the magic battles, the idiot ditz, the hero, the fan service, blah blah ad nauseam), Big O could be a welcome break. Yes, I know it has a really dumb-sounding name.
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Notes and Trivia
This is the first season; the second is reviewed separately.
US DVD Review
The uncut (not TV version) bilingual DVDs feature textless openings and endings, commentary by the creator, and staff interviews. There's also a complete set at a budget price, to be released in September 2003.
Not too bad; might differ based on opinion. 13 is a safe estimate.
Violence: 1 - Mostly between mecha, since Roger Smith refuses to shoot.
Nudity: 2 - Some scenes with the mysterious Angel.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Mostly mature themes; drinking, politics, the usual suspects.
Language: 1 - A few damns.
Staff & Cast
Roger Smith: David Lucas
Angel: Wendee Lee