The Big O
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|The Big O|
Cover art for The Big O Complete Collection DVD release by Bandai Entertainment
(Za Biggu Ō)
|Genre||Mecha, neo-noir, tech-noir|
|Anime television series|
|Directed by||Kazuyoshi Katayama|
|Written by||Chiaki J. Konaka
|Music by||Toshihiko Sahashi|
|Original run||13 October 1999 – 19 January 2000|
|Anime television series|
|The Big O II|
|Directed by||Kazuyoshi Katayama|
|Written by||Chiaki Konaka|
|Original run||2 January 2003 – 23 March 2003|
|Written by||Hitoshi Ariga|
|Original run||July 1999 – October 2001|
|The Big O: Lost Memory|
|Written by||Hitoshi Ariga|
|Original run||November 2002 – September 2003|
The Big O (Japanese: THE ビッグオー Hepburn: Za Biggu Ō?) is a Japanese anime television series created by designer Keiichi Sato and director Kazuyoshi Katayama for Sunrise. The writing staff was assembled by the series' head writer, Chiaki J. Konaka, who is known for his work on Serial Experiments Lain and Hellsing.
The story takes place forty years after a mysterious occurrence causes the residents of Paradigm City to lose their memories. The series follows Roger Smith, Paradigm City's top Negotiator. He provides this "much needed service" with the help of a robot named R. Dorothy Wayneright and his butler Norman Burg. When the need arises, Roger calls upon Big O, a giant relic from the city's past.
The television series is designed as a tribute to Japanese and Western shows from the 1960s and 1970s. The series is done in the style of film noir and combines the feel of a detective show with the mecha genre of anime. The setpieces are reminiscent of tokusatsu productions of the 1950s and 1960s, particularly Toho's kaiju movies, and the score is an eclectic mix of styles and musical homages.
The Big O premiered October 13, 1999 on WOWOW satellite television. It finished its run on January 19, 2000. The English-language version premiered on Cartoon Network on April 2, 2001 and ended on April 18 2001. Originally planned as a 26 episode series, low viewership in Japan reduced production to the first 13. Positive international reception resulted in a second season consisting of the remaining 13 episodes; co-produced by Cartoon Network, Sunrise, and Bandai Visual. Season two premiered on Japan's SUN-TV on January 2, 2003, and the American premiere took place seven months later. Following the closure of Bandai Entertainment in 2012, Sunrise announced at Otakon 2013, that Sentai Filmworks rescued both seasons of The Big O.
The Big O is set in the fictional city-state of Paradigm City (パラダイム・シティ Paradaimu Shiti?). The city is located on a seacoast and is surrounded by a vast desert wasteland. The partially domed city is wholly controlled by the monopolistic Paradigm Corporation, resulting in a corporate police state. Paradigm is known as "The City of Amnesia" (記憶喪失の街 Kioku soushitsu no Machi?) because forty years prior to the story, ""The Event" (何か Nani ka?, lit. "Something") destroyed the world outside the city and left the survivors without any prior memories.
The city is characterized by severe class inequity; the higher-income population resides inside the more pleasant domes, with the remainder left in tenements outside. Androids coexist with the human inhabitants of Paradigm City; while they are rare, they are sufficiently numerous that denizens of the city do not consider them unusual.
Several episodes show inhabitants of Paradigm City practicing some form of Christianity: people congregate in meeting places with crucifixes prominently displayed. The practice appears to be based on custom, because no one clearly remembers any doctrine associated with the practice. A ruined cathedral remains unused, although some elderly people occasionally stand in front of it and sing incompletely remembered hymns. In episode 11, it appears that only Alex Rosewater, CEO of the Paradigm Corporation that runs the city, remembers or observes Christmas. A holiday commemorating the founding of Paradigm City, "Heaven's Day", is observed on December 25. Though citizens decorate with generic Christmas decorations, they are ignorant of their original meaning. Dastun mentions that Rosewater had in his possession fragments of a "Book of Revelation", although neither Dastun nor Roger had heard of it before.
