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.
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.
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).