Thoughts Upon Re-Watching The Big O

BIG. BIG. BIG. BIG O.

Actually, did you know that the English and Japanese openings are different, but basically only in the music itself but not the lyrics? It was a little strange of a revelation for me, and it seemed, well, rather unnecessary. It does sound a bit ridiculous, so perhaps it was decided that it’d do better with American audiences with something more serious-sounding.

It has been a long while since I watched Big O. I was one of those folks who apparently gave it good enough ratings that, paired with noise from a lot of people, Cartoon Network did something fairly unprecedented, and paired with Sunrise to produce a second season. Its hard to explain how exciting this was at the time; it was something completely new and it also represented a hope for viewers of shows like Trigun and Outlaw Star that, maybe, somehow something similar could be done with those shows, which had both been very popular with American audiences but not so with Japanese ones.

Unfortnately, Big O II didn’t do terribly well. The ratings were alright in America (they were fairly mediocre in Japan), but the DVDs just didn’t really sell on either side of the Pacific. Allegedly, creator Chiaki J. Konaka had wanted to do a third season, but it never happened. The possibility of future efforts involving companies like Cartoon Network and anime companies themselves faded away and were forgotten. Apparently even in the heady days of the early 2000’s, when American companies were throwing cash at nearly everything both Japanese and animated, it just wasn’t deemed a good enough gamble.

But, anyway, I wanted to talk about Big O, not its sequel, which I have yet to re-watch. All of this was a fairly roundabout way of indicating that a. it’s been a while since I first saw this, and b. I’d never watched it in Japanese previously.

It was a bit of an adjustment to make; even after nine years I still remembered the voices of the dub fairly well, at least for Roger, R. Dorothy, and Norman. Other voices were a bit of a shock when I watched a couple of the episodes dubbed – Dastun’s stands out as being totally off in comparison to his Japanese voice actor. I ultimately decided that I preferred to watch it subbed, in large part because, while R. Dorothy’s dub voice is fine, her Japanese one is just a lot better. Roger and Norman are about even in dub versus sub. Beck’s voice is a lot goofier in English, but he’s kind of a goofy character, so it works. Schwartzwald’s voice is also goofier, and so the Japanese voice is preferable.

There was also something fairly interesting in the sub versus the dub – for some reason, lines spoken in foreign languages (French, German) in the sub were translated into English for the dub. I have no idea why this was done, and it honestly takes away from it, as the existence of characters chattering in other languages acts as forshadowing. In Big O, Paradigm City is thought to be the only place in the world left; people popping up and speaking languages other than the native tongue of Paradigm indicates that, hmm, maybe that’s not true. I suppose they were translated because, uguu, Americans will be mad desu if they can’t understand what is being said, but this is a silly reason. Granted, the Big O did originally air during Toonami (think it was at 5:30 p.m.?), so it was in a block targeted toward the pre-college crowd (fun fact: the first time it ran, Outlaw Star was much less edited than its second run on Toonami – Cartoon Network got fined because Gene Starwind called someone a bastard in an episode!), so that could be it. I still think it hurts the dub quite a bit, though.

So, I prefer the sub.

Moving along, as I said, its been roughly nine years since I’ve seen this show. There was a lot I’d forgotten, or recalled differently. I was surprised, for instance, at how soon Angel showed up, and how often it was that she kept appearing in Roger’s daily life under different names. I’d remembered the episode involving the piano-playing android as being more moving than it felt on this re-watch. I had forgotten how acrimonious the relationship between Roger and Dastun was for much of the first season (and which, honestly, made the shift in portraying their relationship in season two a bit weird). I had also forgotten how mechanical and artificial Dorothy seems initially, where one can actually hear her gears turning at times.

But most of these were fairly small items. What was a much larger one is the fact that, really, Big O doesn’t have an over-arching plot. Sure, there are a few disparate recurring threads (Angel is mysterious, Roger fights big robots, a lot of folks are after Memories, Schwartzwald keeps hinting at larger stuff going on), but none of it really gels in this season. Sure, Roger does meet Gordon Rosewater (tomatooooooooooessssss) at the very end, and starts getting what appear to be flashbacks to the city being destroyed once upon a time, but none of this really comes together until Big O II. And this was a bit of a shock, because while I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel any burning desire to need to know what happens next, even with that ‘To Be Continued’ tossed in after the final shot of Dorothy and Roger in the Big O. I could’ve very easily just rolled along with that alone and been satisfied, even if it was a pretty cool show.

Which brings up another thing – we actually know very little about most of the characters at the end of Big O. Who the hell is Angel, and why is she after Memories? Who, really, is Roger? We know he’s a Negotiator, but how’d he get Big O and how did he become a Negotiator, anyway? What is R. Dorothy’s purpose in the storyline? What is making her special enough to still be in the show? Why do both Beck and Schwartwald have access to their own megadeus, anyway?

I find Dorothy’s matter more irritating than the others, because I really like her character. She’s so matter-of-fact about things – it isn’t being cold, exactly, like was so common with he ice queen archetype in shows of that time. She’s just very straightforward, and, as I said, matter-of-fact. Its funny to watch her interact with Roger, because Roger himself presents a fairly straightforward image, and we can see in his scenes with Dorothy that that, along with some of the other factors of his image that he presents, isn’t entirely true, or isn’t as true as he may like to think. But at the close of episode thirteen, I can’t really say why Dorothy persists as a major supporting character.

