Paradigm City is the setting for the anime Big O
, a sprawling, rundown metropolis set at some point in the future- an unknown point because the city literally has no history. Forty years before the story detailed in the anime takes place, something
happened. This Event wiped out the memories of every human and android alive at the time and also seems to have destroyed all existing records and history of the city's past. The characters call the place "the city of amnesia
", although for most of the population this is just a name- in the forty years that have passed since the Event, the city has re-stabilized and most of the conveniences of modern life are present. Sometimes, though, a Memory (the word is always capitalized, in the English versions of the show, and is used in place of "recollection", "record", "artifact", and other similar words) will be uncovered- a fragment of esoteric knowledge or hyper-advanced technology that may have something to do with the city's lost past and the constantly hinted-at (and never-quite-revealed
) plans of the powers that be
Paradigm is, visually, a pretty desolate place, a vast gray expanse of squat buildings hunkering underneath an eternally overcast sky. Outside the city is wasteland as far as the eye can see, except for a handful of locations visited during the show like a hydroelectric power plant
, an airport inexplicably filled with beached ships
, and a few isolated factories and woodland retreats. The city is so isolated that most inhabitants believe that it really is completely alone- that there are no people left anywhere else in the world, a view encouraged by the government. The city is gradually falling to pieces, because the recovered technology of the contemporary society is not enough to repair or even maintain the dizzying heights of architectural accomplishment the city was capable of forty years earlier. Crumbling structures and fields of rubble are everywhere, and broken buildings leaning on each other are a common sight. Long ago, the southern tip of the city's central landmass seems to have suddenly and catastrophically dropped several hundred meters, leaving behind a deep sea whose surface is dotted incongruously with the shattered and tilted upper floors of drowned skyscrapers.
The city's most noticeable feature is a set of gigantic domes, big enough to have their own internal weather, that enclose large chunks of the city. These domes effectively divide the city into two classes, a rich ruling class that lives inside the domes in insulated decadence, and a poor lower class that lives outside, exposed to the elements, among other things
. Some domes are specialized for specific purposes, using lost technology that the present-day inhabitants of the city cannot duplicate. The largest dome belongs to the Paradigm Group
, and is dominated by a vast skyscraper that pierces the top of the dome and extends into the sky. A retirement home
has an artificial sun mounted on tracks that run over the surface of its dome; the land within it is suffused with natural light, but its glare cannot hide the girders criss-crossing the sky. The domes are more symbolic than active, the most interesting practical purpose they serve during the show is as casualties of giant robot battles
Paradigm is controlled by the Paradigm Group, a fairly typical and under-explored megacorporation that seems to control all economic and scientific activity within the city. The leader of the Group is a man named Alex Rosewater
, son of original founder Gordon Rosewater
. He administrates the company, and through it the city, from a rotating platform that moves him through a series of reconfigurable meeting rooms. Paradigm's will is enforced by the military police
, an organization that uses everything from squad cars
to heavy artillery
All of the really interesting things in the city are underground (or, occasionally, underwater
). Immediately underlying the streets are the remains of an ancient subway
line, which although filled with trashed train cars and rubble can still be used to get around the city even by something as large as the titular robot
in its specialized transport, the Prairie Dog
. Beneath the subway is a network of better-maintained tunnels, made of higher-quality materials and a more advanced design that leads most visitors to conclude that they were created after
the shallower subways. Venturing down into this secret maze triggers a phobia
in Roger Smith
, but it's not clear whether that's peculiar to him or true of everyone in Paradigm. It's usually worth it to investigate, though, because the things down there are invariably ancient, dangerous, and critical to the puzzles posed by the city's existence and the story of the show.
One aspect of the city that's virtually invisible in the first season but quite important in the second is the presence of a thriving android
from a unique curiosity to a member of a fairly common group, complete with its own infrastructure of speciality shops and services. Androids crop up much more frequently as supporting characters in the second season, while there was only one such character other than Dorothy herself in the first
, and the issues surrounding them (such as their treatment by and of humans) are explored in more depth. What the storylines do have in common is that the techniques for manufacturing androids from scratch have been lost and that the remaining androids in the city can only be maintained and repaired in limited degrees- losses among their number are permanent.
What we do
know of the city's history comes from glimpses of landmarks, signs, and general geography that occasionally flash onto the screen- and those clearly point to Paradigm's previous life as good old New York City
. The city is centered on an island isolated by two parallel rivers, and covers a good chunk of the land on either side of them as well. One of the rivers has a name- Hudson
. There are some streets with equally familiar names. A pivotal scene in the second season takes place inside the unnamed but instantly recognizable Grand Central Terminal
. To the east of the city is a desert, and further to the east is an amusement park
and an airport
. As for the age of the city, there are far fewer pieces of real evidence. The only clue to a date is found in a room deep underground early in the first season
. A vast chamber is discovered to house a scale model of a city, watched over by an ancient and primitive Megadeus
. A sign hangs over the room reading "Expo '04". Without the two most significant digits, it's impossible to guess in what century this took place, let alone how long before the show it was.
Paradigm City is at least as important to the feel of the show as any of the speaking characters, providing the faceless, wearying backdrop to their own yearnings for identity, past, and purpose in a world that has had something fundamentally yet subtly wrong done to it. It's a surprisingly compelling and engrossing setting for a show that was originally conceived to sell robot toys.