Steamboy (2004) Suchmubi
Directed by Katsuhiro tomo
An allegorical fable set in mid 19th Century Britain at the height of the industrial revolution, Steamboy is the story of Ray Steam, a young boy living in Manchester who receives an invention of unparalleled power from his Grandfather and is told to guard it with his life till he can present it to another inventor Robert Stephenson.
Shortly after receiving the package, men from the OHara foundation force their way into the house, they want the Steamball and dont care how they get it. Ray escapes on one of his own inventions only to be trailed by the men, they capture him after an exciting chase through the English countryside and a brush with a steam locomotive.
The next thing he knows, Ray is in London and housed within a giant steam castle, here he meets his father whom he had thought was dead. It is the time of the Great Exhibition and Ray discovers that his father has sold out to the OHara foundation. The castle which overlooks the Crystal Palace is a powerhouse of weaponry and is there to push sales of these to anyone, friend or foe as long as they can pay for them.
Hindered then helped by Miss Scarlett (the daughter of the president of the OHara foundation) Ray manages to retrieve the steamball and warn Robert Stephenson and the British police about the castle. A huge battle ensues within the heart of Victorian London between the British forces and the power of the Steamcastle.
Obviously historical details are a bit muddled in this tale, Manchester and London both look clean and pristine when in fact they were dirty and smog bound. Theres also a mixture of genuine and fantasy characters, George Stephenson was a famous British inventor who designed the first successful locomotive, The Rocket. Miss Scarlett in the story is blissfully ignorant of everything going on around her apart from her own desires, just like her namesake Scarlett OHara in Gone With the Wind.
The timing is also out for the Great Exhibition which pre-dates the setting of Steamboy by around 15 years but since the film is a fantasy, these minor discrepancies can be ignored.
The story represents the abuse of discovery and invention, if something is invented or discovered and can in anyway be used as a weapon, (in this case the steamball can be seen to symbolise the far more potent destructive force of nuclear power) then there is no doubt that it will be turned into a weapon, usually on the pretext of defensive measures. Of course if a weapon is invented, there will always be someone willing to sell it and not particularly concerned with who the customers are either.
As far as the animation is concerned, it is generally very good; a little too much use of cgi maybe, especially within the confines of the steamcastle but at least it has been toned to fit in with the more traditional animation. The character designs are also very good although I did have a problem with the only major female character, Miss Scarlett who had masculine features and looked like Ray Steam with a wig on.
Anna Paquin voices Ray but her accent flits all over the place, the one thing it doesnt sound like is a Manchester accent. Another point is that although her voice passes for a boys most of the time, there are moments when it sounds far too feminine, a very inconsistent performance and one that unfortunately stands out for the wrong reasons.
A decent adventure, though one that falls short of Miyazakis films or indeed tomos own classic Akira. Still recommended especially to anime fans.
BBFC rated PG
R2 Pal dvd available from Sony Pictures, standard edition contains the theatrical release of the film and English dub.
Director cut contains full length version and both English and Japanese dubs, it's also far more expensive.
R1 ntsc dvd also available from Sony Pictures.