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Big O Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

24 min read

Big-O Blu-ray Front CoverIt’s showtime for those not worthy!

What They Say:
Forty years ago, the minds of Paradigm City’s inhabitants were wiped clean of all recollections of the past. Now, ruled by a powerful corporation and cut off from the rest of the world by desolate wastelands, Paradigm has become a virtual police state where Negotiators like Roger Smith keep the wheels of progress, commerce, and society turning.

As a combined hybrid of detective, mediator, and enforcer, Smith’s primary resource is his keen, analytical mind, but it doesn’t hurt to have a mansion filled with gadgets, his butler Norman, and his attractive assistant Dorothy to fall back on. Additionally, for those times when cases end up “in dispute,” he also has the biggest, baddest back-up that any cop or small army could ever hope for: the Big O, a giant robot loaded with all the extras. Film noir thriller meets mecha mayhem masterpiece as the acclaimed classic series returns in the complete collection of The Big O!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the previously created English language dub, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that does largely work in the realm of dialogue and simple scenes but it blends in some great city moving action sequences with the Megadeus’ as well as all sorts of elements related to other vehicles and situations. The result is a show that gives us a city that feels lived in and engaging before it goes all big and action-oriented with the giant robot fights. The dialogue side is strong with both language tracks as there’s an ease to the performances that makes it pretty engaging as well, particularly for Roger and Dorothy. That’s not slight on the rest of the cast but the two spend so much screen time in the series with various word games and back and forth pieces that it’s definitely enjoyable and stands out. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 1999 and 2003 for the two seasons, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-six episode series is split up across four discs in a two-season format with a nine/four/nine/four format where the smaller episode discs have the extras for it. Animated by Sunrise, the show has a great look to it that took lots of inspiration from Warner animation at the time and provides a smoothness and color design that’s moody and appealing all while still ensuring that their giant robot side is fed with lots of detail and style. The show is one that holds up very well almost twenty years later for that first season and the encoding here captures it in all the right ways, which means it has an almost grainy look but more film-like than anything else. The end result is a release that presents the right look of the show it’s trying to capture that may not feel as slick and clean as modern shows but isn’t trying to. I love the look of it so this is a big plus for me.

Packaging:
The packaging design for this release brings us a slightly oversized Blu-ray case that holds two of the discs against the interior walls and two on a hinge. The cover artwork is a bit of a surprise as it uses a familiar piece with the main “trio” of characters but does it in a black and white fashion that’s pretty distinctive. I’m not sure it works but it stands out, even with the logo kept to the upper left side as the only splash of minor color. The back cover is more traditional with some good shots from the show along the right and the summary of the premise digging into all the right key elements. The extras for this release are nicely laid out with some minor style and nice font choice while the remainder of the bottom is fleshed out with the familiar production and technical information that’s accurately represented. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The layout for the menus here are familiar enough where we get different static images for each disc that shows various groupings of characters in good form. These are bright, detailed, and colorful in all the right ways to make for some good mood setting before getting into the show itself. The navigation is kept to the left where it uses some old style mechanical design work with its own elegance to break down the episodes by number and title as well as quick to load submenus for language and extras. The menu design is clean and very in-theme without being too elaborate so it looks good as both a main menu and as a pop-up menu during playback. Everything is smooth and easy to use while being functional and problem free.

Extras:
The extras for this release are a bit minimal overall but not surprising. We get the clean opening and closing animation from what’s used with this set, a nice selection of what few promos and commercials there are, and some brief interview material as well.

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This opening isn’t included with this release in any form. But I loves it so much I have to include it because it’s a big part of what sold this show for so many back in the day.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When Sunrise tried to find new ways and properties to work with that weren’t just Gundam related, one of those had an interesting group put together. Under Chiaki J. Konaka, who had gotten some serious acclaim for Serial Experiments Lain before this and worked on far, far, too many projects before and after, The Big O was born at Mdahouse with Kazuyoshi Katayama directing it. The series brings the familiar pieces that Sunrise likes in being able to merchandise with giant robots that lets their mechanical designers go crazy, and they certainly do so here, but it also did something you rarely see in anime. It’s very inspired both in look and character design by the Batman animated TV series in the U.S. from this time period, The lead character is young Bruce Wayne-ish type and has a butler, a sprawling mansion, a cool as hell car, and all the right moodiness – especially when factoring in the color design of the series.

