I like my fair share of action and political intrigue or inter planetary wars (ah la Gundam series, Macross, or even Aldnoah/Zero). However, dear readers, you know me and thus my choice may not be what is commonly remembered when people think of Mech anime.
However it certainly is.
I was first introduced to this series during the Anime years of Adult Swim on Cartoon Network and fell in love. The characters to the oddly metaphorical plot…I watched this every chance I got. In fact it still has an ending that’s hotly debated about when it comes to it’s meaning.
The Big O series was produced by Sunrise and ran from 1999-2003 and a manga, audio drama, and videogame was produced from it.
I think perhaps since this is a few years after Batman: The Animated series had finished it’s run here in the states (for like the ‘nth time in re-runs) and I was looking for something that still had that “Dark-Deco” feel and theme. In fact Sunrise was a subcontractor studio that worked on that very series thus the characters can almost be cut and pasted into each other’s worlds and almost fit seamlessly. It has a sutblely geometric style with block colors that’s very nice to look at. I was also reading Steam Detectives by Kia Asamiya as it was being translated . There where many similarities this series immediately caught my eye .
The similarities between the two series I mentioned before and this one are a little far from passing. Both referenced things like “Giant Robo” and even as far back as Astroboy.
The setting is more of a Dieselpunk, post-apocalyptic world that still has no few bit of left overs from a war forgotten in memory remembered only by mechanical leftovers called “Megadeus” and flashes of memories. The buildings are all Art Deco in design and the jazzy to Orchestral soundtrack fully helps realize this world and firmly place the design inspiration from the 40’s.
The art is clearly ,classically, Film Noir inspired with its grayed out colors, intro narrations, sharp contrasts; cynical private detective, femme fatale, witty banter in the face of horrible circumstances, and many flashbacks. Some of these traits can be found within the two aforementioned series as well. Though for Steam Detectives it’s more found in the manga than the anime.
But it is a mech anime despite all of this and as you know gratuitous wanton “Why-bother-living-here?” destruction happens every episode complete with dry witty banter.
Roger Smith: The Negotiator (Jaded Cop/P.I. Archetype)–Is essentially a Bruce Wayne without the Batman persona but rather a large Megadeus (Mech) which he pilots largely in secret. He’s very well off (though he does not live with the ‘affluent’ in the artificially lit dome) as his high-rise home and butler implies. He is intelligent, street-wise, and capable, but he is not Batman level of detective though he is certainly a P.I. He’s always snappily dressed and abides by a strict code of conduct. One of which is that black is the only color to be worn in his house. He also appears to like his sleep (as he has been shown to sleep until well after noon) and hates being woken up in a rude manner regardless of the time. He owns his own “Batmobile” called the “Griffin” which is even outfitted with various weapons and a multitude of gadgets to do his job.
Dorthy R. Wayneright (Partner Archetype)–Aside from the (un)intentional Easter Egg in her and her “father’s” name she operates as Mr. Smith’s assistant (Robin) and accompanies him on negotiations, effectively adding dry wit and brawn to the duo. Though standing just under five feet due to being a android her strength and agility are better than any mortal which Roger uses many times to his advantage…often times causing Dorthy to get a bit roughed up in the process. To which she has her tagline of:
Norman Burg (Butler Archetype)-
Butler, mechanic, and gun man surpreme. He is loyal to Roger and Dorthy much like a parental figure and he often will tease Roger just to blow off steam. He maintains the car, and Big O. Though no one ever really explains how in a city with no memory before 40 years ago this one-eyed man can effectively repair a Megadeus from the war 40 years prior. Is it a memory? Or some other reason? Regardless Norman actually poses many more questions than answers as a character. I just know that he has skills that where probably never covered in the anime and they probably included killing people.
Major Dan Datsun (Good cop friend archetype)-
A major in the Paradigm city Military police he operates as the “Commissioner Gordon” of the series that’s good friends with Bruce Wayne and goes out for drinks. He takes pride in his work but will be tactfully honest about how the corruption in his system. He attempts to occasionally recapture the Lt. Roger Smith ideals from him when he sees him but often The Negotiator shuts him down. Almost like looking in a Mirror Major Datsun is saddened to have lost such a good cop but seems to understand why his friend left the force and doesn’t push the matter. He is, however, extremely frustrated whenever a Megadeus appears due to all the damage they do.
Angel (femme fatale archetype)-
Our Selena Kyle/ catwoman of the series (complete with pink bodysuit). She is nothing and yet everything to this series and her true role has yet to be ascertained. She puts many in mind of Fujiko Mine from the Lupin series and that’s a fair enough comparison. She’s a puzzle and isn’t even sure of her own position in the story. But that’s alright, for her position in the story.
And finally the show’s name sake:
The Big O (Or as I like to call it: “Deus Ex Machina”)
A left over from the war 40 years prior that left the entire city with amnesia, Big O is a Megadeus piloted by Roger. He’s primarily a melee character (i.e. “I-just-punch-the-mess-out-of-something-until-it-don’t-move-no-more” type mech) though he does sport an impressive amount of missiles, anchor chains, and eye lasers.
Note: I called him a “Character” that’s because he kind of is.
Strangely, Big O shows signs of being sentient on several occasions and responds to Rogers’s feelings during many events. It raises more questions as to the nature of their relationship and how they found each other.
I could continue on and on about the theory I formulated about Paradigm city and it’s condition of mass amnesia etc. But that could easily be a term paper and I’m only giving you a run down because I think this series needs to be remembered when it comes to “mech” animes. It’s appreciated but it seems that it’s more appreciated for the mystery (which is a good one) rather than the people watching looking at how well they put together all the influences and referenced them (just do a Google search on “Roger Smith” and “Dorthy Waynewright” Or “Tim Wayne” and see what you get).
I would also like people who’ve never seen the series to give it a go. Even people who aren’t big into Mech animes but like detective shows might find this one very appealing.
I know I did. What are some of your favorite Mech series?