(Catch my previous Hosoda film review here: The Boy and The Beast)
This past Thursday, I finally got a chance to watch Mamoru Hosoda’s new film on the big screen. God knows the thing has been hyped just about all year long, and being a sucker for critical praise (especially the fact that the film premiered at Cannes) as a deciding factor in my watching a film or not, I was pretty excited to watch it. Not to mention, I have seen all of Hosoda’s previous films, enjoyed them all immensely, and thereby jump at the chance to watch anything new in his output.
And, once again, Hosoda didn’t disappoint.
Mirai of the Future tells the story of a young boy named Kun whose parents are looking forward to the birth of a new child. At the beginning of the film, Kun is pretty excited about the prospect of having a sibling to play with as well. However, soon after his little sister, Mirai, is brought into the home, Kun realizes that rearing a baby takes a ton of time and energy on the part of his parents. What’s worse is that all this excess bonding time was once spent between he and his parents, and is now reserved almost entirely by his younger sister.
Kun is intensely jealous, and as a result, he begins to retreat into a world of fantasy and imagination wherein his younger sister visits him from the future as a teenage girl. His dog, Yukko, takes on an anthropomorphic personality within Kun’s revelries as ‘The Prince’: a figure who once ruled as the sole loved object of the father and mother of the household. When Kun arrived into the world some years prior, the dog was no longer given as much attention or treated quite the same as in his heyday and now he feels a certain resentment toward Kun and Mirai, despite also serving as their companion and protector. Yukko’s presence in Kun’s imagination is as an analogue of Kun himself who feels much the same way toward his little sister who must protect whilst simultaneously disliking for diverting away his parents attentions. Having a brother in arms like Yukko who has experienced the same loss of importance in the household helps Kun to work out and resolve the minor psychological trauma of suddenly finding himself a secondary magnet for his parents attention.
Mirai’s future self appears as a didactic symbol whose purpose is to endear Kun to his younger sister and to constantly remind him to treat her fairly. Her first appearance is on the day following ‘Girl’s Day’ during which a set of decorative Japanese dolls is set out to bring good luck to the newborn baby girl in the household. However, if the dolls are put away in their ceremonial boxes on the day following Girl’s Day, each additional day will supposedly prolong the date of the girl’s eventual marriage by an entire year. As Kun and Mirai’s father is relatively absent-minded, he forgets to put the dolls away. Mirai of the Future arrives to make sure the dolls are put away by Kun instead.
Throughout the film, Kun’s imaginative episodes grow in scope and vision as he eventually catapults backward in time to visit his relatives. In one of these episodes, he visits his mother as a child and learns what she was like when she was little like him. The two bond and become bosom friends, which helps Kun to understand his mother better and to later eke out more of her free time for himself despite Mirai’s presence.
Kun also meets his great-grandfather, the calm, cool, and collected ex-Air Force engine mechanic who now runs a motorcycle repair shop. From this man, Kun learns to stay focused on the horizon ahead whilst riding a motorcycle or any fort of vehicle, which later aids him in learning to ride a bicycle without help. He also finds out that the man was injured in the war when his ship was torpedoed and smashed to smithereens. As his great-grandfather lie on his back, floating atop the waves, blood streaming from his broken leg, the man decided that he must make an effort to swim the many miles toward shore lest he die right there and then. Without this action, Kun and Mirai would never have been born.
As the imaginative episodes increase in intensity and frequency, the audience becomes less and less certain that they are mere creations of Kun’s overactive mind. Rather, the possibility of real time travel becomes pretty apparent, especially insofar as Kun had no prior knowledge of who his great-grandfather was before he met him in one of his visions. The implication eventually becomes clear that all of these generations, tied together by small choices on the part of earlier generations that made the difference between existence and non-existence for those farther down the line, are connected by something like a genetic memory or a collective unconscious, or a real time loop that allows them to visit one another when necessary.
All in all, Kun learns many important lessons throughout the course of the film and comes to appreciate and love his little sister even though her presence leaves less time for him to spend with his parents. He learns to control his temper when it flares up and to think logically about situations before making decisions, such as his final decision to stop complaining about not having his yellow shorts to wear for a family outing (they are still in the drying machine when the family is set to leave) and instead to don his less favored blue ones in order to swiftly exit the house and thereby spend as much time as possible with his family that day. A minor lesson surely, but this is a film about children. Innocent ones to whom even a minor lesson is new and fresh and vibrant and world-changing in its implications.
Mamoru Hosoda has said that this film appears to be a specific narrative about the life of one family, and more specifically, the life of one little boy within that family. However, Hosoda also expresses his belief that this explanation is a mere canard. That in fact, it is a story about family and childhood in general, with universal implications for all people in all places. I, being an adult with no children and no plans to have any at any future date, find the film compelling. I think that pretty much proves Hosoda’s point.
(Catch my previous Satoshi Kon film review out here: Tokyo Godfathers)
Satoshi Kon’s fourth film, released in 2006, was also his last as four years later, at the age of 46, he would die of pancreatic cancer before completing Dreaming Machines: the projected film that would have become his fifth feature. Despite this tragic course of events, Kon’s actual final film, Paprika, would later become his most well-known work and the one for which he is most often praised (at least in Western media).
The film is an adaptation of a 1993 sci-fi novel by Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui and is unique in that regard as very few of this author’s works had ever before been adapted into the medium of animation. More interesting still is the fact that not just the one, but two of Tsutsui’s works were adapted as animated features in the same year by rising auteurs in the field: the other being Mamoru Hosoda’s breakout 2006 film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (adapted from Tsutsui’s 1967 novel of the same name).
In addition to Tsutsui’s connection to the work are the inclusion of many greats on the production end of Kon’s film. Studio Madhouse once again provided funds for the creation and marketing of the film and Susumu Hirasawa provided one of his tautest musical scores hitherto to the production by pilfering through the best material from his previous band P-Model, his solo work and past film scores to craft a complex, rich, and often unsettling sound design. And if that weren’t enough, famed editor Takeshi Seyama provided editing on the picture. Seyama’s influence here cannot be understated as his work can and often has elevated good work to greatness and great work to legendary status. His extensive filmography includes such works as Akira, Venus Wars, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, Memories, Serial Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze, Steamboy, Tetsujin 28, Elfen Lied, the previous Kon works’ Tokyo Godfathers and Paranoia Agent, as well as many pre-Ghibli Miyazaki and Takahata works and most films in the Studio Ghibli canon.
So what’s the film about you ask? The film is a sci-fi in which advances in depth psychology and cognitive science are at the centre. Scientists have developed a new field of study called Dream Therapy wherein the therapist enters the dreams of a sleeping patient in order to help guide them through the traumas and anxieties preventing them from living life to its fullest. The technology associated with such a process is called the DC Mini and when worn by a patient, it records the memories of patients and allows them to later be analyzed or even revisited by the patient or the psychologist present. Furthermore, when the psychologist wears a DC Mini along with the patient and both simultaneously fall asleep, the DC allows the psychologist to enter the dreams of the patient and thereby provide more hands-on therapy to better lead the patient toward recovery.
However, Dream Therapy is still highly controversial and any experimental psychologists planning to test it out must do so surreptitiously and without being caught by the government, lest they lose all funding for engaging in a therapy whose safety has not yet been assessed. Nonetheless, a doctor named Atsuko Chiba is a close colleague of the creator of the DC Mini: Kosaku Tokita. As such, Chiba has made it her duty as a scientist and a friend (and quite more as we will later learn )of Tokita to test the DC Mini on patients who experience debilitating anxiety or trauma and respond to no other therapy options.
