The Big O (Za Biggu Ō) [Boxing Day Review]

The Big O (Za Biggu Ō) 1999

You can no doubt predict exactly what I’ll say about episodic storytelling by now, right?

This almost sums up the palette used throughout.

I’m definitely a fan of it – but The Big O ticks a lot of boxes for me outside its mostly episodic structure too.

First, there’s the slowly unfolding mystery in an unsettling but familiar city, then there’s androids, revolving villains, a dramatic multi-genre OST and finally; retro-looking mecha placed within a very 20th Century aesthetic – the mash-up is fantastic.

Having said that, if you don’t enjoy (almost) madcap mixes of conventions and genres, you probably won’t end up liking The Big O too much.

Despite the strong Batman/James Bond feel to the series, and despite the noir detective stuff happening on the surface, I still think that there’s enough dissonance and enough of the philosophical maybe, to deter folks who prefer a focus on a single genre or tone.

But again, that’s one of my favourite aspects of The Big O – that and the stylish character designs and art deco visuals.

I’ll take a shot at exploring the premise just quickly:

Roger Smith is a negotiator/investigator living in Paradigm City, known as the city of amnesia (for reasons which I won’t spoil). There, he is eventually pulled into the mystery of whatever event wiped everyone’s memory forty years ago, aided by former client, Dorothy – an advanced android.

To hopefully evoke a sense of tone here, I want to mention one person involved in the production – Chiaki J. Konaka. As with all collaborative arts, I think it’s cruel to point to only one person, especially in a review, but I think if I mention Chiaki then that might give a few clues as to the tone and direction of this series – especially the second season.

If I step away from my rhapsodising about the series for a moment, I’ll maybe get enough distance to point out some things that I didn’t love. Firstly, Roger is kind of a jerk and essentially mistreats Dorothy for nearly the whole series. And speaking of Dorothy, if you take a look at what she can do in the first two episodes for example, she is truly under-utilised by the story.

I believe more than a few people agree that Season 1 tends to be stronger than Season 2 (actually, I only took screencaps from S1 mainly due to time).

Three or four years later and the animation quality does get a boost for the sequel season, but for me, the powerful mysteries established in those first thirteen episodes aren’t all answered as satisfyingly as I’d hoped. (I also wished that Swchartzman got a little more screentime somehow, as I tended to really enjoy him and his monologues!)

In contrast to my comparative disappointment with the second season, there were still plenty of things that I continued to think about afterward. More, the audience does get a few answers in time, along with one reveal that had nearly as much impact as the stunning ending of episode 13, for me.

Okay, so now that I’ve finally reached this point in the review, I think it’s time to wrap things up – until my next post, where I want to try a bit of visual analysis on episode 3 of The Big O.

In the meantime, I hope I’ve made you at least a little curious about this ‘old’ anime! (It’s been in my top ten for a long time and I don’t see it leaving any time soon, but it did slip down a rung on the ladder at one point.)

5 Stars

(A few images to follow)

A merry time was had by all.

Cyber City Oedo 808

Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990)

This is a classic (and fairly violent) OVA series and one which I suspect most cyberpunk fans are at least aware of, but is definitely worth watching if you like the genre but have never had the chance; it’s probably online somewhere by now but I’m not sure who streams it.

For me, so much of Cyber City Oedo 808 feels wonderfully connected to the 1980s (no surprise considering the release dates) whether it’s the assumption that floppy disks will be part of the future or the big hair and heavy metal theme song, or the old school blue palette used for night, it has so many things that I tend to be fond of.

At the same time, in terms of plotlines, the anime is a little more fantastical, even mystical – considering the way machines and computers infiltrate humanity, but especially when I think about episode 3 (Crimson Media) which features the ‘vampire’ storyline.

But in all the big ways it’s definitely science-fiction.

For one, there’s a crime-ridden, megacity-setting where the power of technology is used to both monitor and maim. Cyber City Oedo 808 also makes extensive use of futuristic weapons, equipment and vehicles, and conventional ideals of what it is to be human are abandoned. It’s not a long exploration of those issues though, since the focus is firmly on action, technology and sometimes the gore (directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri)… so the anime is not setting out to be philosophical perhaps, but I felt like there was plenty of room to consider those aspects if I wanted to.

Cyber City Oedo 808 follows three convicted criminals who have been offered the chance to commute their sentences by hunting down and executing other criminals. Each lead basically gets their own episode, though they do operate (somewhat grudgingly) as a team at times.

I quickly alluded to this before, but as a Yoshiaki Kawajiri film, there is a bit of fan-service when it comes to the detail on the violence, but in a way, it seemed like both less and more than what you’d see in things like Wicked City or Ninja Scroll.

With each episode, the storytelling is really focused; I felt like I was in good hands when it came to info around setting and character motivation too, and I hadn’t realised that Akinori Endo also did screenplays for Armitage III and Battle Angel, which was cool.

I love each storyline and so it’s hard to choose a stand out without going into spoiler territory, but since Benten is my favourite character, I reckon I have to go with the menace of Crimson Media, complete with its quieter moments. (You can also see a real echo of Benten’s own temperament in ‘villain’ Media, but again, I don’t want to drift into spoilers here!).

5 Stars

Tension stays pretty high in part due to these ‘kill switch’ collars that ex-convicts must wear.
This guy always makes me think of Vic Rattlehead.