Friday, February 3, 2017


Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created by Hajime Yatate

BIG O’s fourth volume features a major showdown which the TV series saved for its penultimate episode — but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, the volume opens with an examination of Roger Smith’s psyche as he attempts to locate a bar once owned by the elderly father of his current client. During his quest, Roger is haunted by recollections of a woman he met in a bar years earlier, and eventually he discovers that the establishment for which he's searching is the same one in his memories; he has forgotten somehow.

This brings up a question we covered briefly last time: even now, in Paradigm City, do people still randomly lose their memories, either in whole or in part? It's been established that Roger is younger than forty years old; he was born after the Event. But does his fragmented recollection here mean that he's lost a few memories of his own over the years? Or are these just honest lapses? The manga presents no answer, leaving us to wonder.

The story also features Big O battling a mech piloted by Roger’s client, looking to break into a safe inside the old bar, but that's really just the obligatory giant robot fight. Roger’s inner struggles are the true plot for this one.

The second story, “The Chosen Ones”, takes another look inside Roger’s head while also furthering the mysterious agenda of the Paradigm Company. In this one, Roger has gone to investigate disappearances in the slums outside the domes, and is himself kidnapped by a pair of mad scientists looking to mine the memories of Paradigm’s lost souls for answers about the Event. The scientists have brainwashed a number of military policemen, who capture Roger for their masters. But when Roger is strapped into their memory extraction machine, he overloads it, breaks free, and saves the day with Big O’s help.

This volume seems to really push the idea that there’s more to Roger than meets the eye, and more than he even realizes about himself. He already had a vision of Schwarzwald in the prior volume, and he has another one here, in the first story. In “The Chosen Ones”, his memories are so strong that they prove too much for a machine which was previously show to turn people into mental vegetables when they were attached to it. The anime would go with a similar tack for Roger in its second season, but at this point, in the initial thirteen episodes, Roger’s possible “destiny” remained mostly foggy — making the manga the first place it’s truly explored in depth.

This story also features one of the mad scientists getting gunned down by a mystery sniper right before Major Dastun’s eyes. Then, in the very next scene, Angel reports to Alex Rosewater with papers recovered from the villains’ lair. The intimation seems to be that Angel killed the scientist for the Paradigm Corporation to keep him from talking. The documents she recovers are Michael Seebach’s notes, reminding readers that his story is still the major overarching plotline of THE BIG O.

And so the next chapter, a double-length extravaganza, brings the Seebach/Schwarzwald story to its climax. Roger is hired to find a missing singer, but instead runs across Schwarzwald, who reveals he knows Roger is Big O’s pilot, and wants to know why Roger uses the megadeus in the fashion he does. Before he can eleaborate further, he vanishes, and the singer Roger is after is soon found dead. Meanwhile, Angel informs Beck that the sun, hidden by Paradigm’s perpetually smoggy sky for decades, will rise in mere days and an angel will descend from the sky. Beck quickly puts this information to use, using his gang to scam the people of the city with an evangelical act. But on that day, the clouds truly do part and a megedeus appears, piloted by Schwarzwald.

This robot, called Big Duo and rebuilt from the megadeus Schwarzwald had found beneath Paradigm some time earlier, begins a rampage until Big O arrives to fight it off. During their battle, Schwarzwald rants about the “Bigs” being instruments of the gods, and declares they caused the Event forty years earlier. Big O defeats Big Duo, blowing it up and apparently killing Schwarzwald, as Angel observes from within the city while Alex Rosewater watches from his office. Angel seems amused, while Rosewater states that Roger Smith and Michael Seebach — he knows they’re the pilots of the two machines — have helped him “see the light.”

There’s a lot of information dropped in this one regarding the megadeuses and their possible purpose in the world, but at the same time nothing is really clarified. Honestly, it’s a little frustrating. I appreciate a slow burn mystery as much as the next guy, but this far into the story I feel like readers are owed some genuine answers rather than vague clues and more questions. I don't need everything revealed, but a couple more concrete hints about the Event and/or the megadeuses would be appreciated. But excessive ambiguity, to the point of frustration, would be the hallmark of the BIG O TV series’ conclusion a couple years later, so perhaps Ariga is simply ahead of his time here.

That said, the artwork in this chapter is phenomenal. It's some of Ariga’s moodiest ever, with some great noir-ish scenes early on as Roger meets Schwarzwald, followed by an astounding battle between Big O and Big Duo which nearly puts the epic anime version to shame. And there's one particular page, featuring the “angel” Big Duo descending from the parted clouds, which is truly breathtaking. I'll put it this way: I hadn't read the BIG O manga for over a decade when I decided to do this retrospective, and I would've been hard pressed to recall any particular page or panel from the series — except this one. That shot of Big Duo has stuck with me since the very first time I saw it and I'll probably remember it for the rest of my life. For whatever reason, it really made an impression on me.

No comments:

Post a Comment