Big O Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A+
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Entertainment
  • MSRP: 24.95
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Big O / Big O II

Big O Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     June 19, 2001
Release Date: June 19, 2001

Big O Vol. #1
© Bandai Entertainment

What They Say
A mysterious occurrence known only as "The Event" has caused the residents of Paradigm City to lose their memories. Paradigm City, the "city of lost memories", has recovered, but now falls under martial law, its citizens forever questioning what happened to them so long ago.
Sworn to protect Paradigm City, his allies, and himself, Roger Smith, a self-styled "Negotiator", along with his machine, The Big-O, seeks to unravel this mystery that haunts him like a faded memory. Just what connection does Roger and the Big O have with the city's past...?

The Review!
Some time back in early 2000, Mike Toole from Anime Jump and I met up at the first Boston area site gathering. Mike had brought with him the recently released Japanese DVD of Big O Vol. #1, a quite shiny disc with the first episode on it. Mike's enthusiasm for the show was strong and I ended up heading home to watch the single raw episode. The disc was quite gorgeous in how it looked, reminding both my wife and I why we enjoy region 2 discs.
Take that, multiply it by four episodes, save yourself a couple hundred of bucks and you have the region 1 version. This disc is sweet. And the show lives up to the visuals as well.

For our primary review, we listened to this disc in it's original language, Japanese. For the most part, this is a typical TV series stereo mix soundtrack. There are a number of quite good directional effects along the front soundstage, with a couple of prominent ones that make excellent use of depth, giving things a really nice feeling. The soundtrack follows a moody blues style sound so there's a minimal sound overall, but the sequences where the action picks up are solid and sound great. There's a decent dynamic range here and it works well.

I'm hard pressed to find anything really off about the video side of things here. The colors are spot on and well represented without a hint of over saturation, black levels are solid and camera pans produce practically no line noise. Rainbows are nonexistent. Even the breakup seen in backgrounds is exceedingly minimal. This is one of the best looking region 1 discs in my collection. It's definitely demo material.

The first volume of this series comes packaged in the same cover as the first region 2 volume though with a bit more full colors as the region 2 looks a bit washed out by comparison. It's definitely a striking cover and does a decent job of letting you know who the primary characters are. The reverse side provides several nice animation shots and the episode titles (but no numbers, but the volumes are prominently labeled) and the extensive Japanese and English staff. The insert provides another shot of the cover and the episode listings on the inside. If the disc fails to match up against the Japanese release in any way, it's with the insert as the region 2's provided 16 page booklets with volumes 2-7. But in the end it's a small sacrifice for such a great disc/price combo.

The main menu is setup as the central viewer for the Big O robot itself and looks snazzy. If anything, you'll wonder where the selections are as they don't light up until you move the cursor over them. A bit disconcerting at first, but that may just be my old age and this newfangled technologies the whippersnappers are coming up with these days. Access times are pretty decent overall and things are laid out in a straightforward way once you know where they are.

There's two extras included in this disc. The first is an always favorite of mine, the textless opening. Not that there's a ton of stuff in the Big O opening (or that it even shows up in the first two episodes) but damn it's catchy and really easy to sing along to. The other extra is several pages of textual interview with series director Katayama and character and mecha designer Satou. There's some interesting tidbits in there about the length of time it took to get this project underway as well as its origins and conceptual plans.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
So let's get the basics out of the way. Yes, it's very inspired both in look and character design by the Batman animated TV series in the U.S. and yes, the lead character is young Bruce Wayne-ish and has a butler. Once you get past these surface similarities, you'll begin to find many other inspirations that I find much more telling.

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 industrialists daughter, Dorothy Wayneright. Once the many 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 hits 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 pilots 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.

Once you get past the strong look of the Batman animated series and start delving deeper, you'll notice some other very interesting similarities. The strongest one in my mind, and probably something of an influence, is the dark and brooding sense from the Alex Proyas cult classic Dark City. With the inhabitants not knowing who they were and with the Gothamesque city layout, the comparisons are fairly easy to make.

The other that I notice, and I'm not sure how intentional it is, is the amazing feel of the classic Elijah Bailey novels from Isaac Asimov done back in the 30's and 40's. The novels dealt with a police detective on an overcrowded Earth in the future. While we don't have the overcrowding here, we do have the sense of closure with the various domes throughout the city and the layering of the citizenry throughout. The detective work is also fairly similar at times with Smith, though the character isn't anywhere near as humble as Bailey.

One of the best references here is in regards to the robot Dorothy Wayneright. Asimov is highly credited for early work with robots in science fiction literature, so part of it may just be natural, but I've never seen it anywhere else before. In later episodes, when Dorothy is referred to by Smith, he applies the R. to her name. R. Dorothy, an "honorific" if you will that was set by Asimov in his books about the integration of robots into human society. It's a really nice approach, and when combined with the feel of the Bailey novels, Dark City and the Batman series, provides a really intriguing backdrop to the giant robot genre.

Big O isn't a fast past show for the most part, and I'm sure there are going to be a number of people who will find themselves bored by it. The first episode is decent but didn't really enthrall me. As I progressed further into the disc, my fascination with the show only continued to grow and I'm eagerly awaiting the next volume.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Interviews (textual)

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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