The first anime review I ever wrote was written four years ago and focused on The Big O. Needless to say you don’t see it on this site because it was a terribly written piece of crap comprised of two hundred words, one hundred of which laughed at the fact the robots in the series are called “Mega Deuces”. Get it? Like big poops.
God I was a stupid sixteen year old.
As this is the beginning of a series of reviews focusing on anime that I’ve neglected to critique for this site, I found it only fitting to rectify my getting rid of my shitty Big O review and replacing it with one that is written with more intelligence and a better understanding of anime. Seriously, Big O was maybe the fifteenth anime I’d watched all the way through in my life at that point.
The first thirteen episodes of Big O were released in 1999 by Sunrise Studios and was co-produced by the now defunct Bandai Entertainment. Most people know of it from childhoods long past as it aired on Adult Swim in 2001, which is where I initially saw it.
Roger Smith is our protagonist, a negotiator in Paradigm City. Forty years ago everyone in the city lost their memories but life continued anyway. Inside the city, domes were built for the rich to live under while the poor are forced to live outside in squalor. Androids walk among humans and giant robots called Mega Deuces appear, seemingly whenever someone remembers something they should have forgotten. The idea here is that random memories pop up in the minds of certain people, kind of like a glitch, that leads them to combat the dictatorship of the Paradigm Corporation and Alex Rosewater.
At least, that’s what I take out of it. The plot is convoluted as hell and only gets worse as the series progresses. What is initially a seemingly intelligent and interesting mystery quickly devolves into a mind-numbing experience, especially once you get to episode thirteen, where everything begins to go nuts.
The initial run of episodes introduces us to the main players. Roger is a rich, gentlemanly type a la Bruce Wayne. He has a butler named Norman. In the first episode Roger picks up an android girl named Dorothy. There’s also a mysterious blond woman who works as Rosewater’s secretary but has an agenda of her own.
As a negotiator Roger deals with all kinds of situations, most of which involving kidnapping though some have to do with getting a person to accept a severance check or helping lower the price of fish. After the job is taken you can expect some human drama ended with a battle between Roger’s giant robot, Big O, and another robot or kaiju.
The emphasis on the story here is that it is very episodic and formulaic but it never gets boring. There’s a good array of stories that all contain some sort of mysterious element beyond the norm. The few recurring bad guys are not the most interesting but are good for what they are and most of the minor characters throughout aren’t boring.
The biggest allure of Big O is the style. Sunrise did some contract work on Batman: The Animated Series and you can definitely see the influence (and if you can’t, you’re blind). The western animation style is interesting and the approach to the style is where a lot of the mystery comes from. It’s a great study of noir with blacks and whites, shadow and light clashing to provide one of my favorite animation styles of all time. The gothic architecture outside combined with the strange, futuristic design inside the domes gives it a dream-like quality of two worlds meshed into one. On top of that, the character design and archetypes help build that air of noir that fans of my reviews know I love.
But even then Big O isn’t done impressing you with genre artistry. The robot designs of the show are some of the most memorable in anime and when Big O comes out to play, you know you’re in for a show. I love how the military police shoots at the robots from below, not affecting them at all as buildings are destroyed, cars are crushed, and huge swathes of destruction are left in the wake of each battle. It’s a throwback toGodzilla and classic kaiju movies.
One of my favorite parts of the whole series is how much Roger seems like a good guy yet in the first episode his Mega Deuce bursts from the ground and through an apartment building, probably killing dozens of people and destroying thousands of dollars of property. As the series progresses, you wonder why Roger cares so much about saving a couple of people on a Ferris wheel when he just punched into the air so hard the shockwave blew holes through three buildings.
This blend of genres works immensely in a style as well as a writing sense and is helped even further by the fantastic soundtrack. The iconic opening is a cheesy ode toFlash Gordon while the ending is a strange but pleasant love song duet. The music during the show ranges from classical compositions to jazz to cheesy monster movie music. A bit more variety of songs would have been nice but what is here is definitely worthy of a download.
