Have you ever wanted an anime series with solid action and a lot of complexity, mystery, thoughtfulness, and awesome characters? The Big O is the closest thing to a Batman anime and it also has giant robot fights. What’s not to like?
Paradigm City, the City of Amnesia. A city where cyborgs and humans live side by side. Forty years before the start of the series, the world changed and nobody can remember what happened before that time period; or seems to care. Memories of what happened do appear from time to time, but those only result in the most dangerous situations with incidents that put the public at risk. Enter Roger Smith, a man known as the Negotiator for some reason because, you know, Amnesia. He has a giant robot named the Big O and is the only one that can defend against the trouble that happens on the streets.
The Big O’s first season is like an episodic adventure series. Some major incident happens around the city with a strange cast of characters and Roger Smith either gets involved with the incident himself or gets pulled into it later because one of his clients wants him to get involved. Each episode unlocks some part of the city and introduces another character for Roger Smith to fight or help along the way. Season 2 is when all the characters and mysteries from Season 1 build up to a much more story-focused manner.
Plot & Story
To get straight to the point, The Big O is a lot better when everything is cast in mysteries and shadows: plot, characters, story, and everything else. When everything is revealed, nothing is as interesting as the show seems to think they would have been. Season 1’s slow backstory reveals and the characters’ actions are based on motivations we don’t know about yet. Because of that, your imagination and expectations of the situation at hand play as large a role as anything on screen. When Season 2 happens and their motivations are revealed, everything turns out to be so much simpler than you think they were. Ultimately, that leads to the story being a little bit of a disappointment. Season 2’s story and ideas are still okay, but they are half as strong as those in the first cour.
The characters are unique and well fleshed out. Going back to the Batman statement at the beginning of this post, they do start out as just members of Batman’s rogue gallery from the animated series. But do those characters have giant robots? No. From that and the building of their own sort of mythos, every single character gains a larger sense of their own identity. Roger Smith and the android Dorothy have the best character dynamic in the show because of how well their personalities bounce off each other, but each character bounces off Roger Smith in a different way. It not only makes Roger Smith a fantastic and multi-faceted character but gives everyone a distinct personality that you find a lot of interest and value in.
Art and Music
Everything about The Big O says noir. The way the shadows are used, the lighting of the show, the slow and jazzy saxophone music, and even the character designs and color palettes. That also goes along with the different settings of the show. Roger Smith sets the tone himself by wearing only black and white and forces his employees to do so too, but the palette of the show lends itself toward darker colors to continue the theme. It all works. With all the hard work and effort, the atmosphere of the show is full of mystery and intrigue. The Big O is so stunning to look at because of this. Honestly, the visual atmosphere that The Big O has can’t be felt anywhere else in the realm of anime. One hundred percent original.
The animation fundamentals are astounding. Every character has a specific way they move; there is some great facial and character animation, and the Giant Robot fights are stellar. All the character stuff is solid and well done. Never drops in quality. Then there is the mecha to talk about. First, every single robot has a unique design that can only come from The Big O. Then, each robot is animated in a way that gives them a lot of weight. The sound design associated with their movements just sells that the fact that these robots could maybe exist in our reality. Season 2 is a little stronger in the visual department, but that doesn’t mean that Season 1 is lacking at all.
Themes and Trivia
Identity and Fate: The Big O is about discovering who everyone was in the past, why they’ve forgotten, and whether they should continue in that role? Do you have to follow that path that was given to you or do you want to try something different? What are the positives and negatives of doing both things? It’s a very thematically complex show with a lot of meaning behind it.
Season Two: The second season of The Big O would not have been produced if the first season wasn’t successful in 2001. With season one’s high ratings, Cartoon Network co-produced Season 2 with Sunrise. It premiered on Adult Swim in 2003 and Toonami ten years later.
Season 1 of The Big O is one of the most perfect and unique anime cours out there. It strikes the right tone and explores a strange setting we don’t know about, has solid mystery and character material, and some awesome robot spectacles. Season 2 trades a lot of that intrigue and character mysteries for a lot more visual spectacles and a story that doesn’t completely come together in the end. Do I recommend The Big O regardless of that? Yes. It’s an absolute blast of a show that everyone should at least watch once.
The Big O
July 1999–October 2001 (6 Volumes)