Although the textbook definition of memory is a record stored in the brain of an organism, the citizens of Paradigm City use the term more loosely; "Memories" (メモリー Memorī?) can refer to forgotten knowledge, records or artifacts from before The Event, or partial forms of recollection including hallucinations and recurring dreams.
The first season is episodic. Each episode (referred to as an "Act") relates a separate instance the resurgence of lost "memories" and how the citizens cope with their collective amnesia. The final episodes introduce elements that come into play during season two, like the discovery of people living outside of Paradigm City, the true nature of the Event, and something obliquely described as "the Power of God wielded by the hand of man".
While the majority of the first season's episodes are self-contained stories, the second season comprises a single serialized story arc. Alex Rosewater becomes a direct antagonist to Roger, and a mysterious group known as "The Union" is introduced, containing agents of a foreign power working within the City.
The series ends with the awakening of a new megadeus, and the revelation that the world is a simulated reality. A climactic battle ensues between Big O and Big Fau, after which reality is systematically erased by the new megadeus, an incarnation of Angel, recognised as "Big Venus" by Dorothy. Roger implores Angel to "let go of the past" regardless of its existential reality, and focus only on the present and the future. In an isolated control room, the real Angel observes Roger and her past encounters with him on a series of television monitors. On the control panel lies Metropolis, a book featured prominently since the thirteenth episode, with the cover featuring an illustration of angel wings and gives the author's name as "Angel Rosewater". Big Venus and Big O physically merge, causing the virtual reality to reset. A white flash subsides, and the first scenes of the first episode of the series play out. New versions of Dorothy and Angel watch Roger drive down the street as he delivers again his first speech of the series ("My name is Roger Smith. I perform a much needed job here in the City of Amnesia"), although he is a little hesitant this time. The ending title card, "We have come to terms," appears, and the credits roll.
Production and release
Development of the retro-styled series began in 1996. Keiichi Sato came up with the concept of The Big O: a giant city-smashing robot, piloted by a man in black, in a Gotham-like environment. He later met up with Kazuyoshi Katayama, who had just finished directing Those Who Hunt Elves, and started work on the layouts and character designs. But when things "were about to really start moving," production on Katayama's Sentimental Journey began, putting plans on-hold. Meanwhile, Sato was heavily involved with his work on City Hunter.
Sato admits it all started as "a gimmick for a toy" but the representatives at Bandai Hobby Division did not see the same potential. From there on, the dealings would be with Bandai Visual, but Sunrise still needed some safeguards and requested more robots be designed to increase prospective toy sales. In 1999, with the designs complete, Chiaki J. Konaka was brought on as head writer. Among other things, Konaka came up with the idea of "a town without memory" and his writing staff put together the outline for a 26-episodes series.
The Big O premiered on 13 October 1999 on WOWOW. When the production staff was informed the series would be shortened to 13 episodes, the writers decided to end it with a cliffhanger, hoping the next 13 episodes would be picked up. In April 2001, The Big O premiered on Cartoon Network's Toonami lineup.
- Second season
The series garnered positive fan response internationally that resulted in a second season co-produced by Cartoon Network, Sunrise, and Bandai Visual. Season two premiered on Japan's SUN-TV on January 2003, with the American premiere taking place seven months later as an Adult Swim exclusive. The second season would not be seen on Toonami until July 27, 2013, 10 years after it began airing on Adult Swim.
The second season was scripted by Chiaki Konaka with input from the American producers. Along with the 13 episodes of season two, Cartoon Network had an option for 26 additional episodes to be written by Konaka, but according to Jason DeMarco, executive producer for season two, the middling ratings and DVD sales in the United States and Japan made any further episodes impossible to be produced.
The Big O was scored by Geidai alumnus Toshihiko Sahashi. His composition is richly symphonic and classical, with a number of pieces delving into electronica and jazz. Chosen because of his "frightening amount of musical knowledge about TV dramas overseas," Sahashi integrates musical homages into the soundtrack. The background music draws from film noir, spy films and sci-fi television series like The Twilight Zone. The battle themes are reminiscent of Akira Ifukube's compositions for the Godzilla series.