The Big O also failed to really raise my interest as to the Big Questions, i.e. what happened forty years ago? what are Memories? why does Paradigm City get attacked by giant robots all the time? what is Alex Rosewater doing? what is Schwartwald always talking about and what are his end goals? why does Gordon Rosewater love tomatoes?. It’s cool, but doesn’t entrance me exactly. Just for comparison, while at the end of Big O I was pretty much, “Well, that was cool.”, at the end of Big O II I was going, “WAIT WHAT I JUST WHATTTT?!?! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?! I NEED TO KNOWWWWWW.” A fairly marked difference in reaction there. Which, again, isn’t to say I don’t like the Big O, just that its only in the sequel that things come together to where I found myself wholly roped into the storyline and invested in what happened.

I will, by the way, be re-watching Big O II starting sometime within the next week (maybe even today), and intend to follow that up with a post like this one.

Thinking on it, maybe what I like best about Big O was watching Roger as a character over the course of thirteen episodes. Now, I know I said we don’t know much about him after thirteen episodes, but we have seen this: at the beginning, Roger comes off as very cool and as having a pretty good handle on things. He also seems to think fairly well of himself, which is part of how we get this impression – this is the persona he projects. But as the show progresses, we begin to see past this facade; Roger may like to think of himself as this completely dispassionate Negotiator, but we see behind the scenes that he’s beginning to lose his footing in Paradigm. Sure, he’s still doing his job fine, and defeating all the other giant robots, but he’s beginning to lose his ability to have single-target focus. Fairly early on, he states that the only people who care about Memories are older people who were alive when everyone suddenly went amnesiac forty years prior. He also shrugs off a few mysterious things, wherein he had started to speculate a bit, only to say, roughly, “Well, it doesn’t matter.”

However, in episode thirteen, Roger’s the one trying to track down why it is that young people who have claimed to have Memories are being killed, and, more importantly, why these young people have Memories at all. The inconsistencies and oddities of life in Paradigm City have gone from being something he simply overlooked to actually impinging upon his life. He might still be a fairly cool Negotiator, but he’s starting to find himself with unsteady footing.

Unfortunately, to discuss Roger’s arc as a character any more is to verge into Big O II territory, and as I’ve indicated, I haven’t re-watched it yet. So that’ll just have to wait.

Anyway! I think I’ve just about exhausted this post. So I’ll just close in saying that my favorite characters are R. Dorothy and Schwartzwald. And, that while I’ve probably come off as a bit nonplussed about the show, its definitely one of the ones I would recommend for folks to watch; I think its, actually, one of the shows that people should watch. Its definitely a good reminder that Sunrise used to make these quirky shows back in the 90’s (Cowboy Bebop is also a Sunrise title, which’ll probably surprise some of you) (I’m tempted to include Outlaw Star here, but that’s not quirky, really; it only stands out because, lacking a giant robot, it isn’t what one thinks of when they think ‘Sunrise’, especially not ’90’s-era I ❤ Gundam Sunrise’, which seems to be the general impression folks have of the studio at that time… well, and it shares a few set designs with Cowboy Bebop, which makes sense when you realize they had some overlap in both when they were produced and in terms of staff). It hasn’t just been all Gundam, all the time!

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7 Responses to Thoughts Upon Re-Watching The Big O

  1. glothelegend says:

    Kind of disappointed this post wasn’t about a Big Orgasm, but whatever.

    I remember this show on Toonami, and subsequently not watching it because I didn’t like how the main character looked, nor did I like big robots. I also didn’t like how the robot looked, and I didn’t like the name Big O, which I now think might be the coolest name ever.. Those days were before I understood anime, but I’ll still probably never watch Big O.

    I do want to shout BIIGGGGGG OOOOOOOOOOOO from atop a mountain though.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Seriously, its one of those shows I’d recommend that almost anyone watch.

  2. TWWK says:

    I’ve missed so much of the series because I’ve watched it piecemeal over the years. It looked and felt so much like Batman: The Animated Series, that I kind of neglected it at first as a kid’s cartoon (though I later realized I wasn’t appreciating either). I should definitely go back and watch the series from beginning to end – I’m sure it’ll make much more sense to me that way!

    Also, Dorothy’s awesome – she has oodles of personality, separating her from what one would think is a similar character, like Rei Ayanami.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I love Dorothy; she’s so dry, and I think it’d be easy to mistake this for her being shallow in terms of characterization. I like this type of character when its executed effectively, but I think it tends to be one frequently over-simplified…

      I absolutely recommend going back to watch it all completely.

  3. I definitely came to appreciate the show a lot more in the second season when the story started to get a bit more serious as things became more hectic. While it was a good show on a superficial monster of the week level with great characters, it wasn’t until the bigger plot points started to develop I really got into it. I suppose it went a bit overboard in terms of scope and turned a few people away.

    I didn’t know a 3rd season was planned if funded, but I thought the series finished relatively well on its 2nd season.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Yeah, I’m okay with it as it ended, even if it was an absolute mindfuck. It somehow fit with the way the show went in the second season.

  4. Sorrows Neptune says:

    You know, I just realized why this show probably bombed in Japan:

    On it’s own, the first season is merely a “decent” monster of the week show, which you can’t truly appreciate until you watch Big O II. And with Big O II, you need to see the first season in order to make sense of it, which many Japanese probably didn’t even bother to do due to their initial distaste with the series.

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