The Flying Fortress

Ye Not Guilty: Giant Fighting Robots & Diesel?

Posted in Aesthetics, themes, Uncategorized by Zagglenack on September 10, 2009


My previous post dug around the video-game realm, and in it, I tried to suggest that despite not nailing the aesthetic in the same way that games like Bioshock and the Wolfenstein series do, Final Fantasy VII had skirted the line into Dieselpunk with its depictions of technology and military power.[incidentally, for those of you interested in Bioshock or Wolfenstein, the Gatehouse discusses them both briefly but effectively here.]

Because I find myself so drawn to Dieselpunk as a result of its particular visual nature – something I think comes through very clearly in my posts thus far – I have some time discussing subjects which I believe help to flesh out that nature. Today, I am going to make an attempt at the same argument, but in a new medium.

The medium is Anime. The subject is the Big-O. And I would suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t begin properly: ‘It’s Showtime.’

The world of the Big-O steeped in homages to Noir and pulp fiction. The protagonist, Roger Smith, is a Negotiator – a man tasked with solving problems, and a man with a firm professional code. This calls to mind some of the best detective fiction of the depression era. The dark colors, extensive use of shadows and mind bending camera angles throughout the series only help to hammer home the idea that this is a world of secrets and subterfuge.

And massively over-sized fighting Mecha. The Big-O, though visually paying Homage to hard-boiled crime Noir and pulp-action, also featured the ubiquitous Japanese fighting robot. However, it’s really the design of these machines that catches my attention – unlike the technology of Gundam, or Evangelion , the machines of the Big-O, dubbed ‘Megadeuses’ were generally speaking, slow, lumbering monstrosities. They (by and large) utilized actual ammunition, and the primary weapon of the series main Megadeus, the Big-O himself, was a massive set of pistons located in its arms.

Massive Chainsaw. Very Old School.Pistons.

From my perspective, this conforms to a Dieselpunk aesthetic by displaying both the unbridled expansion of technology (of the giant robot variety) while at the same time, reigning in the design-work to really focus on the implications of a weapon of this size. By doing so, the Megadeuses come to approximate a type of Diesel setting of the future – where tremendously powerful technology has been created using relatively inelegant methods and tools. After recently re-watching several episodes, I have little trouble picturing a Megadeus striding through German-territory, supported by legions of foot-soldiers and technicians tasked with keeping the giant moving forward.

Another great aspect of The series are the costumes of the human characters. Many of the designs seem to pay direct tribute to the style of the 30’s and 40’s. From the more subdued (and appropriately dashing) Roger Smith, to the trench-coat wearing villain Shwarzwald; even the one-off characters and vehicles have a certain period appeal.

Smith and Co.Mighty Fine Coat, Sir.

Just plain Funky.

As with many Dieselpunk-esque material, The Big-O can sometimes very well off the path of the genres to which it pays tribute, but that may simply be part of the fun.

All in all, The Big-O provides an excellent launching point into the realm of Noir and Pulp action, and certainly possess a visual quality that cannot help but cause one to think of a Diesel-world. I certainly recommend giving it a look. As we in the community continue to absorb and create imagery and themes, new perspectives may always be welcome to add to our own personal conceptions and styles, and the Big-O has style to spare.


13 Responses

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  1. Tome Wilson said, on September 11, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Big O. Go Big O… Go!

    Love this series. Cartoon Network gave it the shaft before I could watch the second season, but I just picked it up about three weeks ago. Well worth it.

  2. flyingfortress said, on September 11, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    There’s so much anime out there that I get frustrated trying to find ones I like. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Tome Wilson said, on September 11, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Fullmetal Alchemist was the last anime I gave a crap about. If you have the time to watch a full series, I recommend it. They’re actually rebooting it right now, so you can watch the new episodes for free on

    • flyingfortress said, on September 11, 2009 at 2:34 pm

      I saw a bunch of it and it was fun, but I prefer shorter series — 25-30 episodes at most.

      • Tome Wilson said, on September 12, 2009 at 12:10 am

        My favorite anime (in order)

        Ghost in the Shell (movie)
        Cyberpunk philosophical thriller

        Cowboy Bebop (series)
        Action/Adventure space noir set to jazz music.

        Macross Plus (4 episodes or you can also find it collected into one movie)
        Drama about pilots and their giant transforming military robots. Best flying cinematography I’ve ever seen, plus it has a great soundtrack. It was the director’s pre-cursor to Cowboy Bebop.

        Ghost in the Shell: 2nd Gig (series)
        Cyberpunk espionage thriller

        Wolf’s Rain (series)
        Alternate reality cyberpunk/fantasy about the last remaining werewolves

        Texhnolyze (series)
        Stylized cyberpunk thriller

        • Emperor of Monkeys said, on September 12, 2009 at 10:55 am

          Oh for fuck’s sake. Everybody likes that shit. Recommend something more obscure, something relevant, like Last Exile, Nadia, or Giant Robo. Something that maybe not everyone has heard of, like Robot Carnival, Legend of Galactic Heroes, or The Wings of Honneamise.

          Something, like all of the above mentioned, with some fucking dieselpunk style to it.

          • seraphimish said, on September 12, 2009 at 12:13 pm

            Just because this is a dieselpunk site doesn’t mean we can’t discuss other genres a bit. Also, while Last Exile screams diesel in form, I found it to be remarkably bland in substance.

          • Tome Wilson said, on September 13, 2009 at 11:40 am

            You know what? You’re right.

            I could just start listing obscure animes I don’t really like, just so I look like a otaku douche.

            Thanks for the advice.

            Or, I could recommend the ones that I’ve watched and enjoyed so I feel like I’m recommneding something worthwhile.

  4. Zagglenack said, on September 14, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Tossing my hat in again, I was a huge fan of Ergo Proxy for a while:

    a little more steam/cyber punk, but as usual, there is decent thematic work that can be co-opted into a Dieselpunk setting. Besides, I am a sucker for Anime’s that revolve around Domed cities.

    • Tome Wilson said, on September 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm

      I really wanted to enjoy Ergo Proxy, I really did, but I couldn’t make it past episode 12.

      Episode 1 sucked you in. The story moved along and the animation was top-notch, like their previous work on Witch Hunter Robin. Episode 2 and 3 were a little weird, but that’s okay. Then it really slipped downhill each episode after that.

      The pace was way too slow and the story didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. How did it turn out?

      • Zagglenack said, on September 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm

        Well, I only reached about episode 15 or so myself, and you’re right – the pacing was all over the place and the plot felt like it started to fall apart. So while I can’t answer your questions, I can say that your critique only becomes more pertinent with each episode up to that point.

        Still, as you said, the animation quality was astounding. Truly, the things we love the most are the often the most flawed.

      • flyingfortress said, on September 14, 2009 at 7:38 pm

        I also wanted to like Ergo Proxy more than I did. It was interesting for a while, but then it was like TIME FOR AN EPIC JOURNEY OUT OF THE CITY and then just a little bit later TIME FOR AN EPIC JOURNEY BACK TO THE CITY.

        Didn’t ring terribly dieselpunk to me, though.

        • Zagglenack said, on September 14, 2009 at 9:06 pm

          That’s fair in almost all ways. I suppose whenever I see noir elements and themes of oppression, I tend to find something I can grasp onto from my own personal Dieselpunk perspective.

          But its fairly true, the visuals are all off, and the inclusion of the Matrix-style stuff doesn’t fit the flavor too well.

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