10 July 2017

Why nobody talks about Atom the Beginning

Spring season of anime is over. I should be writing more about it. But I've been trying to find a way to write about anime, rather than just giving the synopsis and characters; especially in the case where there's not much to talk about the backstory (*scratches head* - Let's call that a work in progress).

Today I'm talking about Atom the Beginning, and why it doesn't work as intended. The short answer: Filler. Yeah, filler! And if that seem strange for a 1-season anime, that's because IT IS!

But let's start from the beginning about...

Why nobody talks about Atom the Beginning

What IS Atom the Beginning?

Atom the Beginning is a monthly manga created by Tetsuro Kasahara that works both as a re-imagining of, as well as a prequel to the legendary Tetsuwan Atom, better known in the west as Astro Boy. And if you don't know who Astro Boy or Atom is, then shame on you as an anime fan! It is thé creation from the godfather of manga and anime: Osamu Tezuka. Astro Boy is to Japan what characters like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are to America.

And while Astro Boy has been remade several times ever since its first appearance in the early 60s, this is the first of a set of "re-imaginings" that actually reaches the screen (with Urasawa's Pluto following somewhere in the following year).

Atom the Beginning tells the story of the two scientists (Umatarō Tenma and Hiroshi Ochanomizu) that were behind the creation of Atom (or its code name A1011 if you catch the inside reference) and tells us how these two originally met in university and how their first creations went. And more specifically, it tells the story of the prototype that predates Atom, codenamed A106 (A-Ten-Six). And yes, that is as intriguing as it sounds. Both Tenma and Ochanomizu (neither of them is "doctor" yet, but still a univ student) are shown to care about each other and their creations, even if their personalities often clash with each other. The over-caring Ochanomizu can't always agree with the often erratic Tenma.

And if you know anything about Atom-lore, you know that this is an interesting premise for an Atom-prequel and "what-if" story. And similar to other "Atom" spin-offs, this as well got input from Makoto Tezuka, the daughter of Osamu Tezuka (and also from Masami Yuki for some reason). And from what I've read from the 10 chapters that have been fan-translated, it IS a good manga.

But if that is true, what went wrong with the anime?

Amazon Anime Strike, late air date and lack of promotion

First, let's talk about a few factors that may have been an influence on why not that many people talk about the series in general.

The anime series is exclusive to Amazon's Anime Strike, where anime goes to die. It's a bad joke that bears repeating. anime exclusive to Amazon will reach a smaller audience because of exclusivity to America and a high combined monthly subscription fee (though that may change in the future).

Then there's the air date for the first episode, which was the fourth week of April (if you include the first weekend). That may seem trivial to you, but when the seasonal anime watchers (the trend setters of the community) are trying to pick their series for the new season, it's the series that start airing in the first week of the new season that will receive a larger coverage. It's a marketing strategy, really. The later on in the season you start your series, the less coverage and buzz you will receive. And in a season where you're competing with Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia and Eromanga sensei you will need all the buzz that is thrown in your direction.

Thank Gigguk for hyping the TOURNAMENT ARC!

And then there is the minimal amount of promotion. Heck, I wouldn't have noticed the series if people from the anime community weren't pointing to this series as the one where the internet sensation Bahi JD is working on the opening and end credits. And since Westerners (Bahi is Austrian) working in the anime scene is REALLY RARE, that generated a lot of buzz. But that was buzz from the community... not from the marketing department of the series. From that side we got two promo video's, but that was about it.

So it's safe to say that this series was flying under the radar for a lot of people. But it still could've been a "hidden gem" to promote... but then something else happened that prevented even that from happening.

Codeword: Filler

The comments on the first episodes haven't been nice. I could spill all the bile I can gather from MAL forums and Reddit. But in short: the story takes way too long to set up its premise. It's too slow and thus too boring.

And yes, I can agree with that sentiment. By the time the interesting part of the story starts (the robo-wrestling tournament), we're already at episode 8/12 while this is chapter 4 of the manga. Yes, it takes that long. Episodes 3, 4, 6 and 7 are filler... and so is episode 9. Yes, that is FIVE episodes of pure filled-up content in a 12-episode run. I don't think I've EVER heard of an anime that started to use filler THIS EARLY in its production cycle.

Do you know what most people hated about series like Naruto, Bleach and Fairy Tail? What brought a lot of their ratings and fan appreciations down? The massive amounts of filler episodes. Fillers are non-canon and often serve just to fill out a time-slot until enough manga chapters are ready to be animated. They're needed in long-running series, but nobody likes them.

And do I even need to mention the nonsense fillers add to the story?

And in such long-running series I can (somewhat) understand the use of filler. But here? Can somebody tell me why 5 of the 12 episodes of Atom the Beginning are Filler? Don't come and tell me there isn't enough material available, because there is. The monthly manga has been running for nearly three years and has sufficient material to fill up a 12-episode time-slot and even more.

And if the creators were testing the waters to see if they would care for a more long-running series of this kind, they most certainly failed. Because once again, nobody likes fillers.

Oh yes, we certainly needed a culture festival episode
Because we all wanted to see A106 make udon noodles, right?

So for crying out loud... WHY? It will probably take months (or even years) before we get honest interview of staff, director or producer on what went wrong here; but we're going to need some explanation. Because the end result is just not worth the investment of a casual anime viewer.

And that is sad because I wanted to praise this series. I want to let the anime community know that there is a huge interest in the Atom franchise in Japan and the rest of the world. I wanted to warm the people up for the upcoming Pluto series and who knows - maybe even the fifth-or-so reboot of the Atom television series as a whole.

And this anime has gorgeous visuals, the OP and ED are really good (Thanks to Bahi JD), the CG blends in really well with the 2D animation and the voice cast is really good. Everything but the story is really GOOD.

But as with most anime, the story is what makes or breaks the series.

And here, it's broken into pieces and patched together with a poor adhesive.

Can I still watch and enjoy it?

Yes, you can, but with a big asterisk next to it. The second half of the series is really good and really enjoyable to watch. The robo-wrestling tournament was always intended to be the highlight of the season and it shows. For those episodes alone this anime is worth watching (Episodes 8-12).

So err, just skip episodes 3 - 4 - 6 - 7 and maybe even 9 (though that one kind of works), and you'll have the story that was originally intended. The 4 mentioned episodes? Skip those and pretend they never existed. This way, you may still be able to enjoy Atom the Beginning.

It's a sad truth, but that's what it is.

Until next time, V out.

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