Welcome all, to the midway point of Big O! This week sees one season finish and another begin, a finale and a pilot, and let me tell you both are kind of weird. Not in a Migi & Dali way, more of a psychedelic Serial Experiments Lain way. Is that a good thing? Well lets dive in and find out.
First up is episode 13, “R・D”. The most frustrating thing about this episode is that it ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. Seriously, if I had to wait 3 years for the next episode like viewers at the time did, instead of the 3 minutes I did today, I’d have gone insane. Really glad we can just skip straight to season 2 because Big O covers a lot in this episode. It feels like things are finally kicking into gear, like it’s finally ready to start tackling the central plot it has been setting up for the past 6 or so episodes, as well as finally diving into Roger as a character. I say “finally” because until now Big O has mostly looked at Roger externally, at his role in Paradigm City at large. But here it starts to explore him internally, and I like that.
Getting into the details, where to start… How about with Roger himself. This episode reveals a lot about him, such as how he supposedly isn’t from Paradigm City. This isn’t unexpected, he’s mentioned it a few times I believe. What makes it stand out though is that neither were the multiple murder victims of the episode. This connection leads to the reveal that Roger is basically a test-tube baby, an experiment, someone raised and implanted with memories that aren’t their own with the goal of… what exactly? To pilot the Big O? To what purpose? And why implant these memories in children at all? Hell how do you even do that, how do you not only move memories but make fakes ones on top of that? Big O asks so many questions, ones so integral to Roger and Paradigm City, that they demand answers. And I can’t wait for them.
Speaking of fake memories, this was perhaps the biggest bombshell of the episode. Turns out everything we thought we knew about Paradigm City? The hints of war, how Megadeus were used to destroy everything explaining why they are everywhere, the world outside the city being destroyed? It’s all bullshit! Fake! Made up by the Rosewaters to take control apparently. Everything we thought we knew, everything Roger thought he knew, has been carefully orchestrated and controlled by the Rosewaters. Yet even know thing… The city is still fucked up, memories are still gone, giant robots still walk the streets. So if there wasn’t a great war, if they aren’t the remnants of conflict… Then what are they? And why are they here? It doesn’t actually answer any questions, those still exist, but it sort of feels like it does anyways?
What I mean, this is probably the truth that Schwarzwald has been trying to reveal the entire time right? Not a history of destruction or war, but one of control and manipulation by a single family across Paradigm City’s entire existence. But how does that fit in with the Megadeus? The foreigners? What about the girl in red who looks just like Dorothy and came from a pod of some kind? Not to mention hints as to Norman’s own past, his knowledge and ability to maintain the Big O, as well as the Big O moving on its own once more to save Roger. What I’m getting at here is that while Big O is asking a lot more questions, these questions are getting more pointed and specific. We have a multitude of topics available to explore in season 2, so many I’m actually concerned it will be able to answer them all.
Finally I want to take a moment to talk about how Big O communicated these ideas. The way it used Gordon Rosewater, Alex Rosewater’s father I believe, and the metaphor of the tomato. This idea that they don’t view Roger as an equal, maybe not even as a human. Instead he’s something to be carefully grown and harvested, perhaps pruned if left to long. There’s no enmity here, no confrontation. Just… idle curiosity on the state of an experiment. It’s interesting because Roger usually isn’t on the back foot like this. Oh his opponents challenge him sure, but he always bounces back. Here though he’s slowly realizing that his entire life, his entire world, everything he knows, is a lie. Is he even Roger Smith? Or is that a name they gave him? Like I said, this is all one hell of a cliffhanger for a season 1.
Getting into Season 2 we have episode 14, “Roger the Wanderer”. This one picks up right where 13 left off. Before we get to that though we need to talk about the visuals. 3 years is a long time, things change. And in these 3 years, Big O transitioned from Cel to Digital, and boy can you tell. On the plus side, everything is a lot more animated! Seriously, this is the most Big O has ever moved. Character faces, walk cycles, giant robots, the camera. Motion wise, Big O has improved a lot. Design and art style wise though, I can’t help but feel like something is missing. It feels much cleaner, like it’s lost some of that Cel animation charm and character that I love so much. It still looks like Big O, the heavy blacks and full colors are still there. It just feels… different. We’ll see if this trade was worth it as the season continues, but for now I’m slightly positive on it.
Moving on to the actual episode, it picks up with Roger fighting the 3 Megadeus that rose up out of the sea and… losing? Roger is losing? And not just the normal heroic “Oh they did some superficial damage” kind of losing, Big O lost an entire arm. That’s never happened before. Even against Big Duo, Roger generally felt in control. Here though his fractured confidence, his mental state, is reflected in the and in the cockpit. He isn’t able to pilot Big O like he’s used to, isn’t able to use it to its fullest extent. This is cool! I like that Big O is spending so much time entirely on Roger’s mental state, is actually dealing with it immediately and not just punting it down the road. With the 3 years between seasons it could have easily glossed over it.
Instead basically the entire episode is just Roger figuring out who he is. Thinking about, or possibly remembering, a world where he didn’t find Big O, where he wasn’t Roger Smith. Would he still matter, would any of his friends or colleagues still know or care about him, would he be important at all? He can’t figure out how much of his identity is his and how much was given to him by the Rosewaters, by those pulling the strings. To use Big O’s metaphor, does Roger Smith still exist without the stage? Is it a role anyone could play or has he made it something special? It’s a really interesting way to tackle this idea of implanted memories and whether or not your identity is tied to them or to you. A great evolution of the themes Big O has been exploring this entire time.
And then to top it all off Big O dares to have Dorothy be the one to pull him out of it. To have her assuage his fears, to assure him of who he is. An android struggling to be human, who has crawled and dragged themselves out of the limitations of their existence, assuring him that even if he was a puppet, if it was all laid out for him, it need be no longer. Now he that knows of it, he can face it. Can become his own self-actualized fully realized person, with her by his side. And that’s pretty rad. Toss in the conclusion of the Megadeus fight, smashing up 3 robots at once with only 1 arm, showing that he can pilot it despite Rosewater saying he couldn’t, that it was to early, and we already have our first act of rebellion.
It also helps that the way Big O presented it was fantastic. The use of comic books, stage plays, movies, all to show us how constructed Roger’s story was. I wasn’t expecting comic books or newspaper comics at all, but to be used to ask whether or not Roger’s life was actually real? Well lets just say that Ikurou Satou, the episode director responsible for some of the best episodes of Season 1, is doing a great job. From the looks of things he has a few other episodes this season. Additionally, unlike Season 1 where he had to share with Kazuyoshi Katayama, it looks like Chiaki Konaka has almost full control of the scripts this time. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen, but it at least means everything will be unified.
So yeah, this was a great finale and a fantastic season premier. Big O is really starting to pick up now and I’m all for it. I enjoyed the Monster-Of-The-Week stuff, don’t get me wrong. There were some great stories in there, I love Dorothy. But now that we are entering the 2nd half I want things to start coming together. To start leading somewhere, to have a plan. And from the looks of things, that’s exactly what we’re getting. I am admittedly a little sad at the switch away from Cel animation, but BIg O’s style offsets a lot of the hiccups from this era and it does mean the show moves a lot more, so that’s a net gain I suppose. All in all I’d call this a strong week and I’m looking forward to more!
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