Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’d like to return to The Big O, if that’s okay with you all, as I feel this show is one of the most rewarding projects I’m currently working on. The show is just such a complete package – I’d be happy enough simply to marvel at its terrific architecture and use of visual geometry, but it also succeeds as a polished, tightly written noir drama, somehow finding a natural meeting point between mystery, horror, and giant robot drama. As for this episode, it apparently features a storyboard by Kazuyoshi Katayama himself, the series’ overall director, and also the architect of its first three storyboards. If anyone has a natural fluency in The Big O’s aesthetic mix, it’d be Katayama, so let’s see what he has in store for us in episode ten!
Once again, we open on a pinhole view into the city, accompanied by that mournful saxophone. I feel like they might have benefited from a few more jazz standards in the soundtrack; this one’s been used enough to feel immediately familiar, which somewhat diminishes its tonal power
Oh shit, the symbolism balloon is rising into view!
Alright, this probably demands a little context. So, one super common and frankly kinda hacky visual metaphor that appears in all sorts of anime is a thing I call the Symbolism Balloon. This balloon is generally but not always red, frequently begins its life in the grip of a child, and always ends up floating sadly away, lost in the sky. Symbolism Balloon is one of those markers like an abandoned doll on a playground, a signifier that’s supposed to convey a sense of fragility, lost innocence, or something precious yet intangible slipping away
And it actually can convey those things, at least the first time you see it – but after watching this same trick in so many different anime, I’ve come to see Symbolism Balloon more as one of those charming character actors who pop up all over the place in bit parts, never breaking it big, but always doing their best in whatever role they’re assigned. Hey Symbolism Balloon, how’s it going? You hear they’ve got open casting for the next Precure season? Might want to check it out
“Sometimes, memories appear suddenly and unexpectedly out of the darkness.” Dastun is watching a film projection, a pretty clear example of precisely what Roger’s talking about
On the screen, a woman is shot, and an officer of some kind cradles her in his arms. This feels far too reminiscent of a scene from Cowboy Bebop’s final episodes to be a coincidence – considering Sunrise had just finished Bebop a mere season before The Big O’s premiere, this seems like a genuine wink to the studio’s own “treasured memories”
A pair of bright lights appear in the darkness, only to resolve into a robot as they approach. Even without the noir influence and stylistic strengths, I feel like I’d probably enjoy more giant robot shows if they more frequently embraced the genre’s potential for horror. That combo is just one element of The Big O’s mix, but it’s a very potent one
This robot seems more old-fashioned than the Deus designs we’re used to
Oh wow, this pan down a church is gorgeous. As is frequently the case, we stick to classic art deco colors – a deep maroon for the dome above, and a sickly lime green for the church itself
A pan across the congregation emphasizes The Big O’s distinct character geometry – and there’s another balloon!
And a balloon truck outside. This might be Symbolism Balloon’s big break!
Oh damn, the robot’s actually a bomb. This show tends to shy away from serious human casualties, but this is a massacre
As Dastun awakes from a dream, the shades of his office window make for another prison of silhouettes
“Winter Night Phantom”
The fire hoses leading into the burned-out church make it look like a patient on life support, run through with wires
In the crowd, Dastun spots the woman from the film, bearing the red balloon
Seems like this episode is embracing a classic superhero conceit: “what is it like to be a cop in a world with superheroes?” The Gotham Police Department has been the subject of a wide number of dedicated projects over the years, so it’s no surprise that Dastun is receiving a focus episode
Amused that Dastun’s assistant sees “Fin” in cursive as “a series of indecipherable letters.” Worldbuilding, or just giving Dastun a character to outsmart?
