[Review] Atom the Beginning – episode 1

In Japan after a great calamity, there were two geniuses who dreamed of the future. One was Umatarō Tenma. The other was Hiroshi Ochanomizu. The two labored day and night in robot research — Tenma to create a “god,” and Ochanomizu to create a “friend.” Thus a robot, A106, was born from their collaborative friendship.

Source: Anime News Network

As a prequel to the classic TV anime of Osamu Tezuka manga Astro Boy, Atom the Beginning comes with the weight of more historical significance than this cartoony introduction can really hold up. In Atom the Beginning two young engineer misfits use up all their funding to create a robot which pushes new boundaries of science in a robot-friendly world – that’s a solid premise for a fun show, and viewers need to expect nothing more.

I don’t say that as a criticism, more that I think I would have liked this show more had I managed my own expectations of it. It’s a fairly slow start, high on ham-fisted exposition and low on robot action, but the ingredients are there for an enjoyable journey ahead.

I liked the opening sequence in particular, where Hiroshi, Umataro and their robot A106 are framed dramatically, with lines of meaningful dialogue from Umataro that Hiroshi undercuts by asking him what he’s on about. Such visual humour is a little at odds with the more dialogue-heavy approach the rest of the episode leans on, particularly with regard to exposition. It may be part of the joke, but it wears thin after the nth time someone sees another character and announces their name, status and relationship.

These unnatural parts of the script feel like the writers’ impatience with the necessities of an introductory episode rather than deliberate humour, getting the small talk out of the way so they can move on to the more interesting stuff… none of which really shows up in this episode. Its biggest accomplishment is probably in painting a likeable and engaging picture of Hiroshi and Umataro as close friends and goofy underdogs. A106 really is a triumph, and if the series is about this pair of subtext-friendly dads teaching their young robot how to live comfortably in the world while training it for robot wrestling to bring in some cash, I’m in. The premiere doesn’t quite get as far as showing us that though, as it needs to get so many other pieces in place first.

The worldbuilding is the other success of the episode. The way their world uses robots feels grounded and plausible, and the robot theme park of the episode was created with a lot of care and attention to detail. It feels only a few steps away from where we are technologically now, with the robots themselves the least cartoony part of this show. I’m very interested to see their take on robot wrestling, which I expect to frame this series.

The cast is reasonably gender-balanced, with a few prominent female characters of different ages and social positions, none of them sexualised. There is also a character in a wheelchair – which, in keeping with this robot society, can right itself and pick up its user after a fall.

This episode didn’t give too much away, but as it stands there aren’t any red flags. It just looks like a simple show aimed at younger audiences but entertaining for all – assuming they drop the heavy-handed exposition now the intro is over and set their characters and world up to reach their full potential.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

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