Atom The Beginning
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Atom The Beginning ?
There's something frighteningly relevant about this week's episode of Atom the Beginning. Its main plot deals with that SD card from last week, which turns out to be a way of accessing the controls of every robot in the entire city. As you might guess, the guy who's got it isn't interested in making those robots more efficient. Instead, he seems to be part of an anti-automation group who wants to prove that humanity has lost something by giving over so many tasks to robotic systems, and he's going to prove this by causing all the traffic systems in the city to go berserk. But that's not enough for our mysterious greasy man – to really drive the point home, he takes over the controls of an automated tractor-trailer and aims it at a traffic jam caused by all his mischief.
Given recent ransomeware attacks and faults in self-driving vehicles, to say nothing of debates about automation depriving people of jobs, this feels like a particularly timely episode. That's definitely a sign of good science fiction, and while I'd hesitate to compare this story to something like 1984 or Brave New World, there's still a kernel of prescience in it. Angry people with a few relevant skills can do a lot of damage, so ignoring their ambitions may not be the best course of action. Of course, there's no evidence that anyone is ignoring these guys – the woman from last week seems to be part of some sort of government investigation that's been tracking Greasy Man and his associates, so once he puts his plan into action, she's got him.
Now we come to the sticky wicket of the week: the truck. Six, Hiroshi, and Umataro are all working for Marushige Moving as part of a dual effort to earn money and prove to the anti-robot detective/mover/whatever that Six has value as a person in his own right. They're en route to their delivery when the rogue vehicle passes them. Unaware of the operation underway, Lab 7 decides to stop the truck themselves, which means that when Greasy Man's operation gets shut down, the truck has basically been re-hijacked. If the guys hadn't done anything, would it have just stopped at the same time as all the other berserk bots? Or would it have crashed into the inevitable school bus full of elementary schoolers in its path? I absolutely understand their need to do something when faced with certain disaster, as well as the show's governing principle to prove Six's innate awesomeness, but I do still have to wonder.
The action moves much better this week than it has previously, with a good combination of excitement, questions and answers, and small bits of humor. You have to love an episode that manages not only to make you worry about the (robot)hero's motives but also shows that same robot wearing crocs while furthering a romantic subplot. (The move they're helping with is Motoko's, who laments that she wanted to keep it a secret until she could show off a pristine apartment to Hiroshi.) It also brings Motoko's brother back into the story, and it looks like he's going to be a much bigger piece of the action next week, when Lab 7's existence may become imperiled.
If Atom the Beginning can build on this much more exciting and interesting episode, it may have finally hit its stride. Five episodes is a bit long for that to have happened, but I'm not going to be picky if things are finally heating up. With new subplots, further indications that Six's operating system truly is amazing, and a better mix of action and humor, this marks the week when I'm finally starting to feel excited about this show.
Plus now I kind of want a rotary dial for my cellphone.
Atom The Beginning is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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