When it comes to anime, the usual formula is that it becomes popular in Japan and then spreads to the rest of the world. If an anime does poorly, American and the other international audiences would probably never get a chance to see it. This of course was before the internet allowed for shows to be seen very quickly after they aired. In this dark time, one anime bucked this trend by not succeeding in Japan, but was embraced by the rest of the world. It was called The Big O, a series about a mysterious event, a problem solver, and a very big robot.
Forty years ago something happened to the world. No one knows what it was, but it seems that the only survivors were located in Paradigm City. Even tho they live, they don’t remember anything prior to what is called the “Event”. The main character, named Roger Smith, works as a negotiator for different people around the city. This can involve many different thing, but Roger takes his job very seriously. Helping him is his butler, Norman Burg, and an android named R. Dorothy Wayneright. When things get too problematic, Roger activates a huge meca named The Big O. Different situations, as well as finding out what happened forty years ago, drives the series.
If this sounds a little like Batman, you would be correct. Paradigm City could easily fill in for Gotham. The city is designed with a Gothic flair, where the city looks dark and uninviting. There are rich people, but also homeless ones as well. The animation style looks like it came right from Batman the Animated Series. The mood is a noir one, where people talk in short sentences and everyone has something to hide. The creator said he was influenced by American shows from the 1960″s and 1970’s. This inspiration comes through as a city might contain the only living people left, but there is still jobs to do and parties to attend.
Winter Night Phantom
With the inclusion of a giant robot, you might think that The Big O is all about monsters destroying the city like Godzilla or Pacific Rim. The show doesn’t go that route, having Roger call on Big O when something happens he can’t talk his way out of. One show deals with Roger trying to find a missing man for the boy’s mother. It comes out that while investigating, military leaders are dying after seeing a ghost in the water. These two cases are connected, and Roger must find out why Big O can’t seem to touch this mysterious phantom. The battle of the two titans is not the main selling point, the mystery is.
Having the people not remember anything past forty years also free up the writers to put anything into the show in order to make it interesting. Big Robots are somewhat common, but since we don’t know what world this is, their inclusion feels natural. There is also some biological threats and possible Lovecraften Gods. This makes the show interesting because you don’t know what is going to happen, or why something is happening. The mysterious play out, with Roger and his assistants trying to be one step ahead. Dorthy is one of the most interesting, an android who is first thought to be human. Sometimes our heroes save the day, other times they don’t. This is not a feel good show, but a real show.
When it was first announced, The Big O was going to be a media sensation. There was the anime, the manga, and even a video game. What the creators were not prepared for was how little the Japanese market cared about the series. It’s original season was cut down and all sign pointed to a forgettable franchise. However, when the show premiered in America on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The international response actually got a second season produced, funded partially by Cartoon Network. Unfortunately, the reaction to the second season was more mixed and the series ended.
This always fascinated me. One of the reasons that I think this happened was the series felt and sounded more American. Slang words were inserted and the overall feel was a detective or noir move. It’s a show that can be binged in a single weekend or day if you feel more ambitious. I always likened it to Serenity, in that you can re watch both series over and over.. The complete series was released last June and you should pick it up to see a show that was different enough that the international audience cared more then it’s original audience. There still might be some life for The Big O. I would love to see a studio try and reboot it. Even now, a decade after it ended, it still ranks high on top anime lists. Take a trip to the City of Amnesia and see what mysteries it holds.