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The Big O II

Roger Smith and his giant robot return, but the mystery of the missing memories still remains unsolved

*The Big O II
*Vol. 1: Paradigm Lost (eps. 14-17)
*Bandai Entertainment
*100 min.
*MSRP: $29.98 hybrid DVD

Review by
Tasha Robinson

I n the original 13-episode Big O series, professional "negotiator" Roger Smith began investigating the mystery behind his hometown, Paradigm City, where every human and machine lost its memory 40 years ago. He was nominally assisted by a butler seemingly modeled after Batman's manservant Alfred and an emotionless female android who entered his life and refused to leave, but his most loyal companion was a giant retro-looking robot named Big O. As Paradigm City seemed to be threatened by giant monsters and humongous robots on a regular basis, Big O was a necessary protector for the city, even though Roger seemed to destroy as much of it as he protected in every battle.

Our Pick: B-

The first series ended on a cliffhanger, with Roger piloting Big O into a battle with three other gigantic robots of mysterious origin and purpose. The second series, The Big O II, opens at the same point, with a series of brief flashbacks, and Roger and his android Dorothy headed for combat. But suddenly, things change, and Roger becomes a homeless, scruffy vagabond on the streets of a Paradigm City where no one knows him and he's not welcome anywhere. He runs into old enemies and friends who have taken on new roles, and none of them recognize him. He can't decide whether he's living out another person's memories, or whether his original memories of being a rich playboy hero were the false ones.

In the second episode of the new series (which numbers its episodes as though the two story arcs were one 26-episode continuum), Roger is hired in his negotiator capacity, asked to intervene with an assassin killing young people who share the memories of Paradigm City's senators. The job rapidly goes in an odd direction, and leads Roger back into contact with his old enemy/ally Angel. The end result of that job produces information about a threat to everyone outside Paradigm City's domes, and the third episode deals with Roger's attempts to save them. In the fourth, the madman Schwarzwald returns with a new threat that's just Big O's size.

So much style, so little useful substance

The Big O II is a series that almost didn't happen—response to the show was lackluster in Japan, and it looked like no new episodes would be produced after the original 13. But Cartoon Network found the popular response to the show sufficient enough to justify co-producing this second arc. In theory, it should provide some of the answers to the many questions the first series left dangling. In practice, it seems no more focused or directed than the first.

The Big O is a nifty show on many levels. The iconic, consciously cartoony, colorful animation, in the mode that Batman: The Animated Series popularized, is stylish and attractive. It also makes for unique robot designs. The English cast is well chosen, the central mystery is intriguing and the setting is just future-strange enough to be unpredictable. But the frustrations that plagued the first series are back in full force. The same characters pop up over and over to mouth opaque, nigh-meaningless statements about the importance and significance of capital-M Memories, but they reveal very little solid information. The mystery deepens, and deepens, and deepens, and then Roger kicks a giant robot's butt, shakes his head and goes back his playboy lifestyle.

As a result, the show just keeps getting more frustrating. The story logic is fairly recondite, and when new mysteries are introduced and then shrugged aside, it's hard to avoid wondering whether there's any point. For instance, Roger's momentary bout with homelessness in the first episode is fascinating—it shows an entire new world of possibilities—but once he snaps out of it, it's neither explained nor resolved. "Just like nightmares, Memories can appear when you least expect them," Roger intones solemnly later in the series. Maybe so—or maybe that's just one of the many ominous, tone-setting and ultimately empty phrases he uses to fill space when he himself doesn't know what's going on, and doesn't much care, so long as he's winning. Either way, The Big O II would be more fun if the writers proved that they remembered all the original show's unresolved issues, and dealt with them more directly.

Given Big O's presence and its success in battle, it's sometimes annoying that Roger's many enemies never think to try a more subtle means of achieving their goals—something that's not 50 feet high and easily punched to death. — Tasha

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