The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Atom The Beginning
How would you rate episode 1 of
Atom The Beginning ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Atom The Beginning is apparently considered a prequel to the classic Astro Boy, but I don't think you need to be especially familiar with that series in order to enjoy this one. Judging by its first episode, Atom looks like it will be taking a fun, nerdy approach to the robotic hero formula. It's in the process of assembling a likable cast of aspiring engineers, and there's a reasonable amount of thought behind the technology on display. It's not the most thrilling premiere ever, but I can see this growing into an enjoyable show for folks with an interest in this subject.
We're introduced to a fair number of characters here, but most of the development is focused on the core duo of Hiroshi and Umataro. They're the kind of scrappy underdogs we often see in these kinds of stories: likably dorky, chronically underfunded, and just delusional enough to believe in their own ambitions. They make for an amusing pair, and their uniquely silly celebration at the end of the episode is rather endearing. We haven't seen enough of the rest of the cast to form any lasting opinions, but Atom The Beginning at least appears to have its protagonists sorted out.
The increasing role of robots in society is a topic that many shows touch on, but this series appears to have a bit of an edge thanks to the way it integrates its mild sci-fi elements into normal life. Whether it's a wheelchair that can recover after a fall or a theme park that uses big robots as a main attraction, these are the kinds of common-sense advancements that actually feel plausible. Some eye-catching mechanical designs and decent animation are also helpful in that regard. Don't go in expecting a thorough examination of the effects of automated labor, but this is certainly an interesting world to explore.
Atom The Beginning has laid some solid groundwork in its first episode. As long as you can accept the slower pace and slightly retro character designs, there's cause for cautious optimism. Whether or not that evolves into long-term appeal will depend on where the story goes from here and how well the supporting characters complement the leads. If you need a little more science in your anime season, give this one a shot.
Astro Boy is widely-regarded as the seminal TV anime series, so it's only natural that its story and concept would be regularly revisited and toyed with over the years. This series, which is meant to be the prequel for the original story, is the latest such effort. You definitely don't have to be at all familiar with the original franchise in order to appreciate this series – in fact, I'd even argue that this may be best-appreciated by those approaching the franchise anew – as it looks like the series' backstory could be undergoing some major revisions.
In previous versions of the franchise, Umataro Tenma was the head of the Ministry of Science and created Astro Boy in order to replace his dead son, though he later abandoned him (and in at least one version became the story's main antagonist). Here Umataro is still a graduate student apparently widely-regarded as being a weirdo, even by his partner Ochanomizu, who in the original story becomes Astro Boy's foster father. What's not clear at this point is whether their robot creation A-106 is actually supposed to be Astro Boy prior to getting an outward covering which makes him look more boylike or merely just a prototype which precedes Astro Boy. In previous versions of the storyline both of the male leads were older men who had had flesh-and-blood children, so that raises the possibility that Motoko, who is featured prominently enough in the opener and closer that she will apparently be a regular hanger-on with the A-106 group, eventually becomes the wife of one of them. Several other characters are featured prominently enough that they will likely be recurring characters, too, though whether or not they have any connections to the original story or were just made for this one is also unclear at this point.
Taken strictly as a stand-alone, the story gets off to a slow but solid start. Ochanomizu isn't happy that Umataro is over-speccing their robot project, but Umataro's efforts are at least temporarily validated by A-106 jumping to stop a problem that hardly anyone is aware even is a potentially very dangerous problem. But the problem may involve a saboteur/terrorist with as-yet-unknown motives. Ochanomizu encounters the aforementioned genius student, who seems too nice to be a potential antagonist but I'm guessing is intended to be that anyway, and both Umataro's younger sister and Motoko look like they'll be regularly-involved to some degree or another. There's also a boy in the crowd for the robot parade who has distinctive hair and is featured much too prominently to be a one-off and the beautiful blond robot developer who I'm guessing is also a potential antagonist. Strewn through all of these story-establishing bits are assorted comical antics, a cool cat, and some really awkward expositional dialog, the latter of which is the first episode's main flaw.
There's little wrong with the visuals, however – unless, of course, like me you can't stand the Osamu Tezuka-based character design aesthetic when it comes to creating big noses. It's not a top-notch production effort, as there are some crowd scenes where only the character speaking is animated and what may be some reused animation, but the detail in the robot design and animation is impressive enough that the first episode is worth watching for that alone. Overall, this doesn't currently look like it's going to be an all-out action series; in fact, its first episode's pacing suggests that it might even be taking a more thoughtful approach. Time will tell on that, but at least the first episode is worth checking out.
If there's one thing I can say for Atom: The Beginning, it sure does have a charming opening. The show's starting song promises a mix of Rocky-style training, thrilling robotic fighting tournaments, and goofy slice of life moments. If that's the show this will eventually solidify into, I'll be very happy.
Unfortunately, the actual first episode is less compelling than its opening. Atom: The Beginning promises a fresh retelling of the Astro Boy origin story, and so we're introduced to an Umataro Tenma and his pal Hiroshi as graduate students, still working out the kinks in their latest project. I'm not really an Astro Boy aficionado, but this setup might have been my favorite thing about the episode proper. Early scenes of Hiroshi and Umataro bickering in their shabby lab felt very true to the college experience, and later scenes of a robot parade nicely contrasted the fundamental wonder of a robotic future with the gaudy displays that would necessarily accompany it. This world feels real and unique, and it's to the show's credit that we're dropped right into the middle of a variety of active personal stories.
Unfortunately, the overarching storytelling is a bit less satisfying. This premiere is bogged down by slow movements between actual events, and overly cartoonish jokes and character acting often fail to bring the show's cast to life. There's also barely any hint of drama surrounding the episode's theoretically climactic parade rescue. Anime series tend to put their best foot forward when it comes to demonstrating their dramatic and animation chops, and if this is the best Atom can muster, it doesn't spell good things for the show going forward.
Still, this was overall a reasonably competent premiere. The episode's narrative and visual execution were both a little wonky, but there's a solid platform here. I'd like for this story about scrappy graduate students in a robot-crazy future to be good - there's potential, but it's not there yet.
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