Friday, February 10, 2017


Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created by Hajime Yatate

The battle with Big Duo chronicled in BIG O volume 4 may be the climax of the manga’s major overarching story — the saga of Michael Seebach/Schwarzwald — but there are still questions to be answered and two more volumes in which to cover them.

Volume 5 opens mere days after the events of the prior story, with Big O still severely damaged after its showdown with Big Duo. The book’s first story is a character piece centered on Norman as he works to repair Big O while Dorothy covers for his household duties, as Roger goes about his “day job” as Paradigm City’s top negotiator. It’s a nice low-key tale following the massive battle in the prior installment, and in fact there’s not even a megadeus fight here! Big O simply spends the entire chapter undergoing repairs.

The stuff with Norman is interesting, as we learn that he likes to travel occasionally to Paradigm’s richest dome and visit a decaying statue of the Virgin Mary (which he calls his “confidante”), and we see that he has some expertise in the use of heavy firearms — but for me, the most interesting aspect of the story is once again related to memory and the Event. Roger’s client this time is an elderly man who worries that the opulent lifestyle he’s enjoyed for the past forty years is not really his. He woke up in a palatial mansion the day of the Event and has lived there ever since as its owner, but part of him wonders if he was simply a servant who happened to be the only person home at this time.

This raises even more questions about the nature of the Event. Were there no photographs in the house to let this guy know whether he lived there? Roger explicitly notes earlier in the story, as an aside to Dorothy, that pictures predating the Event do still exist. And what about identification? When the Event struck, surely people still had their driver’s licenses or other ID cards on them. And one would think there’d be mortgage documents on file someplace.

I understand that in the immediate aftermath of the Event, everyone in Paradigm would have been far too shaken up to worry about this sort of thing, but you’d expect that after the dust settled, they might have looked into matters of property, money, etc. Unless, as this chapter possibly hints, there was more lost in the even than simply people’s recollections.

The next chapter, “In Darkness”, is an odd one. It opens with Beck as possibly the richest man in Paradigm City thanks to the scam he ran leading up to the arrival of the “angel”, Big Duo, in the prior volume. But Beck quickly begins spending his money frivolously, much to the chagrin of his gang. As his purchases become more and more extravagant, the gang begins committing crimes once more to attempt to keep Beck’s cash flow going — but they’re thwarted by Big O at every turn.

(You may recall I was disappointed a couple volumes back when Beck’s mech was merely called “Super Beck” rather than the TV series’ much more flamboyant “Beck Victory Deluxe”. Turns out I needn’t have worried. Ariga was saving that name for a running gag in this chapter, in which the mech is repeatedly rebuilt after its defeats with crazy new features and a series of comically escalating names: it goes from “Super Beck” to “Beck Victory DX” to Beck Ultra DX” to “Beck Supreme DX” to Beck Special DX” to “Beck Maximum DX” to the final payoff, “Ultra Beck Victory DX Special Maximum Assault Vehicle”. I just about lost it reading these names.)

The weird thing about this chapter is that it begins and proceeds as a comedy, then abruptly switched gears to become deadly serious near the end when Beck assaults Big O in a gigantic megadeus which he calls a gigadeus. Beck laughs manically during the fight, spouting off nonsense, and the implication is that while his gang was messing around with his Beck fill-in-the-blank DX, he ventured down beneath Paradigm City and found this thing. There’s no explanation for why he did it or how he found it in this chapter, but it seems the process has driven him mad.

This brings up a point from the television series which the manga has not really touched on yet: it’s explained in the show that everyone in Paradigm city has a crippling fear of the underground. There are tunnels and catacombs far beneath Paradigm, but no one has dared to explore them in forty years. There’s an episode of the show where Roger attempts to venture beneath Paradigm but suffers a panic attack and cannot proceed. In the show, and in the manga here, Schwarzwald goes under the city and finds Big Duo — but in the manga, the cyborg from volume 2 and Beck also make that journey, and all three seem to be affected by the experience in different ways — and for Beck, the result is apparent insanity.

(I know I’m not critiquing the TV series here, but I should note that the fear of the underground was an element of the show’s first season which seemed to hint that something beneath the city may have been responsible for the Event, and had wired a phobia into the minds of everyone above to keep them from going down there to learn the truth. This clue was, if I recall correctly, completely ignored in the series’ second season, and a much [much much much much much much much] less satisfactory ending was crafted instead.)

Also notable is that during the battle, Roger hallucinates and sees several visions of what he believes to be the world prior to the Event, including subway trains, cowboys, Native Americans, and various aircraft which eventually evolve into a fleet of Big Duos soaring overhead. Roger then passes out after defeating Beck and awakens on the surface with no memory of how he wound up there.

And one last thing about this chapter: Somehow Beck knows once more that Roger is the pilot of Big O. Last time he had this info, Roger tricked him out of believing it. There’s no explanation here for how he figured it out again, but it could simply be due to the gigadeus, in the same way Schwarzwald’s connection with Big Duo let him know about Roger as well.

The volume’s final tale delves once more into the idea that the people of Paradigm are insecure about their lives. A con man takes advantage of this by presenting to the city a little girl who he says was frozen in suspended animation prior to the Event. He uses her as an oracle of sorts, making her tell the citizens what they want to hear, reassuring them for a nominal fee. But when she begins telling them the truth, letting people know that they may be shams or criminals who forgot about their prior lives, the populace turns on her and Major Dastun does his best to protect her from them.

It’s a nice character study of Dastun, who is very much like Roger in that he prefers to look only ahead and not dwell on an unknown past. But another story focused on people wondering if their lives are true or not, only two chapters after a previous tale which raised the same question, seems a bit odd.

That said, I do appreciate that Ariga keeps the girl’s true nature a secret. Is she actually defrosted from before the Event? It seems unlikely, based on Dastun’s analysis. But is she truly an oracle? That remains ambiguous. It’s hard to believe she would randomly start telling people things like “You’re not this guy’s father; you’re a robber who killed his father” unless she actually had some insight into the past. And psychic phenomena are not foreign to the world of BIG O, so it’s certainly possible she’s the real deal in that respect, at least.

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