City... a city that has yet to fully awaken. Paradigm City...
a city of vision but without a past. Hmmm... if Paradigm City,
the cartoon world of the Japanese anime, Big O, makes you think
of $ingapore, then you would be shocked at the amount of narrative
coincidences. The irony is simply delicious, if it isnt
so tragic. Its as if, one day 40 years ago, everyone here
lost their memory of everything before that day. Thats
what happened in Big Os Paradigm City.
a world-weary eye, narrator-hero Roger Smith, Paradigm Citys
top negotiator, says in the voiceover, underlined by an equally
melancholic saxophone, "Humans are creatures that manage
to make do and go on with life. If they can figure out how to
operate machines and get electricity, they can have something
like a civilisation even without a history."
two episodes (out of 13) of this series, that was first shown
in Japan in 1999, express these feelings succinctly. In Episode
One, Roger is called to deliver the ransom for Dorothy, the
daughter of a leading scientist in Paradigm City, only to discover
that the kidnappers, led by Beck, have returned the android
Dorothy (Dorothy 2) while still holding on to giant robot Dorothy
scientist, Dorothy 2 is created in the image of a lost daughter;
for Beck, Dorothy is a way to make big bucks - he intends the
giant robot to steal the plates for printing money. In between
stands Roger, who, with his own giant robot/megadeus, Big O,
continually thwart the plans of all criminals
life-threatening monsters and robots. Longing and greed, nothing
really out of the ordinary but still, enough to drive the story
the idea of how one ekes out a living in a city suffering from
amnesia is a promising one. For example, in Winter Night Phantom,
Rogers police-friend Dastun dreams about a beautiful woman
on a dock. Framed by cinema images, this episode is a play on
the indelible images/memories left by cinema (on the brain)
and yet is a way of recapturing the past (through the lens darkly?).
As Roger says, people "live their lives just fine without
knowing what did or didnt happen. And each day they try
their hardest to do just that."
a little unfortunate that Roger comes across a little too much
like Bruce Wayne - he has a very capable butler; his car is
almost as gadget-filled as the Batmobile (if not more so) and
he has a female sidekick (which Frank Miller would surely approve,
even if its an android). And doesnt main villain
Beck remind you of The Joker?
in the name of God ye not guilty! Big O, its Showtime!"
As much as this is a show about fighting giant robots, in fact,
the appearance of Big O during the episode is almost an anti-climax
- Big O invariably saves the day.
It is the
meta-story about the origins of Paradigm City and the way its
people live that is more interesting. Housed in the Memory Repository,
memories are considered treasures and therein lies the crux.
Who controls the memories? Or, who writes history if this is
so closely guarded? A paradigm is a mental framework for looking
at the world. But without a past to provide some anchorage,
those in power will keep on reinventing paradigms - after all,
without a past, one has every opportunity to reinvent oneself.
At the end of the day, pragmatism triumphs over everything.
Worse case scenario - pragmatism gone haywire. In Big Os
world, this is seen in an elitist society that literally leads
a very cocooned and fearful existence. Closer home, one needs
look no further than our own education policies through the
years. Memories as bargaining chips anyone?
as anyone can get, Big O isnt about ghosts in the machines
- even if the android Dorothy is central to the show. Everything
about Big O is about trying to find the heart; its as
if the show is asking: if you dont have your memories,
how can you know yourself as a person or as a country and society?
And with that, hopefully comes the wisdom to choose. For just
before the final bust-up, Roger says, "We have choices.
Some people like to stand in the rain without an umbrella. Thats
what it means to live free." Is Big O going to be shown
anytime soon in $ingapore? - Stephen Tan