You’re still a louse, Roger Smith
In 1999, two of my favorite things were combined, as Japanese talent who worked on the animation for both Batman: The Animated Series (yep, much of those classic early seasons were animated in Japan, not Korea!) as well as Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still fused the two to create The Big O, so named because it’s the sound effect that both Giant Robo as well as Tetsujin 28 (“Gigantor”) make. If you ever wondered what Batman would be like if he frequently relied upon piloting a gigantic, lumbering robot, this is it.
Forty years ago, the residents of the dome-enclosed Paradigm City all lost their memories. Today, Roger Smith is a “negotiator,” taking film noir private eye-style jobs in the art deco cityscape which he traverses using his all-black car and suits to match. Invariably this results in gigantic monsters or mechanical beasts unleashing terror upon the populace, which the military police just aren’t adequately equipped to handle. Fortunately, Roger has the ability to summon Big O, a giant robot “Megadeus” with Popeye-like arms capable of delivering devastating piston-powered punches and more. With the help of his butler Norman and the biting deadpan of android girl R. Dorothy Wayneright (plus the occasional aid/interference from the Catwoman/Fujiko Mine-like femme fatale known as Angel), perhaps Roger will figure out the secrets of Paradigm and the world …
…or will he? For The Big O was written by the king of overpromising and absolutely failing to deliver: Chiaki Konaka, whose calling card was writing mysterious scenarios that promised grand resolutions for which he had nothing thought out, resulting in infuriating non-endings in practically everything he worked on. Between its killer aesthetic, excellent English dub, and high-profile timeslot on the Cartoon Network, a generation of would-be anime fans—many of whom had never watched any anime before—were drawn to The Big O and felt utterly betrayed by the conclusion twice over; the first being the “To Be Continued” cliffhanger ending of the first season’s finale which Konaka wrote with no sequel planned, resulting in Cartoon Network financing the second half of the series only for the true “finale” to make most think they’d been suckered into wasting their time. An open hostility toward anime became the norm in mainstream geek circles soon after, and it’s only recently begun to ease up a bit.
The animation from Sunrise and soundtrack from frequent tokusatsu composer Toshihiko Sahashi have never come across better than they have in this Blu-ray collection (or, if you prefer streaming, it’s on HiDive and VRV). Unfortunately, unlike the original Bandai Entertainment DVDs from so long ago, the original two opening credits sequences are not included here. Perhaps the lawyers finally noticed that the similarities to Ultraseven, Queen’s Flash Gordon theme, and Gerry Anderson’s UFO were too great? And yet, the remaining opening totally sounds like “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks. Some of my favorite bits in the entire series are spoiled in the remaining opening credits, since it’s cobbled together from scenes in the show. You might want to just use chapter skip on it each time.
While flawed, The Big O will be together now and forever with me. I don’t even hate the ending, though that’s a minority viewpoint; superstar voice actor Steve Blum once noted in an interview with me that despite the acclaims for his voicing Roger Smith, he had little clue what the series was about. I told him, “Well, first the robot punches, then you hit the button to make the arm piston deploy, and it causes a giant shockwave explosion.” It’s a glib way of pointing out whatever mumbo-jumbo about tomatoes and “all the world’s a stage” metaphors can generally be disregarded in favor of stylish fun/melancholy times involving cat adoptions, mutated Christmas trees, parodies of Getter Robo, and more. Even after 20 years, it’s still show time, folks.
studio/company: Sentai Filmworks