The series follows Roger Smith, Paradigm City's top Negotiator. He provides this much needed service with the help of an android named R. Dorothy Wayneright and his butler Norman Burg. When the need arises, Roger calls upon Big O, a giant relic from the city's past.
The Big O aired on WOWOW satellite television from October 13, 1999 to January 19, 2000. Originally the 26 episode series it is now, low viewership in Japan cut it down to the first 13 episodes. However, positive fan response internationally resulted in a second season co-produced by Cartoon Network, Sunrise, and Bandai Visual consisting of the remaining 13 episodes. Season 2 aired on SUN-TV in Japan from January 2, 2003 to March 27, 2003.
In the United States, the English language version of season 1 premiered on Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block on April 2, 2001. Season 2 premiered on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block in 2003.
Forty years prior to the events of the series, disaster struck. The world was turned into a vast desert wasteland and the survivors were left without memories. The story takes place in Paradigm City, a corporate police state run by the Paradigm Corporation. The town is recognized for its geodesic domes, giant structures that house the wealthier citizens and segregate the poor.
The Big O deals with the nature of memories. A memory is a record stored in the brain of an organism, but in Paradigm City memories can mean much more. "Memories" embody the lost knowledge of its residents, and can take the form of records from before the Event, forgotten artifacts from the previous era or manifest themselves as recollection, hallucinations and recurring dreams.
The first half of the series is episodic, each Act revolves around different citizens of Paradigm dealing with the resurgence of lost Memories and how they manage to go on living without knowledge of what did or did not happen. The final episodes introduce elements that come into play during season two like the existence of people outside of Paradigm City, the nature of the Cataclysm that destroyed the world and the "Power of God wielded by the hand of man."
The second season takes an arc-based approach. Instead of self-contained stories like in season one, season two features a continuous storyline. The second season makes Alex Rosewater, CEO of the Paradigm Corporation, a direct antagonist to The Negotiator and introduces The Union, agents of a foreign power working within Paradigm.
Roger Smith — The series main protagonist, Roger is a Negotiator in Paradigm City. His job entails finding a resolution for the troubles of Paradigm City, the "City of Amnesia". He'd negotiate anything for anyone, but he is a professional and expects the parties to behave professionally. Despite this, he displays a certain aversion to the Paradigm Corporation, and takes the jobs he gets from them only if they happen to involve a threat to the city itself or are of personal interest to him. When memories betray the people and force them to reawaken monstrosities of the city's past, Roger's only option is to fight back with a monstrosity of his own, the black megadeus Big O. The character, originally envisioned as a private eye, shows influences from Batman, James Bond, and Daisaku Kusama from Giant Robo.
Roger considers side arms unbecoming of a gentleman, (though he has used them as tools, rather than weapons, on occasion) so he avails himself of a number of gadgets to aid his job. Roger's vehicle of choice is the Griffon, a black luxury sedan. The car comes equipped with armor for the wheels and windows, missile launchers, a communications station, Browning machine guns behind the front indicators, smart glass camouflage, and a police scanner. The Negotiator's second most important weapon is his wristwatch, the tool for summoning the Big O. By calling the megadeus' name into the watch, Roger informs the giant it is "Showtime!" and it comes to its master's side. The watch also works as a remote control to the Griffon and includes a grappling cable, a laser cutter and a two-way communicator. Roger's greatest weapon is the megadeus Big O. A metal behemoth that, unlike the giants of other mecha anime, does not exhibit speed nor grace. But what it lacks in agility, it more than makes up for in power: The Big O is equipped with armed missiles, pile-driver powered punches, machine guns and laser cannons.
In addition to these tools, Roger has exhibited extraordinary physical conditioning throughout the series, and has been shown may times to be much more physically capable than most humans. Of particular note is his strength; he has been able to carry Dorothy on several occasions, once even holding her while jumping down around 15 feet, while it has been shown that any other character in the series who has attempted to so much as move her can hardly even budge her. Also, during his brief hand to hand fight with Alan Gabriel (who has been shown to have superhuman capabilities), he was able to not only hold his own, but floor the cyborg during their initial exchange. This level of physical ability is never explained.
