The Big O – Episode 8

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m eager to continue our investigations into the city of Paradigm, as The Big O seems intent on outdoing itself every single episode, and I absolutely need to see where this masterpiece of aesthetic leads.

The Big O’s sixth episode was elevated by storyboards courtesy of Kazuyoshi Katayama, one of the main artists behind the stunning Giant Robo. But Katayama’s influence is clear beyond that latest adventure; along with serving as an overall director on The Big O, he also handled the storyboards for The Big O’s first three episodes, essentially setting the cinematographic tone for the series.

After that, episode seven was storyboarded by another major Giant Robo veteran: Akihiko Yamashita, an acclaimed Studio Ghibli animator who handled not just storyboards, but also character design, animation direction, and even some key animation on Giant Robo. It’s clear enough why The Big O possesses such an overwhelming sense of scale and beauty; it’s being captained by the artists responsible for perhaps the greatest example of scale and beauty in giant robot history.

Along with its legendary storyboarder, last episode also featured a script by Chiaki J. Konaka himself. Konaka is likely most famous for his collaborations with artist Yoshitoshi ABe: Serial Experiments Lain and Texhnolyze. Both of those shows demonstrate both a fascination and distrust in modern technology and transhumanism more specifically, as well as a slow, contemplative pace that feels right at home in The Big O. Between all of them, these three might be what truly defines the “soul” of The Big O.

However, as you might have noticed, we’re not watching episodes six or seven; we’re on number eight. Episode eight was both storyboarded and directed by Tetsuya Watanabe, an artist who frankly never broke big in any major way; his biggest directorial projects seem to be Schwarz Marken and Rumbling Hearts, neither of which are anything to write home about. Both storyboarding and directing is a big responsibility, so I’m intrigued to see his unique take on this remarkable franchise. Let’s get to it!

Episode 8

This show’s general lack of a cold open makes sense to me. While crime dramas frequently use their cold opens to hook the audience with a dramatic murder scene, The Big O’s “investigations” are rarely so straightforward, and the “crimes” Roger uncovers generally have more to do with the sins of the past than the passions of the present. Instead, The Big O heavily prioritizes creating a strong, consistent sense of atmosphere – and splitting your opening act between the front and back of a dramatic Queen-derivative rock song is a pretty bad way to do that

Hah! And we even open on the investigation of a murder scene, underlining how The Big O doesn’t need to play any cold open tricks to liven up its drama

The murder victim has a lovely art deco apartment, though I can’t say I’m a huge fan of that sickly green that always seems to come with the style

The murder victim was an old woman who had a golden retriever. Very amused by this Wikihow-tier drawing of a golden retriever by someone who has clearly never seen a dog before

There’s some horrible organic “thing” floating in the pool. To be honest, it’s already easy to tell this episode wasn’t boarded by Katayama or Yamashita – the direction here is far more workmanly, mostly just capturing the characters in frame

Nice pan down on Dorothy in this alleyway, though

Yeah, actually some really nice use of geometric spacing throughout her walk here. This overhead shot reduces Dorothy’s relationship with her environment to spare geometric contrasts, while simultaneously implying both a sense of entrapment and surveillance

Aw shit there’s a cat. Cat episode, everyone!

“Dorothy” has thoroughly messed up Roger’s desk. “Aww, this used to be my favorite hourglass” is a great gag, lightly ribbing the show for its own thematically on-the-nose set dressing

I also love that Norman already knows the cat’s name, Pero. And now Dorothy is asking if he could stay if he had black fur instead of grey. This episode is pretty good so far

Cats are apparently rare creatures now, and Dorothy is quite attached to this one. It seems she can relate to it as an “abandoned creature”

Ahaha, Roger has his own hourglass-building workshop. This is a pretty goofy episode, but I don’t mind one of these once in a while

Aw, this is wonderful. When the owners arrive, Roger actually does fight hard for Dorothy’s sake, attempting to negotiate a solution where she gets to keep the cat. After seeing Dorothy express so much emotional growth in response to this cat, he is genuinely committed to helping her keep it

And even when he breaks the news, he tries to do it in a way that softens the blow. He keeps talking about Dorothy’s growth, but we’re clearly witnessing his own growth, too

Aw shit, a nefarious-looking motherfucker just flew past their balcony in some kind of hover jet

And the nefarious motherfucker actually snags Dorothy, making the symmetry between Pero and Dorothy herself even more explicit

The man is “Eugene,” a fact we learn from Pero’s original owner, just before he gets gunned down

At last, it’s that shot of Norman with a heavy machinegun! We made it!

I’m very amused that that shot, which always felt extremely discordant relevant to The Big O’s usual tone, at last shows up in an episode that is indeed extremely un-Big O-like

The lady-owner seems far more preoccupied with the cat than her dead… husband? Clearly there’s more to this, and – welp, now she’s been gunned down too

Angel picks up Roger’s tail as he heads to meet with his usual informant. No slow-burning chitchat this time; with Dorothy’s life on the line, Roger sounds genuinely angry

Eugene Grant, known as an “alchemist.” A scientist studying artificial proteins

The script also feels kinda rushed for this one, though screenwriter Keiichi Hasegawa has gone on to do excellent work elsewhere; he handled both series composition and a bunch of scripts for both Rage of Bahamut: Genesis and SSSS.Gridman

He’s created all sorts of awful chimeras. Drawing back on more classic horror influences this time, with this feeling like a riff on stories like The Island of Dr. Moreau. His chamber is also festooned with massive glowing crosses, though I think that is more a general “I am like Jesus, with power over life and death” motif than something more specifically Christian

I love this show’s villain designs. All of the show’s characters are built out of sharp, distinctive geometric shapes, leading to unique and always-definable silhouettes, but the villains take it another step further, frequently stepping into nightmarish territory with their divergence from a standard human profile

Apparently both dogs and cats are on the way to extinction. So clearly it’s not just Paradigm that’s in dire straits – the entire world has suffered some terrible cataclysm, which was wrought havoc on both the human and animal worlds

Ah, he considers himself the “creator of the new world”. So that’s what the crosses are about

And apparently that couple’s actual son was used as the raw material for Pero. So I can see why they were so attached to him

Angel tosses him a gun, which he uses to shoot out the pipes over their enemies. You really can’t blame people for calling this Robot Batman; frankly, I’m just happy to see audiences drawing connections between works based on largely aesthetic parallels, rather than narrative ones. I’ve heard way too much of the opposite case – “these two works are the same” based on superficial narrative similarities, in spite of massive aesthetic, tonal, or thematic differences

For once, Roger actually has an organic monster to fight. Some nice fluid cuts for this titanic wolf-creature’s attempts to swallow him

Once again, Angel’s quest for memories is significantly hampered by Roger getting in a giant robot and blowing shit up

We’re even getting a classic “I am your creator, you must obey me!” scene

Aw, big monster kitty

And Done

Well, as I sort of expected, that was definitely one of The Big O’s weakest episodes so far, if not the weakest straight-out. Tetsuya Watanabe simply can’t compare to Katayama or Yamashita, though this episode still had its fair share of striking layouts, and the show’s fundamental designs are so good that it’s hard to go wrong. Additionally, this episode’s script felt a bit clumsier than usual – it was more “monster of the week” than most, with the villain and his creation actually taking center stage, rather than being incidental to the show’s focus on atmosphere and uncovering the secrets of Paradigm. That said, it’s always nice to see more Dorothy, and given a Yamashita episode is up next, I couldn’t be less worried about the show’s overall trajectory. Anime is frankly too ensemble of an art form for all episodes to be winners!

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