The main setting of The Big O is Paradigm City, located next to a sea and a vast desert. Androids coexist with the human inhabitants of Paradigm City; their numbers are actually fairly low and they’re something of a rarity, but there are enough of them that they are considered citizens of the city.
It is never revealed what Paradigm City was before the Event, but there have been numerous hints to it previously being the United States city known as New York City. It is highly possible that the entire state of Paradigm may even be the island of Manhattan.
Paradigm is known as The City of Amnesia, as 40 years prior to the story, an unknown occurrence known only as “The Event” decimated the outside world and left the survivors without any memories.
The Event makes for the main question of the series, “What happened?” The Event’s causes remain unknown. Aside from that, people’s memories and all records of prior events were erased. Memories recovered by Roger Smith and the “tomatoes” (clones of Paradigm City’s senators), suggest that an army of Big Megadeus’s attacked and destroyed the city, before turning on each other.
It is heavily suggested at the end of the series that Paradigm City, and possible surviving outposts of humanity throughout the world, are battlefields wielded between cosmic powers of good and evil. To this end, the megadeuses act as representations of God. At the end of season 2, it is demonstrated that Big Venus, another big megadeus, possesses the ability to alter reality and time, possibly accounting for the unusual stage-like design of the city its surrounding locale. Paradigm City could, then, be the ultimate battleground for the final battle between good and evil.
The inhabitants of Paradigm City appear to only remember bits and pieces of what religion was like before the Event, though numerous episodes show its inhabitants practicing Christianity, or at least Christianity in some shape or form, as people congregate in meeting places with crucifixes prominently displayed. It is revealed in “Daemonseed” that almost no one remembers what Christmas is at all, and several old cathedrals now stand in ruins, their original purpose unknown (some of the elderly occasionally feel compelled to stand in front of them and sing hymns, but they do not clearly remember why they do this). Half based on vague memories of a holiday on December 25th, and half as a celebration to commemorate the founding of Paradigm City; which happened around the same time of the year; Christmas Day is now celebrated as Heaven’s Day. Heaven’s Day is apparently an almost entirely secular holiday, which started out as an annual celebration of the founding of the city by giving bread and wine to the poor. As the city grew more prosperous over the course of 40 years, people started giving presents to the ones they loved, and it grew into a commercial shopping extravaganza not unlike modern day Christmas celebrations. The inhabitants of the city still put up generic Christmas decorations like decorated Christmas trees and streamers, but they don’t really know the underlying reason behind all of this. Alex Rosewater seems to be the series’ only character with knowledge of pre-Event Christianity. In “Daemonseed” Dastun mentions that Rosewater had in his possession fragments of a “Book of Revelation”, although neither Dastun nor Roger had previously heard of it. It is possible that Rosewater also has other fragments of The Bible, as Rosewater describes the real meaning of Heaven’s Day as being “the day God’s son was born.” Whether he was referring to a memory of the original holiday, or to himself in comparison to his father is unknown.
Paradigm City itself is essentially a city-state, characterized by severe class inequity; the upper classes residing inside geodesic domes and middle and lower classes, living outside the domes. At many times during the series Alex Rosewater, director of the Paradigm Corporation, does not care about those living outside the domes, and that the city would be better off without them.
In “Bring Back My Ghost” we see that the Land Buyout Riots occurred over increasing the number of domes.
In “Twisted Memories” the areas outside the domes are called the Illegal Residential Sector.
Each dome in Paradigm City has its own artificial “sun”, a source of light that orbits, rising and setting, along a track along the inside span of the dome. Bright and direct sunlight is considered something of a luxury, the city having been under a near-constant state of cloudy overcast ever since the Event. The structure of the domes is conventional; they appear to be built of heavy steel girders. The largest is Paradigm Dome at the city center; it contains the Paradigm Corporation headquarters. The structure of the domes themselves also become important during some of Roger Smith’s battles in the Big O, such as his fight against Schwarzwald in “Enemy Is Another Big!”. Schwarzwald says that the domes are “false skies”.
Roger travels to various areas of the city to meet with his clients as well as get information from an informant called Big Ear at the “Speakeasy”, a bar/pub outside the domes. He also travels to the Paradigm Dome for a few jobs, although he despises the company.