The story from here is that a detective named Torataro Shima is one of Chiba’s clients. He has grown enamored with Chiba’s DC Mini alter ego Paprika and rather enjoys his therapy sessions. But in the background, a luddite force is trying to prevent the DC Mini from passing safety inspections to allow the free domain of dreams to remain thus. Although the goal is noble enough, it is a regressive step in the face of technology and one that could prevent many a person from overcoming their psychological problems to consequently live a better life. After the director of the program begins to experience dreams in waking life and act erratically and dangerously thereby, the detective’s dreams are slowly taken over by an outside force. It is up to Paprika-Chiba to dig deep within herself to unlock the power necessary to dispel all of the insidious forces at play and restore normalcy to the world before the realms of dream and of reality merge indefinitely.
Paprika is a heartfelt film that calls on its viewers to never forget or forego their goals (their ‘dreams’) in life and to accept their feelings in order to find happiness. It is a narrative of eventual success of the progressive spirit over against the reactionary forces in society. It is an exercise in meta-cinema (as are most Kon films). And it is an arthouse film with more imagination and visual splendor than anything live-action or CG cinema could even aspire to in that time or today. And I earnestly hope that in the coming years, this and all the works of Satoshi Kon continue to grow in cultural relevance and push filmmakers to press onward creatively into new meta-cinematic and hyper-visual territories.
The episode opens within the cafe-bar Roger once frequented whenever he was really down and out. Therein, The Big Ear reclines in his favorite seat, seemingly addressing Roger. As the man recites his oration, the camera pans out and we see that he has been injured, that most of his face has been seared off, revealing a metallic facade beneath the exterior. He is malfunctioning and by the end of his speech, the club will collapse around him and end his life indefinitely.
But first, his words: ‘Understand Roger, this city was created to be a stage with no memory of forty years ago. It’s nonsense to ask if memories exist. I just thought I would let you know. By the way, aren’t you going to be the knight in shining armor and rescue the maiden?’
The speech is addressed to Roger although he is absent. As The Big Ear is an android programmed to behave in certain ways, one can only properly surmise that he is reciting a piece of oration programmed into his memory circuits that would have, under different circumstances, have been delivered to a present Roger during these last moments of Paradigm City’s existence. However, something has gone awry in this simulation of the city and a choice was made that has led Roger to no longer seek out wisdom through The Big Ear, but through himself instead.
In The Big Ear’s hands is, as always, a newspaper. This time, however, we are privy to contents of this paper: An image of Big O and Big Fau fighting and a headline indicating that one of the two will win in the end (The headline is missing a ripped section indicating the victor of this battle). It seems that The Big Ear was given his information through these papers, which foretold future events. The rip in the paper serves as a narrative device to prevent the viewer from knowing the outcome of the battle, but may also serve as a symbolic cue signifying Big Ear’s current inability to divine future events.
As the final battle commences, Big O launches an all-out barrage of physical attacks and heavy artillery, none of which bypass Big Fau’s built-in force-field technology. Dan Dastun notices that Military Police have trained their howitzers and tanks onto Big O. And though he protests this action, he finds himself unable to sway the decision of his troops as he has been stripped of his command by higher ups in the administration acting on directives from Alex Rosewater himself to aid Big Fau in this battle. Dastun then decides to pilot a tank himself and direct its attacks towards Big Fau, which precipitates a mass-mutiny of his past troops from the Military Police’s command. They aid Dastun in his attempt to help Big O and roger, but don’t manage to put a single dent in Fau’s defenses, and eventually, all men are laid waste by a powerful barrage of laser attacks by Big Fau instead.
Events continue to unfold in quick succession as Big Fau grapples with Big O and eventually tosses him into the ocean. However, Big O latches onto Big Fau with a chain weapon and drags his enemy Megadeus below with him. Unfortunately, Big Fau can swim well and uses his own weapons to cut the chains and then cut and run out of there, leaving Roger a sitting duck within the rapidly flooding cockpit of Big O. Dorothy awakens at this moment and heads off toward the Ocean with Norman and a wt suit in order to save Roger’s life. Topside, Big Fau uses its cable tendrils to tap into the vital systems of Alex Rosewater and strengthen itself in the process, which somehow awakens the ‘memories’ of Angel. Her scars begin to glow as Gordon Rosewater advises her on her destiny and role as the coordinator who can destroy memories and reset the simulation at will.
Back to Roger. As he asphyxiates beneath the waves, he has a flashback to his time as a combat Dominus in a Big O in some past Paradigm City (perhaps the original in which the first Event took place?). Dorothy arrives and revives him with an oxygen tank, Big O awakens, and Dorothy hacks herself into the Megadeus’ operating system, thereby activating Big O’s Final Stage. The machine piston punches the ocean floor and propels itself out of the sea back into conflict with Big Fau just as Angel departs the world below Paradigm City, all of those things she passes dissolving and disappearing behind her in the process.
And then, the truly final confrontation begins as Big O uses all of his power to launch a powerful laser weapon that passes through Big Fau and destroys an entire Dome behind him. But the weapon only destroys half of big Fau, who manages to stay on his foot, standing. Just as Alex charges up his final barrage, Angel transmogrifies into the powerful Meta-Megadeus Big Venus. She passes through the city and the sky disappears. She passes Dastun and he fades into nothingness. Then, she passes Big Fau and Big O is no longer in mortal danger from that foe.
Roger reasons with Big Venus: ‘Angel! Memories are very important to people’s lives. They give us the opportunity to prove to ourselves that we exist. If we lose them, we have an unrelenting deep feeling of uncertainty…. But the humans that are living here and now in the present are made up of more than their memories of the past. I myself don’t even know who I am…. But I don’t believe anyone took my memories from me. I most likely erased them of my own free will. I was the one who made that choice so I could live in a present and in the future. I must go on believing there is a me! Angel. I know that I will never lose the you that is now a part of my memories…. You must stop denying your own existence. You have to live as a human being.’
Momentarily the illusion is broken. Angel, sitting in her operating booth in front of her master control panel, is visited by both Roger and Dorothy. Angel is crying, but Roger consoles her by putting his hand on her shoulder and Dorothy speaks in a manner affirming Roger’s existence as more than a simulation, more than a mere program in some computer: ‘Negotiator!’ A poster is visible on the wall in the room. It is a poster of the Big O series with a large shadowed Megadeus standing behind Roger.
And then the series begins anew. Roger rides through town in his Griffon. He is still a Negotiator. But this time, Angel and Dorothy are standing beside each other, signifying that they’re memories may remain intact (Otherwise how could Dorothy know Angel?). and more interesting yet: Roger’s wrist is bare. With no Megadeus communicator, is he still a Dominus? Do Megadeuses still exist in this simulation? How much has changed and how much has remained the same, and of the changes, what are their inherent qualities? None of this information is clear and none of it will probably ever be truly elucidated.
But I personally prefer The Big O remain an enigma, a mystery, a Gordian knot resistant to all critical blades. I revel the uncertainty for that uncertainty reflects that present in my own life and in the questions of metaphysics and ontology that remain quarries far outside my reach. The simulation theory says that one can imagine a computer advanced enough to simulate a world in perfect 1:1 correspondence to our own. In our own world, there are thousands of games. Given the proper technology, why not thousands of simulated reality games? And if this is possible, then there are many thousands more simulated realities than real, lived ones. Thus, it makes more sense to assume that we are in one of these abundance of simulated realities as simulated persons or as real persons hooked up to the simulated games than the perhaps 1 in 10,000 chance that we live in the real world, simulated.
