animefringe january 2003 / reviews

The Big O Vol.1
Format: Left-Right manga, 208 pages
Production: VIZ / Ariga Hitoshi / Yatate Hajime
Comments: Good action, an interesting visual style, and a giant robot combine for a nice dose of comics noir.
Animefringe Reviews:
The Big O Vol.1

Fans of The Big O (featured on the Cartoon Network) will be happy to know that the manga version of this dark show is quite a bit of fun to read. This particular manga was written after the show was created, and thus is a retelling of sorts. More can be found here than was presented in the TV series. As usual, I went about things backwards, and I actually discovered the manga before I saw the show. Despite good reviews from friends who watched it regularly, I always find it hard to make time to watch something on television -- especially when it's anime dubbed in English.

More than anything, The Big O reminds me of the first few seasons of Batman: The Animated Series on FOX. That was, of course, before the WB came along, for you youngsters out there. The first similarity is the manga's visual style. This is a high contrast series, with stark whites and deep, rich blacks. Character designs seem at times very much influenced by Dr. Tezuka, "the father of manga." Some of the characters seem more cartoonish than most modern manga, with exaggerated designs and larger than average eyes. Despite the fact that the manga was only recently written, everything looks pleasantly retro -- again, much like the adventures of the Dark Knight. The Big O is a futuristic tale of a dark city that looks very much like the past.

This is a good thing. Batman certainly isn't the only show with the right to be somber. The near-future science fiction story established by Yatate is very interesting, effortlessly whetting my appetite for more revelations concerning what's to come. The tale is set in Paradigm City, a Gothic locale facing a unique problem. For some reason (still unknown at this point in the story,) amnesia struck the entire city at one point, referred to mysteriously as "The Event." Inexplicably, people still have memory attacks, where they suddenly forget who they are and what their purpose in life may have been. Now, memory is the most precious of commodities, and it's housed in storage facilities, guarded more like a bank than a chemical repository. Like money in our world and Spice on Arakkis, he who controls access to the memories controls Paradigm City.

Our main protagonist, Roger Smith, is a wealthy playboy who lives with his trustworthy butler, but also harbors a dark secret. Hidden somewhere beneath the sprawling metropolis of Paradigm City rests the Big O, a gigantic robot that comes whenever Smith summons it. Smith is a negotiator, a man trained in the art of smoothing out relationships between multiple parties, and a rather skilled one at that. Whenever there's a problem, he is hired as an impartial mediator to ensure that any bargain is struck fairly. However, things don't always proceed well, and when there is no other alternative, he turns to the aid of his super powerful building-sized ally.

Now, this may sound a bit silly, but once you suspend your disbelief, it's actually rather interesting. Characters all have a considerable amount of depth and personality, and the simple outline I just provided doesn't really do justice to the interactions contained in the tale.

Despite being flipped (in order not to confuse us foolish English-speaking types), there's still a good sense of action in The Big O, and it trots along at a refreshingly brisk pace. For a graphic novel, it's very cinematic, which is probably in large part a result of the manga being written after the television series was produced. Whatever the case, I like it.

As I mentioned, it loses points for being printed backwards -- that is, so that it reads from left to right. I'm much happier when images are presented the same way they were in Japan. It's sized well and of average cost, neither surpassing nor falling short of my expectations. The English text is well done with nary a typographical error in sight. Sound effects have been written in English, but I'm happy so long as I can see the artwork. Sound effects never really do much for me in manga.

This was a fun book to get into, and I'm certainly going to get whatever else Viz puts out in the series. Typically, the wait between subsequent volumes is intolerable, but I'd be used to it if it weren't for TOKYOPOP's lightning fast translation speeds. I suppose that's one of the reason competition is good -- perhaps Viz will work a little faster from now on. If you think you may be offended by anything that even hints at being a rip-off of Batman, then you might want to avoid this series. Otherwise, it's a safe bet for action and mecha fans of all ages.