The first half of The Big O is a very well-rounded experience. It has the cheesiness of classic Batman combined with the feeling of a crime movie of the 1940’s and the excitement of a giant monster movie. Every episode is interesting and decently written with my personal favorite being a very poetic crime drama centered on a military policeman’s dreams of watching an old French movie. It’s the kind of show that revels in appealing to fans of classical animation, movies, and music.
But the last episode is where things fall apart, as I mentioned. Roger starts having memories of certain events, people are being killed off who are remembering things they shouldn’t, a farmer implies that he was the one who implanted those memories and starts making abstract and weird metaphors about tomatoes; everything gets wacked out. And it’s not bad in any way, it just starts to feel overwhelming. There are biblical references, visual and spoken metaphors, and it’s all topped off by a final moment that makes no sense to me.
The series was originally intended to be 26 episodes but failed pretty miserably in Japan. When it played on Adult Swim though it became a huge hit. And I can understand that. This is a show that most likely has a lot more appeal to a western audience. Not only is the animation style familiar and classic, but the style of story and world is very western too. With the words “To be continued” at the end of episode thirteen, it had to be pretty sad for Sunrise when the show wouldn’t be greenlit to finish its run.
But Cartoon Network jumped in to provide support and a second season was finally made in 2003.
As an aside I really want to own the DVD for this series but it’s out of production because of Bandai Animation going under. Currently Sentai Filmworks has the rights to the show and I’m sure they’ll be releasing it on Blu-Ray at some point. Most likely it’ll be sold as two separate seasons and cost sixty dollars for each one because fuck consumers who don’t want to spend ridiculous prices for their anime DVDs (I’m looking at you Kill la Kill release). But that’s a completely unrelated rant….
The Big O’s first half is an excellent show. I enjoyed the hell out of it and I hope it is resurrected soon and interest returns. Nowadays it’s an underappreciated gem, shadowed by the more contemporary Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. But to me, it’s better than both.
Oh, and spoiler alert for my next review: Big O‘s second half is fucking mind-melting.
Overall Score: 8.5/10
Entertainment Factor: 8/10
Ye Not Worthy!
Note this review encompasses the entirety of Big O. So this is my first review of an anime that I rewatched. I watched Big O when I was a kid and naturally felt the need to eventually rewatch it. And overall I'm glad I did. I'll be honest I absolutely hate the intro, it gave me a headache every time I heard it so I stopped after about the 3rd episode. Everything about the back-story is very vague and doesn't quite get cleared up as the series goes along. And while I fully understand that this was intentional, it wasn't a dynamic I particularly enjoyed. But the story that does play out through the course of the series is in fact quite engaging. There are two moments in particular that stand out: the midpoint, and the ending. Both were truly dynamic and will not to be spoiled in this review. Needless to say that these are the reasons you watched the series. As far as the characters are concerned (which is a biggie for me) I didn't find myself particularly attached to Roger Smith (the lead) although I did find his name to be clever. However, Dorothy (his android partner) was quite compelling and was really the first non-humanoid character I grew to love in an anime. So overall, there are a lot of flaws in this anime; however, with a clever story and one timelessly compelling character Big O is definitely a good first step for appreciating similar anime which are probably better, still 6.5 out of 10 even with nostalgia.
This anime could have been so much better.
The first seasons story is episodic, with the only thing tying everything together being a single; the question being: Why did everyone lose there memory 40 years ago. It became the only thing I cared about in the show, but the main character made it his first rule to put the past in the past. Instead we get stand alone episodes of the main character being told to handle a negotiation only to end up battling some scientific monstrosity. It became formulaic and dull very quickly. The questions surrounding the city the story takes place in start to be revealed in the end, but for me that was too little too late. I read the synopsis and found out the second season is not episodic and actually does some world building, as well as giving the story a pretty decent (though open to interpretation) ending. Looking through all the fan theories has been a lot more enjoyable for me than actually watching the show. I should have just skipped the first season to begin with, but I didn't know and so now am left not wanting to watch the second.