Occam’s razor seems to lay waste to this theory. But it has been wrong before. Darwinian evolution certainly, on its face, its much more complex than the teleological Lamarckian viewpoint. That the sun orbits us is a simpler proposition than the more complex cosmology we accept today. The difference is in evidence. A simulated reality like The Big O is revealed as simulation through a glaring omittance: namely, the fact that one had memories before the simulation began. And like a video game wherein out of bounds play can reveal unmapped sectors, some theories in quantum mechanics point to fundamental incompleteness in our world as possible evidence of its simulated nature.
Roger serves as an archetype or a model for heroic action of individuals under similar circumstances. In the face of determinism, act. When facing nihilism, believe. And when approaching despotism, fight.
In the Name of God,
Ye Not Guilty
The structure of Paradigm City is beginning to unravel before its heroes very eyes. The center has begun to slacken and can seemingly no longer hold together the tenuous reality of the world. Lieutenant Dan Dastun has ventured into an old movie theatre only to find a younger version of himself and the Winter Night Phantom sitting together enjoying a film that itself recounts the recent events of Dastun’s life. There is no explanation of these events that cohere without recourse to the simulation theory I’ve expounded upon previously within this series.
That is to say, the world is rebooting like some sort of complex simulated game. However, the events of the previous game (Dastun’s reality) have not yet reached their conclusion, and as such, end-game events are beginning to overlap with beginning game events from the newly booted game. This explains why a young Dastun has been booted up alongside a young Winter Night Phantom to begin anew their journey toward the Paradigm Corp. Police Department and The Union, respectively.
To make things weirder still, Big Duo reappears high above the city. Schwarzwald’s ghost still sends us orations from beyond the pale, but the meaning of these pronouncements have become more obscure than ever before, more disjointed and lacking in clear sense: ‘The giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains are in truth the causes of its life and the sources of all activity. But the chains are the cunning of the weak and tame minds, which have power to resist energy.’ My best guess here is that it is the power of the Megadeus’ themselves that brought this state of affairs into being, but in the process they intertwined their destinies with those of mere human beings who must sync together with a Megadeus as their Dominus to give the Megadeus the power to function. These are the chains that the Megadeus’ have become enslaved by and the weak and tame minds are the minds of those humans who have reigned in the gods, have cloned perfect Dominus subjects who have the willpower to control the machines and not vice versa as was originally intended.
Later, Big Duo and Schwarzwald will continue to ascend above the clouds of Paradigm City and will find a series of oversized rafters holding aloft the sky of their world. There they will also find a series of stage lights affixed to the rafters as illuminating points for the constructed reality of the world below. And like Icarus, when the Black Forest philosopher-journalist ascends to all-too lofty heights and approaches the ontological truth of his world and himself, that world reacts by scorching him and his Megadeus, causing them to explode in the process.
In the city itself, Big O is still being restored to fighting capacity by Norman’s mysterious cohort of old men, each with intimate knowledge regarding the repair of a Megadeus despite having no memories from before 40 years ago. Alex Goldwater, the Oedipus who razed his father’s farm to the ground in an attempt to silence the old man and to take his life, pilots Big Fau and targets, specifically, those within the city he deems undesirable: The poor. Dastun’s theatre is bombed in the process, injuring his younger self therein. He manages to get the young boy and girl to safety before approaching his troops and ordering them to cease firing artillery and bombardments of incendiary weapons on their own people. However, they have direct orders from Alex Goldwater himself and thereby refuse Dastun’s pleas.
Meanwhile, below the city, Angel has found the cabin wherein she was born and raised. But she finds that the room is a mere set complete with cameras and props outside of the open-faced room. Vera Ronstadt and Gordon Rosewater, once thought dead, are also within the room. Roger descends beneath the city to try to finally face his fears head on one last time. though he manages to leave exactly at the wrong time as Dorothy, reclining back at the mansion, awakens and calls out for Roger. This despite no longer having a core memory within her. What’s more unsettling is that Beck arrives on the scene to hear Dorothy’s words that were meant for Roger. Beck’s presence is not explained.
Angel questions Vera about her heritage and whether Vera is truly her mother or if the current situation is merely a convoluted joke. Gordon Rosewater breaks into the conversation and tells the girls that they are not related, that they are merely his ‘tomatoes’, or replicants who were created to serve some ulterior motive. However, both Angel and Vera are defective units, as are all Union members, all those who have been exiled to the wastes outside of Paradigm City. Vera Ronstadt knows this much already and has decided that the purpose of The Union will be to overthrow the genetic prejudice of the Goldwater-Paradigm cohort, rewrite the memories of the city’s people, and begin anew in a more just world.
Angel refuses to accept that she is a defective person and brandishes a pistol toward Vera, which is quickly repelled with Vera’s whip. As she lashes about Angel’s back, her shirt is torn revealing the scars on her back. Roger appears and binds Vera with a thin wire tool before knocking her unconscious with a well placed punch to the solar plexus. A move he performs with some reticence in lieu of his final rule: ‘Something else that goes against my policies– using violence against women.’ He has seen enough of Vera’s brutality, but has also heard enough of her fatalist philosophy of identity wherein one is supposedly caged and trapped forever by their social facticity (something that is probably true): ‘I am who I am. the way in which you were given life has nothing to do with the way you live your life as a human being.’ True enough too, and certainly a message emphasizing self-creation and self-responsibility that much of the modern political left ought to hear more often.
And then for the bombshell. As Vera awakens and begins to mouth off about making Paradigm’s denizens atone for their sins from before 40 years ago, Gordon Rosewater pipes up: ‘You’re wrong! Of all my cherished tomatoes, Negotiator, you aren’t one of my beloved ones. And neither is this young lady [Angel]. And the words in that book [Metropolis] don’t belong to me either. It’s a story that a dream commanded me to put down. No one ever had memories of the world prior to 40 years ago, including myself. but memories themselves have existed in unexpected forms…’
This means that out of all of the people in the world, Roger and Angel are aberrant forms in a sea of replicants. Constructs that exist outside of the parameters of this world and are uncreated and eternal. This is why Roger does not age whilst other androids and replicants do. This is why Angel has scars on her back despite there being no events before forty years ago that could have produced them. This all means that there was no world before forty years ago, except for the kind of world that will be revealed in the series’ denouement.
Rosewater continues on and claims that because of this truth, there never was any such thing as The Union. There are merely a small group of defective replicants who live in the wastes outside of Paradigm and just so happen to be good at tracking down Megadeuses and operating them. If this is all true, then another question arises with crazy implications: Who is attacking the city now, other than Alex Rosewater? Who is it that has apparently been dropping incendiary weapons into the center of the city from high above in the clouds?
As Gordon continues to explain that Angel is not a person at all, but merely a memory construct from a previous incarnation of this world, the roar of a great beast can be heard within the depths of the city. Roger calls Big O and minutes later, ascends to the city exterior with a massive Megadeus beast, known as Behemoth, held aloft by Big O’s relatively minuscule arms. Debris falls from the ceiling, lands on and crushes the Behemoth, which is good fortune as this beast would surely be indestructible even with the help of Big Fau. And now, face to face, Big O and Big Fau are set to begin one final confrontation on this eschatological plane.
Cast in the Name of God,
Toward the denouement of the previous outing, another Big Megadeus appeared from beneath the city to challenge Roger the Negotiator and Big O. As the titan ascends from the bowels of the city without toward the dome’s artificial light of day, its designation is revealed as Big Duo. However, this machine has been extensively modded with parts from destroyed Union Megadeuses and is now known as Big Duo Inferno.