AW SHIT THE BALLOON’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU DASTUN DUCK
I’m sorry, I’ll try to contain myself. Presumably The Big O is genuinely calling back to the french classic The Red Balloon, but I’ve seen so many Symbolism Balloon appearances that it’s hard to bring a neutral perspective to this
I like how Roger just casually shows up for one inconsequential scene here. Always nice to see a character who is so central to our understanding of a narrative from another’s perspective – it humbles them, in a way, making them seem more human, and also emphasizing the sense that this world exists even when the protagonist isn’t in the room
Great shot of Dastun in this car, with the towers of the city reflected over his lowered face, emphasizing the burden he carries
“You maintain the perpetrator isn’t from our city, but from somewhere else? In other words, a different country?” Well, that sure is a casual reveal that Paradigm is a self-contained country
“The rest of the world has been utterly wiped out.” WHAT!? Oh wow, I love that we’re just learning this incidentally like this
It seems like this whole “counsel” is essentially a sham run by one central ruler – and at that ruler’s side, we see our old friend Angel
Dastun’s been taken off the case
A nice dash of continuity in Dastun seeking a drink at the bar with the robot pianist
Oh wow. Dastun’s own partner is killed in the next bombing, along with another retired government official
More beautiful compositions framed through silhouettes as Dastun runs into the mysterious woman outside the theater. The harsh yellow light provokes a sense of danger and unreality, emphasizing how Dastun’s encounters with this woman always seem to take place on the edge of a dream. Draining all colors but yellow also draws this sequence closer to black-and-white photography, further muddling the distance between Dastun’s waking world and his dream of the film pier
Ah, this is so nice. Without anywhere else to turn, Dastun actually heads to Roger’s apartment, and shares his feelings over a glass of whiskey. Great to see how much Dastun genuinely values their relationship, and how Roger is willing to listen in turn
So French is essentially a dead language now, if the world outside Paradigm is truly lost. That explains why Dastun’s partner didn’t recognize “Fin” as a word
Oof. Devastating little detail at the funeral, as the son of Dastun’s partner sees all the military police saluting and mirrors them, clearly not understanding what’s going on
At least one dome houses an amusement park, and that’s where we’re headed. Are we doing a Third Man bit? Maybe Strangers on a Train? I’m excited!
Apparently, the actress from Dastun’s film was also an activist who spoke out against the government. And it seems a great deal of pre-amnesia art was destroyed thirty years ago, in a purge presumably designed to tighten the grip of Paradigm’s government
We’re diving into some fascinating territory here regarding the nature of history and identity. Rather than just being a passive articulation of how our future potential is dictated by our past experience, it seems Paradigm was specifically designed to be a city whose citizens lack the aesthetic or moral framework to even imagine rebellion against their rulers. Destroying seditious art is just as important as silencing rebellious individuals, if you want to create a population that doesn’t just feel rebellion is impossible, but wouldn’t even have the idea of rebellion occur to them
That, ultimately, is the goal of nearly all artistic censorship, be it political or religious in nature – to keep people from even imagining the things that might lead them to greater intellectual freedom. In 1984, this instinct was sharpened to a fine point through the introduction of “Newspeak,” a new language designed to only offer the tools necessary for functional communication and pro-government sentiment. Art and language are tools that allow us to broaden our very conception of the world, so attacking them is a natural step in seeking to limit our intellectual rebelliousness
The cops have covered all the exits, but were clearly not prepared for a giant robot to just laser its way into the dome directly
“Crude inventions. But an appropriate one for pathetic foreigners, wouldn’t you say?” Aha! So it seems there may actually still be other countries – it’s just that, like with his censorship of foreign art, Paradigm’s ruler wants his people to believe they must remain here
Roger handles the robot, while Dastun heads towards his fated memory on the pier
More great, kaiju film-esque shots as the bomb-laden robot approaches a family in the ferris wheel
“It’s strange. I thought for a long time it would end up like this.” “I’ve known too. For as long as I can remember.”
Goddamn, that episode was so good! Certainly plenty strong in all of The Big O’s usual ways, from its magnificent storyboards and clever use of geometry, to the tidy synchronicity of its narrative structure, and how it balanced its various genre influences. But even beyond that, this episode managed to take our most extensive explanation yet of the true fate of the larger world, and turn it into both a tragic personal story and a reflection on how our identities, and our view of the probable or possible, is shaped by the art that inspires us. Dastun’s melancholy story felt reminiscent of Bebop’s vignettes in the best possible way, and through his raging against the confines of Paradigm’s police force, we learned that Paradigm itself may be one massive prison. What an effective episode!