Atom: The Beginning – Mid Season 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)
Mid Season (6 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Atom: The Beginning’s animation is a pretty good representation of the varying quality of the series. While the first episode was decent enough, the series is otherwise plagued by frequent off models, lack of detail, and a general unimpressive quality to the animation. This dip in visual appeal is far more frequent than the occasional highs where the series looks great. The series writing follows much a similar pattern, where the highs are rare and the lows all too common.
Linny: The show plays out like a slice of life with every episode being more or less self contained. Sure, it does often tease of a much grander and darker plot looming behind it all but more often than not, things always end on a happy note. In fact, all these allusions to something sinister only makes the show feel all the more disappointing because it seems to never really lead anywhere, almost always abandoned or overshadowed by an extremely silly story line instead.
Tom: That larger plot only plays the smallest of roles, occasionally mingling with the slice of life events of our heroes and often covertly without their knowledge. The main focus of the series is on the day to day events of Lab 7 and A106, a number of which are so poorly written that they’re an absolute pain to watch. For example, Episode four, easily the weakest episode of the series, suffers from forced exposition, poorly written scenarios where proper character motivation and logistics are thrown out the window in favor of smashing the ‘larger plot’ together with the episode’s slice of life shenanigans. The result is something that feels uninteresting, haphazard and poorly thought out.
Linny: The one big positive about the show is that it’s completely approachable for everyone, even those who may have never heard of Astro Boy before. The show has no content so far that might leave a newcomer feeling lost or confused. However, audiences should be aware that the show can often feel a bit childish and silly, and it’s hard to take things seriously. Also, the bad guys project themselves from a mile away, always portrayed as super rude and physically ‘evil’ looking.
Tom: Turning our focus to the characters, A106, despite featuring so prominently in the credits, often doesn’t feel like the focus of the show. Rather Hiroshi and Tenma, Lab 7’s wacky scientists and Motoko, an undergraduate self-obsessed, toying young woman. These three make up the main focus of the series, with Motoko frequently injecting herself, for her own amusement, into Hiroshi and Tenma’s affairs. While both Hiroshi and Tenma are fun and quirky, we’re never really introduced to an endearing side of them, making the audience feel a bit disconnected from them, Motoko, or anyone else. Motoko herself is a lot like Bulma, motivated by her own amusement, although she doesn’t possess the same quick to anger humor that made Bulma so popular. Motoko isn’t boring, but she isn’t a draw either, mostly just ‘there’ on screen with everyone else.
Linny: It’s definitely a struggle to care about any of the main cast. Like Tom said, we just do not get enough endearing exposition to grow fond or bond with any of them. And since the show plays like a slice of life, it really needed to sell its characters more as it’s the characters that really help slice of life stories shine.
Tom: There’s another three to four additional characters who feature to varying degrees. Ran, Hiroshi’s sister, appears the most often and looks to be getting a larger focus as the series enters its second half. Kensaku, a odd job/pseudo detective character, has featured a handful of times as well. After that both Shunsaku, Kensaku’s son and rival scientist/school protege Moriya feel so small compared to everyone else, only popping in from time to time and even those appearances are fleeting and scarce.
Linny: Hiroshi’s sister, Ran came off feeling rather weird to me. In fact, during one episode, the show tries to showcase how adorable she looks as an awkward maid, but it just came off looking strange and even a little creepy to me. I am not sure making her a more prominent part of the story would really make the show better unless she happened to be your favourite character.
Tom: Getting back to the heart of it, Atom: The Beginning is more miss than hit. On rare occasions Atom has a quality episode, like episode 6, that feels strong, character driven, and a solid way to endear the characters to the audience. But more often the series offers up ho-hum, bland, or even awful story lines that feel as if they’re squandering this series’ precious few episodes. A lot of the trouble is the writing, and lackluster animation which hinders what could otherwise be fun slice of life comedy and silly antics.
Linny: As someone who has never had any interest in Astro Boy, I don’t think Atom:The Beginning has been doing anything to help develop an interest in checking out the rest of the Astro Boy franchise. Even when examined as an independent show on its own, Atom: The Beginning is a little too bland, childish as a slice of life and a bit uneven in terms of its content and animation. It might still appeal to anyone who wants exactly that, a somewhat goofy slice of life that happens to have a robot as part of its cast, but otherwise, there’s better slice of life or action packed robot anime to invest your time in.
Tom: Overall Atom: The Beginning isn’t really living up to its potential. It teeters most frequently between ho-hum and disappointingly awful. There’s an interesting story and setting beneath its flaws and if the second half of the series can be more like episode 6 rather than 4, it might just turn itself around. But right now my hopes are not high.
Atom: The Beginning is available for streaming via Amazon’s Anime Strike Channel.