"Like many anime fans the first anime I ever saw was Akira, and it blew me away. Ever since then we have all been waiting to see what Otomo would do next. At last the long wait is over, and the film that seemed destined never to escape it's incredibly long development cycle has been released.
The story of Steamboy isn't as complex as Akira. It tells of a split between two inventors, grandfather and father, and the little son who doesn't know who side with. How much should be sacrificed to further the progresss of science? The story lacks the originality Akira had, and the characters aren't quite as memorable, but it remains hugely enteraining throughout.
Akira was an animation landmark back in 1988, and even to this day it's a struggle to find anime with better animation. It is fitting then that when a movie finally raises the animation bar it will be Otomo back at the helm. The animation in Steamboy is utterly jaw dropping, and a perfect marriage of 2D and 3D. Forget the poorly integrated 3D of other anime movies, here a scene can look like a beautiful painting, until it starts moving and reveals itself as a 3D model. The 2D work is of course also tremendous and sets a new standard for the format.
In many ways Steamboy is similar to Akira. The character design, especially that of Ray Steam (who looks like a younger Tetsuo), and Eddie Steam (a near clone of the Colonel) is very reminiscent of Akira, and the film's finale a greatly extended version of the raising of Akira from beneath Tokyo Stadium. And it all fits, a perfect sister movie to Akira. Otomo has now perfected both Cyberpunk, and Steampunk. Where next? I just hope we don't have to wait another 16 years to find out!
It is worth noting that the US dub of Steamboy has been hugely cut. I have not seen that version and have no desire to. Sadly it seems anime is still not safe from the meddling editing of western studios who should know better by now. We can only hope that the eventual DVD release is uncut and as Otomo intended."
Anime for a mainstream audience
Michael Kim | Elk Grove, CA | 06/16/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
Steamboy is the first movie directed by a giant from Japanese anime Katsuhiro Otomo since his ground breaking movie Akira from 16 years ago. Unlike most anime fans I saw Steamboy before seeing its more famous partner. If you are expecting another Akira you will be disappointed since Steamboy is a 180 degree opposite in ambiance although both movies explore similar themes. Instead of Akira's dsytopic nihilistic Neo-Toyko Otomo re-creates a romantic optimistic Victorian England. Steamboy has the feel of a more mainstream Hollywood style action/adventure movie. Steamboy presents a fascinating intersection of history and sci-fi as its backdrop. The DVD is the director's cut with your choice of having the dialogue in English, Japanese and various Romance languages. Also, one can have subtitles in English, and the other languages.
Steamboy takes place in Victorian England in 1866. Although Otomo rewrites history by throwing in many elements not yet existing in 1866 but are from that overall period including Tower Bridge and battleships not built till the last decade of the 19th century. The movie is centered on the ownership of a Steam Ball which can generate the power equivalent to a small nuclear reactor. The movie, as typical in many Japanese anime and fantasy movies, centers on the issue of what is the proper use of this new breakthrough technology. This conflict is represented as an intergenerational conflict within the Steam family. The elder Steam, Lloyd (voiced by Patrick Stewart) has become deranged seeing his invention being put to what he sees as evil uses, his son Eddie (voiced by Alfred Molina), who is half man/machine, in a Nietzschian view sees the Steam Ball as a showcase of the power of science for science sake to push humankind to new heights. Eddie's 13 year old son Ray (voiced by Anna Paquin) is caught in the middle trying to save his father and grandfather and London from the consequences of their invention. A nefarious corporation, the O'Hara Foundation wants the Steam Ball, and the British are interested in acquiring it too sending Robert Stephenson, a tribute to the namesake who with his father invented the railway locomotive and built the first rail line from Liverpool to Manchester in 1830, to gain control of the Steam Ball for the sake of national security.
