The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Steamboy

Title: Steamboy
Genre: Action
Company: Sunrise/Studio 4ºC/Production I.G
Format: Movie; 130 minutes.
Dates: 17 Jul 2004

Synopsis: In the Victorian era, steam power is the crux of military might. Young inventor Ray Steam learns the true potential of this innovation when he receives a new invention that condenses steam from his grandfather. Ray must now decide whether he will turn over this device to the mysterious O’Hara Foundation so that it can usher in a new era of weapons or be constantly hounded by those who wish to acquire it at all costs.

The Highlights
Animation: Superb; looks as if it were made on an unlimited budget.
Music: Present but not particularly memorable.
Themes: Not original or controversial enough to generate any great interest.

If you watch anime because you want something that radically deviates from the time proven conventions of Western films, then you should probably not watch Steamboy. If you watch anime because you can enjoy Japanese animated cartoons as a part of your entertainment diet, then Steamboy will deliver an exhilarating epic that will blast you through to the credits in no time. Though this anime is a far cry from director’s Otomo Katsuhiro most (in)famous work, Akira, it is a solid example of a well paced, scripted and executed movie. In short, this is what entertainment should be.

I find that any good movie tends to have exceptional dialogue, and Steamboy is no exception. Though some events flow a tad too conveniently, the actual words spoken are meaningful, intelligent, and straightforward. It’s impressive how the plot whistles past at warps speeds all while developing characters and establishing conflicts. Much like a Ghibli production, the plot’s ability to segue from scene to scene is largely fueled by the movie’s incredible budget. The visuals are a spectacular array of bells and whistles moving with both grace and power truly fitting for an anime about steampunk. Even if you for some reason do not like the characters or the plot, the heavy machinery action should keep your eyes glued to the screen.

The cranking of gears and roaring of engines give true life to the beautifully animated machines, but there comes a time when the machine has to stop to give way to the explosive finale… and Steamboy fails to do that. The movie steamrolls past the climax and chugs on and on and on. Visually impressive? Yes. But it’s devoid of any sense of genuine conflict. The anime also suffers from the fact that, despite all its efforts, it ends up feeling typical. Unlike Akira before it, Steamboy blazes across a road that’s already well trodden. From the Victorian setting to questions about science’s role in war, the film is heavily rooted in Western styles and ideals. Because the moral quandaries raised are neither insightful nor raised in anything but a straightforward fashion, they leave no significant impression that the movie has been reaching for something more.

If you can enjoy a simple but grandiosely realized tale about a boy coming of age, few movies – animated or otherwise – are as well realized as this one. It may not be revolutionary and, given the lack of buzz on the internet, it may not be popular but after seeing how well the whole thing comes together, it’s a darn shame that director Otomo Katsuhiro will be better known for his work on Akira than on the superior Steamboy.

The Rating: 7
7/10

Reviewed by: Shadowmage

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