Big O takes place in Paradigm City, a city whose inhabitants lost their memories 40 years ago in some unknown way. Much like humanity does, the inhabitants went on and created new lives for themselves, some discovering parts of their past through records, others forging new identities. Many have never known anything but what they grew up with in the time since, but the older citizens feel a sense of longing for knowing what they truly were.

Those that do discover it can provide some rather nasty results.

In this city, Roger Smith acts as the best negotiator in town, which is one of few job options left to him after he left the police for unknown reasons. Smith has a rather confident and knowing style to him, which is helpfully accentuated by his apparent wealth. The show opens with him meeting a group to negotiate with, handing over a suitcase full of cash for the return of one wealthy industrialist’s daughter, Dorothy Wayneright. Once the money is handed over, the father arrives and causes the hostage holders to bolt out of there. He’s ecstatic to see his daughter until he stops and realizes she’s a robot, something Smith didn’t realize at first (and which he amusingly tries to cover up later). The industrialist leaves disgusted and Smith parts way with them, but heads off to learn just what went wrong through one of his contacts. When he returns home, Norman informs him that he has a guest, and Smith takes a disdainful tone but meets with them, only to learn that Dorothy has arrived at his residence.

The robot requires herself a bodyguard and tries to enlist Smith into it, even though it’s not a PI’s typical job. He’s close to getting rid of her when he learns on the police band that a giant robot is rampaging one of the banks. He heads off downtown to discover what the deal is only to have Dorothy tag along. The trip down provides some interesting tidbits and hints at other things to come as well as pointing out a few slightly arrogant moments from Smith.

The massive robot, done in a classic style but with updates, is rampaging through the city and trying to get inside one of the larger banks. Smith figures he can deal with this and uses his wristwatch to call out his own giant robot, the Big O. He hops into the pilot’s chair which is very reminiscent of other recent retro anime that utilizes a flashy but archaic design and heads off into the city to pummel the big old enemy robot.

Subsequent stories provide varying levels of action and the more traditional gumshoe detective work with a lot of other subtleties mixed in. There does feel to be an overall arc for the series progressing, but many will find it reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop in setup and design with its more episode feel. This works out well because Paradigm City is quite an interesting city in its own right, and it gets plenty of limelight itself.

A lot of the first season focuses on one-off adventures while slowly seeding some of the background events, particularly since no second season was in the works at the time and it was only thanks to it doing so well on Cartoon Network that it got a back half that (hilariously) answers many of the questions. But that didn’t bother me. I loved the smaller stories that we get here. Bring Back My Ghost delves into some of the past of Paradigm City with a member of the Military Police who was killed during a riot a year ago. The riot, fought on one of the long bridges that connect the domes, was between the Military Police and the seedier side of the cities residents who were upset with a particular policy set forth by the upper echelon of Paradigm City.

With the anniversary date at hand, Roger finds himself taking the job of the deceased cops mother, who wants to see her boy. As no body was found, Roger takes the job and begins researching what happened. The timing also coincides with a series of recent Military Police deaths, people who were intimately involved in the rioting from a year ago. Add in a mysterious ghost haunting the docks of the city, and things are all over the place yet nicely tied together.

A Legacy of Amadeus provides a fairly good episode that deals with R. Dorothy. Being her usual self, she kicks off on the piano whenever Roger sleeps in late. And with Roger not wanting to be awakened by a racket, he decides to take her to see an old friend of his, R. Instro. R. Instro is the creation of a scientist friend of Roger’s who died a number of years ago. R. Instro is now managing a small club and playing piano there, helping time pass by for others. Roger’s decision to have R. Instro teach R. Dorothy some of the soulful feeling of his music ends up leading him into more betrayals from the past that come back to haunt the city.

