Big O II Episodes One and Two

MINDFUCK.

And that’s putting it lightly.

Y’know, I’m leery of blogging this episodically. Sure, it isn’t airing currently, so my poor historical track record with blogging a show weekly isn’t so much of an issue. But I fear that blogging it episodically locks me into this pattern wherein I put off watching episodes because I’ll be making it ‘work’ instead of just fun. However, I can’t quite resist it here; there’s just too much in this season of Big O for me to not discuss it somewhere. I also suspect, or hope, that it may help me better understand the ending if I keep better track of what goes before it. (Perhaps interestingly, though, while the ending to Big O II did have me howling, I ultimately accepted it a lot better than it seems most have, and basically settled for ‘some things we’ll never understand’ as part of my assessment of it.)

Anyway, I’m bundling episode one (fourteen if we’re taking Big O and Big O II as just being a whole as opposed to two distinct seasons, which, weirdly, MAL does although it separates out Fate/Zero’s halves) and episodes two (episode fifteen) since I don’t have too much to say about episode two. Episode one, however, is a mindscrew of fairly epic proportions, and, if I recall correctly, may be forshadowing revelations much later on. Given that, and given that I stated that I’m doing this partially to try to give myself more illumination about the ending, it seems prudent to get into that a bit.

(Complete aside, but on the policy of whether to classify a show as two distinct shows when the sequel picks up exactly where the previous left off: yes, Big O II picks up exactly where Big O ends. However, there was a gap of slightly over three years between one and the other, and Sunrise categorized it specifically as ‘The Big O II’, so, yes, I would categorize them as two shows, not two halves of one show. Compare with, say, Vampire Knight and Vampire Knight Guilty – these are never called one season ‘Vampire Knight’ even though Guilty picks up right where Knight left off, and even though they only aired a season apart. Then, there’s Fate/Zero, which doesn’t have a new name officially, picks up right where it left off in the autumn, and also only aired a season apart from the first half. I could toss in other examples like Junjou Romantica and Maria-sama ga Miteru, but I think you get my point.)

Let’s just mention my items in episode two/fifteen first since my commentary is much shorter there:

  • androids can age, which is a fairly surprising bit of information; they are also, as most of us have probably suspected by now, capable of being extremely human
  • although this brings up some interesting questions about legal matters and past history - after all, we have a human married to an android here… were they married prior to everyone losing their memories? or after that? was it kept totally secret that Roscoe Fitzgerald was an android, or was it simply kept away from public knowledge? regarding marriage, is it legal now to marry an android, was it ever legal? granted, pondering about the legality of it post-forty years ago may be a parlor game of sorts, since its indicated that other than Dorothy’s deceased creator, no one has the technology to create androids like that anymore
  • Kelly Fitzgerald questions why individuals like her husband, who helped rebuild Paradigm City and civilized society forty years ago after everyone forgot, can’t get any peace now – it reminded me of the first episode of UN-GO in which the wife of the murdered executive asks the same thing, noting that people have accused her husband of corruption even though she believes they should be grateful for his efforts following the terrorism-triggered war in Japan; not a trope that’s wholly unheard of, but felt like pointing it out nevertheless

Alright, so we’ve gotten episode two/fifteen out of the way, let us proceed to episode one/fourteen, which I think is exactly the moment where we see how utterly off-the-wall Big O II is going to get during its thirteen episode run.

…but, before that, let me comment on the animation and art. Episode one/fourteen starts exactly where Big O leaves off. And I really mean exactly – Sunrise uses the final minute or so of episode thirteen of Big O to open this season. What amuses me is how you can see the moment where it switches over the new material, even if its been a while since you actually watched the end of Big O. The contrast is a bit startling, although it does make sense – digital animation had settled in as the industry standard by then, after all, and a lot of its early kinks had been worked out. Big O was not animated digitally. You can definitely see a difference.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the fact that it was digitally animated, although I think the look doesn’t gel with Big O II quite well compared to the first season. My real issue is that the color pallete is brightened and broadened quite a bit, and its jarring. While Big O II shifts a bit away from the noir-ish feel of Big O, its roots are, nevertheless, noir, and a number of noir elements are retained for the second season. So finding oneself face-to-face with brilliant blues and sharp pinks is rather off-putting.

But, enough of that. The episode itself starts off much more dramatically than I’d recalled, dispensing with an OP in favor of cutting away from the action for black screens with the credits on it, a method which works very well. Roger’s sudden loss of his grip on reality, though, is a bit too abrupt – it probably didn’t stand out as much for those watching Big O II a few years after watching Big O, but I finished Big O three days ago, so it was pretty fresh in my mind. Roger has just more or less committed to his path as defender of Paradigm City after wavering a bit in light of revelations regarding Paradigm City and Memories, and surviving an attack by R.D. So it feels contrived to have him suddenly break down in the middle of a battle (admittedly, one he was losing rather badly). I’m willing to accept it, though, since the remainder of the episode is executed extremely well.