The old underground subway and maintenance systems were abandoned after The Event, as everyone was afraid to go below the surface of the city. Many believe that hidden secrets from before The Event lurk in these unexplored tunnels. Secret laboratories and other installations from before The Event are located in the underground. Roger Smith is unafraid to use the old subway system as a means of quickly transporting Big O around Paradigm City as needed: an immense tank-like vehicle that contains the Big O uses the subway tracks to maneuver around the city and then raise the Big O on a platform so that it may drill forth from underground. As a result, no one can track Big O’s movements to Roger’s house. However, even Roger has only mapped out the basic subway grid to use to move Big O around, and even to Roger almost all of the underground is an entirely separate world that he is afraid to go into. In “Underground Terror”, Roger ventured further down than he had ever been before, and found that the deeper you go the more modern the surroundings become; newer installations were built below the older ones. Thus while the tunnels near the surface are simply old subway lines, the regions very deep down are from right before the Event and house exotic technologies that are unknown on the surface, such as the ruined Archetype found by Schwarzwald. It is revealed in the final episode that the deepest level is where Big Venus lays dormant until it is reactivated by Angel.
A large portion of the city is also submerged in shallow water just off the coast. It appears that during the Event there was either a massive rise in sea levels or an earthquake caused a large portion of the city to sink into the sea, or both. Taller buildings can still be seen protruding from the water. The submerged city acts as a large artificial reef, attracting a large amount and variety of fish and other ocean life, which is harvested to help feed the city’s population. In "The Call from the Past", it is shown that even after 40 years, many submerged buildings still have electricity and are intact.
In “Electric City”, Roger Smith is dispatched to Electric City to negotiate with the locals for the reactivation of the hydroelectric power plant. The city is located in a stretch of hilly forest with a large lake and river that appears to lead to Paradigm City. The fact that Electric City was spared the destruction of the Event was probably due its close proximity with Paradigm City, whose domes and skyscrapers can clearly be seen a short distance off. It’s entirely possible that Electric City was a suburb or fringe city of Paradigm which was built along the shores of the lake, given that the Paradigm Corporation appears to own and operate the power plant. Also, Big O somehow is transported to this remote area, suggesting that Electric City may have access to part of the Paradigm City subway system which Roger Smith uses to move the megadeus.
The city is smaller than Paradigm City, but resembles it. However, unlike Paradigm, the city was without any form of modern utilities. Citizens are frightened of a monster that is said to live in the lake, so they live by torches and other primitive means and refuse allow the power plant to be reactivated.
Angel, under the guise of Casseey Jenkins, investigator for Paradigm Power Management, re-activates the hydropower plant. A Megadeus Eel emerges and Big O arrives to destroy the giant electricity stealing eel. Once destroyed, Electric City briefly lights up with electric power discharged from death of the giant Eel.
Electric City is the only known city to exist outside Paradigm City. Its existence later in the story seems to be forgotten as to much story eludes to that city is surrounded by sandy wastes vs some urban forest and sand wastelands (however, several flashbacks in later episodes show the Paradigm Corporation retrieving the body of the Eel from the lake and then producing a clone of it).
Beyond Paradigm City, there is nothing: whatever happened in The Event 40 years ago turned the rest of the world into an endless desert, and Paradigm City is believed to be all that remains, to the point that its inhabitants mock the idea of surviving “foreigners” as myth. However, during the course of the series a group called “The Union” surfaces which appears to be made up of foreigners who are infiltrating the city.
The only culture referenced is that of the Germans (Dastun’s quote “He’s a German Guy.”)
It is also perplexing that while English appears to be the only spoken language, Roger easily translates “Schwartzwald” to “Black Forest”. In the original Japanese Dub, this translation isn’t used, however, Schwartzwald speaks German numerous times. Later, in “Winter Night Phantom”, neither Dastun or Smith understand French.
Despite the limited territory, the city has an extensive industry. There are fields contained within domes where crops are grown to feed those within, such as the fields of wheat and tomatoes owned by the retired Gordon Rosewater. Genetic engineering is widespread. There are several corporations for constructing Megadeus’s and the armored vehicles of the Military Police.
The technology seen is similar to the level seen in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Some technology is from the 1990’s.
Submarines are largely unknown, though the Paradigm Corporation operates a corps of frogmen with SCUBA gear in “The Call from the Past”. Boats are used by the Military Police and the fishing fleet. Aircraft are used in "Missing Cat" and by the Union. Only Big Duo and Big Duo Inferno are flight capable.
