I’m not sure which these robot guys are more clueless about – social niceties or gluten.
No, I still haven’t decided (and with its late start, Atom: The Beginning is only on four episodes). But you know, as strange and frankly dissonant as it is at its very core, I can’t help liking this show. The whole notion of taking Astro Boy and infusing it with a bunch of contemporary anime tropes should be grossly offensive, and in fact there are times in every episode where I find myself wincing. But somehow – for me at least – it works. At least most of the time.
Fundamentally, Atom: The Beginning is a Tezuka-influenced slice-of-life – almost like one of those “Raising Project” or campus life doujin/manga that followed on the massive popularity of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Of course NGE was contemporary to start with so the dichotomy wasn’t quite so stark, but some of those series were actually pretty good. And I think the saving grace of this show is that for all its frivolous meandering, it actually does stay connected to the highly serious ideas at the core of the original material. Maybe that’s down to the involvement of Tezuka’s son, I don’t know.
This week’s detour takes us to the Nerima U. school festival (at universities in Japan these can be rather huge affairs). The brilliant master plan of Tenma and Ochanomizu is to teach Six how to make udon, and make a killing selling it. Motoko is along for the ride and in the course of explanations, we get introduced to the other A.I./robots of Lab 7 – which Ocahanomizu has named (“Cob” is my favorite) much to Tenma’s irritation (or so he says), with some cagey references to the missing #5. We also get the return of Ban Shunsaku (Kawanishi Kengo), who’s the son of Kensaku and unlike his father, a robot otaku. There’s an immediate vibe where Shunsaku is sweet on Ran, but she seems only to have eyes for… Six? Yeah – I think so.
As usual, there’s a “serious” thread running concurrently, this time seemingly surrounding Luddite terrorists trying to wake the world up to the danger of robots. This contrast between the silly antics of the udon stand and the dead-serious social commentary is odd, but somehow effective – it’s a formula the series has repeated several times. And it doesn’t hurt that the lighter stuff is actually pretty good – the cast is likeable and the comic timing solid. Of course a robot making udon noodles using “1000 horsepower” is going to make something more akin to udon cables (that much power = way too much gluten) but as long as Ran is wearing a maid outfit, the customers (and Shunsaku) are happy. Taken together this is a strange mix of elements, and it’s not going to work for everybody – but so far, it kinda works for me.