When I started writing this series, I always thought there would be a point where I would write a post about Chiaki Konaka.
For the people who might not now who Chiaki Konaka is. I’ve always considered him a lightweight Mamoru Oshii. He’s the mastermind behind Serial Experiments Lain, Texnolyze and Ghost Hound. There is a running theme throughout all of his work: Humanity has reached a dead end in its evolution, and something needs to be done to push humanity forward.
It’s usually dumb, meaningless claptrap. It’s just end-of-century ennui given voice, but never given anything to actually do.
Why did I worry that I would have to write about Konaka? Well it’s simple. He became the series supervisor for the two main creators Kazuyoshi Katayama and Keiichi Sato.
I knew I was going to see his fingerprint somewhere.
But I didn’t. In fact, even in the final episode, when it gets it’s most weird, The Big O remains intelligible. This show is remarkably well-piloted, the world is consistent, and even in the moments when the characters point out the rules to the audience, it does it through conversation, or at least declarative statements that don’t draw attention to themselves.
This is a brilliant show, which makes what happened next even more tragic.
I’m not sure how often this structure is still used in shows, but there used to be a pretty solid pattern in anime that held true up through the mid-2000s. There would be 12 or 13 largely standalone episodes, and then the show would make a turn around then to become one long serial story.
The Big O seemed to be building up to this shift. There are several episodes toward the end that were introducing new elements, like foreign powers and scientific experiments aimed at implanting memories. There was a sense that the Megadeuses were gods in and of themselves.
All of this fit into the larger show, but even with the hopeful “To Be Continued” added to episode 13, it wasn’t enough to save The Big O. Lackluster sales and dwindling interest in Japan meant the time for Katayama and Sato ran out.
I remember seeing that in 2001 and thinking, “So that’s it? Isn’t there any more Big O.” You have to remember, even though there was an Internet, it wasn’t the wealth of knowledge it is now. It was more like a place where you got porn and computer viruses.
But I heard there was a second season coming. What I didn’t realize at the time is that the last 13 episodes would be written by Chiaki Konaka, directed by Chiaki Konaka, and largely would be an exercise in Chiaki Konaka’s brand of strangeness.
Now I don’t know how much of the first 13 episodes Konaka is responsible for and how much Sato and Katayama are responsible for, but what I can say is that they are good solid storytelling. And they are so much deeper then I remembered.
I don’t want to plumb through the exercise in futility that is the second 13 episodes. Maybe one day I will, but that day is not today.
So what does it all mean?
The question I’ve been thinking about for the last few weeks is what does The Big O mean? The central theme of the story can be summed up as “Don’t dwell on the past, it will only kill you. Strive for your own future.”
What that is geared toward, I’m not sure. I mean it could easily be an A-bomb metaphor. Why? Because everything in anime from a certain time frame was a metaphor back to the bomb.
Or it could be some sort of message about not letting yourself get stuck in the same tropes. To constantly be innovating, and, dare I say it, evolving.
Or I could simply take the advice I read in one of the interviews with Sato posted at TheBigOArchive.com:
“The Big O gets too deep if you read into it. You don’t know what’s real and what’s not.”
So in the end, The Big O was an great ride, a better show then I remembered, and even though it is incomplete, it was worth watching.
So once more Roger Smith: We have come to terms.
Thank you for reading.
So this is my last post about The Big O, at least for now. If you want to read the rest of them, I’ll list them out here at the end. Remember you don’t need to read all of them, but I’m not going to stop you.
The odds and ends of The Big O