Atom: The Beginning
In this prequel to Osamu Tezuka's Astroboy, we meet Hiroshi Ochanomizu ("Dr. Elephin" in the English version of Astroboy) and Tenma Umataro ("Dr. Boynton" in the same show), long before the events of Astroboy, while they were still graduate research students in Nerima University's Robotics Department. Tenma wants to create an independently-thinking fighting robot, while Hiroshi wants to create a robot with human feelings. They recognize a commonality in their objectives, and collaborate (albeit with SOME bickering) on building a robot incorporating both their intentions, eventually creating a robot named A106 (or "Six" for short.) Their theories on robotics are not well received by most of their colleagues- though some do (quietly) see the value of their approach, and strive to steal their secrets- but more and more are finally persuaded of Six's virtues by the boys' efforts to show off his skills, ultimately in a fighting contest between Six and some formidable robot challengers.
Well, the nose WAS a dead giveaway. No scientist-hero could have as bloated a proboscis as Hiroshi unless they WERE, in fact, the younger version of Astroboy's "Dr. Elephin".
My knowledge of Astroboy is mainly from the 1960's original series, as far as I can now remember it (Grampa's OLD now, you know), plus a little bit of the 1983 remake, which I've seen MUCH more recently. I have no acquaintance with Tezuka's original manga at all (except summaries of the major plot threads), so I may have some questions for readers who are more knowledgeable about the work than I am.
Our two male heroes here are already exhibiting the traits they would "later" have in Astroboy. Hiroshi's sentimentality is on full display, particularly toward robots (and their interactions with humans), while Tenma, even at this stage, shows that tendency to disown (and abandon) his own creations if they disappoint him, which will be a critical part of the Astroboy saga. It was hard for me to LIKE Tenma, even just based on what's here (and we KNOW what he'll eventually do), and yet his heart is not quite as hardened as it will become in Tezuka's story; he's still capable of feeling friendship with Hiroshi most of the time. (They have some quarrels requiring intervention by the girls- yes, there are some girls, and they're delightful. I'll get to them soon.)
And to be fair, I did like Tenma's point about Artificial Intelligence, in an unfortunately ill-received presentation he does for his fellow grad students. While science and engineering terms are frequently misused, and abused, in this show (this is NOT a good show to learn about REAL robotics), Tenma has one absolutely valid point- A.I. has been mostly algorithms developed by human authors and programmed into the machines. While some programs now are capable of limited "learning" on their own, most "artificial intelligence" is still really human intelligence, augmented with the brute-force calculation power of computers. I guess I'll never be satisfied that a machine is "thinking" until it shows some evidence of self-awareness.
But perhaps you'd rather discuss cute girls than ponder philosophical conundrums? You're in luck. Doubly so. In a way, this show is quite an improvement on Tezuka's own work. As I've said before (reviews of Tezuka's Phoenix and Alakazam The Great!), Tezuka's females tended to be of the sweet, submissive, unobtrusive sort, but Atom has a much-updated view of women, giving its ladies some real complexity and nuance. One of our pair of female costars is Motoko Tsutsumi. Her brother Moriya is a hotshot roboticist who encourages Motoko to spy on Hiroshi and Tenma, and while she originally planned to seduce Hiroshi to get his secrets, it seems her feelings might have become a lot more complex after getting to know the boys better. The boys DO discover she's Moriya's sister, but, while Tenma begins to accuse her of being a spy, Hiroshi seems to accept her wholeheartedly regardless; and while she DOES occasionally bait/tease the boys about it herself ("Maybe my brother needs to hear about this!"), on the whole she seems to want to help our heroes much more than damage them. (She's got a really attractive character design too, in my opinion.)
Our other girl is Hiroshi's little sister Ran. Yes, she's that sort of anime female that delivers all her dialogue in a deadpan monotone, but here I think it fits well with her "techno-nerd" personality. And Atom somewhat mitigates the stereotype here by, on the one hand, giving Ran a reflective side (she often serves as narrator in the show), and, on the other hand, amping up her cuteness factor by making her school uniform even more sailor-y than usual (it even comes with a little cap.) Ran's even the center of a little love triangle: a kid named Shunsaku Ban loves her, but SHE loves- well, I can't say.
What I was wondering is, do either of the girls have some manga counterpart? As far as I know, Hiroshi in Astroboy had neither a significant other nor a kid sister, while Tenma HAD a wife, but HER name was Hoshie.
I found both Motoko and Ran charming in their own ways. It turns out that they also get along splendidly with each other too. My favorite episode in the show is not the "battle royale" that wraps up the series, but rather one where Hiroshi and Motoko visit Ran's school, where Ran is overseeing (with an iron hand) her club's efforts to build a robot for a competition. Someone may need to learn some humility here.
As for the show's finale, it raised a fascinating question: what can a compassionate robot DO when forced to either demolish one of its peers, or be demolished itself? Six will answer that one for you. (There's some pretty good 3DCG here too, by the way.)
Some of my usual random thoughts that didn't fit anywhere else:
-"Liquefied CO2" is most certainly NOT flammable, despite what the show seems to be implying at one point.
-That "dream sequence" near the end was pretty interesting- if it was all dream. Even more interesting is who the dreamer is.
-Are we EVER going to find out what the issue was with A105???
-In fact, there's quite a bit of stuff going on in the show that hasn't even been explained yet, much less resolved. Clearly another season is going to have to happen. I WANT TO SEE IT!!!
Most prequel/sequel shows merely exploit their originals, but THIS one updates, and even breathes new life into, Tezuka's concepts- as well as providing interesting (and sympathetic) characters in Hiroshi, Motoko, and Ran. (Some might include Tenma too; I'll only concede that yes, he has his moments.) The artwork is vibrantly colored, and Motoko and Six (!) have particularly attractive character designs. Sorry that nothing could be done about Hiroshi's nose though. Blame Tezuka for that. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Mild fanservice (from one Linda Oishi, who's a hoot), though quite a bit of robot-on-robot violence, and I think some humans might have actually gotten killed. Rightstuf rates TV-14.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Atom: The Beginning © 2017 Tezuka Productions, Masami Yuuki, Tetsuro Kasahara, HERO'S/Atom The Beginning Project
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