One of my early favorite episodes of the first season revolves around Dorothy and her almost-human feelings that surface. While walking home, she comes across a little puppy out in the rain. She decides to comfort him and then to bring him home, naming him Pero. Pero does what any dog does in a new home and tears up the place. This drives Roger nuts until he learns that it’s the dogs doing. Dorothy’s quite intent on keeping the puppy, and Roger finds himself in a position where it’s really hard to deny her. She’s acting differently with the puppy than with anything else living she’s interacted with, and Roger’s feeling that there’s something in her memories that’s letting her be more than she usually is. When the real owners, the Ferry’s, come along and want their puppy back, Roger does his best to try and buy the animal from them.

In this day and age of Paradigm City, cats and dogs are rarer than anything else and can command huge amounts of money. Dastun even makes a comment at one point that a particular dog is worth more than his department’s budget for an entire year. So when the real owners arrive, and the animal is essentially one of their family (as it is with many people this day), Roger finds himself unable to sway them. He takes them out onto the patio where Dorothy is with the puppy, and to get her to give it back.

Cue the entrance for the mad villain who looks like he came from Giant Robo, and needs the puppy for his mad genetic experiments. Using his single passenger mini helicopter, he manages to throw the entire mansion into confusion and scoops up the puppy. The butler does get an amusing moment of screentime during this sequence though, once again making me appreciate the character even more. This episode just proved to be a lot of fun to me, moreso than the other two.

When the first season moves toward its finale we get some really engaging things that expands our view of Paradigm City. One episode that presents an interesting twist on Christmas as Heaven’s Day with it being a tradition started by Paradigm. There’s a plot involved here regarding a musician and his blind girlfriend, but the real treasure of the episode continues to be the banter between Dorothy and Roger. While she’s shopping for a present for him, a tie to be specific, she requests one in black. The counter girl says that they don’t have anything festive in black, just in the funeral section. Dorothy just replies that the recipient has no sense of style anyway, so it doesn’t matter. It just nails their relationship so well but allows it to be expanded nicely here.

The remaining two episodes are where all the really good stuff is though. My favorite villain of Schwarzland returns and this time he’s packing something seriously bad to take against Roger and his Big O. While Roger thought he was dead from their last encounter, Schwarzland was actually out there in the real world looking for something, and he returned with his own Megadeus. And in a moment of pure genius, he named it the Big Duo. Simply brilliant and had me rolling with laughter. The two make their first fight at JFK-Mark in the outside world where there’s tons of broken wreckage of ships and planes. The military police watches from the sidelines and the two Megadeus’ go at it like crazy. Roger ends up being rather off balance from the surprises that the Big Duo has for him and then gets completely shocked when it takes off into the air and flies off.

When the battle eventually resumes inside of the dome, much to the dismay of many people, the battle gets truly intense. The visuals of the two machines battling it out and the massive amount of destruction that gets caused is nuts. Watching the Big O riding down a crater impact hole on top of Big Duo and essentially banging the crap out of it is both comical and deadly serious at the same time as we see Roger get into a “no more!” mentality. Things taper off a bit from there and Roger moves into working on a case where people who claim to have been born outside of the city and have their memories of 40 years ago start getting murdered. Various pieces of the world’s history start to come to light as we see a variety of Megadeus’ strolling over the land and destroying cities left and right. There’s a lot of World War II imagery going on here as well with the massive flying ones looking like old film reels. The story revolving around the murders leads to a good number of interesting revelations about those in control of Paradigm and the city itself. A lot of experimenting appears to have been going on in the background over the years and the children of those experiments have grown up and are now being targeted.

