Atom The Beginning
Episode 1

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Atom The Beginning ?

This is a prequel to Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy, but even if you only know who that is from seeing pictures, you can step right in. It's a sci fi romp that almost feels like a show just for children in its first episode – except for that part where a bandage-wrapped baddie tries to take out an entire theme park full of happy people by converting one of the parade robots into a giant bomb. Going forward, I suspect that Atom The Beginning is going to surpass its bright colors and perky imagery to become a much more involved story than this episode would suggest.

At the moment, our heroes are Hiroshi Ochanomizu and Umataro Tenma, two grad students at Nerima University. They're kind of oddballs in the department, or at least that's the impression we get when Hiroshi, desperate to reach his part-time job, crashes into resident genius Moriya. Moriya's riding around in a wheelchair of his own design, one that's more like a fabulous office chair than anything. It's also a smart chair, able to respond to Moriya's commands and gently pick up its rider to put him back in the seat. Clearly, this is a useful device that has obvious benefits for humanity in general, and it's already highly marketable. Hiroshi, on the other hand, is trying to create a robot with emotions and independent thought, which doesn't appear to be going all that well. Once Hiroshi runs off and Moriya is left alone with his sister Motoko, he drops his sweet-and-charming act to sneer at what Hiroshi and “his labmate with the weird name” are doing – he basically calls them trash, and from Motoko's reaction, it's not the first time he's done so.

Motoko's the hardest to read right now. She seems to be fascinated by Hiroshi – she even says as much – but I'm not sure if it's because she thinks he's ridiculous or if it's because she genuinely likes him; even if it's the former, I think it'll turn toward the latter as the show goes on. (The opening and ending themes are kind of giveaways there.) Her interest in Hiroshi is definitely a point in Atom's favor – he's the less traditionally good-looking of the two male leads. Where Umataro has bland handsomeness, at least by the standards of this show's art style, Hiroshi's got a big potato of a nose that dominates his face, the kind of marker that usually screams “humorous sidekick” in anything animated. He's clearly the nicer of the two guys, the more grounded and caring, so if Motoko's seeing past (or learns to see past) his appearance, that's a good sign.

A less good sign is the number of characters who are thrown at us this episode, which I'll grant is a pet peeve of mine. Along with Hiroshi, Umataro, Motoko, and Moriya, there's Hiroshi's little sister Ran, A106 (the robot, pronounced ten-six), the random kid who stands out too much not to be important, the lady with ojou-sama hair (one “oh-ho-ho” and I am metaphorically out of here), and a bunch of other people who look like they could be a big deal. Hopefully now that they've been visually introduced, the show will take a bit longer to integrate them. Honestly, I'm most interested in A106 himself right now; not only did he play his part in the parade, but he also realized the plot to blow up the parade bot before anyone else did and acted on his own to stop it, even relying on familiar moves to assure that no one would know what was going on. That's a level of intelligence that would scare me if I didn't know that this was going to lead up to Astro Boy (especially given some of Tezuka's darker works), but it also speaks volumes about Hiroshi and Umataro's “training” and programming of A106's emotional core.

With its bright colors, deceptively simple art, and generally smooth animation, Atom The Beginning's first episode is a lot of fun. Right now it has more of a Saturday morning feel, but even if it maintains that, I think I'd be happy. I don't think it will, of course, but we'll have to see. In the meantime, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the awesome cat that seems to be hanging around Lab 7. (Yes, I've been dying to mention the cat from the start.) He's got that feral cat look down in his design and actions. Even if Ojou-sama Hair does start laughing, I'll definitely stick around just for Mr. Kitty.

Rating: B

Atom The Beginning is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.

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