R. Dorothy Wayneright — Roger's assistant, Dorothy is introduced in Act:01 as Dorothy Soldano, daughter of rich scientist Miguel Soldano, she is later revealed to be an android constructed by him. Her actual "father" would be Timothy Wayneright, the man who commissioned her construction and father of the real and presumably deceased Dorothy Wayneright. To show her gratitude, and as a form of payment for Roger's help, she decides to move in with him and help out Norman with the chores. In occasional episodes, Dorothy accompanies Roger in his work as a negotiator.
Dorothy stands just under 5 feet tall, has red hair, chalk-white skin and much more body weight than her slender appearance reveals. Her forehead houses an illuminated CD ROM drive, which is loaded from a drawer made to resemble a hair ribbon. While capable of normal human facial expression, in film-noir tradition she typically maintains a pouty contour and a mildly sarcastic personality, described by Angel as being "perpetually foul-tempered". Her dry wit is best reflected by her catchphrase "You're a louse, Roger Smith," her teasing response to Roger's sometimes unreasonable demands. She and Roger maintain playful retorts throughout the series, with Dorothy often going out of her way to irritate Roger or otherwise rattle his cage. Regardless, she has shown hints of romantic feelings towards him. Offsetting her straightforward attitude is her general likability; she gets along rather well with virtually everyone, even those with whom she harbors suspicion. From her conversation and behaviour, it is evident that Dorothy has the capacity for human emotions. She has shown genuine fear on a number of occasions, and reveals jealousy toward Angel's relationship with Roger and satisfaction from its failure to become romantic.
Dorothy is quite durable and much stronger than any human, able to punch down a brick wall with one blow or leap several dozen feet into the air. She has amazing balance, as seen during her moments of contemplation while standing precariously on the edge of Roger's balcony. Dorothy can run or bicycle at superhuman speed and does not require oxygen to operate. She shows superhuman coordination, like performing effortless gymnastics moves and steering a car with her foot while riding on its hood. The fact that she takes regular meals with Roger indicates she can consume food and beverages, although she admits in episode 11 "Daemonseed" not being able to taste. Dorothy also seems to have an unexplained connection to Big O itself. She shows self-awareness and capacity for learning; throughout the series she exhibits talents at performance singing and virtuoso piano.
Norman Burg — Roger's butler, Forty years ago he, along with all of Paradigm, lost all memories, but he wouldn't think twice before going once more unto the breach for his master. Resourceful and talented, he is also caretaker of the Big O robot. Aside from duties befitting a butler of a house, Norman is also a fine chef who makes it a point to keep hot food available for Roger no matter what time his employer arrives home.
Norman is older than Roger, and has apparently lost an eye, which he keeps covered with a patch. The butler is a fatherly influence for both Smith and Dorothy, and the first defense of the Smith mansion, capable of using a number of firearms in case of attack, ranging from small handguns to high caliber machine guns. In the opening credits of the show he's shown effectively handling a chain gun. Norman also displays a tendency to get involved in the relationship between Roger and Dorothy, "pushing" the two together for sake of the emotional good each does the other. Where Roger drives his limo, Dorothy makes use of a bicycle occasionally, Norman's form of transportation is a motorcycle outfitted with a sidecar, ridden while the butler comically wears a "storm trooper" (Stahlhelm) style helmet. Norman is grateful to Roger Smith for providing him a purpose and in return Roger considers Norman his most trusted and infallible aide de camp.
Dan Dastun — The middle-aged Chief of the Military Police, introduced in Act:01. In "Winter Night Phantom", Roger describes him as "a hard-nosed cop [...] completely devoted to the force, and he has more pride in the Military Police than anything else." He continues, "Paradigm City needs him as much as it needs [The Negotiator]." He is Roger's former commander, and they still maintain contact. Dastun resents having the force called the "watchdogs" of the Paradigm Corporation, and has expressed his disdain for its executives.
