The Anime That Combines Noir Detectives With Mecha Is Unlike Anything Else

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

What if one of the best anime series ever made was nearly impossible to watch? Big O came out decades ago and was an early staple anime for Cartoon Network’s legendary Toonami block of programming. It’s currently unavailable to stream anywhere outside of HDIVE, but that’s a shame because this deliciously noir-flavored anime is unlike anything else ever made.

Big O

What is Big O about, exactly? It takes place in Paradigm City, a metropolis that survived some kind of apocalyptic event from 40 years ago. Due to a mysterious citywide amnesia, nobody can remember what happened, but that won’t keep professional negotiator Roger Smith from trying to untangle the mystery with the help of a giant robot named Big O.

Don’t Spoil The Mystery

I don’t have the heart to spoil it for you, but the plot of Big O is more captivating than almost any other anime. The central mystery of what the heck happened to Paradigm City will keep you frantically watching episodes long after you promised yourself you’d go to sleep. Furthermore, while it didn’t satisfy everyone, the explosive answer to that mystery will just send you back to the first episode so you can watch the whole series through a brand new lens.

A Toonami Staple

If you’re watching the dub version of Big O (hey, no shame), you’ll get to hear a fan-favorite voice. Protagonist Roger Smith is voiced by Steve Blum, arguably best known to anime fans as the voice of Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop. In a very “meta” turn of events, he also continues to voice the robot host Tom on Toonami, the programming block that introduced Big O to Western audiences (notably, Cartoon Network also helped produce the second season).

Batman With A Gundam

Aside from its cool premise and great voice acting, another reason I love Big O is that it is a fusion of genres that typically never crossover. For example, the noir storytelling involving a rich crimefighter who has the help of exotic technology and a faithful butler instantly calls to mind Western heroes like Batman. But this is also an anime involving giant mech battles, meaning that Big O feels like a fever dream where Bruce Wayne ended up with a Gundam instead of a Batmobile.

Anime Noir

Additionally, the noir trappings of Big O go far beyond having a Philip Marlowe-type character in a dapper suit solving mysteries. It also has the visual elements we love from films like The Big Sleep, including long shadows, low shots, Dutch angles, and more. 

All of these elements perfectly accentuate the storytelling, but they also serve as awesome stylistic choices in their own right. After watching a few episodes, it’s almost impossible to not wonder why other anime series haven’t explored such a bold and stylish kind of storytelling.

Still Nothing Like It

As noted before, it’s not easy to legally watch Big O right now, but it’s most definitely worth the effort. This anime is completely unlike more popular shows such as Dragon Ball Z or One Piece, and in a world dominated by Shonen sugar bombs, it’s nice to get some more adult fare in your anime diet. This is a series that nobody can remember, and before it’s all over, I guarantee it’s a series you’ll never forget.