Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, or simply, Big Guy and Rusty as it is often called, was a 26-episode animated series that first aired in 1999 and found its way to Irish screens not long after. I have fond memories of sitting down and watching this wacky adventure series, catching the exploits of Astro Boy, Gigantor, as well as Rusty and the Big Guy, Earth’s best line of defense against a whole plethora of alien and robotic invaders.
The show blew my mind as a child, perhaps due to the fast-paced animation style and retro 1950s aesthetic. I would learn as I got older that it was brought to life by the same team behind Godzilla: The Series, a show I covered on a previous Cartoon Catch Up and loved just as much. Fast forward to the present day and catching up on the series once again, I had some skepticism. I worried if my childhood mind had put this show on a pedestal and given it too much credit. However, from the first episode to the final battle, my doubts faded away.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes this series so great. There are a number of ways in which it compels the viewer to stay glued. Like a fine wine, the appreciation one has for this show, with its quippy dialogue and strong characters, only gets better with age. Based on a two-issue comic book by Frank Miller, of 300 and Sin City fame, the show tells the tale of an unlikely pair, a man in a giant metal suit and his intended replacement – a small android boy. Together they have many adventures.
Adapting the work of Miller into a children’s cartoon can’t have been an easy task, thanks to the gruesome and gritty imagery he is known for. But with the help of writers like Duane Capizzi, who worked on shows like Darkwing Duck and the first DC animated universe movie Superman: Doomsday, the crew managed just that. That’s not to say the horror is fully toned down. Skin is ripped off of robotic skeletons while diseases which ravage people’s faces and aliens with revolting but very cool designs all make an appearance. It feels like at any moment anything can happen in this show. From giant blobs to time travel to magma people and everything in-between, we get a high-octane thrill ride, but one that never fails to deliver a message to its viewer.
The two protagonists are so likeable. Rusty is immature but through his affection and curiosity he learns to embrace his robotic status. The Big Guy, meanwhile, is a very patriotic tank with a man inside. From his jokes to his played fairly straight love of the American way, he provides an incredible mentor character to Rusty and creates a sense of nostalgia for a time and place I wasn’t even around for.
Thanks to the talented voice cast, (Rusty is played by none other than Pamela Adlon, the voice of Bobby in King of the Hill), there are believable interactions and characterisations throughout each episode. At the same time, the villainous organisation of near identical androids, the Legion Ex Machina, are fantastic foils. They are played for laughs through their deadpan deliveries, yet they also provide a genuine “big bad” threat to our heroes. Speaking of laughs, looking back upon the show now, the jokes that flew above my head when I was younger have now been cemented in my mind as damn good storytelling.
As a science fiction cartoon, there are nods to classic movies like The Blob and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, films that I would have had no knowledge of as a younger viewer. These homages allow the writers to craft exciting tales of suspense that tell new versions of older but evergreen concepts. We even get our very own Hannibal Lecter throwback in the brain eating villain Dr. Neugog. Voiced so beautifully by Tim Curry, the icon delivers a truly wonderful and very creepy performance.
I could write about this series all day. It feels fresh, yet classic – strong, yet emotional. It is a real shame that it has flown under the radar because it really is an action-packed adventure. As the opening lyrics sing, “Now that they’re a mighty team, the boy robot lives his dream, to be a legend in history, the Big Guy and Rusty.”
Sadly, this series was not the legend in history that Rusty had so dearly wanted. It is however fondly remembered by a small handful of nerds and that rather tearfully is a legacy that such an excellent series doesn’t deserve. When I think of this show’s fate to fall into obscurity, I can’t help but quote Rusty’s long running joke line: “no pain receptors.”
It’s okay. I have no pain receptors either….
*Looks at DVD cover*