Season 2:

As mentioned earlier, the second season was produced because of how strong the show did in its broadcast form on Cartoon Network (whose opening we sadly do not get here in all its infectious glory). With the production team largely coming back for me it ended up being an opportunity for Konaka to just go all out with some big ideas that don’t always land but deserve credit for reaching for the sky as it does. The world of Paradigm City is still much the same. People treasure memories above all else and long to know of the past. The world still seems to be centered on this single city and the rulers of it in the Paradigm Corporation. Roger Smith has returned as the lead again, and is immediately caught up in pitched battle in the bay against three invading Megadeus. While he fights and continues to lose against the three, we get hints of how the players are going to form this time around.

Alex Rosewater, the CEO of the Paradigm Corporation, talks at length while Roger battles about the three Megadeus that were sent from foreign lands that we had seen previously. His references are vague but they provide some insights into what may be going on out there in the wild badlands beyond the city, something we see much more of as these episodes progress. The other parallel to him we see is the return of Angel, the buxom blonde woman who’s been involved with Roger before. She apparently doesn’t like the arrival of the three Megadeus’ and tries to stop them from arriving and fighting Roger, indicating that it’s not yet time for him to face them.

The opening episode is highly intriguing as it takes the battered Roger from within the Big O where he’s alongside Dorothy and fighting to the end and then taking him on something of a mental trip where he wakes up in the “real” world where things are vastly different. It’s through this display that they try to show other sides and potentials to Roger, someone who he may also be instead of just a Negotiator or a Deus pilot. It’s interesting how his mind populates the various roles he comes across, such as Beck being the president of the bank that’s in the location of his house. It’s also interesting to see a slightly more life-like Dorothy running about.

The battle with the trio forms the bookends to this episode and eventually is a plot point as the episodes progress and more mysteries get displayed to Roger as he’s now considered something more formidable than he once was. Between that though, he gets back into the routine of being a Negotiator. One of his first assignments has him dealing with the strange occurrence of some people in their twenties who seemingly have the memories of people far older. They’ve been assassinated the minute they’ve been found in the past, which is why one of the older people who have a clue into all of this is eager to have the assassin found. Roger ends up taking a contract job with one of the original senators of the city from forty years ago who has long since retired and fallen out of the public eye, who is also the only senator whose memories haven’t shown up in someone younger.

What becomes rapidly apparently, if it wasn’t through the insinuations in the first season, is that the Paradigm Corporation is much more in control of what’s going on than expected. With their acquisition of some set future memories, memories from the past that affect the future, they’re seen as dealing with things in such a way that they must be prescient or god-like to those outside the Domes. Roger makes his discoveries along the way about them as well, particularly when Angel ends up helping him in and out of situations. The more we move into the depths and heights of this city, the more intriguing it becomes to me. There continues to be an element of the film Dark City in the grounding of this series that entices me greatly. Each new element that becomes clear then leads to more questions and propositions.

While the second season does have a larger objective it also still tells very solid character stories and tales. Some of the early episodes focus more one the mysterious background of Paradigm City, though much of it continues to obscure in a lovely manner. Roger continues his flashbacks to what he believes is some time before everything went wrong with people looking different and him being part of a crowd of children that are all clean shaven and bar coded, all part of some larger experiment going on. The mixture of the imagery with the destruction of everything around them is compelling to us and rather upsetting to Roger. His investigations into the past bring him into contact with people such as Alex Rosewater’s father who lives in retirement of sorts in the countryside just dealing with his tomatoes. There’s some great dialogue as the two play their cat and mouse game over what’s going on.

One area I was glad to see revisited is that Beck gets to return after his escape from the Arkham Asylum-like prison cell he was in with his cohorts. With an amusingly maddening plan to short circuit the place, he and his trio escape and he begins his machinations against Roger and Big O that ends up drawing Roger into capture. Beck uses this time for the construction of a robot Roger that tricks him into obtaining the nuances of Rogers’s voice, allowing the partial body robot to control/call for the Big O and lead it into destruction. But beck needs the device that will let Roger make the call, so he agrees to a negotiator to bring him what he needs. This turns out to be the lovingly determined Dorothy who wants to see just how difficult a job it is to be a negotiator. With the butler in tow, they head off for a daring escape and a highly comical chase sequence. There’s a beautiful moment where Dorothy’s seat rises so that a missile launcher can launch and she just casually spreads her legs so they can fire that’s just so priceless.

