The Big O: A Dark Deco Robot Battleground

For years, I heard great things about The Big O. That’s often how I get into anime: someone like a friend or a guy on a fan forum recommends some cool show, and then I have to look it up and dig into it. (Alternatively, if you’re looking to get into a show that other people are hyping up, you can’t do worse than look up a fan-made montage of “best moments” and see if the style of the show fits your tastes.)

40 years ago, the inhabitants of Paradigm City were collectively hit with amnesia. However, enough time has passed that ancient technologies and long-forgotten secrets are reemerging, which puts everyone at risk. Enter Roger Smith, a professional negotiator and detective, on the trail of a young woman, later revealed to be the android R. Dorothy Waynewright. Her appearance coincides with the arrival of massive fighting robots, known as Megadeus, who wreck havoc across the City of Amnesia. Fortunately, protecting them is the giant mech Big O, piloted by Roger himself. What follows is a trail of clues, shootouts, robot fistfights, and a thousand surprising reveals as Roger and Dorothy piece together the ultimate truth.

Copyright © 1999 by Sunrise
Copyright © 1999 by Sunrise

The character of Roger Smith is basically Bruce Wayne without the Batsuit: suave, womanizing, and surprisingly capable as a detective and a fighter. His voice actor in the English is also Steven Blum, and it’s nice to hear him using the same voice he gave our beloved bounty hunter Spike Spiegel. Meanwhile, his counterpart Dorothy (voiced by Lia Sargent) is mostly defined by speaking in a mechanical monotone and being incredibly heavy despite her girlish figure. She does have a few touching moments here and there, but I never quite cottoned onto her the way I could with other Emotionless Girls in anime.

From start to finish, this show definitely draws on Batman: The Animated Series in both its character and setting design (specifically from the episode “His Silicon Soul”). It uses the same 1940’s film noir atmosphere and vehicle designs, although in stark contrast to the futuristic and artistic giant mechas that do all the actual fighting. It was seeing these allusions and styles that first drew me to the show. I also liked the City of Amnesia as a setting overall (a bit less pretentious than whatever was happening in the city in Ergo Proxy).

Despite all of the above, however, I wasn’t a huge fan of the show as I watched it. I’m not much into the mecha genre of anime (i.e., Giant Robots Trade Blows and Topple Skyscrapers). To be honest, it’s, well… it’s boring for me. It’s robots trading blows and that’s it. I could accept it with something truly bizarre like Neon Genesis Evangelion, but that’s really is the limit of my enjoyment.

Not to mention I came for the neo-noir style of the show, and while adding giant mechas is clever, I don’t see the two genres meshing well. Most of the plot’s spirit of mystery is a bit hard to follow. It feels less like the unraveling of a great secret, and more a series of random twists and turns.

Overall, is The Big O worth seeing? Well, yes. It has some amazing details and a series of wonderful allusions to the “Dark Deco” style that Bruce Timm and other Batman animators developed back in the Nineties. And if you are a fan of big robots duking it out, then you’ll get a kick out of this series for sure. But if you’re not a fan and just want some great animation with big machines and a creepy villain, then I’d suggest watching the Cowboy Bebop episode “Pierrot le Fou,” which is another homage to Batman: The Animated Series and also has Steven Blum voicing our lead character.

Because you usually can’t go wrong with that match.

The English dub of The Big O is available on DVD through online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, among others.


Bibliography: The Big O. Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama. Written by Chiaki J. Konaka and Kazuyoshi Katayama. Sunrise (studio). Madman Entertainment. Cartoon Network (Toonami); Adult Swim. Original broadcast run: October 13, 1999 – January 19, 2000 (Season 1); January 2, 2003 – March 23, 2003 (Season 2).

Ouran High School Host Club: Rose Petals, Riches, and Weirdness

In full disclosure, I never much cared for shoujo-style anime and manga. That is, any Japanese media made for a younger female demographic. I grew up on Pokemon for a short while, and then I got into seinen genre with works like Cowboy Bebop and Death Note in college. It wasn’t until I learned about Fruits Basket that I learned to appreciate the genre.

However, that same appreciation had mixed results when I found Ouran High School Host Club.

