I really don’t watch too much anime these days, mostly because there isn’t a lot out there that interests me. I get all of the new Gundam series, of course, but there isn’t a lot of sci-fi available otherwise. Then I stumbled across the 12-episode series Atom: The Beginning, which is a loose adaptation prequel of Osamu Tezuka’s Mighty Atom for a modern audience. Hey, I’m a big Tezuka fan, so why the heck not? So here’s my look at Atom: The Beginning, as I see if classic anime can have a new life.
Following a great disaster, robots became a regular part of Japanese life. Two university students dream of creating true artificial intelligence, with their latest robot, A106, being the platform for all of their innovations. Can they convince the world that their creation is the future?
This is supposed to be a prequel of sorts to the original Tezuka manga and anime series that premiered in 1963. Of course, the design aesthetic is completely different, instead of having a small robot boy, A106 is a tall and lanky robot, designed with two ideas in mind, being the strongest they can manage and being the first truly independent AI.
Of course, Ochanomizu and Tenma go on to creating Mighty Atom later in life so that part is always going to color the expectations that fans of the series have, but it is important not to look forward to those events, but to live in the present of this series and that’s where I think a lot of people really failed. See, I think a lot of people were thinking this had to look and act like the original Mighty Atom series instead of treating it as it’s own thing and that’s a problem.
This isn’t Mighty Atom. It’s a prequel. It has it’s own look and feel and needs to be allowed to do just that. We can’t judge it in light of what’s come before, we need to look solely at what this series does right and what it does wrong.
Sure, this isn’t a perfect series by any means, but I had fun watching it. I think Tenma was a little over the top and I think that the series changed gears completely toward the end for no real reason, but just sitting down and watching the show, it was a fun romp through 12 episodes that I wouldn’t mind revisiting again.
The problems that I had with it were minor. For example, they kept bringing up the great disaster that almost destroyed civilization and gave rise to the widespread use of robots, but they never explored what happened. It’s like Chekov’s gun on the mantle, but nobody ever fired it. There was no reason to have a disaster at all and certainly no reason to keep referencing it, I kept looking forward to hearing about it and we never did. Can we please go back and see a prequel to this prequel where we see that disaster? I’d watch it.
Also, as I said, Tenma was a little bit over the top, he kept going off the rails, taking little problems and blowing them completely out of proportion. Then there was the rivalry between Lab 1 and Lab 7 that was never really explained or explored. And in the end, the whole bit between Dr. Lolo and Tenma should have been examined better because it seemed very shallow, for as much as it played into the finale. In fact, if they wanted this to be about robot fighting, they should have spent all 12 episodes on it, or had a longer series, because it really felt kind of tacked on at the end. They spent half of the series building up to all of the things that A106 can do, then all of a sudden he’s in a robot fighting arena and it kind of feels like the writers ran out of interesting things for him to do, so they put him into the futuristic version of Battlebots.
That’s one of the biggest problems that I have with the modern Japanese anime series, most of them are so short that they really can’t examine any interesting ideas in depth. Either they have to rush through the story that they have or they have to ignore all of the possible stories that come up along the way. I know it’s cheaper, but come on, good storytelling is important!
So if you enjoy light sci-fi stories with a lot of humor and, unfortunately, not a lot of substance, give Atom: The Beginning a shot. Look at it as a stand-alone series that ties in, in a very vague way, to other famous series, but don’t pretend that it’s going to be as great as what’s come before. It has neither the time, nor really the interest in doing so, but that doesn’t stop it from being a fun romp that you can get through in a couple of days. It isn’t epic but it is interesting and at the end of the day, that’s about all it can be.