The Big O II – Acts 21 to 26

January 31, 2005 on 9:07 pm | In The Big O | Comments Off on The Big O II – Acts 21 to 26

My excuse for the lousiness of this entry is my inability to process the events it concerns. Also, after a while, I just want to kick writing out of my computer so I can do something good.

For years, I have watched “difficult” anime – serial experiments lain, Evangelion, FLCL – and understood them, or at least came to my own understanding of them. The Big O II, however, is confusing. This is practically unprecedented.

The Big O II is very different to the first series in that every episode is pertinent to the collective pasts of the main characters, which means that the days of negotiations are at an end. Roger Smith now negotiates not for the people of Paradigm City, but for his life!
The interesting thing that must be noted is that Big O II, being the second half of a series, has no time for any introductory guff. That’s why, when you watch this, you get thirteen episodes of heaviness. It’s hard enough watching this series three months after watching the last, so it must have been even worse to wait three years between series.

There are many excellent episodes on offer here, which add up to a confusing whole. The first confusion comes in the form of English that we probably weren’t meant to understand: the film that shapes Dan Dastun’s life shows up again, but this time there is a movie poster for it. The movie is promoted as “starring Dan Dastun”, which makes no sense. It’s possible that this was deliberately designed to confuse, to emphasise Dastun’s crisis of identity. That was in itself a good story line, with Dastun fighting his conflicting emotions about the Big O doing all of his work and about the impotence of a police force under the thumb of Paradigm.

Dorothy is, sadly, thrown pretty much to the side as this second series is about Angel. Angel is the latest in a long line of tragic characters, and the largest source of confusion in the entire program. What is her origin? What is anyone’s origin? What is Paradigm City? So many questions! People can make up their own answers, because there are very few here.
Angel’s character, although not really in anyway explained, is shown as having a great deal of pain. Perhaps her past isn’t that important, as her confusion adds to her drive to discover … absolutely nothing.

The action sequences are excellent, and the fight between Roger and Alan Gabriel has an outstanding conclusion. The rest of it is well done, but it’s hard to go into much more detail than has been already. It feels like these final six episodes are about obfuscation, so not a lot can be said. Roger – what is Roger? Why should we have to ask what Roger is? Argh!

The Big O, overall, is an entertaining series. There is a distinct difference between the two series: the first is largely about entertainment, and the second is about trying to solve a mystery of forty years. This would almost have happened were it not for the ultimately confusing finale. The Big O II is still recommended for its parts, but it does not have the same flawless lustre as its predecessor: what we’re left with is a bigger mystery than that with which we began. Despite that, the note that it ends on is not conducive to a sequel. There are no plans, and nor do I think there should be, for The Big O III.

The Big O II – Acts 14 to 20

January 11, 2005 on 6:49 pm | In The Big O | Comments Off on The Big O II – Acts 14 to 20

Acts 14 to 20, you say? The Big O II continues the numbering from the first series, because what The Big O is a 26 episode program that just so happened to take a three year break in production. The Big O II was made due to American fan demand, co-produced by Cartoon Network. This is one of the best actions that fandom has had on the industry, because this series really did not do well enough in Japan to justify SUNRISE making a continuation.
Some have accused the involvement of American companies as being a blight on the anime industry, an attempt to make anime more homogenised and evil! Some people just love to listen to the sound of their own complaints.

The Big O II is such a continuation of the The Big O that it picks up exactly where its predecessor left off. Concessions are made to the gap of three years, like an increase in flashes to past episodes. This is because the mystery of Paradigm City and the lost Memories are beginning to come together and all clues are alluded to once more.
This series is more of the same, but is also different in a way (and not in an “Americans have ruined anime!” way). This is due to the infusion of more money, the desire to reveal more secrets and also the need to bring back Beck and cause pain to viewers.

The 14th act of The Big O II sets a precedent for the series: the first episode to include “psycho-drama”, the sort that seems to happen only in a character’s mind. Roger’s look into the pre-amnesia time of his psyche is interesting, not just because it features Mister Beck but because it also has creative cinematography. The use of a theatre is admittedly not original material, but it comes across well – as is presenting all of the characters in silhouette, at least facially.
The use of symbolism has also increased, and one has to wonder what the red balloon means. This sort of writing and presentation is delicious.

This series is following some of the examples set by the first, with Norman’s concern for the state of dinner being well recognised. The butler also gets to come into his own, driving a motorbike that shoots missiles from the sidecar and a memorable use of a kitchen cupboard.
Angel, the character who was infuriatingly mysterious in the first series, is given a real opportunity to reveal herself. The scenes between her and Roger are among the best and most romantic. The moment of realisation at the beach is one of the best dramatic moments produced for either series. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the relationship of Roger and Dorothy, who get precious little shared screen time. Dorothy appears to want to act independently, which is good for her but takes away one of the more enjoyable dynamics of the series.