So, Roger blacks out in the middle of a beatdown, although this isn’t immediately clear. When he ‘comes to’, he’s a beggar in a subway in a Paradigm City lacking domes and which hasn’t undergone any loss of memory or destruction. He stumbles around, confused, finding people he’d known in roles he hadn’t known them in; in particular, Beck stands out, as he is apparently the president of a bank housed in the building Roger lives in in his own world. In a newspaper Roger finds on the street, a cartoon strip is running, entitled ‘The Big O’. And the watch he uses to summon Big O is smashed. When he catches sight of Dorothy, its clear that its a human one, not the android who serves in his household; she looks at him briefly, before being greeted by a young man. No one knows Roger.

The entire thing serves to immediately call everything we know about the world of Paradigm City into question. If everyone lost their memories forty years ago, what do we really know of these people? Beck as a bank president is a bit amusing on its face, but it also sharply points out that, really, any of these people may’ve been anyone before the incident (although I have a hard time believing that Beck is forty plus years old; ditto for Roger, and it isn’t clear yet if we are supposed to believe that either of them is, although we know that Dastun is).

We also get in this a larger question about what identity itself even means, although the opening minutes hardly make this a subtle matter, as Roger screams, “Who am I?!” at the controls of the Big O. In the Paradigm City Roger spends much of the episode in, he realizes that he is a nobody in that world; no one knows who he is, and without the Big O, he has no role to play.

Of course, Roger does end up finding his way again, but only after Angel, who is apparently a member of the military, accuses him of running away from things. Roger denies it at first, but when confronted with Angel having been replaced with the cleaned up version of himself that he is in his own world, he realizes that what he needs to fight is his own fear, and is ready to assume his place in his own world once again. So, apparently, the entire sequence took place in his mind; he tells human/in his mind Dorothy (yes, I know, confusing) that he is ready to play the role of Roger Smith once again. She corrects him, telling him that he isn’t an actor, but one does notice now that Roger’s signature phrases for starting fights with Big O are ‘Action! and ‘Showtime!’.

While it is important that Big O defeats the other megadeus who have emerged from the sea, the bigger impression here is that identity is something we perform, but also which hinges on others’ perception of us. Roger doesn’t have an identity in a world in which no one knows who he is, after all.

It is also worth noting how poorly he is treated when the world sees him as a vagrant, particularly in contrast to how he is treated as the ultra-wealthy Negotiator, Roger Smith. In a show where we’ve seen a few previous hints about the divide between the poor and the wealthy, having such a direct demonstration is welcome, as it has seemed like a bit of window-dressing previously. Sure, we have the domes, and there’ve been references made to Paradigm’s ruling class not being terribly concerned when giant robots run rampant outside the domes in poor and poorly maintained areas, but it hasn’t truly been addressed. It does remain to be seen, however, if socioeconomics is something that Big O II is actually interested in examining, or if it shall remain largely as just a background factor.

Skipping back to identity, there may be something here in considering that Angel swaps out identities herself fairly frequently, discarding them when convenient. And then maybe we should consider that R. Dorothy is based off of a young woman named Dorothy who died years previous. I think we can easily say that its been established, though, that androids do have their own identities, even if Roger previously mocked R. Dorothy for ‘imitating’ people and just being artificial despite these apparent attempts.

I think we can also see something in here about the way memory and identity work together, but I’m not quite prepared to prod at that matter yet. I will point out that, in episode two/fifteen, the android Roscoe Fitzgerald states that he never lost his memories, even though Roger, in his repeated speech about Paradigm City and the loss of memories, has said that both humans and robots alike forgot their memories forty years ago. And then we could perhaps branch into the matter of collective memory…

There’s a lot to digest here, and its fascinating because its this episode where I believe I realized that there was really something to this show when I originally watched it several years back. As I said in my post earlier about The Big O, while I did enjoy that season, it didn’t grab me to where I was desperate to know what happened after it cut off. Here is where I found that desire to know, the desire to have answers. I’m even tempted to go so far as to call this one of the best episodes of anime I’ve ever watched. It literally kicks the franchise up to the next level, from merely sort of quirky giant robot show with a Batman influence to Something You Should Watch.

I could probably write another thousand words about episode one/fourteen. There’s just that much to process here. But I’m going to defer in favor of re-visiting it after episode thirteen/twenty six; in fact, I’ll actually re-watch this episode after viewing that, because I know there’s a lot in here that’ll directly relate to the revelations of the end of Big O II. I also think some time between’ll help me process the rest of what I haven’t fully explored in this write-up.

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