(Check out my previous Back film review here: Inon)
In 1975, the Quebecois animator and director Frederic Back released his fourth film entitled ¿Illusion?. Following a trend in the production of his first three films, this fourth one was longer than back’s previous release by about thirty seconds and came in at a total length of 11 minutes and 30 seconds. The film also took longer than any of Back’s previous animations to create, at a whopping 18 months, because of Back’s budget restraints, very small though tight-knit crew, and his attention to detail as an animator in each frame who wished to make his creation, at all times, visually arresting and alluring.
The short film opens to a large valley in a fertile land where children roam the grounds of a small field alongside rabbits, squirrels, birds, and their pet cats. The place is idyllic beyond belief and hearkens back to an imagined time when people lived simply and in harmony with the land (as evidenced by ecologically unharmful water wheels as the only source for power), when mankind could still stomach the mystery of old forests and not destroy them out of need for resources. In a word, when life felt worth living and all things were invested with mystery and human relations to these things were coloured by awe and reverence.
Then, one day, a mysterious figure enters town. Our first impression is that this figure is an adult, which is the first signal or premonition of ill-tidings in this hamlet of children. The man carries with him the accoutrements of civilization: a fancy suit and bow tie, various musical instruments, and a general ‘civilized’ demeanor. All the children are suspect of this man until he begins to woo them with the power of music, then with his magic abilities to transmogrify living flesh into mechanical circuits and joints. The magician throws a rabbit into his hat and when he retrieves it thence, it emerges a robotic thing not unlike the Energizer Bunny. He grabs a bird and throws it into his pack, which then emerges as a toy whistle in the shape of a bird: a lifeless machine meant merely to please others, which has lost its soul in the process.
Like the pied piper, this magician leads the children onward into the hills and shows them many initially delightful and useful technologies like light poles to keep the children and their host of animals safe from wolves at night, or domiciles wherein children can escape the elements in viciously cold winters. However, the project soon elevates itself beyond all sustainability and usefulness as the trees become large gray tenement buildings and factories wherein the children are enslaved to work for the magician. Even the children’s clothing becomes gray as their general aspects darken with malaise and existential dread at the prospect of being divorced from nature, and now even from the products of their labors, which they cannot freely take when needed and must pay for by working to build said products.
But industrial slave labor or wage labor, and alienation from nature and from one’s goods, are not the only unholy elements in this hideous tragedy of modernity’s manners. To make it into the unholy trinity it really is, the magician recognizes the depressed state of the children and introduces the free market, adding unfettered capitalism to the equation, which only further depresses the children. Unlike we in our modern age who are so enamored with cultural objects and processed, mass-marketed experiences, these children were not reared in the system. As such, they are uniquely unaffected by these entertainments and diversion, and instead dream of a renewal, of a return to their idyllic past and to their wholesome homes without the attendant ills of crime, poverty, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and moral decay in all its vicissitudes.
The children revolt revolt against their magician, which they vastly outnumber as the proletariat. Here, Back recognizes that any progressive, social justice approaches to the problems of society here will not and cannot suffice to restore joy and peace to the social order. This is so, because he recognizes, like Marx before him that social and cultural forces are not the driving elements of society. No, the base is economics and political structure. But in this case, the answer is not to take over the means of production and to instill a more equitable economic situation through the political order (another dead-end of political theory and action in the 20th, and hitherto in the, 21st century). The whole point is to destroy the structure totally (or in Slavoj Zizek’s comedic formulation to not just dust the balls of those in power, but to cut them off) in order to either create a new one from the ground up, which values nature and our role and part in it, as well as equitable and fair living (Because a world in which Billionaires exist at all is one which is sickly and choking on moral decay).
The children, uncorrupted by high-minded political theory and philosophy, recognize one of two options: 1. To remain in the present order and die a slow death of the spirit. Or 2. To destroy the present order and return to one that worked perfectly fine before the new order emerged. Their innocence allows them to not only think in this simplistic, and ultimately effective manner, but also to bind together as a collective of individuals who realize their joy is in communion with one another and not in disassociation as mere cogs in a mechanical political and economic order. They chase out the magician and the illusions of technological progress and achievement (things that may exist beyond our own lives, but will ultimately return to final cosmic ash like all others, and therefore have no more significance than intangible goods like happiness and peace) disappear, revealing the natural order of things beneath the illusion.