At the prestigious Ouran Academy, a poor student named Haruhi Fujioka accidentally ends up in debt to the school’s Host Club after breaking a priceless vase. Complicating this is the fact that the club is designed for rich men to “entertain” young ladies–and the fact that Haruhi is a girl cross-dressing as a boy at school. What follows is an assortment of quirky adventures as the Club’s President, Tamaki, tries to teach Haruhi their ways (and win her heart) in the wackiest sitcom-style scenarios imaginable.

ouran
Copyright © 2006 by Bones and Funimation

Haruhi is an excellent negotiator for the group, especially when it comes to helping them navigate the world outside their elite status. It helps that she has her own flaws and quirks to make her likable (such as her obsession with “fancy tuna”). Tamaki is your average excitable, effeminate male, but with a few devious moments that counterparts like Kyoya and the twins aren’t providing themselves. Meanwhile, the cheerful and stoic duo Honey and Mori are mostly there for commentary and bits of random humor, though they have some layers. Even recurring characters like Renge aren’t terrible since they show up for a little bit, state their jokes, and leave as quickly.

The show is an excellent parody of shoujo anime, from rose petals falling over soft-spoken, good-looking male characters, to strange bits of roleplay like the “Alice in Wonderland” episode. It’s the kind of series where characters actively break the fourth wall and talk about fandom terms like shipping and tragic backstories without missing a beat in the onscreen antics or drama. In this case, Renge is a great example of a character who tries to shape the Host Club into her view of what the ideal romantic shoujo cast should look like.

Since I’m on the dub side of the infamous “sub vs. dub” anime debate, I got the pleasure of listening to the voice work and editing as done by Funimation. This meant I enjoyed a host of famous voice actors giving some great performances, such as J. Michael Tatum (Kyoya), Vic Mignogna (Tamaki), and Travis Willingham (Mori). No one gives a bad performance, even if the script is trying to stay faithful to the original Japanese (especially regarding comedic delivery). I love most of the acting in this, though my favorite is Kyoya because I’ll never get bored of listening to J. Michael Tatum.

The detail in this anime is stunning. Not only in terms of animation but in the little asides and discussions of the Host Club’s wealthy lifestyle. This show touches on the finer points of British tea culture, formal attire, balls and galas, and so on. It’d be easy to make this a general view of the upper class, so I appreciate how much research and effort went into the smaller things surrounding Haruhi’s exploration of the club.

Overall, this is one of those shows that is largely based on kanji inserts and repetitive animation for humor. It’s not a bad style considering how much of anime and manga do the same, but after going through shows like Durarara!! or Death Note, it can be a little jarring, if not annoying. This is a minor complaint, really, but I can see how it’d be off-putting for some audiences.

So do I recommend Ouran High School Host Club? Well, yes and no. I don’t recommend it for anyone’s first introduction to anime, but it does work as a cute and lighthearted romp through the shoujo genre. Between its stellar English voice cast and some genuinely funny or touching moments, it’s entertaining in its own right.

The English dub of Ouran High School Host Club is available through Funimation.

Still Relevant

John Lennon wrote and released this song back in 1971. It was as relevant then as it is today. I’m not usually one to get political on this blog, but I feel that this sentiment matters given all the violence and hatred going around after the recent killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five Dallas police officers.

We don’t have to be played against each other.

We can reform relations between police and the African-American community (because it’s telling that they don’t feel safe with law enforcement and they can’t all be criminals).

We can stand behind those families who’ve lost loved ones, both in and out of uniform.

But first, we need to see what kind of society we’re living in and where to go next.

For my part, I can’t do much with protests or rewriting the law. I’m a storyteller by trade. So I’ll be here, trying to offer up as many good stories about people who don’t get heard as often as I can.

I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think that Mr. Lennon would be doing something similar today.

Flash Fiction: “Paying Dues Without Clues”

Here’s another story of goblins and fairies in the modern day, but not everything is what it seems (then again, when is it ever?).


Paying Dues Without Clues, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 655

It was a beautiful spring morning in the countryside. Dr. Nora Volante drove up the road to the lone farmhouse near the edge of the woods. The house didn’t look like it had been cleaned or renovated for many years, from rusted door hinges to ancient creaking timber planks from rooftop to ground floor. Like it had grown out of the woods itself.

As she parked her car and got out, Nora double-checked the manila folder that her friend at the police station had given her. Along with a chuckle and a pitying look. She familiarized herself with the notes written down and the official complaint registered by several neighbors.

All variations of disturbing the peace. But who was the more disturbed, she wondered.

