Atom: The Beginning – Anime Review
Synopsis: Umataro Tenma and Hiroshi Ochanomizu are attempting to build a humanoid robot who not only looks like a human, but can feel like one. With no interested investors, they must pick up odd jobs to help fund their research. (Official Anime Strike Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Atom: The Beginning frequently dips in quality. The show bounces between off-model, low detail artwork that makes it difficult to take the series more dramatic elements seriously, and art that flutters between passable and actually impressive. In fact, Atom’s visual lows and highs pretty much describe the overall quality of the piece as a whole. A complete and total lack of uniformity.
Linny: For the first half of the show, each episode is a one off, featuring characters or problems that usually are dealt with and forgotten by the next. A fair number of these episodes are rather silly, where even with a dangerous criminal involved, there’s no real sense of danger. This made the show feel like it was aimed at a younger audience with short attention spans who are more interested in laughing, clapping and cheering for A106 with every happy ending. But that changes once Atom enters its second half and kicks off the Robo Wrestling arc, which basically takes up all of the remaining episodes and tells a story that does still have goofy elements but feels a lot more serious and mature. All of this change in plot and tone proving to be another avenue where Atom fails to be uniform.
Tom: There’s no denying Atom is weak early on. Unlike the animation, which can bounce around in quality at any given time, Atom is weakest at the start of its run and gradually improves in the back half of the series. It’s the Robo Wrestling arc that makes up the final five episodes where Atom shines as bright as it ever will. That’s not to say this final arc is overall impressive. It’s not, and suffers frequent issues that hamper its potential. These flaws are most evident in the series final episode, where the effectiveness of its most emotional elements are continually undermined by bizarre narrative choices.
Linny: Atom also has a clear problem utilizing and balancing its cast. In episode 1 itself, we are introduced to Tsutsumi Moriya, who’s quickly revealed to actively dislike and disapprove of Umataro and Hiroshi, developers of A106 and our leads. The way his introduction plays out seems to insinuate that he will prove to be a huge hurdle for them. Yet, beyond a handful of reappearances and mentions, he doesn’t do anything to actively set them back. And it’s not just Tsutsumi either. In other episodes, the show chooses to show or introduce characters who are made to seem a lot more significant than they ever will be, which is likely to make viewers feel frustrated or confused.
Tom: Umataro and Hiroshi, our two scientist leads, creators of A106 and eventually Astro Boy in the main series proper, are the series two biggest characters and where a lot of the focus should be. But Atom doesn’t always nail that. We’re treated to a number of one off stories that seem more focused on the side characters than exploring Hiroshi and Umataro’s relationship and their competing ideals, a concept only explored in the final few episodes. Other characters don’t even end up justifying their inclusion in the series. While Ran, Hiroshi’s little sister and perhaps A106’s greatest fan, manages to do something absolutely necessary in the finale, other characters feel superfluous to the main narrative, like Tsutsumi Moriya as Linny described above. It makes a lot of content feel retroactively pointless, as set up and hints for future development never went anywhere.
Linny: Most of the characters in this show feel one dimensional. In fact, even Ran, who Tom just praised, became an issue of discontent and unintentional humour for me once her dialogue was revealed to be mainly limited to muttering “sixuh”. Thankfully she gets an entire episode about her school and club life, and proves to have a crucial role in the story, but it’s hard to describe any of the characters in the show as truly fleshed out, complex or impressive.
Tom: A106, who you’d think would be a true character in is own right, is squandered for much of the series. It’s only in the final three episodes that his characterization really starts to come through and even take center stage in the series finale. In fact, it’s as A106 awakens as a true character that the series hits its highest of highs, but not before undermining itself as I mentioned before
Linny: It’s extremely frustrating to watch the series completely cave in on itself in the last episode, one which actually could have been its magnum opus as it finally gives us a rather heartbreaking look through A106’s eyes and thoughts. The finale does such a great job of highlighting the tragedies and fears of an otherwise laconic character. But of course, the building tragedy is reversed in a flash with no emotional breakthrough and suddenly everything and everyone is happy and laughing again. It feels like a cheap and lazy cop out, one that makes a stark and ugly contrast with the emotional depth the episode was building.
Tom: Atom: The Beginning isn’t great. It’s lows are low and its high not entirely high enough to drown out its weakest elements. As prequels go, Atom does do some things right. Fans of Astro Boy will still find some fun to be had here, but it isn’t a series that entirely stands on its own.
Linny: If you were never a fan of Astro Boy or have not had the chance to watch it, there’s little in Atom the Beginning to justify watching it. The cast are one dimensional or poorly utilized and the story is all over the place, either goofy, forgettable or self destructive, ruining whatever emotional momentum it gains. The one positive is that you do not need to be familiar with Astro Boy to be able to enjoy Atom the Beginning. But there’s so little that one could call truly enjoyable and worthwhile in this prequel that it fails to be a must watch.
Atom: The Beginning is available for streaming via Amazon’s Anime Strike Channel.