Roger wonders aloud whether the machine might still be piloted by Schwarzwald from beyond the grave. This seems the only real possibility as Big Duo is a true Big, which means it can only be operated by its true Dominus (in this case, Schwarzwald). Roger imagines what Schwarzwald would say to him in this moment, or at least the show seems to present this interpretation. However, it’s also highly probable that the ensuing narration in Schwarzwald’s voice is a message from beyond the dead, addressed not to Roger, but directly toward the audience. If this latter possibility is the correct one, then we might do well to heed these words: words crafted expertly by the show’s creator Chiaki J. Konaka, a man intensely interested in understanding the human condition who has spent much of his life studying psychology, philosophy, evolutionary theory, religion, and sociology all toward this end.
‘Truth. Those who seek it out unknowingly become obsessed with this grand illusion that they are able to control this world…. The incomplete book of Gordon Rosewater’s, written in his younger days, depicts the final days of humanity. And the foolish humans who use the power of God.’
The claim seems inconsistent with the character of Schwarzwald, the archetypal Black Forest philosopher journalist who gave his very life to uncover the truths of this world. He became obsessed with the truth and with the thought that he could force a paradigm shift within Paradigm City. And in the end, what did his work accomplish? Few citizens took his pamphlets for little more than the ravings of a mad man and he was left dead, a corpse out in the wastes beyond the metropolis of Paradigm.
However, no fool to forsake knowledge totally, Schwarzwald includes in this narration a powerful invective against technocracy and its ability to lead toward techno-fascism. Against the hubris of humanity for charging heaven’s gates only to plunder her armaments for tools and weapons to kill and subjugate one another. No conservative, traditionalist, he understands how some social truths can be mutable and contradictory in nature, as well as how the search for truth at the expense of all else can lead one to ruin. But no postmodern, he rejects the logic of power dynamics and hegemonic social control as well. As these forces can also corrupt the soul and lead nations and peoples to ruin. As such, we can square Schwarzwald here, once again, as an intermediary figure, an iconoclastic outcast from all established doctrine whose neither A nor B analyses figure as the example that destroys the rule and deconstructs the binary in lieu of more balance in the world.
The fight commences as one might imagine. The two mechas crush each other handily. And just as Big Duo gets the drop on Big O, the machine revolts. We see that the operator of Big Duo is Alan Gabriel and not Schwarzwald after all. But the machine is haunted by a spectral presence, by the ghost of its one-time and true Dominus Schwarzwald. And as the machine surrounds Alan with its tendrils of cable, ensnaring and eventually crushing him in the process, Schwarzwald speaks once more: ‘The Megadeus chooses its Dominus…. You possess the foolishness of both man and machine. It chooses one who controls the power of God, created by man. One who is able to arrive at one truth. that’s not the case with you!’
The phrase, like much of Schwarzwald’s orations throughout the series, is intensely vague. If the Megadeus chooses its own Dominus, then how is it that men like Roger Smith were once programmed to operate these monolithic machines? Would that not be man choosing the Dominus for each Megadeus? Or do the specifications of each Megadeus warrant a particular makeup in each replicant, meaning scientists wishing to create a Dominus must do so according to the Megadeus’ implicit rules? Who is really in charge in this case? And this matter of one truth? Is this a specific truth one must discover or any sort of over-arching monolithic worldview one accepts, generally speaking? We may never know as Big Duo immediately ascends toward the sky and flies off toward the wastes, never to return.
When the battle ends, Roger returns the heavily damaged Big O to its track beneath the city for return back to the Mansion. He searches the city in his black sedan, Griffon, and eventually finds Dorothy standing atop a building in a nearby sector of the city. But when he reaches the roof of the building, she falls into his arms, her eyes emotionless and cold, her body un-moving, and her forehead cd-rom memory core interface totally removed. Roger brings her back to the Mansion in the hopes that Norman can do something to fix her, but the old hand can do nothing without the core memory. He even believes its return would not necessarily awaken her. And if it did, the memories might be corrupted.
Norman gives Roger the option of installing a new core memory into Dorothy’s braincase, which would undoubtedly awaken her. However, with a clean slate and no past memories, would he really be awakening ‘her’, or just resetting her back to a time when she did not know Roger or Norman, before she began emoting and before her love for Roger began to flower?
In the meantime, a letter arrives to the Mansion, addressed to Roger from Michael Seebach (Schwarzwald) in the event of his death. Inside is the final page of Gordon Rosewater’s messianic tome Metropolis: ‘ The power of God, created by man…. Divine thunder raining down from the heavens…’ Along with this page is a torn photo of a young Gordon Rosewater shaking hands with a man whose white pale hands, white dress shirt, and black shoes, pants, and suit jacket are obliquely visible. The man is obviously Roger Smith, though only we know this intuitively. That Roger Smith has not aged in the more than forty years since the photo was taken is one more signifier that he is more than a mere mortal man.
As Roger leaves the Mansion for one final confrontation, he speaks with the unresponsive Dorothy: ‘Since you first came to live here, I felt like I knew you forever…. I never answered that question you asked a while ago, did I? You asked if you were human, instead of an android, would you and I have fallen in love?… Maybe we would have…. Please don’t tell me that I’m dodging the issue. Right now I can’t seem to commit to one truth. but I know I won’t waver in doing what needs to be done. Or in going down the path that I have to take. Wait for me.’
As Roger departs his sweetheart, and leaves her with that precious line, Angel approaches her final confrontation deep in the subway system of Paradigm City, below the areas that create panic and terror in all it’s denizens. She finds therein a television set of an old cabin, with an old kitchen whereupon something is cooking in a pot on the stove. She recalls her past and realizes that her childhood memories were forged in this place, and that either she contains false memories of another person and is merely a copy of the original, or worse, that the one real memory she has of her childhood is really only a memory of an acting gig she once held as some sort of child star. The latter meaning that she has no substantive memories whatsoever. What’s worse is that the ‘mother’ she remembered from her childhood was in fact Vera Ronstadt, a brutal, vicious leader who never treated Angel like her child later in life, but instead merely as a pawn for The Union.
Finally, out in the streets of Paradigm, the dejected Police Chief Dan Dastun wanders about feeling helpless to aid his friend Roger in his battles against The Union and Paradigm Corp. Two children flit across the screen and catch his eye as they enter a movie theater with the Marquee Winter Night Phantom. The stars of the picture featured on the theater’s large poster for the attraction: the Union girl from his dreams and himself. As he enters the place, the lights in the room dim and Dastun’s own memories begin to play out on the screen before him.
The stage is set, the players are in position, but before the climactic final battle could begin in earnest, they have all realized something horrible about their ontological states: That they are merely players in a program, in a large simulation. Programs with no virtuality, existing in a plane without imminence as mere bodies with organs. But can their self-knowledge of these roles affect the outcome and bring to them some semblance of free action, or are they destined, nay determined toward a specific end result in this play?
Cast in the Name of God,
The central theme in Episode 23 (and arguably the rest of the series as well) of Chiaki Konaka’s classic The Big O is the interplay between programming and freedom, determinacy and action.
Many events unfold themselves within this episode, from the off-screen battle between Vera Ronstadt of The Union and the killer android (or is it cyborg?) Alan Gabriel, which results in no real damage done to the latter whilst the former is dealt a wound in the side. She is visibly in pain when, later in the episode, she turns up and delivers a message to Roger, one she wishes him to relay to Angel: ‘A bird whose wings have been plucked will shed all it’s feathers and will return into the beast it was before it evolved into a bird.’
