The Big O II: Act 14- Roger the Wanderer
The Big O was initially planned as a 26-episode, one-season anime by Studio Sunrise. However, low viewership of the show in Japan pushed the networks to request it be wrapped up in only 13 episodes instead to make way for the next show. Luckily, The Big O as a pastiche of Western film noir, comics, and science fiction films (as well as Japanese Tokusatsu and Mecha shows) was very popular abroad and had a positive critical reaction and viewership internationally. As a result, Studio Sunrise was able to fund a second, 13-episode season after the show’s initial cancellation with the help of Bandai Visual and Cartoon Network who wanted the show to continue airing to market toys and to fill their Toonami slots with high-quality shows, respectively.
Act 14 begins where 13 left off as Roger and Dorothy stand inside of Big O’s cockpit, ready to take on the three foreign Megadeuses rising from the waves out at sea and heading toward Paradigm. As an aside, the names of the three Megadeuses are all French in origin and derive from historical persons: Robespierre, the architect of the Reign of Terror; Carnot, the Father of Thermodynamics; and Fouche, a general of Napoleon. Although the Megadeuses are associated with the Foreign Peoples leading an insurrection against the city of Paradigm, they’re namesakes are not easy to interpret as purely revolutionary persons. Carnot’s appearance may be relevant insofar as without his work, such technological marvels as the advanced engines that power the Megadeuses may have been impossible to build. And as for Robespierre and Fouche, they were arguably anti-revolutionary. Whereas Robespierre’s will to ideological purity sabotaged the French Revolution’s success, figures like Fouche made sure that the later reign of Napoleon lasted as long as it did.
As the battle commences and Big O takes heavy damage from his three opponents, the voices and monologues of all of the major players in this struggle are heard throughout the city. The informant called Big Ear asks aloud, ‘Who is it exactly who came to the conclusion that there is no one outside of Paradigm City, Mr. Negotiator?’ Beside him in the Speakeasy is a huge stack of newspapers, which no one else in the series ever seems to be reading, and is almost never even shown in possession of. The reason for this will become apparent in a future episode that reveals just how the Big Ear collects his information.
As Roger fights on and rejects the notion that people are ruled by their memories, we see Schwarzwald below the city, sitting at a desk and typing up a manifesto in which he claims that ‘it’s not just the citizens who lost their memories of forty years ago. The foreigners who came here searching for fragments of memories have lost them as well.’ Again, Schwarzwald, the one-time newspaper turned philosophical warrior has sought out truths about the nature of Paradigm that have proved too taboo for others to investigate, and he once again confirms the existence of foreigners outside of the city.
In what appears to be either a flashback or a flash-forward sequence, Dastun asks Roger if Big O was already waiting for him after he resigned from the Military Police, pointing to the fact that at some indefinite time, Dastun became, or will become, fully aware that Roger is the pilot of the Big O Megadeus. Meanwhile, Gordon Rosewater stands in his field and continues to claim that the existence of machines through the use of which man can harness the power of gods is absurd, and that the events attested to within his own book Metropolis never occurred. All the while, Roger becomes increasingly confused and questions his identity consistently: ‘Who the hell am I? Who am I?’ The answer comes in the form of a vision of Norman who claims that he was probably always the butler of Roger and that Roger most likely piloted Big O even before everyone’s memories were wiped out forty years prior.
And then everything comes to a head as Dastun reflects back on Winter Night Phantom and the fact that these three Foreign Megadeuses presence means that there are Foreign Peoples as well. Fouche collaborates with his fellow Megadeuses to use an electrical attack so powerful that it breaches Big O’s outer shell and shocks even the dominus within. Roger feels the pain in addition to the existential pangs of not knowing who he really is. Then, a the cockpit seems to be full of tomatoes, artificial tomatoes symbolizing the genetic engineering of Gordon Rosewater, and the possibility that Roger himself might be a product of genetic engineering like the tomatoes. One of the children created by Gordon Rosewater and injected with memories of forty years prior. The EQ line on Big O’s radar flatlines and Roger passes out.
When he comes to, Roger is disheveled, asleep on the ground within a busy subway tunnel. He washes his face in an adjacent restroom and realizes that he is not dressed as nicely as usual and that his face is now sporting five o’clock shadow. The streets above are filled with happy people basking in the sun of a Paradigm City without Domes that has seemingly never been subject to the ecological/mechanical catastrophes of the past that rendered the world unlivable without such protections. In the Speakeasy, Big Ear is absent and his mansion is now an ACME Bank owned and operated by none other than the Mr. Beck, who is a criminal, and not an entrepreneur and businessman, in Roger’s own timestream. Furthermore, Roger’s watch is missing and he cannot contact Big O.
That night he wanders the city and finds himself outside of the Nightingale Club. Dorothy and her father enter, but this Dorothy is oddly emotive, as if a real girl. What’s more, she has a boyfriend who greets her at the door. An alleyway in which he stands turns into a vaudeville stage on which Roger performs the meeting with Norman in his own timestream for an audience of one who, though obscured by shadow, appears to be himself. It becomes apparent here that Roger is playing out some sort of psychodrama in his own head and has not been transported to a different place. The literal Cartesian Theater act reveals that a mere year ago, Roger happened upon the Mansion after leaving the Military Police. Norman insisted that Roger was the master he had been waiting for for the past forty years since The Event wiped out his memories of everything beyond his job as a butler at this home and as a mechanic of Big O. Roger was confused at first, but when he first met Big O he had an immediate affinity with the machine and knew they were destined to fight alongside one another.
Roger shifts once more to a park bench whereupon he is reading comic in the newspaper that displays Roger Smith as a superhero mecha dominus and it becomes obvious to him that he has been playing a role rather than really being Roger Smith, that he may be a random man with no connection to the one truly destined to pilot Big O (despite the fact that he can do so naturally as if destined). He next finds himself within a theater wherein he watches Winter Night Phantom and watches down-row as a young girl does likewise, a girl with a red balloon. This seen segues into one in which Angel picks him up and asks why he was afraid to awaken it (seemingly referring to Big O). Roger takes some time to explicate this message and eventually comes to the conclusion that is a cryptic one pertaining to his fear of awakening unpleasant memories, of going back to the wellspring of his being.
Then and there, Roger decides to fight the fear in his heart and to get to the bottom of the whole host of existential and ontological questions he has about himself and his world, respectively. He decides to fight. And in this moment, he meets the ‘real’ Dorothy in his dream who concludes that Roger really is himself, and is not merely playing a role, and this despite the fact that it seems that Roger may in fact actually only be doing exactly that: playing the role of Roger Smith. But his acceptance of such a fact would be to wallow in pity and defeat, and the only truly freeing action is to reject the truth in this instance and return to consciousness back in the simulated reality of Paradigm City wherein he can face his demons, destroy the three Megadeuses threatening to destroy his adopted city, and force a reaction in the world around him to his own brazen actions. And he does just that.
Cast in the Name of God,