All right people, put on your lab coats and grab your wrenches; it’s time to review Steamboy; FOR SCIENCE!!! Well, not really for science but once you watch the movie, you may have the desire to yell that out loud once or twice. Steamboy is an epic steampunk action movie directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (try saying that three times fast). I guess I’ll need to explain those things first.
If I had to define steampunk in three words, it would be “Victorian science fiction.” The Victorian age is used as the baseline for it all. It usually takes place in the Victorian age or maybe the Wild West era. The science fiction used was the type imagined by Victorian people, or at least what we would think they would imagine. The technology would generally revolve around the use of steam. If you ever made tea, you’ll notice that steam will blow through the kettle. Multiply that by a hundred or so and you’ll be able to power some nice machines. If you’re interested in reading more Steampunk works, consider reading the Girl Genius webcomic. It does take some liberties with the genre but it still captures the essence of steampunk. You could also check out the works of Jules Verne if you don’t mind reading the work of hacks.
Katsuhiro Otomo won’t be ringing many bells but I bet you’ll recognize at least one of his works. He’s the guy who directed Akira. Yet while Akira is considered an anime classic, Steamboy failed to garner real traction here in the U.S. If you actually seen the movie, you may be puzzled by the fact. To be frank, Steamboy is a ridiculously well put together film and is a piece of craftsmanship to be admired. It should not be trapped in the bowls of obscurity.
The proverbial Steamboy of the movie refers to one James Ray Steam, a boy engineer who does everything in his power to stop science from running amok. The science, in this case is the steam ball, a device capable of producing incredible amounts of steam pressure. The steam ball was designed as the power source for the Steam Castle, a technological marvel set to debut at the 1866 Great Exhibition. As always, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Steamboy to save the day.
And save the day he does! Steamboy is an action movie through and through. A man gets doused in burning steam, a factory teeters on the brink of destruction, and a child get his head smashed in by a machine part; and that’s just the first twenty minutes! Explosions, danger, and SCIENCE! is the name of the game here. Marvel at the machines that exist only in our dreams! Watch as heroes battles villains in order to save the world! What makes it interesting is that you really don’t know who is the hero and who is the villain. There’s a good deal of moral ambiguity that will make you wonder who is worth rooting for. It adds some heft to an otherwise straight plot. A character that seems good at one minute will appear evil in the next. Most of them are really just trying their best to do what they think is right. If it involves horrendous violence to achieve, then so be it.
When the steam hits the pipes, you’ll be shocked at the destruction and amazed by how great it all looks. Seriously, the quality of the animation is as well put together as a specially designed custom giant robot. On this, there can no dissension. This movie was literally worked on for ten freakin’ years! That does sound as ridiculous as a giant floating castle but when you see the movie in action, you’ll think, “worth it.” The machines and devices you’ll see are so true to form you’ll think you can make it all if you were an engineer with your own workshop. Everything was drawn with attention to detail and making sure it fit into the world. That means everything was washed in a drab brown and black color scheme. It does help to make Scarlet in her bright red lolita dress stand out even more when she’s introduced. Taking place in an industrial society means things tend to look drab instead of having a cheery brightness to it. If drabness turns you off, Steamboy may not be your cup of tea.
Even if you enjoy drabness and end up not liking Steamboy, I can’t fault you for that. On some level, I just don’t feel Steamboy; like there’s something missing in it. It took a little while to figure it out but I would have to point to the character development and story. Not to say there isn’t any; there are times when the characters simply hang out and talk. We get to see Scarlet shed her spoiled girl routine and James Ray act like the boy he actually is. However, those talk times serve as the coal to power the steam filled action. Dramatic conflict is the order of the day and if you don’t like it, tough! Steamboy is a masterfully produced action movie. If that’s the fix you need, Steamboy is certainly worth checking out. They even got Patrick Stewart to do a voice role for it!