The meaning of the statement is obscure and never quite spelled out through the context of the show. We know only that Angel, named after a celestial being donning wings, has large scars on her back, presumably where a set of wings once lie. Or is the visual merely a symbolic signifier of her role within the events of the story, of her role as a fallen being whose presence is more a portent of doom than divine care? And as the obscure quote alludes to, has she only become a portent of doom by virtue of losing her wings? Wings that once elevated her above the moral speciousness of human action and whose absence make her little more than another primitive homo sapien beast in comparison?
The strict, narrative purpose of Vera’s quote will later be revealed as a memory from Angel’s past, a memory of her mother and of the cabin she was presumably raised within as a young child. But when she finds the cabin… and in that place of all places…. Well, that’s a tale for next time.
Alan Gabriel escapes his battle with Vera, though not unscathed. He was previously playing both sides in the struggle for Paradigm City’s fate: fighting as a spy and counterspy for The Union and Paradigm Corp. Now, Alan Gabriel has to throw in all of his chips behind Paradigm to remain a player of import in the ongoing game. For the time, he raises the ante and heightens the tensions by freeing Beck from prison once more and, using an execution order, and the promise of freedom and money, Alan twists the inventor into working to restore Big Fau’s memory core. The plan? To once again abduct Dorothy using a horde of mechanical scorpion machines and then to use the power of her programming to rig Big Fau back into operation, thereby allowing Alex Rosewater to resume his helm as the Dominus of the Big Fau Megadeus.
The Dominus of Megadeus. A role one is destined for, a role none but a true Dominus can perform without being expelled from the machine, perhaps violently so. We know that Alex Rosewater is the son of Gordon Rosewater and the rightful heir as CEO of his father’s company Paradigm Corp. However, at the farm, before Alex Alex dispatches his father, we learn that Gordon considers Alex to be just like all those other people working on his farm. He considers Alex and these large, humanoid working machines to be his sons. The question becomes whether Alex is like them in other ways. Whether he too has been programmed for a job. In this case, the job of running the corporation and operating a Megadeus.
Unlike Alex Rosewater who has seemingly accepted his fate and his programming by deciding to follow his father’s wishes, Roger the Negotiator, also almost certainly a replicant-like being, a created, not born, human being complete with emotions and all, is grapples with his fate. He knows he has been programmed to fulfill a social role, but has a rebellious nature. In the past, he was a police officer, but he quit that job and moved on to become a Negotiator who could help the people without answering to the Police Department’s head company: Paradigm Corp.
He was programmed to pilot a Megadeus and has innate operating knowledge of its systems thereby. However, instead of merely protecting the city from The Union and supporting the goals of Paradigm Corp., he has been tempted by the Black Forest Philosopher-Dominus Schwarzwald and realizes now just how corrupt the city really is. Roger knows of the existence of peoples beyond the domes of the city, people who have been systematically discriminated against and marginalized until their kind were expelled from the city or killed. People whose memory in the minds of Paradigm’s denizens have eventually faded into obscurity. But Roger knows Angel, and he knows, deep down, that she is not wrong for wanting to live a peaceful life in the city, and that The Union is not totally evil for wanting to destroy Paradigm Corp. to install a more friendly regime that would allow their people access to the city’s comforts.
Roger now pilots the Big O Megadeus as a rogue Dominus who has abandoned his programming and fights both the terrorist activity of The Union and the hegemonic totalitarian regime of Paradigm Corp. Though, just like all anti-fascist in modern history, his work only heightens the tensions between the most extreme factions. He has only served to bring more turmoil to the city by exposing the city’s people to the existence of outsiders. And what’s worse, he may now be relatively free from the dictates of his programming, but he has not gone far enough beyond good and evil to recognize a need for a new system, let alone to begin formulating it as a positive force in opposition to The Union and to Paradigm Corp.
When Dorothy is taken by the scorpion machines, Roger makes it back home just in time to watch helplessly while his love is removed once more from his abode and turned over to Beck for use in his Megadeus modification experiments. As she departs, Dorothy stops fighting back and calls out to Roger: ‘I am what I am. I am not like you Roger. I will always have this same body and this same heart.’ Time and again, the reference to a Jewish mythos, to the Leviathan and the Behemoth, to Angels, and to an end-times prophecy of destruction is brought into discussion. Here, Dorothy defines herself as YHWH does: ‘I am what I am.’ The effect in this context is of an orthodoxy burrowed deep into her psyche. An orthodoxy of stasis, of oneself as what one is born into. A Socratic truth delivered upon pondering oneself and coming to know oneself and in contradistinction to a Nietzschian truth of self-creation and becoming.
Roger recognizes this orthodoxy as the false god it is, as he too once believed it and has managed to come toward the light of truth and shake off the shackles of his programming to become more human than human in the process of accepting his manufactured nature and denying its maxims. He tells Dorothy not to give up, tells her that she must take control of her own destiny rather than resigning herself. The meaning is twofold in that she must take control now and escape the clutches of her enemies no matter how much she feels she belongs with them, rather than with humans like roger and Norman. The second meaning, and I may be reaching a bit here, is that she ought to try and take hold of her destiny to also overthrow her mere programming: that she should try to love him and live alongside him despite their anatomical differences: Roger the organic android and Dorothy the mechanical being.
At the last moment, Dorothy’s eyes open wide and we realize that she has picked up on the latter message all too well, though she is now physically incapable of following the first. Before I get too sappy here, I’ll stop. Especially since the next episode is there waiting in the wings to swoop down and upend our expectations, just as the final two ring the death knell and put the nail in the coffin, respectively, regarding the philosophical dialogue between determinism and free action. The result? A stance staunchly astride the former.
Cast In the Name of God,
(Catch my previous Satoshi Kon film review here: Millennium Actress)
In 2003, Satoshi Kon released another one of his magnum opuses. This time a loose adaptation of a 1913 novel by Peter B. Kyne entitled 3 Godfathers that had previously been adapted for live-action cinema in the States on three different occassions (the most famous of which being John Ford’s 1948 version). Together with screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto (Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain), Satoshi Kon adapted the screenplay into an equally cinematic work par excellence and modified its characters and settings to a world more familiar and close to home for himself. The three men became a group of homeless people who happen upon a child that has seemingly been abandoned. Their world: modern-day Japan’s Megalopolis and Capitol city.
The three godfathers are interesting figures in Kon’s film that all have very unique, distinct personalities and identities. There is Hana, a transgender woman who once lived a life of elegance and camp as a singer in a bar for queens. She found love in a conventional manner with her husband Ken who unfortunately died in an accident. Distraught, Hana took to the streets and stopped finding joy in life. Together with her two friends, however, she has created a lifestyle on the streets as a homeless person with some semblance of a family.
Her counterpart, steadfast friend, and would-be emotional lover is Gin. A gruff man who enjoys ribbing Hana for her queerness, but does so in good fun typically. He took to the streets supposedly after his daughter died and he lost his career as a professional bike racer for purposely losing a match to make more money through a gambler friend of his. We later learn that his reasoning for leaving behind his family was much more banal, and thereby Gin loses much of his tragic quality over the course of the film, finally becoming an absurd figure of sorts. Luckily, he manages to reconnect with his daughter, who actually never died, as well as strengthening the ties between himself and Hana through their fleeting foster parent status of the young Kiyoko (the abandoned baby found at the film’s beginning).
Finally, the third of the ‘godfathers’ is Miyuki, a young girl who has run away from home and become a delinquent. She used to be an obese young girl when she lived at home, but has since lost a ton of weight due to the oft-time difficulty finding food and the constant need to move around to find trash to recycle for money throughout the city. She thinks of herself as an adult, as an equal in the ‘family’ she has established with Gin and Hana. However, it is clear that the others see her as a daughter figure, and for Gin in particular as a proxy for his own daughter. When the three find a baby in a pile of trash, they take her in and try to find her real parents, which serves as the plotline for the majority of the film and leads the trio into many interesting scenarios. Gin decides to call her Kiyoko, the name of his own real daughter, and thereby this new child becomes the new proxy for that lost child and Miyuki’s status is lowered somewhat.
