The Big O
What can I say, this is a fine and fun anime. Cool, stylish and classy yet not so `artistic' that you're left scratching your head trying to work out what's happening. However I must admit I watched this on a bad tape. Not visual quality, that was fine, but a tape sporting one of those mysteriously inept Chinese into English translations. I could follow the story, but there's little doubt I missed a lot. I'll revise this review when I can get my hands on the real thing.
Normally I start with the story, but in this case atmosphere comes first. Picture a darkened metropolis at some indeterminate time in the future. A city either dominated by darkness or wreathed in fog. Huge grey buildings tower in the sky, many of them wrecked. At their bases clubs, bars and street criminals flourish. And while this is the future, the style is pure 50's, cool jazz and dangerous people. And, above it all, is a monstrously huge dome that must have once enclosed the whole city.
What happened to make the city both prosperous and wrecked. Why is there such variation in technology, style and the people? Well, it seems that 40 years ago, for reasons unknown, everyone lost most of their memories. As a result the whole city, and all the people in it, are, to a certain extent, broken. And, every so often, memories or skills will emerge as nightmares to plague the minds of those who live there.
And in this city lives our lead. He's cool, he's clever and perceptive, and he's the chief negotiator. Called upon when incompatible desires, crime or violence erupt. While much of his power is in his abilities he also has various high-tech gadgets to help him in his work. Not least of these being a huge mecha known as Big-O for those occasions when the situation has gone beyond negotiation. He's got the attitude down, he's got the huge mansion, the cool car and the loyal butler. He also, in the first episodes, gains another employee in the form of a female android who is giving him a serious run in the cool stakes... and has a good chance to become the new android idol of anime fan's everywhere.
It's just promising stuff. However it does have two serious problems which deserve addressing. The first may well be obvious to the perceptive reader already. That being it really does draw a lot of inspiration from Batman, especially the new Batman animated series in America. This isn't a bad thing, it's a cool source and it's sufficiently indirect, but it sure is noticeable. Especially because the the animation style is likewise similar between the two series. Admittedly none of this is surprising, considering it is the same production studio in both cases, or so I believe. The other problem, and since I watched some fan-sub and some `Asian' was that the dialog seemed a little bit brusque and short at times. A touch less skilled than I thought it would be.
Still, it gets major points in my book for having a nicely character based focus. Our lead isn't a vigilante, nor does he kick butt first and ask questions later. He's essentially a trouble shooter, trying to determine the root of a conflict and solve it in a minimal and ideally positive way. As such he could be called into a wide variety of roles and has as much emphasis on investigation as solution. It also means he gets to interact with the characters involved on both sides of the negotiation. It's also got a certain sharpness to the dialog, full of doubt and occasional acid, which gives it a nicely mature feel. In addition the nature of the city itself, the state of the rest of the world and the tyrannical hold of the cities leadership give lots of other forces at work and story origins.
And, even nicer, there's lots of other characters of value to interact with. Another agent like the lead, his old police buddy and his cool and complex butler who gets some sweet little scenes all of his own. I like character work, and this is good stuff, while still having enough space for some action in between. And, last but not least, there is Dorothy...literally reason enough to watch the thing on her own presence alone, even though her direct involvement is miniscule. However her role, actions and interactions with the lead are very interesting and memorable.
If I had to pick a fault it would be that the show is willing to go for style before logic. Now, given the poor sample of this show I had I cannot be sure, but it did seem to be the case. Certain scenes, story sequences and indeed the entire basis of the series didn't seem to hold up to close examination. Likewise the frequency with which giant mecha became involved in the story was a touch higher than could be reasonably expected. There's lots of nice scenery mind you, and it does generate the atmosphere, but if there was a collision between a fun visual scene and `story logic' then logic came second. As to the whole `memory' basis, well, I honestly can't say if it was resolved... I certainly didn't get it.
As mentioned the animation is very similar to the newest American Batman series. It's a weird style which involves strong `shapes' in the character design and a certain `flatness' to the drawing and painting. It's sort of closer to stylistic designs and can take a while to get used to, but it works very well. Couple this with some nice atmospheric effects, and some lovely character designs, and it looks good. At the same time there's quite a lot of design, technical detail and complex but well represented gadgets, not least of which is Big-O himself. It's done with care, with cool, and it all looks very good when it moves. There's a reasonable amount of huge retro robo action which captures the weight and power and should keep mecha fans happy. Voices are good, although maybe involved in some of the rough feeling to the dialog (don't mesh perfectly?), and the music is also good.
Although it has shown on American Television none of my regular sources seem to have got around to doing a review. A situation that I expect will change shortly.