The only character I liked was dorothy. Angel was looking for memories, which is what I would have been doing, but we don't see much of her or figure out what she is all about until the second season. Richard Smith (aka blissfully ignorant batman) suffers from boring main character syndrome. He's to punch robots, but if he questioned anything the plot would have to advance and we couln't have that or we wouldn't be able to fill 13 episodes.
The animation was janky. Some of the designs were pretty cool but things moved pretty oddly at times. It's an old show so I can't say I expected much.
What I Liked: The lovely homages and tributes to various film and television genres, character designs were great, Dorothy was a standout character, nice mixture of intrigue and action, the sudden ending.
What I Didn't: The dated feel of both the animation and the soundtrack, the fact that the soundtrack became repetitive after only a few episodes, the sudden ending.
Final Verdict: There's a lot of fun to be had with this Science fiction-cum-Film noir anime, with its various throwbacks to all manner of film genres and even certain rock bands of the 80's. Can't wait to see an actual ending, though.
ANIME MINOR JEWELS SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
This anime is good mostly for its aesthetics rather than its application on screen. It is a tribute to various things and there more of the following list you like, the higher the chances become for you to love the show. And those things are:
1) Tribute to 60’s mecha. All machines are drawn weird, reflecting the simple and bulky feeling of the first generation of super robots. That makes the show to stand out from the average Gundam rip offs of modern anime and gives an artistic value to the action.
2) Tribute to Queen music. The opening song is exactly that.
3) Tribute to film noir. The entire city is dark and gloomy, and the stories are around detectives and mysteries. That is uncommon in anime and again makes it feel special.
4) Tribute to Batman. Well, the main hero is a rich man fighting crime with hi-tech gizmos, lives isolated in a mansion, has a battler and a super computer, and makes deals with the police and the mayor. A major villain is also acting pretty much like Joker as well.
On the other hand, this is not a show for everyone. Not many are fond of such retro mecha looks, or film noir. I don’t know any who dislike Queen or Batman but I guess there are some of those as well. Taking out those who are annoyed with just one of the above, the audience of this series is shortened to a small group. Furthermore, there are two flaws of sorts in this show that further lower the chances of you liking it.
1) The story. It starts very mysteriously and cryptic, in a city where people one day just forgot all their memories and now try to rebuild their lives from scratch. Most episodes are in fact about the human psyche and deal with memories, ideals, ambitions and the dark side of greed and ambition. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to see other than a basic premise. The first half is practically stand alone mission, while the second has a loose and messy plot that ends in a very rushed and almost tasteless way. If you expect to see an amazing revelation or a great chain of events, you will be greatly disappointed.
2) The action. Seriously, the mecha action is hardly exciting. The lead robot pretty much owns every adversary fast and it exists as nothing but Deus Ex Machina. The hero summons it when things get rough and it pretty much becomes cheap panacea instead of using wits and cunning to escape or win a battle.
A hit or miss element is the cast. All of them are very simple in personality, almost stereotypical. They reveal sides to themselves as the episodes go by but don’t really develop. The interaction between the main duo, super rich and smart Roger, and his android cooldere assistant Dorothy, is very interesting but it may become tiresome along the way because of the simplistic plot. If pacing and simple personalities is not a problem for you then you will love them.
As I said, it is mostly aesthetics that matter in this show and not the actual plot or story. It has an unorthodox presentation but it is nothing other shows like Ergo Proxy or Ghost in the Shell didn’t do in a far more refined and mature way. It is still a different watch from the usual but hardly a great one.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks nice in a retro sense)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 0/2 (erratic and semi-episodic)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 3/4 (artsy enough to worth remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
I liked the atmosphere but the actual plot is passable.