Atom The Beginning
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Atom The Beginning ?
How would you rate episode 12 of
Atom The Beginning ?
If I had to pick one movie that scarred me as a child, it would have to be The Brave Little Toaster, because it made me worry that everything in my house had a soul and that throwing something away was akin to murdering it. The final two episodes of Atom the Beginning use that same theory, refining it a bit to ask the question, “If you give a thing a consciousness, how far do your responsibilities go?” A106 now definitely has both personality and consciousness, as is demonstrated amply by these episodes – rather than fight Mars, he wants to discuss why they're fighting and who they're fighting for. Six sees one of the strengths of robots as being able to talk while doing something else – and the fact that he can see himself as both a robot and having specific strengths says that he's got a good degree of self-awareness. That's certainly part of what Hiroshi was aiming for, but it's not clear if that's good enough for Umataro. Umataro, despite wanting to make use of the benefits of having a thinking robot, doesn't want the responsibility of one – to him, Six will always be a thing, while to Hiroshi he's become a person, at least to a degree.
There's a bittersweetness here – Six knows he's not really a person (in the sense that he's not fully autonomous), and he recognizes his own obsolescence. But his reaction seems to be more that of a child whose parents are excited about a new baby – his daddies no longer care for him, and while he accepts that, it also makes him sad. The awful part here is that unlike the child who has this misconception, Six isn't entirely wrong – even Hiroshi stops actively trying to repair Six once plans for Seven are well underway. The only one who seems to truly care about Six is Ran.
This leads to a core issue with these two episodes, and with the series as a whole – Ran's and Six's relationship isn't fully explored or developed. It's not surprising to us that Ran is the one to work at fixing Six when Hiroshi's attention is diverted, or that many of Six's memories involve her, but apart from his realization that she's crying tears of joy when he's fully functional again, there isn't any major realization on his part that this is the person who cares the most for him. Of course, that may not be as important as the fact that Six has, by the final episode, become truly self-aware. Though that does mark the true beginning that will lead to the eventual creation of Atom, it also is sad because we know that Six is not Atom, and he'll never be truly what people want him to be – and he knows it.
There's also a not-entirely-realized parallel with Mars, who appears to be at least partially self-aware as well. When Six worries about dying alone, ripped to pieces by Mars in their final battle, Mars, before shutting down, tells Six that he isn't, with the implication that Mars is alone – that Dr. Lolo only sees him for what he can do for her, and as a potential weapon. (Which is a whole other issue; it's almost certain that she's cheating by entering a prototype military weapon in the robot wrestling event.) This leads to the possibility that Mars didn't run out of power, but rather shut himself down voluntarily – that he wanted to do something for Six, or he saw himself as lesser because he was alone…or maybe he just wanted to stick to it to Dr. Lolo.
Atom the Beginning's final episodes are both hopeful and depressing. Some scenes, like Six's little gasp when he notices that he's not only not fixed, but covered in cobwebs, are heartbreaking. Others, such as when Ran cries in joy, are much more uplifting. It's the knowledge of the future that really makes this a little sad, but that's been a thread running through this from day one. Ultimately the question becomes how well the series has been able to pull that thread through, and while these two episodes do that well, that hasn't always been true of the series as a whole. Atom the Beginning ends on a stronger, sadder note than it began on, and that feels about right. It hasn't been a perfect, or even consistent, series, but if you remember things by how they end, these two episodes may linger in your mind or pop up when you think about Tezuka's original.
Atom The Beginning is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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