Atom The Beginning
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Atom The Beginning ?
I've been trying very hard to like this show, but this is the week where I admit that I'm just not sure it's going anywhere. It doesn't help that this is the slowest episode to date – while there is a presumably important plot point about an SD card that's being transferred from one shady character to another, that's largely lost in the main plot: getting Six to make udon for the school festival.
As the streaming reviewer for Food Wars, I know that something so seemingly mundane can be made utterly thrilling, so it isn't the storyline that's the problem here, it's the execution. There's very little to distinguish this particular culinary foray from any other school festival episode, and even on that front, this comes up a bit short. Lab 7's idea is that people will be fascinated by the idea of eating udon made by a robot, and eventually that does pay off, but first they have to get ingredients, make sure Six's newly uploaded udon recipe works, and most importantly, get customers. Since Lab 7 has a reputation as a den of weirdos, this last part is the hardest, and Hiroshi and Umataro largely prove themselves unequal to the task. Their big plan is to send Six out with a sign, but Ran sabotages that plan when the two end up playing festival games instead. Ultimately, Motoko comes to the rescue with a couple of maid outfits, with the uncomfortable result that the sight of little teenager Ran in a maid getup really draws in the men. Given that Ran has already informed Motoko that she's not interested in guys and her clear discomfort with the outfit, this all feels pretty mean.
It's a good thing that the festival itself has some interesting signs and displays, because looking for those fun little details is part of what saves this episode. Whether it's the Tesla whack-a-mole (or rather, zap-a-mole) game or the weird VR refrigerator experience, the booths are far more creative than anything else in the episode, and I wish we'd gotten more time to see what else was on offer. With all of that around, it does feel like a stretch that people would be so keen on robot-made udon, but I suppose we should never underestimate the power of a teenage maid.
The other plot, the one about the mysterious SD card (or very small book?) is far less developed, which is a shame, because it's clearly introducing a new antagonist, a different woman than Ojou-sama Hair, although she could be working for her. All we know is that a woman who can run in high heels and two thugs are trying to get their hands on the item, so presumably it's quite important. I'm not particularly hopeful that we'll learn much more next week, when Six seems to be going to work at a warehouse in new character Shunsaku's bid to convince his dad that having a robot would be a good idea. Of course, if the card turns out to be somehow related to Six, this could lead to another exciting chase where bags of flour are ripped open, so you never know. (A tractor-trailer race actually looks more likely, and that really does have potential, both visually and plot-wise.)
All of this leaves me questioning what exactly it is that I want out of Atom the Beginning. Elements of its slow-paced slice-of-life robot-building story work, like Hiroshi geeking out over the idea of Six in a maid outfit and the guys' friendship and foreshadowing elements. Aspects of the more sinister plot work as well, mostly in the potential upcoming conflict between Motoko and her brother, once he finds out she's become involved with Lab 7. But they don't work together yet, and by episode four, I do want to start seeing some cohesion. Hopefully, episode five will improve things.
Atom The Beginning is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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