The movie spends the first part in Manchester and the surrounding countryside, including a panorama showing to borrow Dickens "satanic mills" dominating the city spewing black smoke into the air. The movie shifts to London centered on a park on the bank of the Thames. Otomo accurately animates the atmospheric effects of London's fog and smog. The park is home to the Crystal Palace, magnificently recreated in this anime movie, housing the Great Exhibition and the O'Hara Foundation Pavilion, using the design of Royal Albert Hall. [In history, the Crystal Palace, one of the great architectural achievements of the Victorian era, was built in 1851 to house the Great Exhibition of that year. The Great Exhibition in what might be considered the first World's Fair organized by Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert the Exhibition invited all the nations of the world to showcase the technologies and applications that came about from the Industrial Revolution.] The O'Hara Foundation sponsors the research of Eddie and Lloyd Steam that resulted in the invention of the Steam Ball. As we learn in the film the O'Hara Foundation has darker purposes for attending the Great Exposition besides showcasing the latest benevolent inventions. The titular representative of the O'Hara foundation is Scarlett O'Hara (voiced by anime regular Kari Wahlgren), around the same age as Ray, who is the sole heir to the O'Hara fortune. We immediately get the idea the Scarlett is a spoiled brat who complains about the smell and soot of London and enjoys bossing around the head of marketing for the O'Hara Corporation Archibald Simon. (PETA members might not like what she does to her poor Chihuahua Columbus). Although Scarlett is the one character who undergoes the most change as she sees the consequences of the her family's firm inventions. The movie is filled with action and adventure including chase scenes, and battle that breaks out at the area around the Crystal Palace where Otomo introduces many of the "futuristic" elements of the movie, and the reveling of Eddie's vision of science in the Steam Castle (Steam Tower in the english subtitles).
The main strength of this film is the gorgeous combination of traditional hand drawn 2-D and 3-D CGI animation. From what I have read, Otomo and his creative design team spent time on England, visiting London, Manchester and York, and studying steam locomotives and machinery from the Victorian era to beautifully recapture Victorian England, the motifs of that era, and the mechanical designs of the machinery down to the last rivet. For example, the Royal Navy ships in the movie are accurate recreations of real warships from the Victorian era. This research paid off in the stunning detail of the movie. You are starring at the screen just to soak up the details of the machinery Otomo created. I enjoyed how the movie used real historic events and places, mentioned above, as the backdrop for the movie. They showed great imagination in designing the "futuristic" elements which retains a 19th century appearance and mechanical design. Unlike other Japanese anime with their convoluted plot lines this is a straight forward action/adventure movie. The movie is dominated by browns and has a sepia tone to it. There are some wonderful animation effects including how lenses distort images, from what I understand this is a very difficult effect, to scenes with tons of falling confetti, to a scene where glass is shattered and on each chard you see an imprinted moving image from an earlier scene.
There is not much character development in this movie except for perhaps Scarlett. Most of the characters are representations of the different uses of science and technology. Eddie is the personification of science for science sake without any moral/ethical considerations. Lloyd takes the opposite view that science must be looked at in terms of the moral/ethical impact and science should be restricted if it leads to a "bad" outcome. Ray is caught in the middle conflicted about what he should do and shows concern for both his father and grandfather. His actions and decisions are based on what he learns about the motives of the characters and his underlying desire to save his father and grandfather. Robert Stephenson sees science as being used for national security reasons. Scarlett espouses the economic rationale for scientific advancement. Although the characters are not quite so black and white. Eddie is perhaps misguided but he is not evil personified. When one sees Lloyd's vision of the uses of science for frivolity you might find yourself believing his view is just as extreme as Eddie's but in the opposite direction. Scarlett has the obvious rich girl spoiled brat attitude but Otomo shows underlying this façade is a sensitive, and intelligent girl. Otomo has these characters espouse their beliefs explicitly in their dialogue which often become monologues and lectures.
Otomo uses the several characters to present different philosophies on the use of science but leaves it up to the viewer to make their own decision. The plot could used some improvement and the action can get a bit overwhelming at times. The machinery tends to overwhelm the story Otomo is trying to tell.
I very much enjoyed the classical soundtrack by Steven Jablonsky. He developed wonderful themes for Ray and Scarlett and utilizes them throughout the movie.