Here, animals return and the valley regains is majestic glow as the old order is snuffed out, with a whimper, by virtue of the mere and basic power of belief. In our own world, such a fight would surely lead to bloodshed and violence, but maybe no more than the millions of innocents killed in cold blood by imperialist regimes supported by the capitalist order as in America’s crusade in the Middle East today. And another big difference: if we return to something closer to the ground, we will not find the Earth as it once was before our destructive involvement. We will find it ravaged, pillaged, and raped through nothing more than the will of hoarder-billionaires whose names I need not mention here.
If there really is a hell, at least they’re not going: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ Meaning: It is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. (But hey, this is only coming from someone who’s read hundreds of texts on biblical studies.)
[Continued here: Taratata]
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,
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,
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,
By Act 09 of The Big O, all major players in the production development of the show have finally made their appearance. From the director Kazuyoshi Katayama, to the concept designer Keiichi Sato, the head series writer Chiaki J. Konaka, the composer Toshihiko Sahashi, and two of the three episode directors Keiichi Hasegawa and Masanao Akaboshi. Act 09 was written by the third of this latter group, writer named Shin Yoshida (who would also later contribute to the series as a writer on Act 12).
Unlike Hasegawa and Akaboshi, Yoshida had no prior relation as a screenwriter with Chiaki J. Konaka and was instead seemingly hired on by Studio Sunrise just because they needed someone to quickly shape a few episodes into proper form before Katayama began directing his animation team to make the episode. Far from being a tried and tested writer for animation, The Big O was only Yoshida’s second attempt at writing for the medium after penning four episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters in 2000. However, his ability to pen a script for widely different types of productions whilst making the product fit in with the larger property’s aesthetic and philosophical preoccupations gave him many future opportunities to work on series such as Karas, Speed Grapher (as head writer), and Witch Hunter Robin, as well as continued work on numerous incarnations of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise.
As for Act 09, it opens onto a maximum security prison wherein alarms are ringing out and guards are scrambling to and fro in something of a panic. A large yellow Megadeus, called the Victory Deluxe, emerges from the ground in the courtyard. Piloted by two thugs dressed and painted oddly as mimes, the men spring an unshaven Beck from his cell and head off into the night.
The following morning, Roger and Dorothy are riding along in Paradigm’s ‘countryside’ (an artificial paradise akin to the world surrounding 2019’s Los Angeles in the non-canon, but original release, ending of Blade Runner), heading toward the mansion of one Mr. Wise. The sounds of a melodic, almost somnambulant saxophone ring out as Roger’s interior monologue muses and reflects on the nature of the city of Amnesia, ‘a town of forgetfulness,’ wherein all people lost their memories forty years ago. But human beings are adaptable and after they figured out how to operate basic machinery and restore electricity to the city, something of civilization remained. ‘The only ones who regret the loss of these memories are the city’s elderly.’ Wise one amongst them.
A criminal group have kidnapped Wise’s 40 year old son Francis and are demanding a $2 million ransom. When the criminals call, Roger answers the phone and tells the man on the other end of the line (who just so happens to be Beck) that the Wise family doesn’t have $2 million. Beck hangs up, annoyed at the presence of a Negotiator in the mix, and Mr. Wise, not understanding the process of haggling necessary to the retrieval of his son in such a case, becomes incensed at Roger for not just offering to pay the men what they desire.
After leaving Mr. Wise’s home, who has temporarily fired Roger, Dorothy and he return home wherein Dorothy asks Roger to paint her on one of his canvases. The result is a distorted image of the girl, akin to a Picasso rendition minus the cubist framings. This intimate encounter is cut short when Dan Dastun pays a visit and alerts Roger to Beck’s jailbreak. Roger’s true identity as Dominus of Big O is the only one who should know about Beck, and as such Roger responds with confusion at first regarding just who Beck is. That is, until Dastun explains further. This encounter tells us a few things, other than revealing the sometimes intricate film noir complexity of the narrative of the show. It tells us that Dastun at least suspects that Roger is the Dominus of Big O. Roger’s response tells us that he knows Dastun suspects him and that he is being very careful not to play into his hand in case Dastun’s motives for subtly probing into Roger’s alter ego are less than altruistic.
Later that day, Mr. Wise recalls Roger Smith reluctantly as he still needs a negotiator. Roger explains the nature of haggling, how it can save him money, and how it can also make the hostage appear ultimately of little worth to the kidnappers who might otherwise go back on their promises to return the man after receiving money in the hopes of taking Wise for all he’s worth. When Beck calls once again, he recognizes the voice of Roger and decides to up the ante to a $3 million ransom and to make it known that he will take the hostage’s life if Roger does not appear, with the money, at the designated time and place.
