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.

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando)

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando) 2019

As I’ve said before, I don’t mind being a year or two behind the pace when it comes to new shows because I tend to miss both the hype and the reactionaries.

However, I did catch on that a lot of folks enjoyed this when it came out, and I can now add myself to the ranks.

The Promised Neverland is edge-of-your-seat stuff, with memorable characters and formidable villans indeed, with a largely dormitory setting that manages to have enough variety to keep things interesting visually, but also, retain a heavy sense of claustrophobia, I reckon.

While it’d definitely be safe to say that this is a horror anime, and that it has a few other genres mixed in, I think psychological thriller/suspense is probably the one that jumps out at me. Very few characters have clear motives and it seems like everyone is, at one time or another, keeping secrets.

It was nice not to know exactly how something would play out, as well as be surprised a couple of times too. I can see how ‘Mom’ was voted as a fav villain and while I was hoping for a different resolution to her storyline, I remain excited for the delayed second season early next year.

I don’t want to write too much more, in fear of spoilers or hints, in case anyone is planning on watching The Promised Neverland but I will add that if you’re not keen on seeing kids suffer – a lot – then maybe give this a miss. Having said that, it’s not relentlessly grim… but it’s no walk in the park, that’s for sure. Cool opening theme too!

5 Stars

(Mamoru Kanbe also directed ‘The Perfect Insider which could be said to be in the same ballpark re secrets, mystery and suspense).

Note: I should have mention before, but Sister Krone’s design is not great. She’s an actually character with a mini arc but design-wise, yeah, too evocative of minstrel shows.

Paprika (Papurika)

If you’ve seen and enjoyed Inception, you’ll probably like the film that inspired it in so many ways – Paprika, though obviously both movies tackle themes and ideas that have been well-explored in the past.

Paprika (Papurika)
2006

And while Paprika is an adaptation, I think you could almost call Inception the same thing, though between the two, one text adapts a novel and the other kinda adapts the aesthetic and some central concerns of Kon’s movie.

All the films directed by the late Satoshi Kon are superb, I reckon – and yep, I’m obviously a fan – and Paprika is no exception.

I tend to think that this one, a surreal psychological thriller, is maybe his peak as a director, even if Millenium Actress is perhaps more heartfelt and I personally enjoy Perfect Blue the most.

But as an adaption of the 1993 novel (a novel I did read but only after seeing the film), I found the movie to be a much more consistent work from top to bottom. I’m unfairly comparing the two mediums here, but sometimes surrealism works better in the visual.

Here’s a synopsis:

In the near future, a revolutionary new psychotherapy treatment called dream therapy has been invented. A device called the “DC Mini” allows the user to view people’s dreams.The head of the team working on this treatment, Doctor Atsuko Chiba, begins using the machine illegally to help psychiatric patients outside the research facility, using her alter-ego “Paprika”, a sentient persona that she assumes in the dream world.

Generally, the use and mis-use of the DC Minis are the crimes that the Doc (and my fav character, Detective Konakawa) must investigate. And because reality and dream is blended so often in the story, they certainly have a tough time of it – stumbling after uncertain clues and unclear adversaries.

But I was hooked for every moment, never quite sure what the characters would face next. And due to that uncertainty around reality, there was heaps of room to bring in something you’ll probably notice me mention more than once on the blog, Intertextuality.

Since Konakawa studied film-making, and his recurring dream relates to that, there are plenty of allusions to classic Hollywood cinema and other texts throughout the film. (And there’s a Monkey reference too!) but I it was also fun to see the art of cinema and film-making itself referenced too.

There’s more to Paprika than its allusions of course, from the themes of identity, obsession, love, memory and the fear of technology – it’s also equal parts creepy and touching (at times).

While you can expect a certain amount of classic anime tropes to appear here, just as many are subverted really well – especially via the supporting cast.

When compared to Perfect Blue (which most folks consider, probably rightly, as Kon’s masterpiece) I think Paprika is not so relentlessly dark. There are more than a few light moments during the film, especially thanks to Paprika herself, but also in part due to the surrealism, which can be equal parts comedic and disturbing.

In terms of a recommendation, I think the R rating (or ‘M’ if you’re in Australia) is still fitting even if they tend to change over the years, so Paprika is not one for the youngest of teens but should impress if you’re into psychological thrillers.

Now, I feel that I haven’t spoken too often about specifics for this review, but that’s quite on purpose – as I don’t want to spoil one of my fav movies too much!

4 Stars