Overall, Steamboy should appeal to a both anime fans and a more conventional audience. This movie is far superior to Hollywood's recent attempt at Steampunk with Will Smith's Wild Wild West and Sean Connery's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.Time magazines Richard Corliss listed Steamboy, along with Akira, as one of the top 5 anime movies available on DVD. A side benefit of this movie is the educational opportunities this movie provides in further explorations of the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution.
The movie is rated PG-13 for the action. The PG-13 is more to the PG side than R side. There is one scene with blood but there is no objectionable language or suggestive sexual scenes.
DVD Features: The transfer to DVD is excellent with great sound and picture quality. The aspect ratio was 1.85:1 so the transfer does not take full advantage of widescreen TVs, the wide screen version of Star Wars has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The DVD features are pretty bland. There is no director's commentary which is understandable give the language barrier. There is a 5 minute interview with director Katsuhiro Otomo. There is a 15 minute featurette about the challenges of re-dubbing the movie in English with Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, and Patrick Stewart. The 20 minute multi-screen landscape study splits the screen three ways. First there are scenes from the movie mixed with real life shots of London. 15 minutes of this featurette are interviews with the creative team discussing how they made the movie. The ending montage shows the images from the end credits of the English dubbed theatrical release without the text. Although this ending was a condensed version of the director's cut ending, which is the ending for the movie on this DVD. The production drawings are still shots of paintings used to develop ideas in the movie, some of which are pretty interesting. The animation onion skins shows the process by which five scenes are built combining hand drawn and CGI techniques although there is no dialogue explaining the process. "
3.5; everything but the essential parts work
Cloud | Canada | 02/20/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It's a common law that only gets broken rarely: the more anticipated something is, the less likely chance it'll meet or exceed expectations. A new cd by a band you love might not be that great. The follow-up to a director's past masterpiece falls below expectations. Steamboy is one of those kind of films where there's an obvious enthusiasm and passion involved, it's just not what it should've been.
We're in the mid 1800's right smack in the middle of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Steam is the big thing so when Ray Steam(very lazy name) gets his hands on an odd "Steam ball", he soon becomes a target for the O'Hara Foundation. They want to harness the power of the ball for their own needs(which obviously don't benefit anyone) so Ray has to keep the ball away from people who would want to use it.
One thing that made Akira enjoyable was that the story just seemed to unfold without any hiccups(even if you couldn't understand it). Steamboy's pacing is incredibly off since it feels so SLLOOOWWW. So much happened yet I was only 40 minutes in. It doesn't help that there's not much to the story either. The moral of the story it seems is that technology for personal use is bad while technology benefiting everyone is good. Granted you could say it's something else but the film is so black and white that you'd have to say it like that. Many technology we use we actually use on our own or for our own needs.
The characters aren't really that interesting either and don't go through much change. Ray is your typical hero that saves the day when he doesn't exactly possess the skills to do so, it's more through luck. There's Scarlett, your very typical spoiled brat who wants things her way and for us to answer everything or criticize when we don't know it. Usually in films they learn their lesson but here, she's still bossy and spoiled. The only one that really goes through any amount of change is our "villain" but he has a big change of heart incredibly quickly you're like "gee that was fast".
Now all those negatives and some positives? Of course and it's the animation. Using 3D, the animation looks very stylized and fluid without being a bit obvious. A lot of 2D/3D mixtures tend to be very noticeable to distinguish the 2 but here it's almost flawless. I say almost because certain characters in early scenes almost looked pasted onto the background.
Now I didn't watch the english dub but it's probably good since it has reliable Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina and Anna Paquin...playing a boy. Yes, Rogue from X-Men is playing a teenage boy. She even mentions in the special features that the ADR people had to tell her to say things more lower register. Why they didn't just get a young guy actor or an older one with good range to do it is beyond me.
Is it a great film? No. Terrible film? No. In the middle? Most definately. If you're an anime fan, you should check it out but since this is a highly anticipated project from the man who brought you Akira, you'll probably find it won't live up to your expectations."