After acquiring the child, the three godfathers follow up every lead they can to track down the real parents of the child rather than merely turning her in to the police or to a local hospital. This goes directly against the wishes of Gin initially to rid themselves of the child quickly, but Hana wants to feel motherly for a time and as such, the group goes along with her plan. They search the trash near where the child was found and collect a photo with a picture of a young couple and a card to a fancy club downtown. The picture also features the front of a house wherein the young couple pictured therein most likely lived, and locals in the area directly surrounding that house give more vital details.
In every new lead, the group find themselves in some form of mortal danger but always manage to escape harm (except for when Gin is attacked by a group of teenagers looking to ‘clean up’ the city). When their leads begin to dry up, they always spectacularly find a new one to continue the search. And when all looks hopeless, the miraculous occurs. This theme of miraculous events in their search during the Christmas season for Kiyoko’s parents is ubiquitous throughout the picture and lends to it an artful veracity that helps to raise the film above the level of your typical anime film fare. Though the story is particular, it reaches toward the universal through its themes and toward the timeless through its relation to cinema history and to a Western tradition of filmmaking that links it to one of America’s greatest auteurs in John Ford. All of these features of the film as well as the compelling visual style common to Satoshi Kon’s works make Tokyo Godfathers another classic work in Kon’s oeuvre. An oeuvre of only five anime works that unarguably contains five classic, top-form works that will remain seminal in Japanese animation history for decades and generations to come.
This film, like all of Kon’s anime works, was created through funding by Studio Madhouse. Like most of his works at the Studio, it was produced by the legendary co-founder of the Studio Masuo Maruyama. And again, like all of his films, this one received many accolades upon its premiere including Best Animation Film at the Mainichi Film Festival and the Excellence Prize from the Japan Media Arts Festival. But most importantly, it has a reputation as a great film that transcends the medium of animation and should be counted amongst the greatest films in any medium, or at least the top 1000 you should watch at some point before you die, leave this earth, and return back to the void of nothingness from whence you arose.
[Next up: Paprika]
It now appears that Alex Rosewater, and by extension Paradigm Corp., were aware of the existence of foreigners outside of Paradigm City, as well as foreign sleeper agents from The Union within the city, all along. Alex has made some sort of trade with The Union, which ceded the three foreign Megadeuses back to their own people, as well as some undisclosed further item, in exchange for the non-functional Big Megadeus known as Big Fau. However, after receiving the Megadeus, Alex Rosewater had everything he needed from The Union and instead of protecting their existence within the city any longer, he has alerted the Military Police and Lieutenant Dan Dastun to their existence, and tasked this group with tracking down the 24 Union Sleeper Agents in the city and arresting them. Dan Dastun hasn’t taken kindly to this turn of events, especially since Angel, or Agent 340, is one amongst the Union members he must arrest. He feels as if he is a mere lap dog for Paradigm, and further, that the rains pouring down on the city seemingly non-stop must be some sort of divine message that what they are doing is wrong.
At Paradigm, Alex Rosewater has set a meeting up between himself and Roger Smith. As the two are aware of each other’s true identities as Dominus of Megadeuses (Big Fau and Big O, respectively), Alex Rosewater wastes no time in their discussion before discussing the current attempts to bring power up Big Fau. He explains that the machine has no memory core, that he believes that he himself functions as the mecha’s memory core in lieu of one as his Dominus, and that no amount of electricity- currently being diverted from the city’s power grids every night- seems able to revive the machine. As mentioned previously, this notion of a great beast constructed out of the parts of numerous corpses of past organisms (or in this case, many Big Faus) is very similar to the concept of Frankenstein’s Monster who was revived through electricity, created from the bodies of dead men, and given a brain that retained little knowledge of life before its death. Likewise, Alex Rosewater is like Dr. Frankenstein: a figure who will eventually be usurped as a false master.
Alex also explains to Roger that ‘since the disaster forty years ago, this city has been the only stage where humanity can continue to preserve their civilization.’ The idea seems to be that although foreigners exist outside of Paradigm City, none of them have made any effort o create a city of their own, and largely live as nomads in the vast desert wastelands of the world. Alex continues, ‘ I have the utmost respect for my dad, he is the man who built this stage. However, my dear father had forced himself to lose his own memories before he was kind enough to pass them on to his son.’ If everyone in the city lost their memories forty years ago after the disaster, then this means that the civilization created by Gordon Rosewater was made sometime before this Event. That it managed to endure whatever the Event wrought, and that the remainder of the world did not, added to the fact that no one remembers much of a re-building of the city, means that something other than The Event was the cause of the world’s current state. An apocalyptic event visited upon the earth twice (first as a physical scourge and secondly as one removing the memories of this planet’s denizens?).
Something isn’t quite right here. The Event has always been a mythical sort of historical force that somehow wiped the memories of all people on Earth (save a few). That an event occurred before the Event is unexplained, does not compute. Alex: ‘Preserving human civilization is this city’s reason for existence.’ Roger, not knowing about how prescient his words really are, chimes in: ‘You mean their memories?’ Alex: That’s right. They exist in this city and in this city alone.’ The implication being, once one has finished viewing the series, that Paradigm City is a simulation of humanity, a storage unit for the collective memory of the human race who have presumably evolved beyond their current forms or been destroyed in the real world. And as we shall we in the series’ denouement, the simulation is set to run infinitely. That is, unless Roger Smith can somehow manage to prevent it from doing so, somehow manage to end the program and thereby, end the eternal sufferings of millions of Artificial Simulated Human Beings trapped within an infinite loop in this monstrous universe.
At Roger’s Mansion, Dorothy and Norman are alone once again for the evening. Angel, now the fugitive known as Agent 340, arrives to speak with Roger, but finds that he is not at home. She decides to deliver her message to Dorothy instead: ‘The memories that Alex is searching for, the memories of this whole world that have been left behind in Paradigm City alone, are vitally important to Roger as well. We mustn’t let Alex take them.’ At this point in the narrative, the viewer ought to no clue what these memories truly entail and should be more confounded than ever before at the notion that these memories have an existential importance to Roger and to the city. Angel also tells Dorothy that they must not let the memories fall into the hands of anyone who wishes to gain them as the result would be equally catastrophic. And before whiling away into the night and into the dense rain and fog of the city, Angel tells Dorothy that she is sorry for their past, and that despite the fact that Dorothy doesn’t like Angel, Angel likes Dorothy and wishes the best for her.
Later, Alex explains to Roger that only the two of them are valid players on the world stage, that only they two are true Dominuses of Megadeuses, wielding the power of the gods. Alex also professes to know what Roger truly is, though he won’t disclose the truth to him. As Roger leaves the meeting, focusing intently on trying to remain un-manipulated by Alex Rosewater, Alan Gabriel approaches Alex. The cyborg has proven himself to be a tricky character as he played both sides during the power play between Alex Rosewater and The Union previously. Now, he holds a blade to the neck of his current employer in the hopes of assassinating the man, presumably at the direction of Vera Ronstadt and The Union for no meager sum. But just at that very moment, Alex offers Alan the opportunity to own something ‘special’: a promise that piques his interest and prevents him from taking Alex’s life right there and then.