The rest of these episodes take a distinctly religious stance, such as in the case of people singing in church for comfort, and the coming of an angel down to Paradigm City. There are excellent episodes on human and robot equality, a subject that always makes the characters wonder how the two got along before amnesia. Whatever it was that hit Paradigm City got the androids, placing everyone on equal footing.

The only exception to the enjoyability is the totally random episode 18, which features a Japanese company. The Japanese businessmen are represented as short, bucktoothed and camera-happy. This sends a very mixed message. The whole episode is out of line with the rest of the series, using a bizarre mix of American and Japanese animated humour techniques. The episode begins with Roger’s narration, then a “bouncy” effect to reveal that he is actually still in bed (the implication being that he is a lazy sod). Later on, Dorothy makes a joke in bad taste. This causes Roger to fall down! One wonders, what is going on here, exactly. It’s capped off by a sentai fight – a parody of sixties designed robots (ie Big O) versus the seventies designed combining robots. This part is actually pretty funny, but this is not like an episode of The Big O. The fact that Japanese tradition continues in an American city (one of their banks is “Your Financial Institution, Anytown USA”) boggles the mind entirely.

The Big O II‘s score is excellent; powerful, moving and dramatic. Whatever the occasion, the music matches the scene perfectly. This is particularly noticeable a lot of the time. The action sequences are excellently choreographed, and there is a lot of creative camera techniques involved. A dialogue between Norman and a guard told largely by their hands is fascinating to watch.

More money seems to have allowed The Big O II to have more colour than its predecessor, and this is really its only flaw; it is too bright. By 2002, most anime productions had moved into a completely digital world, and occasionally this series suffers from soft-focus as a result. It could be sharper, but overall this is still an attractive series – and somehow Dorothy looks cuter, so it’s all good.

The Big O II is a worthy successor to The Big O, with its enlarging of themes and creation of themes anew. Apparently it gets deeper and more confusing here on out. Somehow, it all feels worth it.

The Big O – Episodes 7 to 13

October 31, 2004 on 10:48 pm | In The Big O | 1 Comment

Amongst the many anime that I have watched this year, The Big O turned out to be one of the most compelling, if not the most compulsive. It brags what is possibly the best/most infuriating ending ever, and it would be unforgivable were it not for the sequel funded by Cartoon Network.

The second half of The Big O is pretty much the same as the first, but in some undefinable way better. This is quite possibly because Roger and Dorothy become much deeper as characters, and their ambiguous relationship grows still more ambiguous. Roger even gets to take part in practical negotiations, rather than random jobs that bear little meaning to his vocation.

The theme of memory continues to be very important and quite interesting beyond the usual pale of base anime philosophy. There are many touching scenes in regards to this featuring Roger and Dorothy, chief among them the “someone can make their own memories. These are yours, and yours alone.” Roger knows exactly what to say to Dorothy, and to him she really is a person. Some may see it as insensitive, but there comes a time when he forgets that she isn’t human.
Dorothy is an amazingly well drawn character. Her meditations on loneliness are interesting, but the way that she is animated is perhaps more so. You can tell that she’s happy or enjoying herself, even when there is no smile on her face. In some small way, it’s incredible. She’s one of the more sympathetic androids I have seen in my time.

The most excellent episode of the series deals not with Roger or Dorothy, but rather Dan Dastun, head of the military police. The way that Satou used cinematic techniques to frame the story and embraced the clichéd made for an emotional hit of an episode. This was not an original piece, but it was a very nice take on the whole idea of pretty traitors and doing the right thing. If you do the right thing, is that not what really matters? This episode was simply beautiful, and capable of promoting a slight physical response. This episode alone would be enough to recommend the series, were it not for all of the other things that make it rock out.

The question of Christianity is also brought into focus; without memory, man has created religion using the old rituals and places. This seems a naturally human thing to do, a good source of comfort. Paradigm City has recreated Christmas as “Heaven’s Day”, which is seen by Roger as a manufactured exercise in cynicism. The head of Paradigm, Alex Rosewater, is well aware of the meaning of the day, so it seems that he pays some respects.
The other thing is that the staff might be suggesting, in their own way, that Holy War may well have been the cause of amnesia – and of course, the idea of “man harnessing the power of God” is also trotted out. You just have to love anime when it gets like this.

There’s also the rich and decadent. In a society that can’t remember how it obtained its wealth, would this not create a greater rift between the rich and the poor? There is an upper class area, called the East Dome, which everyone hates based simply on the fact that it’s full of the rich and criminally rich. There’s corruption at the highest level in Paradigm, and this leads to some purely horrific scenes with burning people jumping out of buildings. It’s not something one would expect and it’s purely shocking.

The action scenes between hideous, hideous robots are actually some of the most entertaining and thrilling there are. They’re designed to fight, and so fight they do. Roger brings a passion to his battles, now that he has something to fight for, that make them a joy to watch. There’s something so very practical and yet unwieldly about them that makes it difficult to resist.
Incredible war footage is included, and Roger being hunted in the final episode is sure to get adrenaline running.
On the character design front, one of Beck’s henchmen has the makeup and hair of The Joker, which is a little confusing. Also confusing is the way it rains inside a domed building. It probably makes sense if you look hard enough.

