I’ve been taking some time lately, to go back and watch the anime series I grew up with. As a novel writer, going back to my inspirations has been the key to “reawakening” my creativity, especially in these hectic times, where just stepping out your front door is like going on a walk with sorrow and depression. That being said, the noir-like world of The Big O has been a welcome distraction from the strange and terrible things going on in our society. Turning on the box-set blu ray instead of the news has proven to be the best thing I’ve done in the past few weeks.
For those of you who didn’t happen to catch the masterpiece that is The Big O back when it premiered on Cartoon Network’s Toonami in the early 2000’s, The Big O is an anime series created by Keiichi Sato and directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama for Sunrise. It was created as a tribute to Japanese and Western shows from the 1960s and 1970s, which is why it’s presented in the same noir style popularized by films such as Taxi Driver, The Untouchables, and The Godfather. Though instead of gang violence and revenge, it mixes a detective story with mech action.
Episode 1 introduces Paradigm City’s top negotiator, Roger Smith, who has been hired to negotiate the retrieval of R. Dorothy Wayneright, the kidnapped daughter of the eccentric and mad scientist Miguel Soldano. After getting Dorothy back, Roger finds out that the Dorothy he retrieved isn’t the real Dorothy, it’s an android. What happened to the real Dorothy is something we don’t find out until later. Knowing he’d been deceived, Roger uses a device on his watch to recall the suitcase full of money from the kidnappers, who shoot it as it’s flying back, causing it to open in the air and spill the money all over Paradigm City.
Upon returning home, Roger finds out that he has a lady guest. Thinking it’s an attractive client, he tries to make a smooth impression only to find out that it’s the same R. Dorothy Wayneright he rescued earlier. She offers him a job to protect her, which leads him to a warehouse where something big was built. In a room suspended near the top of the warehouse, Roger finds Saldano, slowly dying. In his last breath, he says something to Roger about a nightingale. As Saldano takes his last breath, Roger realizes they’ve fallen into a trap. The kidnappers, lead by a man named Beck were waiting to ambush them. Roger and Dorothy manage to defeat them using a diversionary tactic (Dorothy) and a missile fired out of his car, but while they’re brawling, something much bigger is happening downtown.
It turns out the Dorothy that Roger was hired to get back is a giant megadeus (mech) called Dorothy 1, and it’s being piloted by Beck. Not only is Beck destroying the city, but he’s using Dorothy 1 to steal printing plates from the city’s bureau building. As Dorothy 1 overpowers the military police, Roger calls on his own mech, a black and red megadeus called The Big O. A giant mech battle ensues, property is destroyed, and more questions are asked than answered by the end of the episode’s twenty-two minute runtime.
Why should you watch The Big O? Why would you watch something from the early 2000s when there are plenty of newer anime series out there? The answer is simple, The Big O has substance. That’s not to say that newer anime doesn’t, but The Big O is a product of a time when an animation could be both entertaining and intellectual. Not only does The Big O make you think, but it asks a lot of important questions. For example, the show takes place in a world where people have lost their memories. What would mankind do with a fresh start? Is a lust for power and wealth an inevitability or are some people naturally driven towards dark intentions? If all knowledge of God and creation disappeared would “new gods” rise to take that place. The Big O speaks a great deal to both the virtues and short comings of human nature.
In addition to the intellectual content, The Big O’s soundtrack is something nearly unparalleled in an animated series. The smooth jazz and piano sounds we’re treated to as Roger drives through the city of Paradigm truly pull you into the world, while at the same time, bringing you a sense of calm I have never felt while watching anything . . . ever.
Episode one packs quite a bit into its twenty-two minute runtime. It does a great job at feeling complete at the end, but also leaving you with more questions you hope will get answered by the end of the season. You can purchase The Big O blu-ray set on Amazon or stream it today via most streaming outlets.