New Anime

The Big O – Episode 19

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I am delighted to at last be returning to The Big O, after an outrageously overlong stay of absence. Big O’s mixture of noir drama, robot action, and philosophical interrogation of identity has made for a show unlike any I’ve seen, one of those unique genre blends at which animation uniquely excels. The show is expertly woven with internal mysteries, but they’re frankly unnecessary to maintain its allure; not when every episode offers something so novel and compelling, whether it’s Dastun’s lost movie love or last episode’s Beck insanity.

With our last escapade serving as perhaps the most irreverent of the series so far, I’m guessing things will settle a bit this time, as we presumably return to the question of Roger defining himself outside of Rosewater’s shadow. Roger has always seen the Big O as his method of enacting change in this world, his will to protect and redeem Paradigm made manifest – but if his identity as a pilot is also Rosewater’s design, can he truly hope to change his destiny through the very means that destiny was provided? Regardless, I imagine we’ve got plenty of sumptuous imagery and charming Roger-Dorothy moments ahead of us, so let’s get right to it!

Episode 19

We open on some violent and dramatic imagery of a car being crushed, only to reveal this is actually a mundane process: the hauling of wrecks to the compactor down at a wreck yard

The overseer tells his robot companion “Phil” that it sounds like he’s low on oil. A grim, unspoken contrast here, as this robot carries the bodies of mankind’s disused machines to be destroyed, knowing well that it is only for want of a better machine that he might avoid the same fate. “You sound low on oil” feels a bit more ominous when a failure in your functionality would result in you being unceremoniously executed

That threat is swiftly realized, as an explosive pole is shot into Phil from the far end of the yard, propelling him into the compactor before detonating

The fact that so many of this show’s murder victims are robots really lets it go wild with the graphic imagery. Dastun arrives to a scene of mechanical gore, Phil’s hand still reaching towards freedom even while separated from its body

“An inspector from the Paradigm Home Office.” This ominous figure is introduced as a shadow wearing a trench coat, features wholly indistinct as he approaches. His design harkens back to the fundamentals of noir film, a genre which is inextricably linked to black and white film photography. The sheer contrasts of light and shadow afforded by black and white cinema are the building blocks of noir cinematography; without color, the director’s control of mise-en-scène is that much more total and precise. Fortunately, animation can mimic this power even in color, as the animator once again has total control of the composition – they need not cede ground to the way organic light would fall across some subject, they can just create shadows wherever they wish

Here, the shadows slowroll the reveal of his robotic nature. He introduces himself as R. Frederick O’Reilly, or “Freddy”

I like the use of mundane, non-threatening names like Phil and Freddy for these robots. Feels like such names are intended to neutralize their inherently foreign nature, an ostentatious effort to make them seem more human

The group is collectively framed through the refuse of the yard. Layouts!


Dorothy heads out for some errands, with Norman encouraging her to buy high-grade oil for herself, a link with poor Phil that emphasizes her mortality

Love her oversized oil can. This show has a lot of fun with what elements of technology it makes futuristic and what it retains as emblems of the past

“I’m told that you take a hands-on approach. Does the fact that you don’t leave things to your men mean you can’t trust them?” Freddy is shockingly the first person to point out that both Dastun and his subordinates are terrible at their jobs. It’s always an interesting concept – the idea of robot policemen implies we are such unruly, uncivilized creatures that we cannot even maintain peace within ourselves, that we must rely on a higher or more objective power to administer justice

The show’s purposefully exaggerated shadows demonstrate another use case, here darkening all the eyes of Dastun’s subordinates to dehumanize them, making a collective of the men under his command

Ooh, love this ominous downward-facing composition as Dorothy returns to the streets, the killer lurking on the roof above. The pipes crossing the street add a nice sense of symmetry to the composition, while also visually trapping Dorothy within a central square

We at last meet Roger conducting the human element of this investigation, interviewing the wreck yard owner. The owner regretfully wonders if his brain once contained the information necessary to restore Phil – lost like so much else in this era of slowly decaying relics

Crazy jumpscare reveal of this new interviewee’s massive forehead

“Do you think that listening to an old man’s sentimental stories will solve the case?” I appreciate the introduction of a fellow investigator for Dastun to bounce off of. His normal role is significantly less glamorous, as Roger and the Big O generally get to do all the fun stuff

“That was for the executive staff who’ll be listening.” Of course, Dastun isn’t really gaining a new partner, as he well knows: he’s gaining a spy, a representative of Rosewater’s personal interests

Roger’s informant floats the idea that these androids are being assassinated because they know too much – because there’s a possibility that, unlike Paradigm’s humans, these particular androids might be able to recall memories from before the great wave of amnesia. Given that, it seems likely that Freddy is here to make sure Dastun doesn’t get too close to the truth, or is at least taken care of in the event he learns too much

Dorothy is struck by one of the explosive arrows!

