Atom The Beginning
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Atom The Beginning ?
I have to admit that this episode about trying to find a missing robot dog felt like filler at first. After the battle with Ojou-sama Hair's clearly evil creation and the discussion about how Umataro and Hiroshi were going to wipe Six's memory, we get a lost dog story? But as the episode went on, I began to see it a little differently. This story is not so much about finding the robopet as it is about the merging of human and robot forces in order to get a job done.
When Six discovers Detective Ban rummaging around in Lab 7's scrap heap, it certainly doesn't look like much is about to happen. The basic premise is quickly established: the detective, despite what he's been hired to find, doesn't trust or see much value in robots. Umataro is vocally opposed to this view, so the two strike up a deal: Hiroshi will help the detective with his traditional legwork while Umataro and Ran use Six to do more high-tech detecting, in order to prove which method is superior.
The obvious result will be to prove that while both methods work separately, they function better together, and of course the robopup is found through the efforts of both teams. What's more interesting, and arguably more important, is the way this result affects the characters. The man who hired the detective in the first place has done so because he both loves his pet, inorganic as it may be, but also because it was one of a pair that brought he and his late wife together. Like any other memento, the man's memories of his wife are wrapped up in her former pet, so the robot's loss is like a constant reminder of losing his wife. Neither the detective nor Umataro understand this at first, although Hiroshi seems to grasp it at least a little from the start. When the dog is found and the man is reunited with the representation of his late wife, Hiroshi is in tears and the detective shows more emotional understanding of what he was really looking for, as well as a new appreciation for robots. But Umataro remains confused – why are they so touched? It's just a robot, and an obsolete one at that.
It's at this point that we need to remember that this is a prequel to Astro Boy, and that Umataro will grow up to become Dr. Tenma, the father who abandons his robotic son. The roots of that decision begin here, in Umataro's failure to understand the emotional hold the dogs have over their owner. To him, Six and the robot dogs are just creations of science and nothing more. While his thoughts are logical, they also fail to take into account the human need for attachment, something that we already see Hiroshi taking into consideration. Despite her more black-and-white worldview, Ran also sees robotic beings as more than “things,” and Umataro's lack of emotional connection to Six could develop into a major plot point as the series goes on.
What's interesting about this episode is the way it builds up to this point. For much of the half-hour, it really feels like a standard mystery story with little to contribute to the show's premise. Although we could argue that this has been the basic flow of every episode thus far, this is the one that does the best job making its point and foreshadowing the future. Unfortunately, the buildup does drag at times, and while it's great to see how Six brews tea with his eyeballs, it also feels like it takes too long to get to the point. If Atom the Beginning can even out its storytelling, this episode shows us that there is real potential for its future. But with next week featuring Six making udon for a school festival, I have to say that I'm a little nervous about whether or not it can pull off that potential.
Atom The Beginning is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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