"LITTLE ROBOT LOST" | “ANGEL” | “THE MEMORY DISK” | “ROGER…”
Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created by Hajime Yatate
Story and Art by Hitoshi Ariga | Created by Hajime Yatate
The second story reveals that Alex Rosewater has been collecting all the various megadeuses and mechs Big O has defeated over the past twenty or so chapters, and is repairing them all for some unknown purpose. We also learn that Rosewater believes there are people beyond the sea who are infiltrating Paradigm, and who are responsible for the new megadeus which rose from the ocean in the previous chapter.
Meanwhile, Roger searches for Dorothy’s memory unit, a quest which leads him to a criminal hideout where he bumps into Angel. This meeting continues into the book’s third chapter, in which Angel escapes after teasing Roger with the fact that she has the memory unit. Angel hops into a megadeus she calls Big Four, but Big O is right behind her. As she battles Big O, Angel communicates with a mystery man about her acquisition of Big Four.
The battle between Big O and Big Four continues into the manga’s final chapter and heads into the ocean. While the megadeuses duke it out in a city sunk beneath the sea, Alex Rosewater speaks with his board of directors, telling them he believes Big Four’s arrival proves his theory that there are foreign powers at work outside of Paradigm City. Soon, during a lull in their fight, Angel sees a vision of Beck while Roger hallucinates a conversation with Schwarzwald. When Roger comes around, he spots Dorothy watching the fight from a nearby rooftop. The fact that she sought him out despite missing her memories reinvigorates Roger and Big O destroys Big Four, apparently killing Angel in the process.
In addition to all of the above, this book both opens and closes with scenes featuring Alex’s father, Gordon Rosewater, on his farm outside of Paradigm. In the first scene he speaks with Angel, cryptically suggesting that something she's after needs a “heart” to operate — this is obviously the memory unit, and serves as an explanation for why it was stolen, who stole it, and for what reason — Angel needs it to operate Big Four. What's unclear is why Gordon is even speaking with Angel about this, unless for some reason he's in cahoots with her against his son (she specifically tells Roger that Alex knows nothing about her agenda with Big Four).
(I should note that Gordon is not mentioned by name at all here; I only know his name and his relation to Alex from the TV series. This seems like sloppy storytelling on Ariga’s part.)
The second scene with Gordon comes after Big O defeats Big Four and sees the elder Rosewater remarking to himself that “the children have grown up splendidly.” What he means by this is unclear, though the anime initially presented him as having a mysterious connection to Roger since childhood. Presumably, he has some similar, if unexplained, connection here as well.
So it's all kind of ambiguous, but at least it's an ending. When BIG O’s first TV season concluded, it was on a huge cliffhanger with numerous new questions raised. There are questions remaining here as well, to be sure, but at least we also have an ending: Angel is revealed as (apparently) a spy from overseas sent to Paradigm to steal a megadeus, and Roger beats her. The end.
That said, Ariga seems to be leaving the door open here for a sequel to tie up the remaining loose ends — but when BIG O returned for its second season a couple years later and he was indeed commissioned for further manga chapters, he (or his editors) chose to set them between volumes 5 and 6 of the manga rather than push forward. (And, as noted when I began this project, the “Lost Memory” chapters that accompanied the second season have never been issued in English, otherwise I would've covered them here as well.)
So overall, how does the BIG O manga stack up against the television series? I think it depends which version of the series you're talking about. If we put Ariga’s comics side-by-side with only the first season of the TV series, which is what it was published concurrently with, I could go either way. The anime has the benefit of being the “main” continuity; the version that “counts”. It's stylish, mysterious, and noir-ish and a lot of fun — but it ends on a major cliffhanger. The manga, meanwhile, has a lot of that noir feel to it as well (assisted greatly by the black-and-white artwork), and it has the benefit of something resembling a legitimate conclusion, so that really helps. Plus it has more room to breathe, length-wise, and perhaps fleshes out the world of Paradigm City a bit better than the TV show. I'm really hard pressed to declare a true winner between these two, but I suppose I'd give it to the anime in the end simply because, as noted above, it’s the “real” story.
But if we factor in the second season of the TV show, things change. When BIG O returned to the airwaves in 2003 with thirteen further episodes to wrap things up, I was totally on board and ate up the new shows up with as much voraciousness as I had the original run. But it was clear something was different. The original thirteen were very episodic even as certain plot points tied them together, and it was an approach I felt suited the world very well. The second season, however, was completely serialized from start to finish — and the finish was a massive misfire, the most unsatisfyingly ambiguous conclusion I’ve ever seen from pretty much anything. The second season of BIG O, while it certainly had its moments here and there, just didn’t fit together with the first; it was like hammering a round peg into a square hole. So if we look at the BIG O manga and the full twenty-six episode series side-by-side, for me there’s no competition: the manga wins hands-down for maintaining that episodic feel and for having an actual conclusion.
In either continuity, though, my biggest takeaway from revisiting the BIG O manga is that it remains a fantastic world filled with interesting characters, great designs, and intriguing mysteries. Both the manga and the anime had conclusions (however unsatisfying int he latter's case), but both also left loose ends and a chance for future installments. But for whatever reason, it seems BIG O was never quite able to find an audience large enough to continue. It's really a crying shame nothing more has come out of this property since 2003.