The Big O (THE ビッグオー Za Biggu Ō?) is a Japanese animated television series created by director Kazuyoshi Katayama and designer Keiichi Sato for Sunrise Studios. The writing staff was assembled by the series' head writer, Chiaki J. Konaka.
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 an gynoid 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 history that may hold the key to its future.
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 Toho monster movies and the score is an eclectic mix of styles and musical homages.
The Big O premiered 13 October 1999 on WOWOW satellite television. It finished its run on 19 January 2000. The English language version premiered on Cartoon Network on 2 April 2001. Originally a thirteen-episode series, positive fan response internationally 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.
Forty years prior to the events of the series, disaster struck. The world was turned into a vast desert wasteland and the survivors were left without memories. The story takes place in Paradigm City, a corporate police state run by the Paradigm Corporation. The town is recognized for its geodesic domes, giant structures that house the richer citizens and segregate the poor.
The Big O deals with the nature of memories. A memory is a record stored in the brain of an organism, but in Paradigm City memories can mean much more. "Memories" (メモリー Memorī?) embody the lost knowledge of its residents, and can take the form of records from before the Event, forgotten artifacts from the previous era or manifest themselves as recollection, hallucinations and recurring dreams.
The first half of the series is episodic. Each Act revolves around different citizens of Paradigm dealing with the resurgence of lost Memories and how they manage to go on living without knowledge of what did or did not happen. The final episodes introduce elements that come into play during season two like the existence of people outside of Paradigm City, the nature of the Cataclysm that destroyed the world and the "Power of God wielded by the hand of man."
The second season takes an arc-based approach. Instead of self-contained stories like in season one, season two features a continuous storyline. The second season makes Alex Rosewater, CEO of the Paradigm Corporation, a direct antagonist to The Negotiator and introduces The Union, agents of a foreign power working within Paradigm.
The series ends with the awakening of other "Big" megadeus and the revelation that the universe is a simulated reality created by advanced virtual reality technology of unknown origin. A climactic battle ensues, after which the universe is systematically deleted and reset.
Paradigm City is a fictional city-state which serves as the main setting of the anime series The Big O. Located on a sea coast and surrounded by a vast desert wasteland, the partially domed city is wholly controlled by the monopolistic Paradigm Corporation. The Big O takes place forty years after "The Event," an unknown occurrence which destroys the world outside the city and leaves the survivors without any memories. In the final episodes of the series, the city is implied to have been an elaborate fabrication produced by an unknown power.
The city is characterized by severe class inequity; the higher-income population resides inside the more pleasant geodesic domes, with the remainder left in tenements outside. Androids coexist with the human inhabitants of Paradigm City; while their numbers are fairly low, and they're something of a rarity, there are enough of them that denizens of the city are not shocked by them and don't consider it particularly unusual to encounter one.
Several episodes show inhabitants of Paradigm City practicing some shape or form of Christianity, as people congregate in meeting places with crucifixes prominently displayed. However, the practice appears to be based on custom rather than doctrine, which no one remembers. A cathedral is shown in ruins and forgotten, although some elderly people occasionally feel compelled to stand in front of it and sing scraps of hymns. it is revealed in episode 11 that almost no one remembers Christmas.
A holiday is observed on December 25, but as a celebration to commemorate the founding of Paradigm City, known as "Heaven's Day." The inhabitants of the city still put up generic Christmas decorations like decorated Christmas trees and streamers, but they don't really know the underlying reason behind all of this. Alex Rosewater seems to be the series' only character with knowledge of pre-Event Christianity. Dastun at one point mentions that Rosewater had in his possession fragments of a "Book of Revelations", although neither Dastun nor Roger had previously heard of it. It is possible that Rosewater also has other fragments of The Bible, as Rosewater describes the real meaning of Heaven's Day as being "the day God's son was born."
- Roger Smith
Roger Smith is the series protagonist. As a Negotiator, his job entails finding a resolution for the troubles of the City of Amnesia. He'd negotiate almost anything for anyone, but he is a professional and expects the parties involved to behave professionally. When memories betray the people and force them to reawaken monstrosities of the city's past, Roger's only option is to fight back with a monstrosity of his own, the black megadeus Big O. Roger is voiced by Mitsuru Miyamoto in Japanese and Steven Blum in English.
- R. Dorothy Wayneright
R. Dorothy Wayneright is Roger's assistant. Introduced in Act:01 as Dorothy Soldano, daughter of rich industrialist Miguel Soldano, she is later revealed to be a gynoid constructed by him. Her actual "father" would be Timothy Wayneright, the man who commissioned her construction and father of the real and late Dorothy Wayneright. To show her gratitude, and as a form of payment for Roger's help, she decides to move in with him and help out Norman with the chores. Dorothy is voiced by Akiko Yajima in Japanese and Lia Sargent in English. The character's name is consistent with naming practices in the science fiction works of Isaac Asimov, the first initial "R" standing for "robot".
- Norman Burg
Norman Burg is Roger's butler. Forty years before the commencement of the story, Norman, like the rest of Paradigm, lost all memories from before that day, but he would not think twice before going once more unto the breach for his master. Resourceful and talented, he is also caretaker of the Big O. Norman's skills give him a purpose and a mission to accomplish for Roger. Norman is voiced by Motomu Kiyokawa in Japanese and Milton James and Alan Oppenheimer in English for seasons one and two respectively.
- Dan Dastun
Dan Dastan is the middle-aged Chief of the Military Police, introduced in Act:01. He is Roger's former commander and the Negotiator's contact in the police force. Roger describes him as "a hard-nosed cop [who is] completely devoted to the force" and with "more pride in the Military Police than anything else." Dan is voiced by Tesshou Genda in Japanese and Peter Lurie in English.
Angel is the beautiful woman Roger encounters throughout the series. Introduced in Act:03 as Casey Jenkins, investigator for Paradigm Power Management, then again in Act:04 as Patricia Lovejoy, secretary for the publisher of Paradigm Press. Angel's true identity is a mystery, her motives questionable and her allegiance to no one but herself. Angel is voiced by Emi Shinohara in Japanese and Wendee Lee in English.
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 thirteen 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 in the Adult Swim lineup.
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 have made it impossible for further episodes 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 Gerry Anderson and ITC Entertainment, 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 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, as seen in Act:23, 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. The recurring About this sound Roger's Theme (help·info), 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 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 a friend to the hero.
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.
- Companion book
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.
- Audio drama
"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.
- Video games
- Toys and model kits
Bandai released a non-scale model kit of the 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 the Megadeus' Sudden Impact maneuver. Also included was an unpainted Roger Smith figure.
PVC figures of the Big O and Big Duo (Schwarzwald's Megadeus) were sold by Bandai in North America. Each came with non-poseable figures of Roger, Dorothy and Angel. Mini-figure sets were also offered in Japan, featuring the 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.
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 being "unique", the "interesting characters" and the "nice action." 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."
- Note the series uses the spelling "Memory" (メモリー Memorī?) instead of "memory" (記憶 kioku?).
- The Big O Visual: Official Companion to "The Big-O" TV series (ISBN 4-575-29579-5), p. 39.
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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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- The Big O (anime) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- The Big O at the Internet Movie Database
- The Big O at TV.com