That night, when Roger and Dorothy head out to rendezvous with Beck, they find the safe house empty except for a tied up Francis inside. Outside, Dastun’s forces appear and tell Roger that the shtick it up. He has been framed! After making a daring escape and then camouflaging The Griffon sedan to evade police, Roger and Dorothy drive off to track down Beck and his goons. Along the way, Dorothy reveals that Francis does not appear anything like Mr. Wise and is probably not his son, which only leads to more questions than it answers. The two decide that Wise’s home would be the best first place to look for answers and when they arrive, the old man reveals that he met his late wife Mary only moments after The Event. They were standing within the parlor of the great mansion he currently inhabits, neither one of which retained anything of their past memories or knowledge of their identities. But there and then, they fell deeply in love, and eight months later a child was born unto them. Wise, who may have previously been nothing more than a housekeeper, was now a rich man rearing another unknown man’s child.
Beck found this out and has been threatening to disclose this information to the public. Wise folded immediately and gave in to all of Beck’s demands for money and industrial metal and machine parts. which he had delivered to an abandoned stockyard that Beck is currently using as a hideout. Wise wished to prevent his son from receiving public ridicule if the truth of his background were revealed. As Roger and Dorothy depart the mansion just as quickly as they arrived, to track down Beck, Dorothy asks Roger a question: ‘So, wise fell in love out of loneliness?’ Roger finds the question too difficult and emotionally charged to answer, which prompts Dorothy to retain her second question for a later time. Not merely an android, Dorothy has developed a strong inner emotional life. One that makes the boundary between human and robot every day less substantial for Roger.
When they arrive at Beck’s warehouse, the criminal mastermind is prepared. A giant hook descends from the ceiling above to crush and take away Roger’s black sedan, nearly killing him in the process as well. A giant magnet appears, which attracts Dorothy’s metallic frame and renders her immobile. Beck inserts a disk into her hairband CD insert, which turns her into a machine hellbent on attacking Roger. She approaches him, and the dual function of the program becomes apparent as it renders Dorothy’s inhibitions mute. Starry eyed, she embraces Roger and tells him that she loves him, all while squeezing his body in a vice-grip that nearly breaks him in half. Miraculously, her own rational circuits are enough to override the program and by sheer force of will Dorothy stops herself, but malfunctions in the process and loses consciousness.
His first and second lines of attack thwarted, Beck now calls upon his trump card: the Victory Deluxe Megadeus! Unfortunately for him, the materials out of which it is constructed are less than ideal and it has a much lower power than a classic pre-Event Megadeus like Big O. As such, when Victory Deluxe emerges from the ground, it gets caught halfway up and has to wrench itself out. When Big O emerges, it busts straight out of the ground and begins to destroy Victory Deluxe with no problem as its yellow antagonist’s laser attacks merely bounce off of Big O’s superior metallic shell. With one piston punch, Big O decapitates Beck’s Megadeus and then proceeds to drop it outside Dastun’s office only moments before Mr. Wise appears to explain the entire incident and thereby give Roger an alibi for the kidnapping of Francis.
That night, as Norman repairs Dorothy, he asks Roger if he would like the replace her memory circuits on the off chance that such an attack occurs once again, as she is now more susceptible to being invaded by alien programs like Beck’s than ever before. Roger tells him to leave her memory as it is because she had been wanting to ask Roger something, and the removal of her memory would prevent her from remembering the question if she ever mustered up the courage. And the following morning, Dorothy does just that and asks the question she has been reflecting on since Mr. Wise’s predicament first came to light: ‘If neither of us had memories, and we both met, would you and I fall in love?’
Cast in the Name of God,
(Check out my previous Ralph Bakshi feature review here: Coonskin)
After the completion of his third animated feature (released in 1975), Ralph Bakshi jumped immediately into another project called Hey Good Lookin’. Like his three previous films, it was about life in the city and dealt with many of the same themes of his early work. The film premiered at a few festivals, but Bakshi could find no one to release the film theatrically, and as such, it whiled away in obscurity for the next seven years and the production company’s who funded it wouldn’t see any return on investment for quite some time.
Somehow, despite Bakshi’s last theatrical release (Coonskin) being a controversial picture that consequently didn’t run in many theaters and made a fraction of its budget back, and his most recent picture being unreleased, he still managed to secure funding for a new picture through Fox. However, this small miracle of funding probably wouldn’t have been possible if Bakshi had set his sights on another street picture with controversial political content and another X or R rating. This time around Bakshi ensured his film could receive financing by changing his focus to the fantasy genre, stripping away much of the political and sexual content that had become a staple of a Bakshi Animation, and setting his sights for a PG rating (the most family friendly rating he had ever received).