The news media uses cameras. (“Eyewitness”)
Televisions, always with black and white color, are used only by the upper class. (“Hydra”, “R.D.”, “Stripes”, “The Call from the Past”, “The Greatest Villain”, “The War of Paradigm City”, “Winter Night Phantom”)
Alex is seen with an orbital calculation display system in “Day of the Advent”.
Roger has access to some of these technologies due to his command of Big O.
It is ruled by the Paradigm Corporation, a corporation that owns all the businesses. There are several mentions to a senate that founded the city and once held power in “Winter Night Phantom“. By the time of the story, all the senators have retired and the Paradigm Corporation controls the city. The Military Police also are controlled by Paradigm.
- Fire Department (“Twisted Memories”, “Winter Night Phantom“)
- Justice Department (“The War of Paradigm City”)
- Medical (“Twisted Memories”, “The War of Paradigm City”)
- Paradigm Press (“Enemy Is Another Big!”, “Underground Terror”)
- Power Management (“Electric City”)
- Prison system (“Beck Comes Back”, “The Greatest Villain”, “Twisted Memories”, “Winter Night Phantom”)
- Science Division (“Day of the Advent“, ”Eyewitness”, “Hydra”)
The Paradigm Corporation is run by Alex Rosewater, son of original founder of Paradigm City and the Paradigm Corporation, Gordon Rosewater. The Paradigm Corporation is made up of divisions such as Paradigm Press, Paradigm Laboratories and Research. To his displeasure, Roger Smith is often hired by the Paradigm Corporation or Alex Rosewater.
The company’s logo is a stylized P, in a combination of Art Deco Streamline Moderne styles. Its headquarters are in a vaguelly Babel-like axial tower, at the center and protruding through the top of the city’s largest dome.
In “The Show Must Go On”, as Roger’s Megadeus sinks into the sea, he sees below the submerged portion of the city, what appears to be a large series of gigantic gears and mechanical equipment below the ruins, lending support to the theory that the entire city itself, even the old submerged ruins, may just be a fabrication. Enormous, megadeus-sized stage lamps are hung from a structure high above the city, reinforcing the suggestion that the city is a stage, although the population is unaware of them as they are concealed by clouds.
Paradigm City may be modeled after New York City. Although Paradigm City might be New York City, or an imitation of it, it is much more expansive than the New York City of today. While there are recognizable landmarks from New York City’s past, i.e. the Grand Central Terminal building apparently expanded in all directions and within the old boundaries itself. Paradigm City was actually “founded” on the ruins of an earlier city; details are scarce but it appears that Paradigm City is considered to have been founded when the domes were constructed and order re-established after chaos ensuing The Event, but that much of the city predates that. The ruins that the “new” Paradigm City was built on were meant to sustain a much larger population than the current city supports: the city is only filled to about half the capacity that it could potentially sustain. As a result, the Megadeus battles that cause massive property damage aren’t much of a problem, as they either destroy abandoned buildings, or people displaced from destroyed buildings can easily find more that are available.
- ”Day of the Advent”: we see a map of the city's sea borders.
- ”Roger the Negotiator”: the World Trade Center can be seen in the distance. (The anime was made before the September 11 attacks.)
- ”Bring Back My Ghost”: it is mentioned that Officer Fraizer fell into the Hudson River.
- ”Missing Cat”: the antagonist’s base is in what appears to be the American Museum of Natural History.
- ”Enemy Is Another Big!”: JFK Mark (John F. Kennedy International Airport) (the ruins are at the edge of the wastelands, which suggests that almost everything beyond the airport ruins has been destroyed)
- ”Leviathan”: the remnants of the Coney Island amusement park and the Cyclone roller coaster are shown.
- ”Eyewitness”: the android killer is shown wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap.
- ”Stripes”: Angel finds herself drawn to the ruins of Grand Central Terminal.
- ”The Third Big”: Big Fau rises out of the ground through the Washington Arch.
- “The War of Paradigm City” or “The Show Must Go On”: Roger sees Vera in what appears to be Lincoln Tunnel.
- Whenever he visits Big Ear, Roger drives over what appears to be the Brooklyn Bridge.
- Roger Smith pays Big Ear with United States Federal Reserve Notes.