The Big O – Episode 12

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll be returning to The Big O, as Roger continues to unravel the secrets of Paradigm. Well, I certainly hope Roger unravels some secrets, because at the moment, we’re actually some distance ahead of him in terms of our understanding of this world.

In episode ten, we learned that there are still human civilizations beyond Paradigm, and that Paradigm’s alleged city council all ultimately answers to one man. In eleven, we learned that that man is well aware of Christmas’ pre-amnesia cultural significance, yet chooses instead to frame it as a secular city festival. Given his awareness of humanity’s culture both pre-amnesia and outside Paradigm’s walls, it seems reasonable to assume that Paradigm’s monarch is enforcing a policy of strict information control – and beyond that, that he might even be responsible for Paradigm’s amnesia in the first place.

If he’s attempting to create a private kingdom, provoking a wave of mass amnesia is certainly a great way to start. While we generally think of confinement in terms of physical barriers, the most robust imprisonment is generally imprisonment of the mind – total inculcation into a specific way of thinking, or denial of the education that might inspire someone to question their circumstances. While we can rage against injustices we can define, if we can’t conceive of a world beyond our own, we tend to accept our circumstances as simply “the way it is.” By collectively frying Paradigm’s memory, a dedicated tyrant could reshape its society into whatever shape they choose, and fill in the blank slates of its populace with a wellspring of comforting propaganda.

So that’s probably not good. But as I said, Roger wasn’t actually there for most of the scenes that revealed this information – he’s currently some distance behind the audience, and I’m not exactly sure what use that dramatic irony could serve. For the moment, let’s quit with the conjecture, and find out what secrets the city will offer next!

Episode 12

We open on a crashed plane, half-buried in snow. Looking at shots like these makes me really miss the distinct cell texture of pre-digital anime. It possessed a tactile feel that you just can’t reproduce digitally, as well as a sense of imperfect, hand-crafted workmanship. Cell anime feels “scrappy” in a way that suits the medium well, and works particularly well for sequences like this melancholy pan over cold scenery

“There isn’t anyone who actually knows what did happen forty years ago.” Alright, looks like we might be getting into it

These snow-covered artifacts, already crumbling to rust, imply that whatever happened in the past came after a great conflict – Paradigm was under siege of some kind, but the details are now lost

Situations like that are the perfect opportunity for charismatic dictators to rise to absolute control

A bandaged man appears in the ruins!

Once again, we begin in Datsun’s perspective, staring out at Roger’s battle. A terrific sense of mounting tension here, perfect for this kind of flash-forward cold open

The cut to Roger’s face intentionally obscures what is clearly designed as a match cut – first the Big O itself staring up at its opponent, and then Roger staring up at his employer, being told that “a former employee refused his severance pay.” The match cut emphasizes how Paradigm’s director is also an antagonist, who sees Roger as no more than an ant. And with good reason – at this point, Roger has repeatedly served as the enforcement arm of Paradigm’s ruling class

Ah, it’s Michael Seebach, the guy who supposedly burned to death. A former reporter, someone with a clear bone to pick with Paradigm. As we’ve established, information control is the overseer’s greatest weapon, and thus an antagonist reporter is a uniquely dangerous threat

The severance pay is so large it’s presumably more of a bribe – though I can’t really see Paradigm’s extremely careful director simply paying off his enemies, rather than eliminating them

I love this episode’s momentum! The Big O is very good at luxuriating in atmosphere, but it’s also nice to see such a snappy case, without a single idle shot

Well, that explains the beautiful layouts so far – we’re in another Akihiko Yamashita-boarded episode. This show’s staff is just ludicrously good

Given his Giant Robo pedigree, it’s no surprise that Yamashita’s boards nail the most impactful shots of Schwarzwald up on the mountain, roaring out his intentions

“I’m glad you came to see me, you lapdog of this corrupt city.” Harsh but fair

Even among these ruins, the show frames our perspective through the dilapidated buildings, in order to better convey a sense of scale

Underneath the bandages, Schwarzwald’s mech looks like a modified version of the Big O itself

The match cut parallels just keep coming, both between Roger and the Big O, as well as Roger and Schwarzvald himself. All of them are framed as equivalent pawns within a larger game

Still just perpetually delighted by this episode’s unique structure. It’s like we’re stopping in for just the central episode of a great shonen battle – no prep and no cooldown, just “have at you!”

More terrific layouts as we return to Roger’s apartment. Yamashita is able to make excellent use of the contrast between Roger/Dorothy’s full black outfits and the white marble of his balcony, building a sense of majesty through the geometric patterns of the layout

Right, our director actually has a name: Alex Rosewater

And even more beautiful shots as Roger rises towards this meeting, the city framed in a sickly yellow glow against his face. In visual terms, this episode seems intent on interrogating Roger’s role within this city – is he a protector of the downtrodden, or truly just a lapdog?

He arrives at a raucous masquerade party, where the guests seem almost animalistic in their revelry

It’s Schwarzwald’s party, which he hosted seemingly just to demonstrate to Roger how corrupt and slovenly Paradigm’s upper class truly are

Schwarzwald receives the check, which he promptly burns

“These false skies called domes are ineffectual and useless on this world. Everyone must be made aware of the truth of what happened forty years ago.” Please elaborate, Schwarzwald! I am intensely interested in this topic!

Oh my god, the Big O just rises all the way through this skyscraper to meet Roger. I know we generally have to handwave the practicality of the Big O’s movements for the sake of the drama, but seriously, it just obliterated fifty stories of stores and apartments

Rosewater smiles at the destruction the robots are causing. Whoever wins this fight, the end result will be “the Paradigm Corp needs to tighten control, for the safety of the people”

A great cut that splits the city into three layers, to facilitate a dramatic sideways pan as explosions erupt

And now some wonderfully fluid cuts for The Big Duo flying around the dome. They’re really going all out for this one

Oh wow. The dome’s taking more damage than ever before, and fully lights up with the force of this final blast

Schwarzwald’s face is so expressive! I love his looks of despair as Roger reveals he’s still alive

Headless and without its arms, the Big Duo still struggles to stand. Delightfully crunchy mechanical animation, wedded to a series of movements that evoke a wounded but defiant animal

Even without a pilot, the Duo drags itself towards the dome’s core, and “dies” with arm outstretched towards its target. What do the Megadeus want?

And Done

Ah, it’s such a treat to return to this show. The Big O is always an enjoyable time, but returning on an Akihiko Yamashita episode was a particular gift – the man is one of anime’s greatest creators, and someone who understands how to evoke epic theater through cinematography like almost no one else. I also loved this episode’s unique structure, and though we didn’t learn any clear information about Paradigm’s true nature, it seems clear that the seams are starting to break on this whole conspiracy. With only one episode left in The Big O’s first season, I’m not expecting any clear answers quite yet – but frankly, the fact that I even care about learning those answers is a testament to The Big O’s unique and thematically loaded worldbuilding. As a pure aesthetic artifact, The Big O #12 stands as another feather in this show’s formidable cap.

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