“I constantly reminded myself that the setting is a unique character in and of itself.” — Keiichi Sato about Paradigm City
Welcome to Paradigm City — the home of the best apocalypse.
For the uninitiated, something happened in Paradigm City 40 years ago that made everyone to lose their memories.
Whatever happened has a left a world of crumbling buildings and roads, but outside of that, the apocalypse isn’t really that bad. There is running water. The lights work most of the time, and as long as you don’t go too far outside of the domes, you’re OK.
In comparison to a lot of other anime apocalypses, I would say, The Big O apocalypse is pretty mild.
(On a side note: I really want to call this apocalypse, “The Big Oh…”)
Well it’s the best apocalypse except for when it’s not.
The cruel god watching over the City of Amnesia
The show lays out one really big rule about The Big Oh… (see I did it): Do not remember the world before.
One of the neat visual motifs in this show is broken clocks. We see one in episode 2 outside of the Nightingale.
We see another one outside of Schwarzwald’s hideout in episode 4.
I’m not a literary scholar, but I think they call that symbolism. Both men are punished, fairly severely, for breaking the only commandment in Paradigm City: Do not remember the past.
In Waynewright’s case, he wanted to recreate his daughter. To do this, he used his memories to recreate a weapon from the old times. On top of that, the memory he can’t let go of directly leads to his death when Dorothy, the robot, tries to save him from thugs.
In Schwarzwald’s case, the former reporter Michael Seebach was convinced he could learn the secrets that kept things the way they were. He delves deep into the city’s past, and unearths a Megadeus.
In his hubris, he believes he is worthy of piloting it and he is judged for that hubris. So he becomes the bandaged Schwarzwald.
These are only the most dramatic cases. In episode 4, Roger Smith is comforting an old woman who doesn’t want to leave her home because she is waiting for her son to return.
Around her, the walls are cracked. The wallpaper is falling down. It’s obvious she is trapped in an unhealthy relationship with the past.
But as Roger Smith said, the loss was hardest on the elderly.
(Another side note: It’s questionable how much of the The Big Oh… is intended by the authors. @EngineVIR of TheBigOarchive.com pointed out to me that Sato and Katayama created the “City of Amnesia” as a storytelling shortcut. You don’t have to create a past for a city that never had one.)
Then there are the luddites in Electric City. They fear the past, and try to stop people from interacting with it. When someone does, the skies darken, and the titan awakes.
What, at first, seems like superstitious foolishness, actually proves true. The old man, who really does remember what is in the lake, is saved because he doesn’t want to remember.
The nicest apocalypse is also the cruelest
In many ways, Paradigm City is the best apocalypse. There are no biker gangs. Crime is generally under control. Most people have their basic needs met.
That is what makes this a really unique apocalypse. Society is still functioning in the world after. The lights still work. The trains run on time. This is not Mad Max.
But what they have lost is the one thing we all take for granted — their history. Imagine waking up one day, and knowing how to drive a car, but not remembering your parent who was white-knuckled as you drove down the street.
Imagine waking up next to someone, but not remembering who they were or how they got there.
Imagine having everything that makes you an individual stripped from you, and then being told to not look for it.
Yeah. Kind of sucks, doesn’t it?
Cast in the Name of God. Ye Not Guilty.
So this is my second time writing this post, and both times, I get to the part where I have to talk about Roger Smith. Why?
Well because he is the only man with functioning time pieces. In a world of broken clocks, he’s the only person moving toward the future.
In a quote from Anime Play magazine, Keiichi Sato said he initially wanted Smith to be a detective. Instead, he made him a negotiator, but in the end, Smith is a hardboiled detective.
So a former anime blogger, really liked this Raymond Chandler quote about hardboiled detectives, which I thinks is really apropos.
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness
Basically Roger Smith is from this world, but he isn’t of this world. The rules of Paradigm City don’t apply to him the same way they apply to Schwarzwald or Waynewright.
That’s because he doesn’t want to learn about the past. In fact, we see him crumple in fear when he’s confronted with it.
He is literally not guilty. Now I’m not sure what it means to be cast in the name of God. If you have any interesting ideas on that front, I’d love to hear them.