Initially created as a vehicle for toy robots from Bandai, Big O went on to become one of the most important giant robot cartoons of the past ten years. The series is heavily influenced by Western cultural icons such as Batman and contains numerous film noir tendencies. The creators pay homage to many mainstays of nostalgia TV such as Gerry Anderson programs (Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, UFO) and classic anime like Gigantor and Gundam in the program making Big O as much of a celebration of the giant robot genre as anything else. Watching Big O feels like I’m playing with a box full of toys in my living room as a kid which is a lot of fun despite the fact that it makes absolutely no sense.
The animation studio, Sunrise, was heavily involved in the Bruce Timm Batman the Animated Series cartoon which may be why there are many similarities in architecture and character design. Keiichi Sato (City Hunter, Mazinkaiser) provided character design and director Kazuyoshi Katayama (Giant Robo, Appleseed) contributed a unique action-packed style to the program. Head writer Chiaki J. Konaka (Lain, Hellsing) crafted some of the most inspired and incomprehensible scripts I have ever witnessed (and I watch Dr Who). The combination of all three of these anime creators resulted in a fusion of familiar ideas and styles that was at once modern and unique as well as being retro.
The plot of the series involves negotiator Roger Smith who, along with the rest of the inhabitants of Paradigm City, has lost his memory. A massive catastrophic event transformed the world outside of the domed city into a bast wasteland and seems to have left the survivors in an amnesiac state. Roger Smith lives in a mansion with his butler Norman and girl robot R Dorothy. He drives an enormous armored limousine that makes the Batmobile look like a tricycle. Smith works with the police and has a strange ‘Deep Throat’-like informer who passes on cryptic information at a bar. Roger Smith also pilots a massive robot called Big O that he can call from his wrist radio by screaming ‘It’s SHOWTIME!!’ Each time he calls upon the robot, it burst from a hidden network of tunnels, destroying a random building on the process.
One often wonders how Paradigm City can survive Big O’s battles.
Big O Vs. Big Duo
Big O found modest success in Japan but made a major impact when it aired on Cartoon Network’s late night Adult Swim slot. It was like a forgotten cartoon from my childhood had been discovered and re-aired in the wee hours, making me wonder if I was dreaming it all along. I felt as if Cartoon Network had unearthed a sixth Force Five series. The 13 episode series was in fact so successful that Cartoon Network co-produced a follow-up series of 13 additional episodes which were sadly less of a hit than the first.
It’s difficult to pin down what the appeal of Big O is. Perhaps the ultra-violence of the robot battles is what initially attracted me, but the bizarre almost labyrinthine plots kept me glued to the screen each week. There was also the incredibly odd logic of the program to contend with. In what way was Roger Smith a ‘negotiator’?? Why did he scream ‘people cannot be ruled by their memories!!’? Each time Roger Smith jumps into the seat of Big O he is greeted by the message: “Cast in the name of God, ye not guilty.” – apparently the same phrase carved onto the sword of the pulp barbarian Conan.
It was all very strange.
In 2001, Big O arrived at just the right time. While the cool kids were still jiving off of Cowboy Bebop (premiered just one month prior) and Fooly Cooly had yet to arrive in 2003, Big O was a custom-made vintage cartoon that never was gift-wrapped from another dimension.