One of the other episodes brings more of the Robot aspect into play when a series of robot murders start happening in the city. Paradigm’s higher ups want to get to the bottom of it by sending in their own man for the job, so they send in R. O’Reilly, the first robotic detective I believe. His presence throws Dastun for a loop as the two are forced to work together and O’Reilly is a rather interesting fellow to follow around to see what he observes and doesn’t observe as the investigation moves forward. Of course, Roger and Dorothy end up involved when the killer targets Dorothy, so there’s some fun found down that avenue. Most of the enjoyment for me came from seeing Dastun deal with O’Reilly as well as watching the little quirks given to the character to see if they made any similarities to a much more famous robotic detective.

The scope of the world changes too, especially with what’s going on outside of the dome and the “world” of Paradigm City is a very interesting place. Having learned of apparently hundreds of outsiders having come into the city to spy on things and to make plans for when they can launch a coup of some sort, the city definitely feels even less secure than before with just the giant Megadueses running around the place. A lot of this came at the expense of learning that Angel was indeed one of them, but she’s also the more conflicted of them having fallen in love with Roger and ostensibly with the city itself. Her betrayals haven’t sat well with those she reports to, especially now that they’re in the city as well and are executing their plans to find the memories that are hidden within there.

As we learn, these people are part of the Unionists, those who have banded together outside of the City and are trying to regain the lost memories of the world. This is a massive revelation unto itself, which now casts Paradigm City as the only remaining place on the planet that has any sense of real modern civilization. It also brings into play that everything that happened with the lost memories wasn’t a localized event or that Paradigm City is a place that’s kept separate from the real world itself. The realization that this is the only place left like this helps to change the perceptions of those like Rosewater in how they protect the city somewhat. Of course, Rosewater has apparently been using the Unionists to his own advantage as we find out.

With his father having built Paradigm City with his own hands all those years ago and having his own original memories before he “disposed” of them, Alex wants to know what his father knows so he can protect what he’s inherited. To do that, he’s gone to whatever lengths needed to achieve that goal including working with those who are trying to bring down the city. But with someone like Rosewater, his betrayal of them in the end couldn’t even be called a betrayal but rather just his character itself. The Unionists aren’t stupid themselves though and obviously expected it by the Dome-shattering moments we get. When the huge grid started to fall from the ceiling I even caught my breath from the impact of the moment. The real tragedy here though is for Alex when he realizes just how far gone his own father is at the end here, and we get him talking to him like the lost little boy he truly is in this big city.

And the little boys have very big toys. Though he’d been told it wasn’t operational yet, Rosewater takes command of the Big Fau, one of the Big Three, to deal with the threats to the city as well as to exert his own dominance. Rosewater’s insistence that he’s a Dominus like Roger gets to be amusing since he feels like he’s in the same league as Roger. When he’s out in the city in the Fau and dealing with the Unionists Hydra, which is a pretty poor machine all told, he’s king of the world until things start going badly. When the Big Fau starts doing what it wants to do instead of following Alex’s orders, he ends up almost going into a fetal position over it and screaming at it to do what it’s being told. From this alone, you can only imagine what his relationship with his father was like when he was much younger.

Some of the best material throughout here though comes from Roger and his interactions with everyone as the situations continue to change. His meals with Rosewater are illuminating as well as kicking off more hidden memories in his own head about his past as a youth and as some sort of Dominus in a past life. The imagery of hundreds of Big O Megadeueses roaming over the world is a fascinating and scary sequence. Roger also gets to the heart of things with Dastun as the two deal with the different ways they deal in protecting the city. Dastun has seemingly at long last come to grips with what the Big O has to do and Roger’s part in it, but there’s a sense of loss in his not being able to really be a part of it, regardless of how necessary Roger tells him he is.

