Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m delighted to return to the shadowed streets of Paradigm, and enjoy another finely crafted episode of The Big O. I’ve got a bit of a natural bias against robot shows, or as I’d personally protest, I have no particular bias towards them – the fundamental concept of robots moving or fighting isn’t inherently interesting to me, and thus a lot of scenes in a lot of giant robot shows fall flat, predicated as they are on the inherent grandeur of robots in motion.
Not so for The Big O – when this show wants its robots to feel grand, it is impossible to deny their terrifying, strangely beautiful presence. The Big O’s robots combine the lumbering, not-quite-right scale of kaiju or early super robots with a street-level perspective born of the show’s noir roots, resulting in battles that consistently feel like the end of the world. With last episode’s musical drama having reaffirmed Roger and Dorothy’s relationship, I’m eager to see them continue to unlock Paradigm’s secrets. Let’s get to it!
We open with a lighter clicking against darkness, until the flame reveals a long cigarette. A nice piece of diegetic scene-setting, that focuses our attention in the same way as Roger’s is, by giving us nothing to look at or listen to beyond his own preoccupations
And there’s a reason he’s so hyper-focused – our femme fatale Angel has returned, complete with one of those long cigarettes that nefarious damsels and mysterious heiresses tend to favor so much. This show would not work if it weren’t so intimately familiar with noir’s cinematic language
The camera shifts to Angel’s thighs as Roger rambles about their accommodations, emphasizing that in spite of his alleged poise, Angel’s effect is working
Welp, apparently they’re in a skyscraper that’s sunken underwater. Tiiime for a flashback!
It’s a writing truism that beginning with one of these “I bet you’re wondering how I got into this situation” teasers is kind of a hack trick, but opening with one stark, inexplicable image is still pretty dramatically effective
“The Call From the Past”
This episode is heavy on staccato cuts presenting a small portion of the active drama. This naturally unsettles the audience, making us feel like we’ve never got a steady grip on the events happening, like Roger is proceeding faster than we can catch up
Hot damn! This episode was storyboarded by Akihiko Yamashita, one of the main storyboarders and animation directors of the transcendent Giant Robo OVA. No wonder the cinematography is so excellent!
Roger’s car is framed through the silhouetted jaws of a giant shark. Yeah, this is gonna be a fun episode
I also like that this episode is wasting no time in setting up Roger’s actual assignment. We can pick up the fact that he’s investigating price fixing within the fish markets by his active conversation – meanwhile, the lack of a proper introduction to this case means the episode is much faster-paced, while also contributing to the overall sense of disorientation that the storyboard is already facilitating. If you’re going to make a “three days earlier”-style episode, maintaining this level of disorientation is a great way to do it
Ah, they’re actively contrasting the two timelines against each other. These two adopt the classic noir detective-client dynamic in a scene like this; Roger is all cool fatalism, Angel is impatient energy, demanding to know how he’ll get them out
“You’re gonna keep playing innocent until it kills you, aren’t you?” In noir stories, the detective rarely appears concerned for his own life – one of his traditional “powers” is that he feels he has either died or been corrupted already, and thus he is either inured to the grime of the underworld, or simply unconcerned with the fate of his own life (for example, in “Chinatown,” the district of the same name is framed as the place where Jack Nicholson lost his soul as a policeman). Meanwhile, the femme fatale client tends to still possess hope that she can escape the claws of the underworld – and thus as the detective fades into reflection and resignation, his client frequently starts to panic
Nice match cut as we fade from Roger’s watch to a ship’s wheel on the harbor
Oh my god, the color contrast here is so nice. Roger’s suit always lends itself to evocative silhouettes
“What are they afraid of?” The Big O also frequently embraces horror tropes, but like its preference for super robot over real robot aesthetics, its horror influences are equally vintage – this episode seems to draw inspiration from the classic Universal horror series, like The Creature From the Black Lagoon
More inspired storyboarding, as we peer down from the rafters at Roger and Angel
Angel has two scars on her back, which look suspiciously like cut-off wings