Her patient greeted her at the front door. Michael St. Clair was not a young man. Standing six foot five, he had both the snow-white beard and the belly to play Santa Claus all year round. When he moved, his gait was slow and ponderous, like he was expecting a threat to jump out from every corner. Nora kept her cool and sat down in the living room while he offered her coffee and a tray of crackers.

“I’m sorry if the road was bumpy,” said Michael, cringing. “It’s not my fault, I swear!”

Nora replied with a kindly smile. “I’m sure it’s not, Michael. May I call you Michael?”

The old man sat quivering in his armchair. “I’m not c-crazy. I’ve seen things, you know!”

“Like what?” Nora took out her notebook. This wasn’t her first case of dealing with a paranoid schizophrenic. But it was the oddest case by far.

“They… they come out at night, mostly.” Michael’s bottom lip jiggled underneath his beard. “Thousands of ’em! Little green ghouls!”

“Well, I’m sure it’s—”

“It’s a goblin army, I tells ya!”

Nora lowered her pen. Now they were getting somewhere. “Right. Goblins. And why do they, um, visit you again?”

“Well, it’s ’cause…” Michael’s voice trailed off. His eyes darted to the nearest corner of the living room.

She found that he was looking at a beautiful antique sitting on the floor. The box was gilded oak, with hundreds of mystic runes lining the surface. Her mind puzzled over their origin. Norwegian, maybe? All Nora knew for sure was that the skin on the back of her neck was crawling the longer she stared at it.

“Because of that?” she asked.

Michael dropped his head. “Y-yeah. But I only stole it for my grandkids. So… so they’d have something nice for their birthday—”

“Now that,” a tiny voice called out, “is a load of crap and you know it, Mikey.”

Nora believed that she must’ve inhaled whatever her patient was smoking. Because out from a hole in the moulding came a tiny green creature, bow-legged and wrinkled from head to toe. And top off the whole delusion, he was wearing a small pinstripe suit and chomping on a cigar.

“Stay back!” Michael cried. He leapt from his chair and reached for a poker from the fireplace.

He froze, however, when he and Nora noticed two more goblins appear on the mantlepiece. Wearing little more than loincloths, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with miniature crossbows in hand. Their grim stares fixed on Michael’s face, as did the gleaming tips of their arrows, until he withdrew his hand and sank defeated into his armchair again.

“Mikey, Mikey, c’mon buddy.” The goblin boss hopped up onto the old man’s shoulder. He blew a ring of cigar smoke in his face. “We had a deal, okay? I got you this farm, and you were supposed to pay us back, remember?”

“Um,” Nora interrupted, “how did you get him the farm?”

The goblin stared back with an evil grin. “Do you really wanna know the answer to that, little lady?”

“Oh. I-I see.” She turned to her patient once more. “Michael?”

“Yes?”

“Give him back the damn box.”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Acknowledgements

Thanks to my supporters on Patreon for their contributions that make stories like this one possible. This story is dedicated to Links Drop.

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A Big Announcement: Story Launch Strategies

This past April, I undertook a major turning point in my life. While I’ve been running this blog for many years (and will probably continue to do so), I’ve always struggled to find a balance between my personal interests in writing fiction and my professional need to build and sustain a career that lets me afford said personal interests.

This is the year where I decided to merge the two needs. I will continue to run this blog, but now I’m pleased to announce my new, self-declared profession as a creative writing consultant under the banner of my own company, Story Launch Strategies LLC.

SLS Landing Page
Copyright © 2016 by Story Launch Strategies LLC.

What is a “creative writing consultant”? In short, I help authors, screenwriters, and Web series creators find new ways to better tell their story. My key goal is to help you, the creator, build your audience. Whether you’ve got a story set in a specific genre or you have this amazing character concept that you want to flesh out, you can come to someone like me for guidance on where to go next.

Honestly, it’s only because of the years I’ve spent developing this blog that I feel confident about starting down this road. I’ve had time to review a multitude of stories, to see how stories can be told differently, and to appreciate what audiences are looking for these days. So why not put that knowledge to good use, and (God willing) get paid for it?

So if you, dear reader, are sitting on a manuscript or a screenplay that you think might be good but needs polishing, you don’t have to delay. I’m happy to help you find the best selling points to your story, the areas where you need to improve, and a few ideas on where to take your story next.

If you need time to decide if SLS is right for you, check out my different services and see which one might be best for your particular project. And if you’re ready to start? Contact me today!