Worthy successor to Akira
Terrell T. Gibbs | Jamaica Plain, MA United States | 07/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In Steamboy, Director Otomo turns his attention to the Steampunk genre, and the result is a gripping Victorian era techno-thriller. The macguffin of the plot is a ball that is supposedly able to store steam at enormous pressure and density. It doesn't make much sense, but it manages to drive a plot with a lot of action, engaging steam-puffing war machines, and some moderately sophisticated debate about the uses of science and technology.
The characters are engaging, although hero Ray is the usual somewhat generic plucky adolescent. The spoiled adolescent aristocrat Scarlett is considerably more interesting, as are Ray's father and grandfather, who personify conflicting ideas about the uses of technology.
The animation is, of course, wonderful, as expected from the director of Akira. The film is full of strikingly original action scenes, which are both well conceived and well executed. Destruction abounds. Reputedly, the film used quite a bit of computer graphics, but it is extraordinarily well integrated. The hand-drawn characters do not have the "pasted in" look that has characterized most previous attempts to combine hand drawn and computer generated art, and I was hard put to tell where the traditional animation ended and the computer animation began.
The DVD includes both the original Japanese version (with English subtitles available) as well as an English dubbed version. The English dubbing is extremely well done, with top notch talent including Anna Paquin (Rogue from the XMen movies) as the adolescent boy hero, Patrick Stewart as his grandfather, and Alfred Molina as his father. The English dubbing was overseen by Otomo himself, and is arguably better suited to the story than the original Japanese, as it is set in Victorian England. There are, however, a few moments where the words do not quite mesh with the mouth movements--which is a bit of a testament to the quality of the animation; in most animated films, you can't tell what language the characters are supposed to be speaking, anyway.
Although this is an animated film, it is not a kid's movie, and some parents will probably find some scenes inappropriate for small children. There is a lot of violence and destruction, at least as much as in a typical theatrical action thriller, but relatively little gore or overt killing--less than in Akira. There is, however, a moment when young Scarlett comes face-to-face with a dead soldier. It is an important and necessary scene, but might be troubling to some children."
Through the Past Darkly
Gord Wilson | Bellingham, WA USA | 07/01/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Taken on its own, this is a dazzling film. Fans comparing various anime might find reason to cavil, but I probably like it for reasons others don't. It doesn't mix and match CGI effects or use up its bag of tricks. It's not given to constantly shifting camera angles merely because computerized cameras can do that, which still seems a novelty to live action producers. It stays largely to its color palette, the dark, forbidding tones of a Dicknesian Victorian England. By comparison I found the preview for Final Fantasy VII, which some fans probably consider state of the art, extremely boring.
Steamboy plays like a filmed book, very deftly showing more than it tells. When there is speaking, it rarely clears things up, but merely adds more red herrings to the story. The film obviously owes a lot to Sherlock Holmes, as well as the earlier mechanical (as opposed to later electronic) ingenuity of The Wild Wild West TV show. But it draws subtly from these inspirations. Steamboy ends as it has to, in the epic fashion of Jules Verne and all Victorian and Edwardian visionary novels. One scene is also quite similar to the visually arresting opening of Chesterton's 1905 novel, The Ball and The Cross, although the story line is entirely different. I expect that except for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the future visions of this era are largely unexplored as film territory. The ending also suggests that a sequel, or even a series could follow. But instead it does something else: depict the "continuing adventure" in poignant scenes behind the closing credits. Choosing one of the extra features runs this imaginative portrayl without the credits.
The main characters are all inventors, and all in the same lineage. The father and grandfather's long- winded speeches about Science are hard to take seriously, but the same optimistic view of a rosy future exists in numerous Victorian era books. The show also revolves around the London Exhibition and the famous Crystal Palace, then the showplace of British and world progress. But what else is the film? A parable? A puzzle? An exploration? Does the use of steam for military purposes echo other sorts of energy harnessed for destruction, as foreshadowed in the aeroplane sequences during the credits? Is the economic thralldom in which Britain was held in the nineteenth century meant to resonate in our own? If the denouement seems predictable and the ending somewhat forced, the issues that puzzle the characters nevertheless remain "live" questions in this visually spectacular and intriguing film."