The Big O ends on a huge cliffhanger, and I pity the poor sods who had to wait three years for its continuation (something that almost didn’t happen). This is one instance where American fandom proved good: another thirteen episodes of this outstanding, stylish series featuring really personable characters (even if one is a robot).

The Big O – Episodes 1 to 6

October 24, 2004 on 7:41 pm | In The Big O | Comments Off on The Big O – Episodes 1 to 6

In the grand tradition of men calling on giant robots via radio watches, The Big O hit the screen in 1999. Perhaps too true to this grand tradition, the robots are as ugly as sin. However, they are furnished by short, effective noirish stories and surprisingly wry humour.

Forty years ago, the people of Paradigm City collectively developed amnesia. Citizens sometimes regain parts of their memories for reasons unknown, and to the older generation memories have become a precious commodity. Roger Smith is a negotiator, negotiating for abductions, memory smugglings and various other tasks that have little to do with actual negotiation but he is qualified to perform, anyway.
When negotiations “break down”, as it were, Roger calls in one of the legacies of the pre-amnesia society, Big O. This giant robot tends to pummel its foes into submission, a successful outcome. Roger is joined by his loyal butler, and offisder android R. Dorothy Wayneright, who is surprisingly sarcastic for an otherwise traditional mechanoid. Occasionally he consults his commander from his days in the military police; they bear one of those grudgingly respectful relationships.
Each episode finds Roger in some sort of new “negotiation” situation, informal or not. Roger generally acts by himself, but his surrounding cast members can be relied upon to have something to say.

From the imaginative title song, with few lyrics other than “Big O!”, The Big O proves itself as an interesting pastiche of all sorts of genres, visual styles and stories. Is it noir? Is it sci-fi? Is it an elaborate mystery that takes a few visual cues from Batman? As readers should know by now, when I ask a series of pointless questions, the answer tends to be “all of the above”.

There are good themes running throughout, with some Blade Runner-esque philosophical theories abounding. Dorothy is not simply a token robotic character, she is quite complex and representative of androids all around. The idea of robots with parent complexes is something that impresses – “fake” children have been around in anime for an incredibly long time. These people don’t have a lack of sympathy for their robotic offspring – and this fact makes for some poignant endings. Robots can grieve, and they will, because they are guaranteed to long outlive their creators. Couple all of the robot questions with a society that doesn’t even remember how the mechanoids came to be, and you’ve got something well worth seeing.
The relationship between her and Roger is interesting as he does not see her as either human or android. To him she is a sort of ordered chaos with too sharp a tongue for his liking. He takes her to task for not being human, but when both of them are faced with a murderous mechanical unit on a rampage, he assures her that they are nothing alike. That he’s frankly more freaked out by her occasional mechanical acts says a lot about the two of them.
One has to admire a society that relentlessly pursues the issues of ethics, morality and treatment of artificially intelligent constructs that don’t yet exist.

There are, of course, other questions; What makes humanity? Why is it that some robots treasure their memories more than humans? Why does man create his own religion, and why is Big O quasi-holy? At least one of these can be answered. And, while we have the technology, and can rebuild robots, it’s not quite the same. A robot’s “brain” is truly what makes them, it turns out.

Miyamoto Mitsuru is a good, by turns serious and sarcastic, Roger. Unfortunately, he’s not quite up to the comic English required to command Big O, but that’s a quibble. Yajima Akiko is deliberately flat but manages to give R. Dorothy quite a bit of personality for what she is. The rest of the cast is also good, but these two are the ones who have to carry the show and they do it quite admirably.
The music is standard cool Jazz/Blues fare that was very popular with SUNRISE around this point in anime history. The OP, as mentioned before, is laughably simple yet hypnotic. The ED is an English duet, which probably doesn’t make much sense, but it fits quite well with the hour glass motif.

The visual style, despite being entirely the work of Sato Keiichi, is remarkably slipshod. No two characters look similar, and the less important characters are afforded very little detail. The mechanical designs are, to put it delicately, hideous. However, all grotesqueries inherent in this anime seem planned and intentional. The sixties and seventies had classic, if not aesthetically pleasing, designs and The Big O pays tribute to them. The classic Giant Robo is another good example of this. It should be noted that robots are for fighting, not for looking pretty, and the action scenes are well choreographed because of this. Big O is despised by the police not for its tendency to show them up, but instead its tendency to rise from the ground, destroying entire buildings and streets.
There’s a couple of moments of shoddy animation (that is, the scene in which Roger eats scrambled eggs), but there are some moments that show flair even among the most mundane actions – and the robot set pieces, of course, are terrific.

The Big O is shrouded in mystery, not quite showing if it’s supposed to be dramatic or comedic. One thing is certain: it’s full of surprises. Also that robots are capable of harbouring deep emotions, but that’s two things.
It will be good to see where this series is going.

Powered by WordPress with Pool theme design by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds. Valid XHTML and CSS. ^Top^