God, more incredible shots of Roger and Angel. Yamashita is so good at harnessing the decaying architecture of this city for emotionally vivid visual effect
Angel is “looking for memories, because they’re worth a lot of money.” Roger suspects she’s looking for her own past. Thus is the dangerous yet vulnerable duality of the femme fatale
Paradigm’s citizens survive by not thinking about the past, but Angel thinks that’s horrifying. Paradigm’s worldbuilding serves as a science fiction embellishment of a noir staple – the idea that everyday citizens must avoid engaging with the dark secrets their society was built on. It’s an almost categorically post-war genre, filled with old, directionless soldiers and lonely ghosts
That actually serves as a point of connection between The Big O’s noir roots and its giant robot roots – giant robots are also an inescapably post-war invention, though they’re preoccupied with the terrible nature of a “superweapon” like the nuclear bomb, rather than the impossibility of returning home
Roger cheers Angel up with a joke about her throwing herself into his arms. The two make a pretty good pair
“This job is all I know. Whether the fisherman keep going out on their boats or not, I’m gonna keep building the darn things.” A tidy encapsulation of the tragedy of Paradigm. All these people can do is hold to their routines, even if those routines are no longer necessary or relevant. It reminds me of the doomed robots of Casshern Sins, and Girls’ Last Tour
The boat maker built a submarine because it was his father’s legacy – “I was driven to build it.” He never even tested it himself
Alright, this music track is just straight-up the Twilight Zone theme. Speaking of vintage horror
Hah, this track even uses those same spacey synthesizer noises. Well, always crib from the best
And now we get this shot of the two of them with a fleet of stingrays floating by outside. What a generous episode this is
Angel’s entrance into the narrative is as abrupt as it is funny; she outbids Roger for the submarine, and so he’s forced to chase after her and leap into the boat before she submerges
God, these undersea shots are incredible. With some of the buildings still lit up, the city glows with a pale green light, a forbidding mirror of the surface world
“So many people used to live down here. What happened to them?” “They encountered the end of the world.” “But it’s not the end of the world.” Their conversation again strikes on one of the fundamentals of noir; the idea of what to do in the world once you’ve moved beyond the conception of morality and society that guided you this far. “How do you keep living in this fallen world?”
“Do you think it’s possible that maybe living is not caring about appearances?” An excellent line by Roger
Alfred has spent the entire episode assembling an absurd diving suit. Of course, Dorothy could just walk directly to wherever Roger is currently stuck, so she suggests she go instead. I am really, really loving how Dorothy consistently has to show up and princess carry Roger out of his various jams
The sea titan rises! As usual, we get some delicious kaiju imagery as the episode’s giant robot antagonist emerges. Great cuts of him raising havoc among the docks
Oh my god. Dorothy just flinging herself ten feet into the air with her wrists alone in order to switch seats. She’s so good
At last, we get a potential glimpse behind Paradigm’s curtain, as a man in a white suit directs the investigation of the Megadeus
The Megadeus is crying, and Dorothy says that it’s lost the master it used to serve. Like Paradigm’s citizens, even its giant robots are stranded without purpose
OH SHIT, OP DROP FOR THE PILEDRIVER
Roger ends up destroying the robot’s head, and its memories alongside it. So much for all his camaraderie with Angel
“We have come to terms” is such a tongue-in-cheek stinger at the end of an episode like that
Holy shit this show is good! I thought last episode was a particularly exceptional one, but the storyboarding of this episode was just unbelievably beautiful, easily placing it among the show’s most impressive vignettes so far. Akihiko Yamashita is one of anime’s artistic treasures, and he lent an incredible sense of grandeur and elegance to this episode’s storyboards, drawing on all of Big O’s disparate influences to once again arrive at a tone and aesthetic that felt perfectly coherent, but utterly unique.
This episode’s storytelling followed suit, literally and figuratively diving into Paradigm’s history in a way that naturally embraced its noir tropes and structure. It’s marvelous enough that The Big O offers such a unique blend of influences – that the show draws those influences together so gracefully, to the point where they seem like genuinely natural companions, is astonishing. And when the results are as confident and beautiful as this, I can only feel lucky that The Big O exists at all.