When it comes to legendary mecha anime people often point to things like countless versions of Gundam, Evangelion, sometimes Knights of Sidonia. These are anime that have stood the test of time and people love them. They're credited as being some of the best anime to ever air. But there's always one that gets left off the list when it comes to anime and giant mechs. A dark anime that debuted in 1999 that is often overlooked. That anime is The Big O.
The Big O doesn't fit the standard anime tropes of the time because it wasn't made based on those tropes. Instead it's look and storytelling style is based on American cartoons that were popular at the time. It's biggest influence comes from Batman The Animated Series. A show that didn't hesitate to focus on darker storytelling and I mean way darker than other anime. Sure they've got some dead mother is the power source for your robot but wipe a whole city's memory is crazy.
Big O is based in Paradigm City, a place where nobody has memories of the last 40 years. The story follows Roger Smith, who at his roots is a detective. Roger describes himself simply as "My name is Roger Smith. I perform a much needed job here in this city of amnesia." A city filled with over the top characters trying to piece together their past, or carve new futures. He's become the main problem solver for the city from mysteries to kidnappings, he handles it all. Meanwhile some people are starting to have memories return to them. Sometimes as nightmares sometimes as attacks in broad daylight.
While there's a main story to be had most of the first season is made up of stand alone episodes. This is good because it gives a life to the city. Sure they could focus on just the story but it's good to know that there are things going on behind the scenes with gangs, drugs and everything else. It really paints the city as this corrupt place. I think that's one of the things the show does best. It really makes the city seem more like a character than just a setting.
Visually the show is appealing for the same reasons Batman The Animated Series is. It's dark, filled with crisp lines and the character design is super detailed down to the number of buttons on Roger's suit. It's also a little jarring when you compare it to other anime, even other anime with dark colored pallets. Big O is also really good at framing certain shots to give them a sense of scope. Some of my favorite moments are the classic detective noir style shots. The show has a ton of detail but it stands on in scenes where like one where Roger stares out the blinds and the shadow reflects on his face as steam from his coffee rises up and into his nose as he inhales. Roger and Dorothy standing on the Big O mech as embers from a nearby flame float in the air and the glow tints their faces on one side and cast shadows on the other. It's such a beautiful show.
Big O is probably never going to be considered one of the best animes ever. You're probably not going to go check it out. But, it will always hold a space in my heart and many other fans. It's a cult classic. It's always going to have fans and they're always going to be dedicated. But, it's never going to reach the masses and that's okay.
You can hear Darrell on the CP Time and Powerbomb Jutsu podcasts. He also plays classic arcade games on The Cabinet. You can also check out his playthrough of Sleeping Dogs or Skyrim