The film is a vast sci-fi fantasy epic set in a post-apocalyptic landscape millions of the years into the future after an atomic war. Since the event, technology was outlawed across the planet and as a result, magic has reappeared and relative peace prevails despite the existence of mutated demon-like human beings with an evil instinct living in the wastes not far from the more civilized elf-like, fairy-like and dwarf-like mutated humans. But one day a miraculous event occurs and a pair of magical twins are born to the Queen of the elf-lands: one of which is good and affable and uses the power of white magics, while his brother is mutated, antisocial, sociopathic (he tortures small animals in his youth), and relishes in the learning of black magic at any opportunity he gets. When their mother dies, the two battle for domination and the good wizard wins and banishes his brother to the wastes where for the next three thousand years he continues to learn the black arts, subjugates the demon-like irradiated mutants, and collects as many artifacts of the Earth’s technological past as possible.
The film represents a skeptical view of technology and the ambiguity of its effect. The dark wizard BlackWolf uses the technology to arm his warriors with guns and bombs that are much more effective than the spears and swords of his brother Avatar’s elf army. But in the hands of good, they could likewise be used to purge the world of evil forces, say if Avatar )voiced by Bob Holt, using his best Peter Falk impersonation) had harvested them first and used them to destroy his brother (something he will eventually do). BlackWolf discovers ages-old Nazi propaganda, which he uses to confuse and scare the enemy elf forces while simultaneously inspiring and driving into a berserk frenzy his own demon forces. The background Blitzkrieg propaganda films are modified versions of scenes from old war epics like Alexander Nevsky, Battle of the Bulge, El Cid, Patton, and Zulu. Overlaid over top of these scenes are old, unused stock footage, rotoscoped images created for Wizards, and traditional 2-D animation in a montage that evokes rather than recreates battle and makes the war scenes all the more frenetic.
The film is a commentary on social engineering through technology and industrialization, which can create beautiful things, but more often than not only lead to dependency upon machines. It critiques ideology through laying bare its relationship to new technology and how things like propaganda and advertising are almost impossible without technology. Most importantly Bakshi makes apparent the culpability of technology in circumventing the better rational side of the people to uncover the darker fascistic side always hidden below. His formulation is the stimulation of fear in a populace plus religion (or similar ideological structures with a metaphysical structure and a large social capital and store of apparatuses) yields hysteria, which can all be accomplished through propaganda and the resultant hysteria can be channeled toward any cause.
And this is dangerous, but Bakshi’s fantasy seems to suggest, at first, that the proper move is to return to an idyllic past, to a base world plus magic. The proposition tugs at the heartstrings, as the film errs not toward religion (which he renders foolish and shows to be culpable with consumerism and techno-fetishist dependency as the temple of the Elves is full of jukeboxes and Coca-Cola signs), but toward mysticism and a spirituality divorced from social structures like the Church. However, even mysticism and spirituality is ultimately bullshit ontologically and the New Age has been shown time and again to be nothing but a new consumerism, and a religious consumerism devoid of any tradition at that. So the Luddite push is not only unrealistic, but leaves us without the technologies that can benefit humanity and leaves us with a consumerist spirituality alone that is just as open to potential use toward a fascist cause.
In this way, Wizards is an extremely radical film that doesn’t make a strict nature/culture distinction as in most benign, asinine animated films. Here, magic and technology are ultimately the same and cannot be easily divorced from one another. In Avatar’s revolutionary usage of technology to fight technology, he shows its power, that it is a valid tool for good just as it is a valid tool for evil, and that the intention of the user is the only criterion that gives any meaning to the the tool itself, which is valueless and ambiguous without it. And by doing so, Bakshi shows the way to disarm an ideologue, whether a fascist or a terrorist: remove the religion/metaphysics at the core of the hysteria.
In a way, this is what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels tried to do more than a hundred years prior in claiming that religion was the opiate of the people. But they erred in their formulation of Communist ideology by including History as a World-Historical force, a force that was necessarily moving toward some end. They erred in a second metaphysical assumption of the People as a new god. The first is a Hegelian assumption and the second a Christian one, and together they were the end of Communism, the negation within a negation of their own form which led ultimately to the death of traditional Communism as The People are stupid and weak-willed, and History is not directed toward any end except entropy.