But it’s the women in Roger’s life that continue to provide the most challenge. While he’s certainly had unknowing influence over Angel, it’s his relationship with Dorothy that takes on new levels here. From the early time when Alan is about to eliminate her and the Big O insists that Roger goes to save her to the invasion of their mansion and her kidnapping, her importance to him both as a person and a key to the secrets of the lost memories only gets bigger and bigger. Dorothy herself gets a lot of really good scenes, from some of the action moments against the continually creepy Alan to her bits of dialogue with both Norman and Roger over her ability to lie. It’s an ability that she almost seems disgusted to be able to have, if you can infer that much emotion from her voice.

The finale to the Big O is a finale that has engaged its fans for years and is still just a delightful treat for me after all this time in seeing it once again, especially in full marathon mode. Leading up to the last episode, we’re treated to a variety of great moments. The Unionists begin bombing Paradigm City, Dorothy’s memory core is removed and used in the Big Fau, Alan takes on the controls of the Big Duo and leads a fascinating attack on Roger and the Big O and a lot of the cast find out exactly what their place in life is all about, for better or worse. As Alex tries to bring the city under his control and take his place as the God of all he surveys in an effort to rewrite history in his own way, Roger deals with helping those closest to him and trying to discover his own destiny.

There are a lot of really Big Points to deal with up to the final episode and it’s all executed quite well, mixed in with the action sequences of massive proportions, from Roger and the Big O taking on the Big Fau or Alan’s own gambit as he merges with the Big Duo and tries to bring about his own form of change into things. Mixed in with flashbacks of past lives, we watch as the city begins to crumble under not only the initial bombardment but the damage caused by all these rampaging Megadeuses. The true capping off point though is when the sky lightens just enough that you realize that the points of light far above are actually massive stage lights.

It’s from here, as it moves into the final episode, appropriately titled “The Show Must Go On”, that it all gets surreal. Well, not surreal, but it starts moving into territory that will have strong effects on people watching it. A good chunk of the audience will start whimpering from comparisons to Evangelion while the rest start seeing shades of Dallas and TV/dream explanations coming up as the entire city of Paradigm slowly disappears and more and more of the stage sets are revealed and the exposition comes down to just a few characters dealing with all of it. Or rather, dealing with Angel who has now become much more central to the show as opposed to waiting in the wings as she’s done for quite some time.

Whether this is Konaka’s attempt to throw his hat into the ring for creating one of the most confusing and oblique endings of any series is up for grabs, but I know that as it all played out, from the subtle religious aspects to the simple wipes of the scenery and revelation of the TV cameras and stages, I was on the edge of my seat following it all. And after spending several hours reading various forums and analysis pages about the ending of the series I’m not any closer to really understanding the ending. It can be interpreted in a number of different ways, each of them seemingly valid and equally interesting really. For a lot of people, these kinds of endings are frustrating and can ruin the entire show. I’ve had that happen with a few before, but with Big O, I find myself fascinated by it and actually interested in reading all the different interpretations. While this one does have a few religious overtones to it, it’s not as heavy as some other certain shows, which allows for a wider interpretation. Add in some of the little background bits that are scattered into the episodes and this is a show that could provide years of enjoyment in coming to grips with.

In Summary:
From its simple beginnings and confusing “ending” of the first season, Big O became a rarity in the anime world by getting a second season due to its popularity on Cartoon Network who then helped produce the second season. And by all appearances, the fears so many expressed about the series being dumbed down ended up so far from the reality of things that it’s comical to think back on it. The second season upped the ante and took the basic premise and created a highly fascinating show with strong iconic characters all wrapped in a few simple premises. While the ending of the show isn’t going to be a crowd pleaser, Big O has always stood apart with a slightly different kind of fan. This is a show that will be continually looked at and examined in detail for years to come, ensuring it a long and worthy life.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Commercials, Promos, Interviews, Clean Opening Animation and Clean Closing Animation

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 20th, 2017
MSRP: $79.98
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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