Monday, July 06, 2009

The Big O - Season 2 Revisited

Yeah, I kinda feel the same way.

I rewatched most of season 2 of The Big O recently, which was both a good and bad thing. It was good in the sense that since I love the series (it's the only series which I own all the R1 releases for, and probably the only one I will ever own all the R1 releases for) and all of the nostalgic points that I remember watching over and over the first time all still held the same impact. That said, the disappointment I felt the first time through when, towards the end, it turned into an all-out crap fest, also stuck this time through.

A little backstory on the first series/season: the original run of Big O was supposed to be 26 episodes (or so) but the anime proved unpopular in Japan at the time, so it was cut to only 13 episodes. However, anime was becoming popular in the US around it's original run in Japan and was subsequently picked up by Cartoon Network and was immensely popular here on it's Toonami block (I just dated myself, didn't I?). So much so that CN commissioned Sunrise (yes, unsurprisingly the producers of Gundam and just about every other mecha-based anime since the 80s also made the Big O) to make "moar Big O".

That said, the first season of Big O was much, much better than the second, in my opinion. The first season set up all of these mysteries and explored them in that strange esoteric Japanese style that seemed like it would've all been brought together toward the end (or give the audience some big, ambiguous middle finger ending). The first season was sort of episodic, but it felt like the individual stories were building toward something at the end of the day. Season two felt like it tried too hard, if that makes sense. Season one felt rambling but like it ultimately had direction, it just wasn't going to be pushed there for the sake of "getting there". Season two felt like it was driving toward the ending from episode 14 on - like everything in every episode was supposed to be part of what the end was going to amount to. Which would be fine if the ending was complete cop-out "Ooh the Matrix is popular, let's rip off that!", bullshit.

The ending basically takes that interesting, film noir-y, anachronistic Paradigm City we were introduced to in the first season - you know, the one filled with all of the interesting amnesiac characters with that shred of purpose - and flushes it down the toilet. I realize the series already had a set number of episodes going in more or less, but some of the things that they wasted screen time on just didn't make sense. As I said above, they set up so much that seemed like it was going to get explained eventually, and that anachronistic backdrop with a futuristic twist could have had so much more done with it in terms of plot instead of just making season two "Battlebots in Anime Land".

And I think that's why it pissed me off so much that that's the way it turned out. Plenty of people I'm sure wrote this off as "just another giant robot anime", and that's maybe why it didn't do so well in Japan. But in the first season it was not at all formulaic. Roger would embark on various adventures and a lot of the time he'd just be on foot or whatever, and the Big O was almost like another character rather than a mech. Season two just degenerated into: person has a problem/ulterior motive and hires Roger to solve it/trick him. Dorothy comes along or Angel shows up right in the nick of time to help save Roger's ass when the inevitable Alan Gabriel appearance is made. If that isn't happening, he's encountering Alex Rosewater in some way, who then taunts him by hinting at how he's building a Big for some vague reason, which may or may not include him dominating all of the people in Paradigm City that are already dominated by him (which Roger even points out to him at one point early on). After that, the ubiquitous monster of the week comes out, proceeds to get pounded to scrap by the Big O, and then the person confesses to their trickery.

What makes the whole thing even worse is that the second season eschews the "episodic tapestry" that worked for it in season one, for some centralized plot nonsense about, "Megadeuses picking their owners and you don't know how to pilot one!" "Yes I do!" blah blah, crap. The series had its plate full in the first season, and I thought for sure after seeing the season 2 opener that it would choose to flesh those points out rather than make some plot around a homosexual android assassin and some douchebag that looks like a cross between a bouncer and a CEO. Michael Zebach/Scwartzwald was a much more interesting antagonist than the Rosewater family.

If I had to compare the first season to any other series, it'd be Cowboy Bebop. It shared that same whimsy that Bebop had, with the whole anachronism thing going for both series. Season one had that "film noir where you're not sure if it's the future or past, with a dash of steampunk" feel throughout, like CB had that "almost-plausible, yet very sci-fi fused with jazz and a dash of film noir in space" feel to it. Again, on this front season two fails to make a mark. It's all over the map, and tries to hard to be sci-fi in one episode, steampunk in another, mecha-anime in another, philosophical in yet another... it just gets tiring.

Overall, rewatching this didn't change my opinion much, it just added to what I already felt. The action portions were "neat", if not a little pointless sometimes, taking up waaaaay too much of the episode. (I don't know exactly how much of a hand CN had in the making of the second season, but a lot of it smacks of the American animation companys' tendency toward making 30 minutes of ADD action over attempting something with a story or even something remotely complex because: "Kids watch cartoons and kids like action not talking") I wish they would have put the story at the front of the line and made a better attempt to explain why Paradigm was the way it was, not made the end so open-ended and - let's face it - dumb. I know I keep laboring over this point, but it pains me to see such an intriguing, unique backstory be thrown away on a whim to accommodate brainless robot boxing matches in every episode.

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