Sunday, September 2, 2007

[Review] Showtime!

The Big O is an animated series consisting of 13 episodes, which originally ran in late 1999 in Japan before being imported and dubbed by Cartoon Network in 2001. The premise of the series involves a city (Paradigm City) whose inhabitants have all lost their memories due to a mysterious "event" in the past. Roger Smith is a negotiator for Paradigm City, who lives in a seeming penthouse in the center of the city, with his butler, Norman, and, later, befriended female android, Dorothy Wainwright. Oh, and he just happens to pilot an enormous robot- termed a 'Megadeuce'- named the Big O. This is probably a fairly important plot point. In the initial run of the series, only a portion of the plot touches on the event precipitating the current state of events in Paradigm City, many of the episodes have more of a typical super robot feeling to them, with Roger and the Big O battling various monsters and giant robots throughout the city- including sister Megadeuce, Big Duo, piloted by the madman Scwartzkopf (sp?).

In the second run of 13 episodes, which aired, interestingly, due to popular demand from overseas, there was much greater exploration of the history of the city, Roger and the Big O. This second run came in 2003 for both Japanese and American audiences. In some ways, I think, the second run was much more cohesive in terms of a strong central plot, whereas the first run sort of meandered through various battles, alighting only briefly upon the 'historical' aspect of the show. Although anyone who has watched all 26 episodes will know that the ending definitely leaves something to be desired.

The Big O was definitely a deviation from typical Japanese mecha fare, which increasingly seems to consist of the teenagers-in-robots genre. The atmosphere of the series has been compared to the film noir genre; for those of us less-cultured viewers, you will probably notice similarities to the old Batman animated series from the early 90s. Roger Smith, does, in fact, bear numerous similarities to billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne, not the least of which are his love of black clothing and cavernous underground lair. The music of the series is also incredible, ranging from a jazzy piano score as Roger drives through the city, to a symphonic synthesizer-and-brass track for the fight scenes. While it took me a while to warm up to the unusual style of The Big O, the starkly beautiful animation and varied, but heavily piano-based, soundtrack have made this one of my favorite animated series of all time, and definitely one of the most unique.

And yes, as with any good Japanese anime, there were toys. Surprisingly, there were actually very few toys produced. The best known are probably the imported Anime Collectors versions of the Big O and Big Duo; I bought the Big O back when the series first debuted in the U.S., and regrettably passed on the Duo. The Big O goes for a fair price nowadays, and the Duo is all but impossible to find. A couple of resin kits were also produced, most likely as exclusives for various toy shows. Kotobukiya also put out a series of trading figures more recently, which were probably intended to coincide with the 2nd run of the show. There is a 30 cm version of the Big O currently slated for a 2008 release by Max Factory under its Max Gokin line.

But I had no idea that a soft vinyl version of the Big O had ever been produced, until I came across it a couple of weeks ago at the Super 7 webstore. A Big O sofubi- how could I not have known about this?? When I found it, my palms instantly became sweaty, and I quickly punched my shipping and payment information in, and the Megadeuce was mine! Being curious as to how I overlooked this little piece of heaven, I e-mailed one of the staff to inquire as to the origin of this toy (and, of course, if any more like it could be acquired). Unfortunately, they did not know anything more than I did. However, upon a little research at the ToyboxDX archives, it appears that sofubi Big O was released by Bear Model at roughly the same time as the first run of the show in Japan. It does not seem that toys of any other of the characters were released by Bear Model, making this something of an anomaly. If anyone else has a lead on other sofubi Big O items, please feel free to let me know.

And the toy itself? Well, have you ever heard the phrase, "so bad, it's good"? The proportions of the Big O are almost comically incorrect, with a head that's nearly as large as its torso, and arms that are woefully short of the Popeye-esque dimensions of the animation model. The paint is barely there, with a smattering of silver spray on the head, torso and arms. As if it were intentional, the colors are reversed on the helmet, with the two 'knobs' painted red and the dome sprayed silver. One leg is even shorter than the other, but it stands... barely. And, I suppose, that is part of the toy's charm. Given that soft vinyl versions of modern mecha are all but unheard of, and knowing of the anomalous circumstances of this toy's creation, one might wonder whether it was purposefully done as a nod to the bootleg sofubi super robots of old- akin to Gargamel's Zokki Kaiju series of toys. Zokki Mecha?

But there can be no doubt that this is a licensed item- the foot (and header, not shown) clearly bear the mark of Sunrise Studios. The concept of toys produced as a one-shot deal between the sofubi producer and the parent company is not unknown- for example, garage toymaker Sakamoto Showten produces his own line of Votoms sofubi toys at each Wonderfestival under a one-day license from Sunrise Studios, and Charactics probably does something similar with Takara in selling their Henshin Cyborg vinyl toys. Still, it is an oddity, but a welcome one at that.

Misproportions aside, this is a solid toy, made of stiff vinyl with metallic flakes suspended in the material. A few rattly bits of flash (I assume) appear to be floating around in the body. All in all, 9 inches of standard-size neo-retro mecha vinyl, combined with a bargain price, make this one of my favorite purchases in recent months. I literally could not stop smiling when I opened the package, and would have started flying it around the room humming The Big O theme, if not for my girlfriend being present.

If you're looking for one of these, however, I wish you the best of luck. There is very little information on the Internet, and it appears that only 2 of these pieces have sold on Yahoo Japan Auctions over the past 2 years.

Additional photos:




Face detail:

Chest front detail:

Chest back detail:

I think this is my favorite photo for unintentional hilarity. I originally intended to use it to compare the 'serious' Big O toy and the soft vinyl version, but it really just serves to showcase the big doofy grin on SofuBig O's face and the grumpy frown on the original's.


1 comment:

Vintango said...

This is so awesome! I'm incredibly jealous, especially after reading how rare this guy is. Excellent blog, I just discovered it so I'm busy making my way through the past entries.