Alex’s assassination would have been the first event in a chain of actions that might have led to the downfall of Paradigm City as Vera Ronstadt appears within the underground of the city and calls upon a large three-headed Megadeus with regenerative powers called The Hydra, which has been created and modified from The Eel in Act 03. The being can harness electricity and begins to use its powers on the city, destroying anyone and anything in its path toward the Paradigm Corp. HQ, wherein Alex should have been dead if Alan had followed his orders.
Luckily, Roger Smith is out about town picking up a bouquet of flowers for his android love interest when he gets the call from Norman about the disruption in the city. He calls upon Big O and quickly rips apart two of the three heads of The Hydra, which regenerate instantly and prove to Roger that this will be a tough battle indeed. The Hydra directs its electric volley toward Big O, rendering the Big Megadeus immobile, and eventually reaching within its cockpit to electrocute Roger Smith himself. The jolts trigger a memory within Roger’s mind of a similar time somewhere in his deep past when he piloted the same Megadeus, and fought the same enemy, but alongside a platoon of Big O Megadeuses. He was clad in brown military fatigues and looked to be one amongst a group of soldiers. However, Roger Smith is in his thirties, surely not old enough to have lived before The Event that seemingly wiped out these memories. What’s more, in the flashback he appears to be the same age as is he is currently. Roger Smith seems to be an android trained for battle and for the complex operation of a Megadeus. One that does not age. So how does this relate back to the visions of Roger Smith as one of those genetically engineered children, the tomatoes of Gordon Rosewater? Could all of these memories be deja vu from experiences in past lives? Experiences in different simulations and timestreams wherein Roger Smith oscillates between different identities. Such a concept could at least make Gordon Rosewater’s claims that the events of his book Metropolis never happened, or at least not in the current simulation.
Roger’s memories alert him to the presence of a secret valve within Big O that activates his plasma weaponry and shields. These allow Roger to divert The Hydra’s electric attacks from himself and to consequently launch a powerful attack back at it that incinerates the beast-like Megadeus. But not before the electric volley is picked up by Alex Rosewater’s lab through a large lightning rod apparatus, an apparatus that feeds the energy back to Big Fau and gives him enough strength to rise once again.
Cast in the Name of God,
As Bonaparte, the Union’s powerful pseudo-Big Megadeus, pummels away at Big O, Roger’s Big counterpart remains inoperative. He merely blocks the oncoming drill attacks from his aggressor as Roger wonders aloud why Big O is not moving. Outside on the streets of Paradigm, Dastun notices of the tide of the battle becoming one-sided and thereby commands his troops to attack Bonaparte with all they’ve got to support Big O. An image is transmitted to Roger within the cockpit of Alan Gabriel attacking Dorothy and readying himself to destroy her with his own drill hand attack, and it then becomes apparent to Roger why Big O has shut himself down: He has a connection with Dorothy, sensed that she was danger, and is advising Roger to go and save her while he fends off Bonaparte’s attacks.
Back at the Union’s meeting place in the now-defunct Grand Central Station (an icon whose appearance once again supports some form of alternate history interpretation of the series), Dorothy has been analyzing Alan Gabriel and come to the realization that he is neither man nor machine, and something more akin to a cyborg in between. As Roger approaches Dastun for a ride out to where Dorothy is being assaulted by the psychopathic cyborg Alan Gabriel, Angel approaches the cyborg, calling him Agent 271, and pleading with him to spare Dorothy’s life, to stop attacking her as his actions seem to have no purpose. But Alan explains that the purpose ought to be obvious: to humiliate Roger by ‘destroying this android he cares for more than anyone.’ The comment deeply wounds Angel, who has come to know Roger on romantic terms and developed an attachment to him. She breaks down, drops her gun, and stops protesting Alan Gabriel’s destruction of Dorothy, possibly in the petty hope that with Dorothy gone, Angel can take over as Roger’s amorous partner.
Dorothy, realizing that Alan will not stop his attacks and that she has lost all allies in the immediate vicinity, strikes out and knocks Alan Gabriel to the ground, momentarily prolonging the terrible tortures of his sociopathic drill hands, which aim to do no other than rend her asunder utterly. Back in town, Bonaparte has given up punching against the seemingly impenetrable defenses of Big O and departs to attack the city itself, demolishing buildings and the domes themselves with powerful laser beams. Roger arrives to Grand Central Station, Angel runs off into the shadows, feeling guilty for her inaction, and Dorothy, understanding that she has won in the fight for Roger’s affections, smiles broadly, displaying emotion for one of the first times thus far in The Big O. Roger attacks Alan Gabriel, and threatens to throw away his own life in the process, before Dastun breaks them up with a gunshot and a promise to apprehend Alan, as Dastun, and not Roger Smith the Negotiator, is the only lawman in the room. But Alan departs without taking a bullet, and Roger leaves to return to Paradigm where is now most needed, after alerting Norman to the pick-up point for the wounded Dorothy that is.
Before Roger can get back, however, Alex Rosewater premiers his new Megadeus: the third big, Big Fau. The giant Megadeus is a powerhouse model that quickly and easily rips through Bonaparte’s defenses and then limbs, before searing a hole directly through the Union’s most powerful Megadeus. We learn that Alex is piloting Big Fau without a memory core, as this particular item, usually necessary to the proper functioning of a Megadeus, was missing when the Union found it and consequently when Alex acquired it. The machine is a revived being without any knowledge of its past. These elements of its identity as well as its elongated head and the large bolt-like aesthetic mechanisms on the sides of its head strongly resemble and mirror the story of Frankenstein’s monster who was revived from the body of a dead man with the brain of a different individual, and no memories of his past.
And like that aforementioned gothic beast, Big Fau is only under the thumb of his master and revivifier for a short time. After defeating Bonaparte, Big Fau takes back control of himself and aims his lasers toward the architecture and skyline of the city of Paradigm, much like Bonaparte. Only this time, the aggressor against Paradigm City is much more powerful and unwieldy. Roger appears in the nick of time to battle this new Big, which seems an impossible task, a herculean effort as even Bonaparte proved too difficult for Big O to easily destroy. Luckily, Alex Rosewater is freaking out, ranting and raving in the cockpit of Big Fau and making a fuss to his Megadeus about being the true Dominus. Big Fau analyzes his host once more and the sensors read ‘Ye Not’ before fizzling out. Big Fau shuts off, goes limp, and Alex Rosewater is enclosed within the cockpit, seemingly with no way out.
Back at Grand Central Station, Dastun approaches Angel and returns her dropped firearm to her. He realizes immediately that she feels romantically attached to Roger but has been spurned by his feelings for another. And although he cannot know that she is a foreigner and a member of the Union who has now disavowed her own people and has no real place to call home, he does recognize a down and out soul when he sees one. Dastun explains his own feelings of inadequacy in the face of Megadeuses and Foreign Terrorism, which are almost always only defeated through the help of Roger and his black Megadeus: Big O. Dastun feels as if the world is merely a stage, and he and all those around him are actors who must play out some vicious destiny the nature of which is completely unknown to them in thrust or denouement. He tells her that the only valid thing to do in this world is to accept who one is and to work one’s hardest to protect those around them.
But these are hard times, confusing times. And although Angel accepts Dastun’s reasoning and takes her pistol, it is obvious that she is unsure. What is the meaning of life without a past, without a history, without an identifiable culture or homeplace? What is being hidden behind the memory barrier of The Event from 40 years ago? Who is Angel? Who were her parents and why has she thus far been so gung ho about supporting the cause of her people despite not knowing anything about their past history? Could Paradigm have been an egalitarian, democratic sort of land? One that was targeted by dictatorial and autocratic peoples like her own and merely destroyed the world as a defensive response?