Wizards was both a high critical achievement for Bakshi and a strong philosophical statement, which later developed into a cult film. It was released two weeks before Star Wars (and actually under the title Wizards as opposed to War Wizards at the request of Bakshi’s friend George Lucas) on a limited theatrical run during which Disney re-released Fantasia in every theater Wizards was playing. The gambit didn’t work and Wizards made back its $2 million USD budget in just the first week and a half, ultimately made $9 million USD at the box office despite having a limited run to accommodate more theaters for the Star Wars phenomenon, and put Bakshi in the best position to fund more work since Fritz the Cat.
Although the film was successful, and Bakshi had scripted a sequel and planned to make Wizards into a trilogy, it would be almost 40 years until he got around to potentially making it. In 2015, Bakshi claimed that he was finishing a new script for the sequel and had plans to seek out funding for the film as soon as possible. However, as of 2018, nothing has yet to materialize, and at almost 80 years old, Bakshi may never complete the film, which is something of a minor tragedy for fans of Wizard and fans of Bakshi like myself.
[Next up: The Lord of the Rings]
Chiaki J. Konaka’s 1998 anime masterpiece is a 13-episode self-contained work of paranoia, techno-fetishism, and philosophical psychology whose aesthetics court everything from French New Wave cinema techniques and Le Corbusierian architecture to surrealism and Dada. It is quite possibly the only animated work to ever reference Proust. It is quite certainly one of the only animes to ever provide a robust examination of and philosophical anthropology for future technological society. It is prescient and condensed to such a degree that one might even call it a saturated phenomena in celluloid form.
The first episode opens with a coda. The city streets teem with night life, with ganguro socialites, preppy school girls, and tough guys. In a word, with idiots massed in the social squares, now near-defunct, where they pressed and pushed outsiders to conform through a thousand machinations both verbal and non-verbal, expressed and hinted. The death of those spaces today is a result of the pressing, a reaction by social dwarfs who moved en masse to the digital plane. But that’s now, Lain is 1998.
A girl walks in the street, hair in a ponytail , eyes magnified by horn-rimmed curiosities. She speaks, but her voice is unheard by both those around her as well as by us, the viewers, who are only privy to her words in intercards ala silent cinema. ‘Why? Why won’t you come?’
She stands on the side of the street, breaking down in what appears to be a panic attack. ‘Why you should do that is something you should figure out for yourself.’
She stands atop a building, removes her glasses, pulls her hair out of the ponytail letting it blow and billow out freely in the night air. ‘I don’t need to stay in a place like this.’
She jumps and the blood runs free, inspiring excitation of horrified natures from the ones standing about, the ones below in the city who witnessed the impact. The coda ends. If only there were a better way. If only there were another place for her to go to, a place to escape from the real world.
Sometime in the following weeks. A neighborhood drenched in blinding white light with magnificent structures of complete simplicity and order. This is the Corbusierian neighborhood lit as if by the light of a thousand white dwarfs. Telephone poles and their wires line the streets, crisscrossing haphazardly in a maze of black lines signifying a deeper recess of more mystery, a place of grime, of dirt, of decay of the hidden subconscious darkness ready always to emerge from interiority: to exteriorize itself and engulf the light, the calm, the peaceful nature of the community. The structure is every bit as Lynchian as his Wilmington suburb concealing the sinister underground beneath 50s Americana: the ear in the field: nourishment for ants and for the paranoia of citizens.
And then, an unheard voice: ‘If you stay in a place like this you might not be able to connect.’ From out of a seemingly white expanse of nothingness, a door opens and a young girl, Lain, emerges from the total darkness within. Emerges from the subconscious of that city into the light that means to efface all individuality. The light that seems to denote something akin to the superego, to the collective conscious we all don when entering public space meant to homogenize, make palatable, and control idinal forces and the primal hominid whose existence is the kernel that remains despite otherwise successful attempts at domestication.
