Judge Bryan Byun warns us not to be misled by the title: The Big O may sound like an episode of Red Shoe Diaries, but it's actually a solid anime series.
Lies, spies, and a surprise!
It's not difficult, at first glance, to dismiss The Big O as just another derivative Giant Robot anime series. After all, there isn't much about it that isn't obviously lifted from other sources: the Deco-noir animation style comes directly from Batman: The Animated Series; the protagonist is a combination of Batman (if he worked exclusively as Bruce Wayne), James Bond, and Sam Spade; influences ranging from The Avengers to Giant Robo and Master Keaton are evident in the character arcs and relationships; and the story itself—the series is set in a future in which Paradigm City has suffered some mysterious (natch) catastrophe that has wiped out its inhabitants' memories—feels like the warmed-over leftovers of any number of sci-fi anime series. Even the theme song ("Big O! Big O…Big O Big O!") is a blatant copy of Queen's Flash Gordon theme.
Somehow, though, it works. Even if none of it feels especially groundbreaking, The Big O is nevertheless a solidly entertaining series, weaving sci-fi, mystery, and action-adventure elements together with a light comic touch. Despite its fantastical premise, The Big O rarely goes over the top, going instead for a drier, more restrained storytelling style.
The Big O II is the second season of a series that ran through 13 episodes in Japan before being packed off to the anime graveyard. Strong interest from American fans, however, along with support from the Cartoon Network, brought Roger Smith and his crew back for another round.
Roger is a negotiator (kind of a cross between a private eye and a superhero-for-hire) who controls a powerful Megadeus (a giant robot, and the Big O of the title, for those who might be expecting an anime Red Shoe Diaries), which comes in handy when Paradigm City is threatened by villainy. He's ably assisted in his work by Dorothy, his prim, comically deadpan android assistant, and a distinctly Alfred-esque butler.
The three episodes that make up Missing Pieces find Roger haunted by disturbing flashes of memories from his past, images of bald children and barcode tattoos. Meanwhile, Roger's relationship with Dorothy begins to develop in interesting ways, even as he's romancing the beautiful, blonde, aggressively mysterious Angel. And of course, there are the expected Giant Robot shenanigans, plus the return of comic villain Beck as some kind of '70s Schoolhouse Rock-style bad guy.
The Big O II comes across as a distinctly American anime series, the kind of series that might result if, well, Cartoon Network co-produced it. It's not Batman Beyond, but there's certainly a homegrown feel to the artwork and writing, even down to the portrayals of Japanese characters, which can charitably be described as "quaint." There's a distinct sense that the series is being aimed squarely at American viewers, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it makes The Big O more accessible to non-otaku while packing more narrative gravitas than, say, Yu-Gi-Oh.
Bandai has put together a high-quality but unremarkable DVD package with The Big O II: Missing Pieces. The transfer is unblemished and squeaky clean, with rich, vivid colors that nicely represent the sleek, angular artwork. Audio is flawless, with an energetic Dolby 5.1 Surround track (in English only—sorry, Japanese language fans) and Dolby Stereo tracks in English and Japanese. While the surround track is far more immersive, all three tracks sound great and should not disappoint.
The major shortcoming of this DVD is the near-total absence of extra features. There's a brief art gallery, and that's about it, aside from some Bandai anime trailers. Why, o why, Bandai? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
The Big O II isn't the kind of anime series that lingers too long in the imagination, but beneath its kid-friendly exterior lies some clever, compelling storytelling and likable characters. The episodes are self-contained enough so that a new viewer can pick up the thread at any point, but interconnected enough to please the longtime fan. While I wouldn't recommend starting out with this volume, Missing Pieces offers a captivating glimpse into the Big O saga to those curious to sample the series.
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