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Animonday: Steamboy November 27, 2007

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Animation, Science Fiction , trackback

Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s steampunk epic shows us a past where steam technology…well lets just say it goes way beyond powering ships and trains.

One family, appropriately named Steam, have made a breakthrough in steam power, a breakthrough that has divided father and son and that rift threatens to start a war between two nations. James Ray Steam, the youngest scientific mind in the Steam clan, finds himself caught between his father and his grandfather over how the power should be used. Can the young “Steamboy” stop a war starting between Britain and American?

Packed with great characters and huge action sequences (you’ll see the Crystal Palace destroyed!), Ôtomo’s film is a true anime epic. A visual feast that still finds time to ask moralistic questions such as: what responsibility does a scientist have in how his invention is used? It’s impossible not to see the massive steam tower at the films climax as anything but an allegory for the atomic bomb.

The film isn’t bogged down by such weighty issues though; it’s a fun ride that never lets up, with even the few quieter moments full of such delicious eye candy that you’re never bored. It’s also pretty darn unique; I mean what other anime can you think of where the hero comes from Manchester and rubs shoulders with the likes of Robert Stephenson and Scarlet Ohara? Not to mention referencing Coronation Street.

Steamboy is a masterpiece and deserves a place in any anime fans collection, but it will also appeal to those whose taste doesn’t normally stretch to Japanese animation.


1. Gavin Bollard - November 27, 2007

A great movie with some squeamish character names. Like most anime though, it doesn’t know when to stop. There are about 5 places where it could have ended well but it drags on (and on).

2. Mike - November 27, 2007

Is this the one that cost millions to make and turned out to be a massive commercial flop? I can’t see how a movie about the application of steam within the British industrial revolution failed to make a splash…

We enjoyed Steamboy quite a lot actually - once the train action scene took place early on, it’s clear we were in for a treat, and it was visually quite stunning throughout. A good fun film, wayward accents aside, and the unsettling sight of James Steam’s grandad spending most of the movie running around in his undercrackers…

3. Ian W - November 27, 2007

Thanks for the comment Gavin. “squeamish” seems an odd word to use to describe the character names. I assume you’re talking about the Steam family? For me it just seemed to fit, after all the film is very comicbook in nature - the origin story of “Steamboy” if you will - and so it’s no more odd than Otto Octavius becoming Doc Ock in Spider-Man.

The film didin’t seem overlong to me (although I’d agree that a lot of anime is) but then I’ve been a bit of an Ôtomo fanboy since reading the first English version of Akira back in 1989 (almost 20 years ago! God I feel old :( ) so perhaps I’m a bit more forgiving that most.

Mike, I agree that the idea hardly lends itself to comercialism. It’s Ôtomo’s folly in a way but what a beautiful folly it is.

I’m guessing from your comment about wayward accents that you saw the English dub version? I’m usually a purist but I was tempted because of some of the big names in the cast (Patrick Stewart, Alfred Molina) but what put me off was the though of Anna Paquin voicing James Ray Steam. I checked it out after watching the film and was glad I opted for the Japanese option.

As for Grandad’s state of undress, maybe they were getting ready for a Hollywood live action version in twenty years or so, with Bruce Willis getting the chance to wear a vest one more time ;).

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