Animation in America once consisted of icons like Snow White, Mickey Mouse and Bug Bunny. But those icons are changing. These days, it’s just as likely to mean giant fighting cyborgs, kinetic action and sinister monsters. A large part of the reason for the increasing growth in popularity of Japanese animation is Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 masterpiece Akira. It’s the anime that brought the genre to our attention here in the West.
Otomo’s new creation, entitled Steamboy, which was almost eight years in the making, is the first full-length feature he has directed since doing Akira. In the true spirit of Japanese anime, it is a kinetic-paced action film that thumps along with incredible visuals and meticulously researched period settings.
But while the sets are created with great care and pride, character development is traced from a mixture of cliche American icons like Young Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, among other. There’s so much going on at one time, that it becomes hard to get to know that characters.
The film is set in Victorian England during the 1850s. A scientific invention called a Steam Ball is secretly entrusted to young Ray Steam by his scientist grandfather, who wants to keep it away from an evil arms manufacturing company. Ray is kidnapped by agents of the company, who take him to their giant steam-powered city, the Steam Castle. The Steam Castle is a grand set piece, that truly continues the tradition of lush settings in this genre of film. Ray now has to steal back the invention and escape the castle.
Steamboy will no doubt be a huge hit with anime fans, who’ll love its 19th century locations and mechanical machinery. The only drawback to the film is that the focus on the action and sets, almost completely drowns out worthwhile any character development. The sound design and score (by Steve Jablonsky) are knocked out of the park for this genre of film. But the schoolboy science fiction subject matter will limit its appeal. I loved the high number of action scenes which many recent anime films I have watched tend to water down with hard to understand background information.
Overall, it is definitely a visual masterpiece, and if you adore action, it won’t let you down. I don’t think we will get any new animation icons out of this one, but eye-candy’s good too!
Check out photos, a full synopsis of the film and more RIGHT HERE
© 2005 By Hand Media, Review by Rene Carson