Dastun's pride as a member of the military police puts him somewhat at odds with Roger after he resigns from the force, and he expresses an extreme amount of irritation every time Big O appears. At first this irritation is passed off as disliking the vigilante nature of the megadeus. However, as the series progresses, he reveals to Roger that his irritation stems from the fact that the military police do not have the ability to protect the city adequately due to frequent megadeus attacks. This requires Big O to step in fairly often to counter these attacks, which Dastun feels robs the military police of purpose. However, he comes to accept this during season two. He is also one of the few characters who know of Roger's affiliation with Big O, and the only such character within the police department. He was revealed to have obtained this knowledge at some point before season two, but is only seen directly discussing it with Roger once.
Angel — The beautiful woman Roger encounters throughout the series. Introduced in Act:03 as Cassey Jenkins (according to the business card she gave to Roger), investigator for Paradigm Power Management, then again in Act:04 as Patricia Lovejoy, secretary for the publisher of Paradigm Press. In Act:07, it is revealed that she bears two long scars on her back, giving the impression that she once had wings; hence her name. Originally a recurring character, Angel was given top billing in Season Two. Her role is that of a femme fatale, the woman who deceptively misleads and ensnares the hero or other males in order to gain some end they would not freely help her achieve. Her interactions with Roger eventually force her into a somewhat different role.
As the series progresses, she becomes more and more involved with Roger, even forsaking her duties to the union in order to feed him information, betraying them for Roger's sake. However, her relationship with Roger ultimately does not become romantic, as she believes him to be in love with Dorothy and, though he protests it, the opinion is further reinforced by Alan Gabriel's insistence that Roger "cares for [Dorothy] more than anyone". At the end of the series, she is shown to have some sort of special connection to whatever power controls their world, possibly even being that power herself (though this role is not adequately explained). She is also identified as Gordon Rosewater's daughter, and is identified as "Angel Rosewater".
Alex Rosewater — The chairman of the Paradigm Group and the son of Paradigm City's founder. He shows great contempt for the poor of Paradigm and the foreigners living in the city; going so far as to appreciate some of the catastrophes that befall the city as they "clean up some of that abominable mess" (referring to the people outside the domes). For Alex, Paradigm's true citizens are those within the domes. Alex always wears a white suit in direct contrast to Roger Smith's black one.
Alex possesses an unquenchable thirst for power, and an "ends justify the means" philosophy. Despite being more or less the absolute ruler of Paradigm City, Alex harbors dreams of even greater power and will stop at nothing to achieve them. The power that he desires is the power of the megadei, specifically the "Big" type megadei, as he believes that their pilots are "agents of the power of God". Alex sees himself as privileged, being the son of Gordon Rosewater, and at times acts as a "spoiled child", as observed by Vera Ronstadt. Although he appreciates the power of Big Fau, he treats it as his toy, even going so far as to crafting a miniature version of Big Fau to play with as seen in Act 22.
Alan Gabriel — An eccentric psychopath, Alan is a cyborg who takes Angel's place as Rosewater's assistant and the Union's liaison in season two. Gabriel's real agenda is somewhat nebulous, though it would appear that he is straddling the fence between the Union and Rosewater, depending on who will give him the opportunity to kill the most people. He seems to have a particularly gruesome hobby of dismantling androids while they still function, as he claims to despise androids, despite being half-mechanical by choice himself. After attempting to kill Dorothy and sebsequently being foiled by Roger, Alan seems to make killing Roger his top priority.
Vera Ronstadt — introduced in Act:20, leads the Union's agents within Paradigm. Vera made a deal with Alex Rosewater in which the Union would deliver the parts to construct Big Fau for Alex, but he then reneged on the deal and hunted down all of the Union members. Towards the end of season 2 Vera claimed to be Angel's mother, although given that Angel's memories of her mother appear to have been fabricated, Vera may not have been speaking literally.
Jason Beck — Sometimes referred to as Beck Gold (due to his overall appearance) is introduced as Dorothy's kidnapper in the series premiere. After "being humiliated" by Roger during the kidnapping case, Beck's further appearances on the show consist of his trying to humiliate Roger back. However, his plans continually degrade from sinister and dangerous to almost comical in nature. He also seems to have numerous memories relating to the operations and abilities of the Megadeus, including one pertaining specifically to Roger's identity as the pilot of Big O. Beck becomes Alex Rosewater's agent after Alan Gabriel threatens him with an order of execution, but is unhappy with this situation despite both a successful attack on Roger and a considerable compensation.