My god, her getaway is incredible. She hijacks a car by steering it with her foot, drives it right alongside an oncoming truck, and manages to shave the explosive off on the side of the truck. Some Transporter-ass lunacy here

Dorothy is thus taken in as a key eyewitness. Always charming to see Roger’s increasingly passionate defenses of his partner

Roger swiftly ascertains the truth of the situation: Dastun has lost control of his own police force

“You’re a work of art, R. Dorothy.” “And what are you?” As a fellow android, Dorothy might well be the only one Freddy respects enough to actually be shamed and changed by

God, this show is such a bounty of fantastic compositions! Love this shot of Roger presenting his card to Rosewater’s secretary, their faces caught in reflection on the polished counter, but both sets of eyes concealed by the card. A layout that emphasizes the lack of human connection between them, the anonymity of this exchange – in fact, this episode is consistently using the obscuration of eyes as an effective dramatic motif, extending as well to our presumed killer

The card is further used to emphasize their battle of wills, being pushed forward and back to highlight only the speaker’s face, creating a sort of environmental shot-countershot exchange

Roger suspects the obvious choice Alan Gabriel, but Angel tells him that Alan is out of the city alongside Alex Rosewater

Roger thus assumes Alex was not the one who assigned Freddy, making Freddy’s motives that much less clear

“You lie constantly. You’ve even given up your own name. Did you ask for that, to live your life this way?” To Roger, whose identity was stolen and replaced entirely without his consent, the idea that Angel would actually choose to live in such an unmoored, lonely way is unthinkable. But the cinematography unites them: stuck within this freight elevator’s cage, they both appear as trapped animals, following a predetermined track to whatever destination it brings them

“Do I hear pity? I don’t think you and I are all that different.” The only thing separating them is that Angel chose this, or at least claims she did

Gorgeous shots of the two of them staring out across the ruin of the wider world, each considering it might be time to directly challenge their past, to stop living in the dream of Paradigm and learn who they really are

“We have something in common. We’re two people who don’t run from trouble.” Most of Paradigm’s citizens survive by ignoring the cracks in the facade. As two children of Rosewater, Angel and Roger possess both the opportunity and the will to investigate where those cracks lead

Dastun’s cracked the case! He found the common link between our victims: purchasing high-quality oil from a certain local vendor, thus revealing their status as more advanced robot models

More shots emphasizing hands versus eyes – Norman failing to extract Dorothy in an impersonal conversation conducted entirely through overlapping hands, and then Freddy immediately connecting with the culprit through this scope-and-eye framing. Motifs like these don’t need an exact one-to-one textual “explanation” – it can be enough simply to keep using these motifs to raise questions of common understanding, asking the audience to consider these scenes in light of the episode’s overall focus on the imperfections of communication, whether between humans and androids or between any two individuals

Unsurprisingly, the culprit turns out to be an android as well. Self-destructive or not, neither humans nor androids can disobey their programming

But now the police station is under attack! Spies everywhere!

Angel seems to know something, describing this intruder as “Delphi,” presumably referring to the home of the Greek oracle Pythia. A simple enough metaphor, framing these interlopers as prophets heralding the inescapable future

And at last we hit that cut of Norman’s bike firing missiles as Dorothy calmly sits astride it, perhaps our last unaccounted-for cut from the show’s OP

Roger can see the sad irony in having to take down this welder robot, as oblivious to its directives as Roger once was. “You have my sympathies for having to obey a master who’s mistaken. You’re not my real enemy!” 

Angel’s poor sad symbolism balloon rises from the wreckage

And as Dastun points out, Freddy also can’t avoid his programming, was forced to play through the charade of detective even though he was actually sent here as bait

And Done

Ahh, it is good to be back with this fantastic show. The art design and layouts are just exceptional in every regard; each scene has its own visual wonders to enjoy, and each composition is laden with either immediate or long-term dramatic intent. It’s always nice when Dastun gets to show off some sturdy old-fashioned police work, and I was impressed by how well this episode conveyed that Dastun, Freddy, and Roger are all victims of cyclical programming in their own ways, doomed by their ambitions to always repeat the same mistakes. A staple of noir’s post-war fatalism, here neatly reconstructed in the light of machines’ helpless programming – just another example of Big O understanding its influences well enough to paint in their styles with tools of its own. What a show!

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

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