A Thought or Two On Atom: The Beginning

It’s ironic given this series’ title that what really mattered was the ending.

Listen, I’m not going to blame anyone who didn’t stick with Atom: The Beginning.  I blogged a couple of episodes, liked it but didn’t love it and dropped coverage.  But I did stick with watching it, and am I glad I did.

Here’s the thing – the last two episodes of Atom were, believe it or not, among the best anime of Spring 2017 (even if it finished in summer).  What I hoped all along for this series is that it would be a re-imagining of Tezuka Osamu’s ideas for a modern age.  And while it was that intermittently throughout its run, it was only in the final couple of episodes that it gloriously bloomed into the creative flower it always could be.  Rarely do we see anime address the ethics and morality of artificial intelligence with such thoughtfulness and emotional insight as we did here.  I wish it had done more of it rather than get bogged down in tropes and anime convention – that’s not the sort of re-imagining I wanted.  But better late than never.

Here’s the thing – Tezuka was a visionary when it comes to robotics (and a lot else besides).  His kind of exploration into mankind’s expanding relationship with artificial intelligence has never been more needed than it is now.  His son is one of the co-writers of the Atom:The Beginning manga, of course, and I’d like to think that some of what we saw in the anime (especially the final arc) reflects Tezuka Makoto’s desire to see his father’s ideas kept alive and explored seriously.  I wish Atom did it more seriously more often, but the kind of material we saw in those final episodes is important – for anime, and for humanity’s consideration of what kind of future we want to create.

If by any chance a few of you are convincible, I hope you’ll give Atom another shot.  It’s a good series and worth watching all the way through, but even if you just come back for the final arc I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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13 comments

  1. R

    I dropped the show after a couple of episodes, but after reading your praises, I will give it a try — always love watching shows that provoke thoughts. Thanks Enzo!

  2. Glad to hear it. There are definitely peaks and valleys, but the ending is truly excellent.

  3. I’ve been watching Atom throughout the season, but do still have a few episodes to go to the end. I’m happy to read your high praise of the last couple, so I know I have something to look forward to! I was worried about how it would end given the pacing and what seemed like a too short episode count.

  4. Yes, too short for sure. But it’s kind of a miracle Atom got an anime at all.

  5. I never started Atom: The Beginning, mostly because I think it’s only legally available through Amazon Strike, which I don’t have mostly because the double paywall rubs me the wrong way and there library was too small to justify it for me. Though once I do finally go get it, I’ll definitely check this series out. I’ve actually never seen any of Astro Boy so hopefully that’s not a prerequisite for this series.

  6. I don’t think foreknowledge of Astro Boy is a necessity. It helps if you know the basic mythology a little (who the major characters are, etc.) but not much beyond that.

  7. F

    Hey Enzo, I was wondering if you were gonna write an opinion piece after the last episode. While there were a couple of eps that didn’t quite gel with me, I still consider this anime massively underrated. They really succeeded at making me empathize with Six from the beginning, but I consider the robo-wres tournament the moment when this anime really started showing it’s potential.

    It’s good to see that other people have similar feelings towards this unappreciated anime.

  8. Heh – isn’t thjat what I just did? 😉

  9. F

    Yup. I didn’t mean it in asking way, just as a form of appreciation for your post. 🙂

  10. Heh, sorry – misunderstood you.

    Yep, the whole robo-wres arc was the “real” Atom. But those last two eps were when it fully succeeded.

  11. J

    Nice to hear you enjoyed this Enzo. Would it be okay if I skipped to the last episodes, or would I need the context too much?

  12. I think it depends on how much you know the Tezuka mythology. If you know who the major characters are. you could certainly skip some of it. I would at least watch the first couple of eps to familiarize yourself with the original characters, and then if you wanted skip to the start of the robo-wres arc (which I think is episode 9 or 10).

    But it’s not like the ones in the middle are bad or anything. They’re mostly pretty good.

  13. g

    I can’t believe it took me until the last 5 minutes of the last episode to work out A106 is a pun on ATOMU, if you read the 6 as 六(mu).

    Came into this show with the mindset that Atom didn’t need a prequel, but coming out the other end I can see it’s worth to a modern audience. In the 50s the future was far away and full of potential, making audiences more accepting of optimistic futures where robotics is akin to magic. Nowadays with the future seemingly so close, yet also just out of reach, it’s valuable to see Tezuka’s vision interpreted from a standpoint that is more reconcilable with current technology.

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