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Played by George Clooney, Ulysses Everett McGill was imprisoned for practing law without having the credentials to do so. He says that he escaped from prison so that he could find the money he stashed away, but he really escaped so that he could get home to his family before his wife remarries. He corresponds to Odysseus (Ulysses) in the Odyssey.
Played by John Turturro, Pete is a mysterious criminal. He believes in strong principles, especially loyalty, even after cousin Washington B. Hogwallop betrays him. He dreams of opening a fine restaurant and beings its head waiter after he gets out of prison and agrees to escape even though he only has two weeks left on his setence.
Played by Tim Blake Nelson, O'Donnell is a criminal imprisoned for robbing a supermarket. At first he claimed that he did commit such crimes; but later he admits that he is indeed guilty. O'Donnell is gulible and says that he will spend his portion of Everett's nonexistent money buying back his family farm, saying that "You ain't no kind of man if you ain't got land."
Played by Chris Thomas King, Tommy Johnson is an exceptional blues musician. Although odd, Tommy is smart and hard-working man who claims to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar skills.
Played by John Goodman, Big Dan is a dishonest man who pretends to be a bible salesman. After mugging Evertt and Delmar, he outs the trio of escaped convicts while they are disguised at a Ku Klux Klan rally. He is later killed at the same rally. He equates to the cyclops Polyphemus in the Odyssey.
Played by Frank Collison, Washington is Pete's cousin. He removes the escapees' chains but later betrays them and reports them to the police.
Batman in a Gundam: Unpacking the Greatness of ‘The Big O’
It’s the perfect show for lovers of jazz, film noir, and giant robots.
The Big O is an anime that wears its inspiration on its sleeve: it’s a film noir series drenched in art deco stylings that manages to simultaneously question the nature of human existence while also answering that age-old question: What if Batman had a giant robot?
Big O hit American airwaves during the early 2000s, the heyday of Cartoon Network’s Toonami. Sandwiched between Dragonball Z and Cowboy Bebop, Big O took a different tack with both its storytelling and its aesthetics. It was styled after Batman: The Animated Series instead of traditional Japanese anime; the characters look like they could walk into Gotham City and be right at home.
That Gotham City style seeps into everything about the art direction of Big O. Art deco is everywhere — from protagonist Roger Smith’s Batmobile-like car to even the titular Big O itself.
Big O all takes place in and around Paradigm City, the remains of New York surrounded by a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In what is known only as The Event, everyone in the city lost their memories 40 years prior to the start of the show.
This loss of memory is central to the Big O’s theme. The show often asks what it is that makes us human—is it the culmination of experiences from our lives, or what we do here and now?
It also posits a similar question with R. Dorothy Wayneright, an android who comes to live with Roger Smith after the first episode and who, like Motoko Kusanagi of Ghost in the Shell, has a complicated existential relationship with her sense of self. (It’s unclear if putting “Wayne” right in her name is another Batman homage, but it certainly seems possible.)
The Big O can be heavy at times. And confusing. But that doesn’t stop it from being an amazing series. Its film noir sensibilities make it unlike many other animes. The sounds of forlorn saxophones fill the interstitial space as Roger Smith drives around his city. Bars are dark and full of smoke and piano music. Roger Smith does voiceovers for each case he takes, pulling the viewer in deeper.
Roger is a negotiator. It’s a vaguely-defined job that has him acting as a detective, go-between and more. Generally, it leads to him solving some mystery or another during the course of each episode. However, that aspect of the show usually ends when the robots show up.
Called “megadeuses,” the giant robots in Big O are unlike others in the mecha anime genre. These aren’t Gundams mass-produced in factories for war. The robots in the Big O look like they were sculpted by an art deco genius. They have large bodies and curves. And they’re big. The Big O stands 100 feet tall, dwarfing some of the buildings in Paradigm City. The ground shakes when these monsters walk, and they leave footprints in the asphalt.
Big O was so beloved by its fan base that it was one of the first examples of fans managing to get a show brought back from the dead. The show ended in 2000 on a cliffhanger, and there was nothing else coming. Fan demand (especially in America) got a second, and final, season for the show, which wrapped up the storyline and (kind of) answered the questions that were posed in the earlier episodes.
The Big O has a lot of big ideas crammed into just 26 episodes. What does it mean to be human? Can people ever change, or are they ruled by their past? There are, of course, no easy answers. But fortunately, The Big O makes the journey just as exciting as the destination.