The first opening theme is the Queen-influenced "Big-O!". Composed, arranged and performed by Rui Nagai, the song resembles the theme to the Flash Gordon film. The second opening theme is "Respect," composed by Sahashi. The track is an homage to the music of Gerry Anderson's UFO, composed by Barry Gray. In 2007, Rui Nagai composed "Big-O! Show Must Go On," a 1960s hard rock piece, for Animax's reruns of the show. The closing theme is the slow love ballad "And Forever," written by Chie and composed by Ken Shima. The duet is performed by Robbie Danzie and Naoki Takao.
Along with Sahashi's original compositions, the soundtrack features Chopin's Prelude No. 15 and a jazz saxophone rendition of "Jingle Bells." The complete score was released in two volumes by Victor Entertainment.
The Big O was conceived as a media franchise. To this effect, Sunrise requested a manga be produced along with the animated series. The Big O manga started serialization in Kodansha's Magazine Z on July 1999, three months before the anime premiere. Authored by Hitoshi Ariga, the manga uses Keiichi Sato's concept designs in an all-new story. The series ended on October 2001. The issues were later collected in six volumes. The English version of the manga is published by Viz Media.
In anticipation to the broadcast of the second season, a new manga series was published. Lost Memory (ロストメモリー Rosuto Memorī?), authored by Hitoshi Ariga. Lost Memory takes place between volumes five and six of the original manga. The issues were serialized in Magazine Z from November 2002 to September 2003 and were collected in two volumes.
The Big O is the brainchild of Keiichi Sato and Kazuyoshi Katayama, an homage to the shows they grew up with. The show references the works of the superhero shows produced by the Toei Company and "old school" super robots. The series is done in the style of film noir and pulp fiction and combines the feel of a detective show with the giant robot genre.
Film noir is a stylistic approach to genre films forged in Depression-era detective and gangster films and hard-boiled detective stories which were a staple of pulp fiction. The Big O shares much of its themes, diction, archetypes and visual iconography with film noirs of the 1940s like The Big Sleep (1946).
Low-key lighting schemes mark most noirs. The series incorporates the use of long dark shadows in the tradition of chiaroscuro and tenebrism. Film noir is also known for its use of odd angles, such as Roger's low shot introduction in the first episode. Noir cinematographers favoured this angle because it made characters almost rise from the ground, giving them dramatic girth and symbolic overtones. Other disorientating devices like dutch angles, mirror reflection and distorting shots are employed throughout the series.
The characters of The Big O fit the noir and pulp fiction archetypes. Roger Smith is a protagonist in the mold of Chandler's Philip Marlowe or Hammett's Sam Spade. He is canny and cynical, a disillusioned cop-turned-negotiator whose job has more in common with detective-style work than negotiating. Big Ear is Roger's street informant and Dan Dastun is the friend on the police force. The recurring Beck is the imaginative thug compelled by delusions of grandeur while Angel fills the role of the femme fatale. Minor characters include crooked cops, corrupt business men and deranged scientists.
Noir characters often wisecrack and speak in double entendres. The dialogue in the series is recognized for its witty, wry sense of humor. The characters come off as charming and exchange banter not often heard in anime series, as the dialogue has the tendency to be straightforward. The plot is moved along by Roger's voice-over narration, a device used in film noir to place the viewer in the mind of the protagonist so it can intimately experience the character's angst and partly identify with the narrator.
The urban landscape, Paradigm City, is the perfect noir milieu. The tall buildings and giant domes create a sense of claustrophobia and paranoia characteristic of the style. The rural landscape, Ailesberry Farm, contrasts Paradigm City. Noir protagonists often look for sanctuary in such settings but they just as likely end up becoming a killing ground. The series score is representative of its setting. While no classic noir possesses a jazz score, the music could be heard in nightclubs within the films. Roger's recurring theme, a lone saxophone accompaniment to the protagonist's narration, best exemplifies the noir stylings of the series.