As Lain leaves this stronghold, she travels to the inner city on the local train. But the cacophony of voices and noises is a racket she detests and she finds closer identification with the telephone poles and wires she passes. She reaches her school and her vision begins to blur as everything is enveloped in white. ‘Everybody, hurry…’
Once in class, we find one of her peers is crying as other girls try and console her. The girl who killed herself in the episode’s coda, Yomoda Chisa, has supposedly been sending e-mails to her classmates from beyond the grave. Lain is asked if she too has received these messages, but not being very computer-savvy or interested she hasn’t even checked her inbox. As class begins, Lain’s vision blurs once more and the chalk-board dissolves into a fragmented indecipherable mess of code. A spectral sort of steam-like material emits from Lain’s fingertips- unbeknownst to her classmates- and circles about the room above their heads. ‘What’s it like when you die?’ ‘It really hurts :)’
Lain returns home at the end of the day to an empty house barely populated with sparse pieces of furniture. The sanitation of the outside world even reaches into the confines of this space, which is free when devoid of fellow travelers, but constricting when used as the way-station for sleep between days of monotonous work and schooling. Lain’s room is empty except for a small desk, a chair, a futon, and window lined with a row of stuffed animals. She has an old computer (which is quite modern by our own 2018 standards) that has a limited operating power, but functions through voice activation. Lain turns it on manually, then logs in through voice recognition software.
She has a message from Yomoda Chisa: ‘Hello, how are you?’ Lain answers and initiates an instantaneous conversation with Chisa who responds automatically through the computer’s voice software. She explains that she and Lain walked home together just once in their lives, that she has only given up her body to explain to others that she is really alive, and that she believes everyone will come to understand her more fully soon enough. Lain asks Chisa why she died, but receives no answer, only more cryptic messages. Chisa claims that she is not a prankster and that she is indeed the Chisa who Lain once knew. ‘God is here.’ ~Chisa. The conversation ends as Lain is visibly shaken from the dialogue.
At dinner that night with her family, everyone is relatively silent. Lain’s older sister leaves early and Lain tells her mother that she spoke to the dead girl online. Her mother doesn’t respond to this verbally or even with a minor physical tick. Lain eats and removes herself, returning back into her spacious den and donning her bear kigurumi. When her father returns home, she asks him if he will buy her a new Navi (the term for the advanced computers in Lain’s world). He pontificates about how the real world and the Wired are both domains in which people connect in powerful ways. Just as society functioned for millenia through connections in the real world, so too will society function through the Wired.
He stops here, but we can go further using his assumptions. The real world and the social world are truly demarcated by millions of structures existing in the one but not in the other. A grain of sand has significance to the real world but is no part of the social order just as logical axioms build the social realities assisted by language but are no part of the real order of things. Other elements like subways assist the social orders but are real phenomena made of concrete and mortar, while political units like States are illusory elements of social reality that have strong, sometimes catastrophic effects upon the real domain. The Wired is a new form of social reality created from the constituent elements of physical materials in the real world and symbolic orders associated with the social world. As such, it too can change reality one day in fundamental ways, just as social realities like laws, like gods, like nationalities change the world, mostly for the worst.
But in Lain’s world, mind is so great that it can generate non-mind. The hive mind and super-minds of the Wired one day have the creative potential to use their latent abilities, which have been magnified, to restructure the world. This will call into question the mind-body division and potentially stand things on their heads as mind dominates the division and George Berkeley is validated.
Lain’s father is totally obsessed with the Wired and barely registers his daughters words at all as he logs in and explores that new domain. His screens project images of numerous people, all headless as their real identities are obscured by their Wired alter-egos and digital signatures. As Lain tries to reach him from beyond the divide, her words lose sound. neither we, nor her father hear those words and we are given no intercards for elaboration. She is being neglected, and is shy and awkward. These problems will mount and eventually develop into full-blown psychiatric disorders.
The next day, as Lain ventures toward school, the train stops for an accident ahead on the tracks. The telephone wires in the distance are bleeding. She arrives at school by foot, admiring the telephone poles and wires along the way: a visual metaphor and instantiation of the Wired breaking out of the darkness and slowly creeping into the real world. A dense fog grows and settles around Lain as she approaches a train crossing. A young girl is standing near the tracks and moves out onto them as they begin to signal the approaching monstrosity of steel. Lain tries to yell out to the girl, but is again unheard.
Lain awakens in class, her head is down and she has been crying onto her notepad. The chalkboard blurs once more as her vision distorts itself and the message is revealed: ‘Come to the Wired as soon as you can.’ The exact same message that she will later find has been sent to her e-mail by Yomoda Chisa during the school day.
Finally, on Lain’s way back home, the apparition of Yomoda appears, passes Lain, and disappears behind her. Lain turns to see the girl, but finds nothing there. Then, she reappears. As Lain inquires as to where Yomoda is, and seems thereby to know she is speaking with an unusual being, the color fades from the apparition, leaving only a pure white outline, which subsequently dissolves into ribbons ala Salvador Dali. For this. I have no explanation.
[Continued: Layer 02]