Many of these questions will never be completely answered for us, the fans of The Big O, but they are important questions because they all relate back to our world wherein political identification with one’s nation is problematic for almost every nation-state in existence by virtue of their problematic pasts. The polar opposite difficulty is the innate desire to belong to a community, which is often bracketed politically by those with a rational moral compass. Maybe this was the super-human strength Nietzsche alluded to that is requisite for anyone who wishes to become liberated: the strength to deny our inner calls and feelings and to become supra-rational calculating beings, beyond good an evil. Forces foretelling the twilight of the gods, and hearkening the dawn of a new day.
Cast in the Name of God,
In the deserted outskirts of Paradigm City, the winds sweep across sand dunes, and the camera pans down toward a series of vehicle tracks as the sounds of a human voice humming mingle with ambient sound. Visions of burning books and of burning cities, set ablaze by giant robots, by the Big Megadeuses, swarms of Big O, Duo, and Fau. And children with bar codes in their eyes. An image of Gordon Rosewater offering a tomato, of Big O reaching out toward someone, of the that child’s eyes reflected back to reveal a genetically engineered child with a bald held: obviously created by a scientist connected with Gordon Rosewater, if not he himself. And then Roger Smith, Paradigm City’s Negotiator, awakens from this nightmare stream of images from the past.
He realizes then that he must find answers, must track down his past. And as such, he rides out to the countryside, artificial natural dome of Paradigm wherein Gordon Rosewater reclines forever on his porch as large farmhands work the ranch around him. Roger passes Alex Rosewater and Alan Gabriel along the walking path to Gordon’s home. the two have returned home, and a cluster of blue flowers, not native to Paradigm or its environs, sits within Alex’s lapel. When Roger approaches Gordon Rosewater, he finds that the old man has a cluster of these flowers in his overalls, and later learns from the old man that these flowers are known as blue bells. Over the course of their conversation it becomes apparent that the old man has not lost all of his memories of the past and is merely hiding this from public view.
Gordon Rosewater chides Roger for searching for things as intangible and inconsequential as memories when the world operates without them nonetheless. But Roger refuses this reasoning. Things in Paradigm are not going well, and people are occasionally having resurgences of memories, which threaten to challenge Paradigm citizens basic notions of who they are. Roger insists on learning why he is able to pilot Big O, and the old man merely responds that he was chosen by Big O to do so, that he was made to do so through some obscure contract he had with Gordon Rosewater. A contract that Gordon seems to remember clearly, but Roger has totally forgotten, and which Gordon Rosewater is unwilling to fill Roger in on the details of.
Roger has another flashback to his past and begins coming around to the conclusion that he may have been genetically engineered, like one of the tomatoes, to pilot Big O by Gordon Rosewater. That, or he may have been born human by natural means, and then only later agreed to have his memories modified, which gave him the ability to pilot Big O, the ability to harness the power of the gods. Roger has since left the ranch and has found himself inside a club in Paradigm where he has been thinking hard. Angel appears and finds that Roger has a blue bell flower on his lapel. She explains that the flower is not found in Paradigm, that it is, rather, native to her homeland. It is a flower with which she is very familiar, one that holds some sort of symbolic significance to her people.
The two realize that Alex Rosewater has been gone out of town to meet with foreign powers in the city of Angel’s homeland. The purpose of this meeting is undisclosed, and if I’m not mistaken, will never fully be disclosed to the viewers of The Big O. Angel and Roger depart for a diner on the other end of town wherein they discuss how Alex Rosewater, de facto King of Paradigm City, is working to track down memories in the hopes of creating and piloting a Megadeus. To what end, the two have no clue. But they are pretty sure that this most recent trip outside of the city was directed toward this end.
Elsewhere, Dorothy is seen listening to a song on the winds of Paradigm’s cavernous streets. A blonde woman named Vera Ronstadt, who will later be revealed as Agent 12 of The Union, is rounding up the dozen or so Union sleeper agents within the city and drawing them, like a pied piper with her song, toward a ruined chapel wherein their people once sang hymns to a god that the world has forgotten along with its history after The Event. A Megadeus appears in the city, first as a series of parts left over from the three foreign Megadeuses Robespierre, Carnot, and Fouche. And then, the pieces, flying autonomously converge and form a large Megadeus known as Bonaparte (another French historical figure: this time the identity of which is quite obvious). Previously these parts had been under the control of Alex Rosewater, and these leftovers from the process of restoring Big Duo may have been sold or traded back to the Union in exchange for something that Alex Rosewater wanted from them.
Later, we find Alex Rosewater almost salivating at a looming figure, the Big Fau Megadeus, which has remained completely immobile. The machine is a real Big, and as such, will only function for its true Dominus, who was apparently not one amongst the numbers of the Union or its foreign populace. But the Union, they will later find, has made a disastrous trade. For the time being, they have betrayed Alex Rosewater’s trust and sent the new Megadeus Bonaparte out to destroy the man and his city. As Dastun’s Military Police try to destroy the beast rampaging through their city, Norman calls up Roger who has been having a deeply romantic conversation with Angel about their destinies, about whether they are on the same side in the upcoming battle, and whether they can ever truly find love in one another’s arms. Angel leaves when she discerns that Roger is truly in love with someone else, someone she believes to be the android Dorothy R. Wayneright, and then Roger spirits himself off to pilot Big O and combat Bonaparte.
Whilst Angel heads toward the Union meeting, Dorothy happens to be heading in the same direction, following the song that has triggered something akin to curiosity within her programming. The two converge at the church and Angel is revealed to be Union Agent 340, the one in charge of terrorist activity in Paradigm, the one who has seemingly betrayed her country to go gallivanting about with the Dominus of Megadeus. Vera Ronstadt is in charge of operations now and plans a full-scale assault on the city. In the shadows lurks Dorothy, who moves too quickly, disturbs the silence and is found out. In the far corner of the building, another android appears the shadows: Alan Gabriel. He is a Union member apparently working both sides of the battle (Paradigm and the Union). Vera sicks Alan on Dorothy, and he revels in the chance to destroy such a beautiful piece of technology as Angel pleads with Vera to have mercy on Dorothy (as Angel truly wishes for the well-being and happiness of Roger, even if he can only gain kit through romantic union with a machine).
As Alan shoots Dorothy in the arm and then in the leg, immobilizing her in the process and hovering over her with a drill hand mechanism to rend her asunder, Big O dukes it out with Bonaparte and finds himself wanting. None of his attacks break through the defense of the foreign super-Megadeus, an then the worst case scenario occurs: ‘Cast in the Name of God’ on Big O’s console distorts and becomes, momentarily, the barcode from Roger’s memories, the barcode that must be within his own eye, and the one scanned by Big O that shows Roger is programmed to be his Megadeus. Big O shuts down, stops moving, and his gears lock. At this moment, Roger understands that he truly was programmed to be Big O’s Megadeus. We realize that Roger has become more than a mere bio-genetically engineered organism. He has become truly human, and as such, Big O can no longer be piloted by him.
But in this moment, as the drill of Alan Gabriel descends upon his beloved (an event which Alan plans to project to Roger through his own communicator watch) and Bonaparte’s drill descends toward the prone Big O, Roger denies his programming fully. He accepts the absurdity of the situation, the reality of his identity, and despite being a changed man, an awakened man, he claims that he, the new Roger Smith taking reigns of his own destiny is’ the Dominus of Big O.’ If the gambit works and Roger can pilot a Big by sheer force of will, it means that he has established an emotional connection with Big O that goes beyond anything physically possible. It means that his will has the power to the literally change the world order, and Paradigm City’s very ontological make-up.
Cast in the Name of God,