Amnesia is a common plot device in film noir. Because most of these stories focused on a character proving his innocence, authors up the ante by making him an amnesiac, unable to prove his innocence even to himself. The Big O goes further, by removing the memories of the whole population. The convoluted past is told through the use of flashbacks. In most noirs, the past is tangible and menacing. The characters are often trying to escape some trauma or crime tied to the Event, and confronting it becomes their only chance at redemption.
Roger Smith is a pastiche of the Bruce Wayne persona and the Batman. The character design resembles Wayne, complete with slicked-back hair and double-breasted business suit. Like Bruce, Roger prides himself in being a rich playboy to the extent that one of his household's rules is only women may be let into his mansion without his permission. Like Batman, Roger Smith carries a no-gun policy, albeit more flexible. Unlike the personal motives of the Batman, Roger enforces this rule for "it's all part of being a gentleman." Among Roger's gadgetry is the Griffon, a large, black hi-tech sedan comparable to the Batmobile, a grappling cable that shoots out his wristwatch and the giant robot that Angel calls "Roger's alter ego."
The Big O's cast of supporting characters includes Norman, Roger's faithful mechanically-inclined butler who fills the role of Alfred Pennyworth; R. Dorothy Wayneright, who plays the role of the sidekick; and Dan Dastun, a good honest cop who, like Jim Gordon, is both a friend to the hero and greatly respected by his comrades.
The other major influence is Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Giant Robo. Before working on The Big O, Kazuyoshi Katayama and other animators worked with Yasuhiro Imagawa on Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. The feature, a "retro chic" homage to Yokoyama's career, took seven years to produce and suffered low sales and high running costs. Frustrated by the experience, Katayama and his staff put all their efforts into making "good" with The Big O.
Like Giant Robo, the megadeuses of Big O are metal behemoths. The designs are strange and "more macho than practical," sporting big stovepipe arms and exposed rivets. Unlike the giants of other mecha series, the megadeuses do not exhibit ninja-like speed nor grace. Instead, the robots are armed with "old school" weaponry such as missiles, piston powered punches, machine guns and laser cannons.
Katayama also cited Super Robot Red Baron and Super Robot Mach Baron among influences on the inspiration of The Big O. Believing that because Red Baron had such a low budget and the big fights always happened outside of a city setting, he wanted Big O to be the show he felt Red Baron could be with a bigger budget. He also spoke of how he first came up with designs for the robots first as if they were making designs to appeal to toy companies, rather than how Gundam was created with a toy company wanting an anime to represent their new product. Big O's large pumping piston "Sudden Impact" arms, for example, he felt would be cool gimmicks in a toy.
The Big O Visual: The official companion to the TV series (ISBN 4-575-29579-5) was published by Futabasha in 2003. The book contains full-color artwork, character bios and concept art, mecha sketches, video/LD/DVD jacket illustrations, history on the making of The Big O, staff interviews, "Roger's Monologues" comic strip and the original script for the final episode of the series.
"Walking Together On The Yellow Brick Road" was released by Victor Entertainment on 21 September 2000. The drama CD was written by series head writer Chiaki J. Konaka and featured the series' voice cast. An English translation, written by English dub translator David Fleming, was posted on Konaka's website.
Toys and model kits
Bandai released a non-scale model kit of Big O in 2000. Though it was an easy snap-together kit, it required painting, as all of the parts (except the clear orange crown and canopy) were molded in dark gray. The kit included springs that enabled the slide-action Side Piles on the forearms to simulate Big O's Sudden Impact maneuver. Also included was an unpainted Roger Smith figure.
PVC figures of Big O and Big Duo (Schwarzwald's Megadeus) were sold by Bandai America. Each came with non-poseable figures of Roger, Dorothy and Angel. Mini-figure sets were sold in Japan and America during the run of the second season. The characters included Big O (standard and attack modes), Roger, Dorothy & Norman, Griffon (Roger's car), Dorothy-1 (Big O's first opponent), Schwarzwald and Big Duo.
