Friday, January 13, 2017


Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created byHajime Yatate

BIG O is part crime noir story, part giant mech epic, and part Western superhero serial. The first manga volume introduces us to our protagonist, setting, and most of the supporting cast in quick order. Roger Smith, the hero of the story, is the best negotiator in Paradigm City, a sprawling metropolis where the privileged and wealthy live beneath massive domes lit by artificial sunlight, while the poor and downtrodden reside outside the domes beneath a perpetually smoggy darkness — and, more importantly, it’s a city where everyone woke up one day forty years earlier with total amnesia.

Roger’s not merely a negotiator, however — he is also the pilot of Big O, a “Megadeus” robot which resides beneath the city and rises to his aid whenever he encounters evil giant robots and creatures (which, conveniently, happens in pretty much every chapter). It’s interesting to note that the series’ creators intended “Megadeus” to be pronounced “mega day-us”, as in deus ex machina, since that’s basically what it is: an instrument — perhaps, as hinted throughout the series — of God’s will, which comes to the aid of humanity whenever they need it most. The American dub of the anime series butchered this, however, by constantly referring to the thing as a “mega deuce.”

With more space allotted it than the TV series which it adapts — by the time it's done, the manga will have a total of twenty-one chapters versus the anime’s thirteen episodes — author and artist Hitoshi Ariga spends a bit of extra time at the outset letting us get to know Roger on his own before moving on to establish the series’ proper status quo. Thus we open with a two-parter called “Take Back A Memory” which really helps to flesh out the world of Paradigm City — though it also raises some peculiar questions about the nature of the event that robbed the city’s inhabitants of their memories.

In addition to Roger, the story also introduces us to Major Dan Dastun of Paradigm’s Military Police, an old friend of Roger’s who attempts constantly to keep the peace whenever Big O or its enemies show up. (And another note: at one or two points in this story, Dastun refers to Big O by its name. This is either a mistake or a huge departure from the TV series, where no one other than Roger and his confidantes knew what to call the thing. Everyone else simply referred to it as “the Megadeus.”)

As well, we meet Roger’s faithful butler, the eyepatched Norman, and recurring antagonist Beck, who likes to build and/or steal giant mechs for various illegal pursuits. This time, he outfits another pair of criminals, Marino and Kay, with a machine to attack Paradigm’s “Memory Repository” — and this is where things begin to get odd.

The BIG O TV series flirted with the idea that “memories” could be tangible things, but it always seemed like they were talking about items that could trigger a memory, such as mementos of a prior life. But here, “memories” are obliquely referred to as if they, themselves, are things. Like, not a pocketwatch or some other object that can remind you of something, but an actual, physical thing called a “memory” which is stored in the repository and is able to be destroyed. Like I said — odd.

And it’s doubly weird when the people of Paradigm panic over their memories being held hostage by Marino and Kay. I mean, if an entire city has amnesia and there’s a building downtown which somehow holds everyone’s lost memories, then, err… why are those memories lost? Shouldn’t anyone be able to waltz in and take what belongs to them? The entire concept is bizarrely abstract and makes no sense whatsoever.

Further, Ariga gets a little odd with what, exactly, is meant by people not having memories. We’re told, explicitly, that the mass amnesia happened forty years ago. Then we meet Kay and Marino, wondering who they were before they lost their memories — friends, lovers, etc? But they seem too young to have been alive forty years ago, and even if they were around forty years back, and old enough to be lovers, wouldn’t that put them in their fifties or sixties? They’re not drawn that old at all, and Roger even hits on Kay early in the story before learning who she is — so it’s highly unlikely they were around for “the Event”.

In that case, does this mean that people still just randomly lose their memories? But if this is so, wouldn’t you think they might have friends who could help them through the trauma? Again, it seems Ariga is trying to be too clever here and his story suffers some logical lapses as a result. (Though this is nothing compared with how clever the TV series would eventually try to be in its second season, leading to a spectacular fireball of a botched conclusion.)

In any case, Roger saves the day, Kay and Marino are arrested, and we move along to the next chapter, which sees Roger and Big O save the city from a gigantic mutated lightning bug unleashed by Beck. It’s a very run-of-the-mill Big O story and not really worth discussing, so we’ll jump straight past it to “They Name is Dortothy”, the manga’s fourth chapter which is an adaptation of the very first episode of the television series. In it, Beck kidnaps the daughter of a Doctor Solderno, and Roger is hired to conduct negotiations for her release. He gets a girl back from Beck, but Solderno claims she isn’t his Dorothy.

It’s kind of cool to have Roger, Big O, and Beck established before we get to this point, as opposed to the TV series, where all appear together alongside Dorothy in the opening minutes. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with the way the show begins, and it introduces everyone just fine, but I sort of like the idea of squeezing in a couple of “prequel” adventures before Ariga gets to the main story. And his adaptation us about as faithful as can be, following the episode’s plot nearly exactly.

Roger eventually learns that Dorothy is an android correctly identified as Dorothy II, and the original Dorothy is — you guessed it — a giant mech which Beck uses in an attempt to rob Paradigm’s mint. Big O saves the day — with some help from Dorothy — but Solderno is killed by Beck and our tale ends on a cliffhanger as, in the aftermath of the fight, Dorothy goes missing.

As I said, it’s a beat-by-beat adaptation of the premiere anime episode, “Roger the Negotiator”, to the point that — even though I haven’t seen the episode in years — I can hear the voices of the American cast and the excellent musical score in my head while reading it. It’s also mostly a straightforward action story, with only a minor, and quickly resolved mystery as to Dorothy’s true nature. But Ariga isn’t finished adapting the TV series yet. When we cover BIG O volume 2 next week, we’ll see his take on episode 2, “Dorothy Dorothy”. Then, from that point — as I recall — Ariga goes in his own direction telling sort of an alternate universe version of the TV show’s events. But we’ll learn more about that, and talk a bit about his art style as well, next time.

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