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Big O
Gatchaman Collection
Retro anime has never looked better—but are looks everything?
Big O
Bandai Entertainment
Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama
Japan, 2000

Gatchaman Collection
Urban Vision
Directed by Yasuomi Umetsu
and Hiroyuki Fukushima
Japan, 1994
As of this issue, I'm abandoning my theme of "classic" vs. more recent Japanese animation. It's been fun, but it's one of those topics that could, left unchecked, continue forever. But considering the number of old-school anime titles still being released on cassette and DVD, it's clear that there'll still be plenty to talk about when it comes to comparing the old and the new.

As sort of a variation on that theme, this time around I'll be looking at two different takes on retro anime. Bandai's The Big O, which currently plays on Cartoon Network south of the border, was described to me by a friend as "answer[ing] that age-old question: What if Bruce Wayne had a giant robot?"

What if, indeed? Roger Smith is rich, good looking, and has a loyal but slightly sarcastic butler tending after his vast home. He even looks a little like a younger, more stylish version of the animated Batman's Bruce Wayne.

That's where the similarities end, unfortunately. Roger, an ex-cop, is Paradigm City's top freelance negotiatior. After a brokered hostage release goes awry, he finds himself the custodian of said hostage: R. Dorothy Wayneright, the android surrogate granddaughter of a brilliant roboticist. Dorothy spends her time as a guest at Roger's home, human in form but not demeanor, attempting to act human while vaguely disdaining them—or at least Roger. Still, she proves to be a valuable asset in Roger's mission to understand what has happened to Paradigm City.

Ah, the mystery of Paradigm: Mass amnesia struck the city forty years earlier, wiping out everybody's knowledge of their prior lives. People have adjusted for the most part, except for a lingering, common terror of going underground. Even the near-fearless Roger acknowledges his lack of familiarity when he descends below the surface in the fourth episode: "I hear there was once a transportation system here called a 'subway,'" he muses.

Aiding him in his quest is the Big O, a giant robot (or "Megadeus," as they're called here) he can summon from its underground chamber. Both the androids and Megadeuses predate the city's amnesia. The Megadeuses are part of the mystery, but it's curious that Dorothy, who is "related" to the first Megadeus encountered in the show doesn't provide much enlightenment as to what happened before the amnesia, or what caused it.

The Big O is in the same vein as Giant Robo, in that it's a new creation which evokes old-style anime by presenting a refined version of the future as it would have been conceived decades ago. Rather than presenting the adventure serial filtered through the giant robot genre, The Big O is more of a high-concept film noir with giant robot overtones. Whether my interest can be sustained throughout the series' thirteen episodes is hard to say; although my curiosity remains piqued, The Big O doesn't grip me the same way other such retro anime have. Giant Robo worked because it set itself up as a classic case of good versus evil, with an unfolding mystery. But as more pieces of the mystery came together, we—and the characters—gradually learned that what we thought we knew was wrong, subverting the basic premise of the genre. The Big O, in contrast, merely fills in the blanks. As of the fourth episode, the audience has yet to encounter the kind of revelation that forces a reevaluation of what's happened before.

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