In 2009, Bandai released a plastic/diecast figure of the Big O under their Soul of Chogokin line. The figure has the same features as the model kit, but with added detail and accessories. Its design was closely supervised by original designer Keiichi Sato.
In 2011, Max Factory released action figures of Roger and Dorothy through their Figma toyline. Like most Figmas, they are very detailed, articulated and come with accessories and interchangeable faces. In the same year, Max Factory also released a 12-inch, diecast figure of Big O under their Max Gokin line. The figure contained most of the accessories as the Soul of Chogokin figure but also included some others that could be bought separately from the SOC figure, such as the Mobydick (hip) Anchors and Roger Smith's car: the Griffon. Like the Soul of Chogokin figure, its design was also supervised by Keiichi Sato. As well, in that same year, Max Factory released soft vinyl figures of Big Duo and Big Fau, in-scale with the Max Gokin Big O. These figures are high in detail but limited in articulation, such as the arms and legs being the only things to move. To date, this is the only action figure of Big Fau.
The Big O premiered on 13 October 1999. The show was not a hit in its native Japan, rather it was reduced from an outlined 26 episodes to 13 episodes. Western audiences were more receptive and the series achieved the success its creators were looking for. In an interview with AnimePlay, Keiichi Sato said "This is exactly as we had planned", referring to the success overseas.
Several words appear constantly in the English-language reviews; adjectives like "hip", "sleek," "stylish",  "classy", and, above all, "cool" serve to describe the artwork, the concept, and the series itself. Reviewers have pointed out references and homages to various works of fiction, namely Batman, Giant Robo, the works of Isaac Asimov, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, James Bond, and Cowboy Bebop. But "while saying that may cause one to think the show is completely derivative", reads an article at Anime on DVD, "The Big O still manages to stand out as something original amongst the other numerous cookie-cutter anime shows." One reviewer cites the extensive homages as one of the series problems and calls to unoriginality on the creators part.
The first season's reception was positive. Anime on DVD recommends it as an essential series. Chris Beveridge of the aforementioned site gave an A- to Vols. 1 and 2, and a B+ to Vols. 3 and 4. Mike Toole of Anime Jump gave it 4.5 (out of a possible 5) stars, while the review at the Anime Academy gave it a grade of 83, listing the series' high points as being "unique", the characters "interesting," and the action "nice." Reviewers, and fans alike, agree the season's downfall was the ending, or its lack thereof. The dangling plot threads frustrated the viewers and prompted Cartoon Network's involvement in the production of further episodes.
The look and feel of the show received a big enhancement in the second season. This time around, the animation is "near OVA quality" and the artwork "far more lush and detailed." Also enhanced are the troubles of the first season. The giant robot battles still seem out of place to some, while others praise the "over-the-top-ness" of their execution.
For some reviewers, the second season "doesn't quite match the first" addressing to "something" missing in these episodes. Andy Patrizio of IGN points out changes in Roger Smith's character, who "lost some of his cool and his very funny side in the second season." Like a repeat of season one, this season's ending is considered its downfall. Chris Beveridge of Anime on DVD wonders if this was head writer "Konaka's attempt to throw his hat into the ring for creating one of the most confusing and oblique endings of any series." Patrizio states "the creators watched The Truman Show and The Matrix a few times too many."
The series continues to have a strong cult following into the 2010s. In 2014 BuzzFeed writer Ryan Broderick ranked The Big O as one of the best anime series to binge-watch.  Dan Casey host of The Nerdist's Dan Cave stated The Big O was the anime series he was most eager to see rebooted or remade, along with Trigun and Soul Eater. 
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- The Big O Visual: Official Companion to "The Big-O" TV series (ISBN 4-575-29579-5), p. 39.
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- Note the series uses the spelling "Memory" (メモリー Memorī?) instead of "memory" (記憶 kioku?).
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- For detail on which episodes Sunrise worked on, see The World's Finest.
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- HobbyLink Japan - Soul of Chogokin The Big O
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