Friday, January 27, 2017


Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created by Hajime Yatate

Beck is back… again. The BIG O anime used this character sparingly, at least in the first run of episodes. Of those thirteen, he popped up in a grand total of three. The manga, however, has no compunctions about utilizing Beck early, often, and unrelentingly.

This time, our volume opens with Beck breaking out of prison and then using a mech disguised as Big O to wreak havoc on Paradigm City. Beck knows Roger Smith is Big O’s pilot, and has one of his men shadow Roger so he can be sure that wherever his faux O operates, Roger will be occupied elsewhere. But Roger catches on to this scheme and, with some help from Norman and Dorothy, defeats Beck.

I have to say, tired as I am of Beck, this is a pretty fun story. It borrows elements from a TV series episode titled “Beck Comes Back”, including Beck’s prison break, the physical design of his mech after the Big O shell is removed from it, and the members of his gang (though a female associate is added who didn’t appear on the show, apparently for the sole purpose of providing a gratuitous topless scene* and making goo-goo eyes at Beck).

The story also gives us new machinations by Angel — she busts Beck out of prison and provides him with the megadeus for unknown reasons — and lets Norman in on the action, sort of, as he "pulls an Alfred" and disguises himself as Roger to dismiss Beck’s theory about Roger being the man being the Big O. However I need to give negative points to whoever translated the name of Beck’s robot (or perhaps I need to award bonus points to whoever translated it for the TV series adaptation), which is called “Super Beck” here. Its name in the anime, “Beck Victory Deluxe”, is way funnier.

The second story features Dorothy’s encounter with an idealistic, apparently delusional, young artist who falls in love with her. But his studio is demolished by Beck’s gang, working odd jobs until Super Beck is repaired, and eventually he moves on. The thing is played mostly for laughs and while it has some chuckle-worthy moments, ultimately it’s totally inconsequential to the BIG O mythos.

The volume’s third tale, on the other hand, while a “monster of the week” one-off, does feature some contributions to the overarching plot. Major Dastun is injured investigating something unusual in the slums outside the dome, and eventually a cute little metal-eating slug-creature is revealed as the responsible party when it devours enough to grow to gigantic size. Big O annihilates the thing, though Roger shows some remorse for doing so. It’s kind of sad; really. I suppose if the little critter hadn’t been so cute I might not feel that way, but it is and I do.

The story gives us a look not only at the city outside the dome, but also at the world beyond Paradigm. Roger, who uses a hidden underground railroad system to transport Big O around the city, is forced to travel beyond its limits to finish off the giant slug-thing. Thus we learn that his tracks extend well outside of Paradigm, and we get a look at the world beyond the city, which is essentially a barren wasteland with what appears to be a zeppelin crashed in the background. It’s a curious scene which goes unremarked upon within the story, but which is clearly designed to pique the reader’s interest.

Angel also makes a comeback, and has her first face-to-face meeting with Roger since her debut. This time she’s looking for the slug on behalf of the Paradigm Company, but when it mutates, CEO Alex Rosewater decides he wants nothing to do with it and orders the thing destroyed. He later reminds Angel that her primary responsibility is the “Seebach case,” referring to missing reporter Michael Seebach — a.k.a. Schwarzwald — who the company is still trying to find.

Oh, and lastly, we get a look at Major Gauss of the Military Police, who takes over for Dastun during his recuperation. This minor character from an episode of the TV series will see a bit more action in the manga going forward, popping up again in the very next story, the offbeat and downright bizarre “Alcohol, Tobacco & Memories”. In it, Roger, Beck, and Angel all arrive at an old service station far outside Paradigm (so far that it’s even beyond the range of Roger’s train) and spend some time with its elderly owner.

There’s no explanation given for how Roger winds up here; he’s simply out driving far beyond the city when he runs out of gas. Beck and Angel, meanwhile, have both come for their usual selfish reasons — to find memories (Beck presumably to sell them, while Angel plans to confiscate them for the Paradigm Company).

The group does some drinking and Roger has a strange vision of Schwarzwald asking him how he’s able to pilot the Big O. This prompts Roger to activate Big O and use it in a drunken rage to raze the service station to the ground before the newly-arrived Military Police, summoned by Angel and led by Guass, can take the place over.

It’s weird and kind of surreal and I’m honestly not sure whether I like it or not. Seeing the world beyond Paradigm is always nice, but some wherefores would have been useful to let us know just what Roger is doing out there. The vision of Schwarzwald is strange too; Roger never saw Seebach after he was disfigured, so how would he know what the guy currently looks like unless this is some sort of genuine psychic flash? And up to this point, such supernatural elements have not been a part of BIG O, so it feels odd to bring them in now at the series’ halfway point.

When I covered volume 1, I said that I would speak to Hitoshi Ariga’s artwork in my look at volume 2, but that didn’t happen. So, briefly, I’ll touch on it here: I really like his style. It’s loose, fluid, and fun, but the shots of Big O, Paradigm city, and the various enemy Megadeuses and monsters are always suitably dramatic. Add to this a flair for visual humor when necessary, and you have a winner as far as I’m concerned.

If I have one complaint regarding Ariga, it’s that he draws Dorothy and initially drew Roger way off model from their animated counterparts. It’s bizarre — he nails pretty much everyone else. Norman, Beck, Dastun, Angel, Rosewater, Schwarzwald — they all look like they stepped off the TV screen. But his Roger looked way too young in the earlier volumes (something he’s thankfully fixed by this point) while his Dorothy is so far off-model, almost entirely in the eyes, that she almost looks like a different character. I’m not sure why he would choose to depart so radically for the series’ two main stars while sticking closely to everyone else, but it’s very disconcerting.

* I think I’ve made it abundantly clear in the past that I’m all in favor of gratuitous topless scenes when appropriate, but I must admit that I don’t like it here. BIG O is mostly a very “family friendly” series, and while I understand that something like a single bare breast glimpsed in one panel is not a big deal at all in Japan, over here — for whatever reason — it is. Much as I can’t stand censorship, in this case I almost wish Viz had covered the thing up since this book — and the entire rest of the series — are otherwise totally inoffensive.

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