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April 02, 2001

Big O

This dark city may not have any memories, but it does have a really big robot
Big O
Cartoon Network
Dubbed in English
Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama
13 episodes
Airs weekdays, 5:30 p.m. ET and 12:30 a.m. ET
By Tasha Robinson
Forty years after an unknown catastrophe stole the memories of everyone in Paradigm City, the past is still missing, but only the oldest citizens care any more. Everyone else continues their daily lives under the thumb of the Paradigm Company, which serves as "both God and state" to the city's residents.

When memories of the past do surface, they generally cause trouble, and veteran deal-broker Roger Smith, the self-styled "top negotiator of Paradigm City," usually ends up at the center of that trouble. As the series begins, he's called on to handle a ransom agreement, exchanging a briefcase full of money for the kidnapped daughter of a rich industrialist. But after he makes the trade, he finds out he's been stuck with an android instead of the missing daughter. Roger has no idea whether androids were commonplace before Paradigm became "the city of amnesia," and has no idea how the girl functions or what her true relationship is to the men who claim to be her father and grandfather. He even makes a point of not particularly caring, even after she attempts to hire him as a bodyguard, moves into his palatial manor, and starts blandly insulting his taste and manners.

But Dorothy the android isn't the only mystery on Roger's hands. The "real" Dorothy, the one Roger was supposed to retrieve, is still in the kidnappers' hands, and she quickly proves dangerous. Subsequent episodes offer other negotiation deals that lead to other mysteries that usually lead to Roger being attacked by gigantic monsters of various types. Fortunately, in addition to wealth, a vast collection of cool gadgets and a strong sense of panache, Roger has a giant robot called Big O, which he whips out of the abandoned subway tunnels (usually destroying half a city block in the process) whenever the opposition looms large.

Gloss, gears and familiar faces
The Big O looks and feels like an organic blend of Cowboy Bebop and Batman: The Animated Series, with more than a touch of Giant Robo thrown in. (And no wonder--Big O and Bebop were both Sunrise Inc./Bandai Visual co-projects. Sunrise did animation production work for Batman: TAS, and Big O director Kazuyoshi Katayama was Giant Robo's animation director.) But it also seems heavily influenced by noir films and James Bond movies. Roger's square, broad face and shoulders and sharp angles would fit neatly into Batman: TAS, and his mansion, his remote-controlled, heavily armed and armored high-tech car and his dryly helpful white-haired butler (who bakes, cleans and pilots the giant-robot disbursal system) are pure Batman mythos, but his suave, self-congratulatory smugness and slightly predatory attitude toward women is pure Bond. Dorothy is more Spock than Robin or Pussy Galore, though; she mostly serves as an emotionless (yet somewhat comic) foil.

Big O has some problems as a series--like Bebop, it tends towards unresolved stories and plotlines that don't quite add up. The whole show suffers from a lack of context and continuity--so many things about Roger's world are unclear that it's easy for the writers to suddenly pull random surprises out of nowhere. Like Bebop, Big O is more about style than tight storytelling.

But the style itself is worth watching for. The music can't live up to Yoko Kanno's amazing Bebop work, but it covers the same sort of broad, ambitious range, from '60s jazz to blues to ballads. The animation stresses dynamic motion and complex multiplanar tableaux that occasionally lend scenes an almost 3-D quality. The chunky, bolts-and-gears retro-mecha design, much like Giant Robo's, gives the series a bit of a steampunk feel that contrasts sharply and pleasantly with its characters' sleek '90s look. The dub is wellcast, with David Lucas (who voiced Bebop star Spike Spiegel) as Roger and Lia Sargent (El Hazard's Nanami Jinnai as Dorothy. All told, it's a complex and appealing package that seems constantly familiar but intriguingly new.

If you missed the series premiere, don't fret--The Big O runs to only 13 episodes, and the reruns are scheduled to start on April 19 for the 12:30 a.m. showing and April 24 for the 5:30 p.m. showing. The Cartoon Network currently plans to cycle through the series at least three times. --Tasha